tampa bays gasparilla

Tampa Bay Loves Gasparilla!

Beloved Pirate Festival Returns January 28

If you’re a resident or visitor to Tampa Bay, chances are you know and love the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. It has been held annually since 1904, and every year it gets bigger and grander. If you haven’t celebrated Gasparilla in Tampa, here’s what happens: a pirate ship and flotilla arrives in Hillsborough Bay, then the citizens celebrate with a large parade, live music, and a festival. This year, the celebrations are brought to you by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and will be held on Saturday, January 28.

To start off the day of the pirate invasion, there is an optional brunch that morning, starting at 9 a.m. at the Tampa Convention Center. The brunch menu features a continental-style selection, including biscuits, jams and cheeses, plus an entrée of fluffy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and ham (via a special ham-carving station). To buy your tickets for the brunch, visit gasparillatreasures.com.

The much-awaited “pirate invasion” will start at 11:30 a.m. At that time, a large pirate ship, the “Jose Gasparilla,” will appear at the southern end of Hillsborough Bay. The ship, maintained by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, is the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship. The Jose Gasparilla will put on a re-enactment of a pirate battle that ends with a mock “invasion and conquest” of Tampa. The ship and the flotilla will sail through Seddon Channel (between Davis Islands and Harbour Island) and will finally dock at the Tampa Convention Center at 1 p.m. At that time, the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, will give the key to the city to the Krewe, and an hour after docking, a large parade with floats will traverse Bayshore Boulevard in honor of the pirates’ “victory.”

The Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates starts at 2 p.m. The parade route is the exact same as last year. It starts at the corner of Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard. The parade route this year is longer, at 4.5 miles. There will also be entertainment stages set up at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (at the corner of Ashley and Twiggs), MacDill Park (Ashley and Whiting), the Tampa Convention Center’s Sail Pavilion, and Fergs Tampa (Jefferson and Channelside Drive).

Gasparilla has been broadcast live on Tampa Bay television since 1954 when WFLA-TV, NBC News Channel 8, first aired coverage of the festival and parade. Since then, every TV station in the Tampa Bay area airs live coverage of Gasparilla all morning and afternoon.

Gasparilla and its daughter events are sponsored by Hard Rock Seminole Hotel and Casino Tampa and Budweiser. For more information on Gasparilla, visit gasparillapiratefest.com.

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Mike Halterman
Mike Halterman has been the editor of Hotspots Central since its launch in July 2016. He joined the Hotspots Media Group family as editor of Hotspots' South Florida magazine in June 2013. A former "40 Under 40" honoree in The Advocate magazine, Mike lives in the Tampa Bay area.