The legend of pirate Jose Gaspar and his buccaneers invading Tampa roars to life Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, an extravaganza that resembles a maritime-themed family-friendly Mardi Gras.
Gaspar’s exploits in the late 1700s to early 1800s may be mythological, but Tampa has celebrated them every year since 1904. Swashbucklers played by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla riot bow to stern and climb up to the crow’s nest as the ship sails into downtown Tampa. When the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship fires its cannons, countless pleasure boat crews and landlubbers will party along Hillsborough River and on Davis and Harbour Islands. The mayor surrenders the key to the city when the Gasparilla docks at the Tampa Convention Center, then the decorated floats of the Parade of the Pirates roll on Bayshore Boulevard.
The free event is one of many ways to feel the new energy surging throughout this Florida city.
“I love what’s happening here. There’s always something great to do,” says Cynthia, who works the front desk at The Barrymore Hotel, a classic high-rise located by the newly completed main stretch of Tampa’s Riverwalk, a wide pedestrian-bicycling path edging the Hillsborough River. The city is changing by the day, with evidence along the river and in the art scene, cocktail lounges, restaurants, breweries and other venues being opened as result of collaborations between passionate entrepreneurs.
To help the growing crowds get around with ease, the city has launched a free electric shuttle service and upgraded the bargain-fare trolley lines. New water transit options include the hop-on, hop-off Pirate Taxi and the Cross Bay Ferry.