By Dylan Hart and Michael McDade
An especially crowded Tampa, already filled to the brim with excited hockey fans downtown for the NHL All-Star event, invited festival-goers from far and wide for this year’s 2018 Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
Gasparilla is the biggest annual festival in the Tampa Bay area, with the majority of events held in January each year. Attendees are encouraged to dress as pirates in celebration of the fictional 18th century pirate José Gaspar, who, in the legend, operated in the Gulf of Mexico near Tampa Bay.
The festival’s main event is the parade, which incorporates both boats flowing into the bay toward downtown Tampa and trucks heading downtown from the south via Bayshore Boulevard, with pirate themed floats being in particular abundance. The parade took place on Jan. 27, with smaller Gasparilla events to come through March.
“I come because it’s a blast! I like having a good time,” said Kristie Laier, a five-time attendee of the event. “I love dressing up like a pirate. Watching all the boats come into the bay in a swarm, it’s fantastic.”
Bead necklaces, in addition to other small souvenirs, are often thrown from the floats into the crowd, following a long-standing Gasparilla tradition. Attendees stack the bead necklaces around their necks and wear them throughout the festival proudly.
Brendon Porter, a sophomore at USF St. Petersburg, enjoyed the festival experience, saying, “It was a great time. I loved the floats and all the diverse personalities and cultures mixing together.”
A number of the floats also included cannons, which fired loud blanks as attendees looked on.
USF Tampa sophomore, Ruthy Smith, had never been before.
“I like when they threw all the beads in the parade,” she said.
The parade also included cheerleaders and bands from various high schools and colleges around the Tampa Bay area, as well as several floats from the military. Notably, a group of horses kicked off the parade.
Lakeland local Akira Matsuoto, a first-time attendee, noted what she liked about the festival: “It’s the mix of excitement and the beads. The beads are what get people into the parade.”
Cameron Ginex, a freshman environmental science student at USF St. Petersburg, added that “it’s something you should experience at least once in your life.”
Header photo: Brianna Rodriguez | The Crow’s Nest