Everything You Need to Know About the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa

The idea of the Gasparilla Festival was influenced by the legend of Jose Gaspar, a Spanish naval officer who turned to piracy. Different stories refer to him as both a nobleman and adviser to King Charles III of Spain who was banished after a romantic scandal in the Spanish court or an ambitious young officer in the Spanish navy who was driven to mutiny by a tyrannically cruel captain. Whatever his reasons, the legends agree that Gaspar stole away in the late 1700s to the virtually uninhabited southwestern coast of Spanish Florida and established a secret base at Charlotte Harbor. Gaspar is said to have plundered many ships and taken many female hostages in almost four decades of roaming from Louisiana to the Spanish Main aboard his stolen flagship, the Floridablanca. His exploits came to a quick end in 1821 when, to avoid being captured by the schooner USS Enterprise, he wrapped himself in the ship’s anchor chains and threw himself overboard while shouting “”Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!”


Sketch of Jose Gaspar from a 1900 brochure.


The first Gasparilla parade was held in May 1904, combining the legend of the dashing pirate with elements of a New Orleans Mardi Gras / Carnivale festival to give Tampa’s relatively sedate May Day celebration a new theme with local connections. The first “invasion” was via horseback, with the first sea-based invasion coming in 1911.

The Gasparilla parade was moved from May to February when it restarted following a lapse during World War I. This timing coincided with the Florida State Fair, which was then held at sprawling Plant Field near downtown Tampa. The events merged together, and for decades, the parade route ended at the fairgrounds, drawing many thousands of spectators to the combined festivities. Since the Florida State Fair moved to more spacious quarters east of Tampa in 1976, the parade route has varied slightly, but always includes a portion through downtown and a long stretch along Bayshore Boulevard.


An early version of the ship Jose Gasparilla sails into downtown in 1922


For many decades, the Gasparilla parade was held on the second Monday of February. It was an official holiday in Tampa, with local schools and many businesses closed. In 1988, the main parade was moved to the first Saturday of February to allow more residents of other communities to take part in the festivities. Since 2005, the event has been held on the last Saturday of January. The average crowd at the main parade is over 300,000 people, with over 1,000,000 attending at least one Gasparilla event. According to several studies, the Parade of Pirates has a local economic impact of over $20 million, and the combined events bring in over $40 million.


Downtown Tampa and the convention center during Gasparilla


Schedule for Gasparilla 2016

Jan 16 – Ybor Naval Invasion

The Ybor Naval invasion was set for Saturday, Jan. 16 in front of the American Victory Ship behind the Florida Aquarium. Learn more about the old Ybor tradition here.


Jan 20-21 – Gasparilla Distance Classic

The Annual athletic event includes multi-distance runs and challenges for runners and walkers of all ages. Get the details and register here.


Jan 23 – Children’s Gasparilla Parade

The alcohol-free parade starts on Bayshore and Bay to Bay at 3:30pm. Get info here.


Jan 29 – Pre-Invasion Celebration

6:00pm – Pirate Fest Stage in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

This is the 2nd annual Gasparilla Charity Concert and Pre-Invasion Celebration sponsored by Budweiser. Gates will open at 5:00pm, with The Hip Abduction opening at 6:00pm. General admission tickets are now available for $20 each, including tax. Buy tickets from EventFest at www.GasparillaTreasures.com or by calling (813) 251-8844.


Jan 30 – Gasparilla Pirate Fest

9:30pm – 1:00pm Gasparilla Invasion Brunch

Tickets can be purchased in advanced for this event at the Tampa Convention Center.


11:30am – 1:00pm The Gasparilla Invasion

The Jose Gasparilla is scheduled to sail north to Seddon Channel and continue north and dock at the Tampa Convention Center at 1:00pm.


2:00pm – 5:30pm Gasparilla Parade of Pirates

The parade begins at Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard. It continues along Bayshore Boulevard to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein Street, then north on Ashley Drive. The parade ends at Cass Street & Ashley Drive. You can purchase reserved bleacher seats here.


10:00am – 10:00pm Street Festival

Musicians and entertainers invite you to dance the night away at the two stages in the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park.


Jan 31 – Gasparilla Pirate Fest

10:00am – 10:00pm Street Festival

Musicians and entertainers invite you to dance the night away at the two stages in the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park.


You can get more information on the event and scheduling at www.GasparillaTreasures.com


A parade float crewed by pirates in 2013

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