• Matthew Kenagy

Be a pirate for a day at Gasparilla.

For one weekend in January, the Buccaneers aren't the only pirates in Tampa Bay. The next annual private invasion of the Bay is scheduled for Saturday, January 29, and always proves to be a great time. This multi-week festival features music, art, and lots of partying, and the streets are littered with aspiring pirates (at least for a day). Think of it as Mardi Gras with a pure pirate theme.

The opening weekend begins with a real pirate invasion where legendary pirate Jose Gaspar sails his band of merry men into Tampa Bay on the nation's only fully functional pirate ship. Accompanying the pirate ship are thousands of private boat owners who dress as pirates and join the parade at sea. Post invasion, the party is taken to the streets with a massive parade on the Bayfront, with lots of floats and beads being thrown to the crowd. As a personal participant on one of the floats one year, it was fun to see the look on the kids faces as you pass by in full pirate attire, throwing various color bead necklaces to them as they collect as many as they can around their necks.

After the parade, the scene turns to where to get the best afternoon eats, and most of the area restaurants, waterfront bistros, taverns, and bars all join in on the fun with various costumes, contests, and specialty food and beverages for the day. At night, the party really lets loose, and it's a booze-filled night on the town with the usual hotspots at play, especially Soho, Channelside, and Ybor City.

If you want a unique experience outside of Mardi Gras, and it's a "Pirate's life for you", don't miss this annual event. Even better - give yourself about a week in the Bay area around this time, and you'll be able to hit up parties and events on the Gulf Coast beaches as well as enjoying the tourist destinations in Orlando, only an hour's drive away. For more information on Gasparilla, visit

Have you been to Gasparilla before? What's your favorite part of the festivities?


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