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10 Things You May Not Know About the Gasparilla Pirate Festival


(Updated for 2018) 

It’s that time of year again on Florida’s Gulf Coast: Gasparilla season! Grab yer best pirate garb and join in on the piratical fun. To get you into the swashbuckling spirit, here are 10 things you may not know about the Gasparilla Pirate Festival held every year on the last Saturday in January in Tampa Bay. It’s a crowd favorite, so plan to be here to celebrate the occasion with us. Also check out the local pirate invasion coming to Indian Rocks Beach this year (see #10!). 

Kid dressed as a pirate

1. The Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza kicks off Gasparilla season in Tampa Bay.

This alcohol-free event happens a week before the actual festival and centers around kid-friendly fun and entertainment. Expect parades, rodeos, air invasions and famed “piratechnic” displays along with tons of swashbuckling family fun. The 2018 event takes place on Saturday, January 20 from 11a.m. to 7:30p.m. You can find vendors and children’s activities all along Bayshore Boulevard (from Bay to Bay all the way to Edison Avenue).

You can find out all of the details on the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza site.

2. The Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates has a long history in Tampa Bay.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla has been prowling the local waters, invading Tampa Bay, parading the streets and usurping the key to the city since 1904. It’s also the 3rd largest parade in the entire country, so it’s a pretty big deal. This year’s Gasparilla Invasion is set for January 27, 2018 from 11:30a.m. to 1p.m. with the Parade of Pirates to follow from 2p.m. to 5:30p.m. 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.
Over 750 swashbucklers invade Tampa Bay aboard the majestic pirate ship “Jose Gasparilla,” kicking off a full schedule of pirate-themed events. Once ashore, the captain and his Mystic Krewe celebrate their takeover of the city with a four-mile long Parade of Pirates, unloading untold Gasparilla treasures for visitors and locals to plunder. The Parade of Pirates is attended by 300,000 onlookers, many donning period-themed pirate garb. The festivities continue into the evening at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest Street Festival with live music, food and entertainment. This event is free, with reserved seating available.

3. Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla) was a Spanish pirate who supposedly roamed the waters of Tampa Bay.

He was said to be more successful than most and is credited with capturing over 400 ships from 1789-1821. He purportedly buried numerous treasures throughout the west coast of Florida. He is also referred to as one of “the last buccaneers”. Although he is a famed figure in Florida’s folklore, no actual written record exists of him before the 20th century and no physical evidence has ever been found. Still, the legend and stories that surround Jose Gaspar make for interesting reading, conversation and speculation.

Pirate fun

4. Gasparilla planned on retiring from piracy but…

Legend has it that on the day he was dividing up the loot with his crew, he spied an irresistible last opportunity to plunder a nearby British merchant ship. Unfortunately for Gaspar, that British merchant was actually a U.S. Navy warship on a pirate-hunting mission.

It didn’t end well for him in an epic battle between pirate and pirate hunter. With his ship in flames and about to be boarded, he opted for Davy Jones’ Locker instead of death by hanging. He wrapped the heavy anchor chain around his waist and jumped off the bow.

5. Tampa Bay legend has it that the ghost of Gasparilla still haunts the waters.

To this day, it is said that you should not stand alone on the deck of a ship in Tampa Bay for fear that the ghost of Jose Gaspar will see you and rise up from the deep to drag you down with him. Apparently he still has that pesky chain wrapped around him and looks a little worse for wear with as his face drips with water, his hair is filled with seaweed and his eyes are gone. Beware, me hearties!

6. The Jose Gasparilla is the only fully-rigged pirate ship in the world.

If you’re interested in reading more about this ship, cross the gangplank and take a rare tour of the Jose Gasparilla to learn more about this mighty majesty. Go ahead and get yer sea legs, matey.

7. The Gasparilla Flotilla in Tampa Bay is the largest boat parade in the country.

Are you interested in joining in the high seas action? You can read everything you need to know about being part of the flotilla and more on the Gasparilla Pirate Festival fact sheet and FAQ page. It’s not for landlubbers!

8. The Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza features one of the largest fireworks displays in the country.

The “Piratechnics Extravaganza” is one for the books. Watch as the fireworks are launched from barges and choreographed to music. You don’t want to miss this fun and family-friendly show. (Refer to #1 for more info about the Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza.) 


9. Gasparilla Season in Tampa Bay offers more events beyond the invasion and parade.

Don’t miss the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla Distance Classic Run, and the Gasparilla Invasion Brunch which are all part of this grand event. Visit the Gasparilla event site for all of the details on these events and more. 

10. The Pirate Invasion comes to Indian Rocks Beach in 2018.

Pirate ship in Tampa Bay

For years residents of Tampa Bay have watched pirates invade the port of Tampa and witnessed the mayor of the city surrender and hand the keys over to the marauders. Now it’s a little bit closer to home as they are about to invade Indian Rocks Beach. In Tampa, the invasion is called Gasparilla, in IRB it is called Party Pirates on the Rocks.  

The party starts at Jimmy Iguana’s on Friday, January 26, then on Saturday, January 27 (the day of Tampa’s festival), the IRB invasion begins in earnest, with the flotilla sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway to invade the city. The IRB pirate invasion is expected to attract somewhere in excess of 200 people. 

There is expected to be about 20 boats that will gather at the Belleair Causeway to head down the Intracoastal, through the narrows, and to Caddy’s Pub in Indian Shores. That’s where they’ll dock and where the invasion begins. After that the invaders will make their way back north and tie-up at the IBB’s floating docks and from there will invade JD’s for an hour or so. From there they head over to Crabby Bill’s for yet another party.  

If you’re looking for something a little closer to your Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores vacation rental, then check out the premiere of the Party Pirates on the Rocks. Visit the Party Pirates on the Rocks Facebook page for the latest updates or you can read more about it here.

Will you be attending the 2018 Gasparilla Pirate Fest in Tampa or the Party Pirates on the Rocks in Indian Rocks Beach? We want to know!
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