Gasparilla Pirate Fest in Tampa – Walk the Plank & Party! 

Florida - Tampa - Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Florida - Tampa - Gasparilla Pirate Festival

First held as early as 1904 in Tampa, Florida, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival (AKA Gasparilla) is a large parade like Mardi Gras. It’s also a host of numerous related community events.  

Central to the festivities is the Parade of Pirates, or the Gasparilla Parade, which is a so-called “friendly invasion” by the mythical pirate José Gaspar, or Gasparilla – a popular fictional character in Florida folklore. So, let’s discuss Gasparilla Pirate Fest in Tampa – Walk the Plank & Party! 

Florida - Tampa - Gasparilla Pirate Festival

When Does Gasparilla Go Down and What’s Going On? 

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes place every year. It begins towards the end of January and winds down in Mid-March. 

During a few weeks period, three big events go down.  First, there is Children’s Gasparilla – an alcohol-free event celebrating the return of the Gasparilla Season to Tampa Bay!

Then there is the Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest, a two-day event including music, and which is notably, anything but alcohol-free. Finally, it’s time for the Gasparilla Outbound Voyage – time to bid farewell to Gasparilla until the next year.

The Gasparilla Parade 

The Gasparilla Parade is named for Jose Gaspar, who purportedly terrorized West Florida’s coastal waters during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Tampa’s annual Gasparilla celebration kicks off with the Gasparilla invasion. 

Over 750 pirates invade Tampa Bay accompanied by the pirate ship “Jose Gasparilla.” And this kicks off a myriad of pirate-themed events. 

Additional Gasparilla Events  

Besides the three main Gasparilla events accompanied by parties, galas, and fundraisers Tampa hosts a variety of Gasparilla-themed events. One of those first events was the Gasparilla Open. It was a PGA Golfing Tour stop, sponsored by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG) taking place during the festival from 1932 to 1935. 

Related:  The Tampa Pig Jig – What It’s About and What to Expect

One big event that is held during the Gasparilla season is the Gasparilla Festival of Arts which was first established in 1970. The Tampa Rough Riders St Patrick’s Day Parade, first held in 1977, also takes place during the period.  

Then there’s the Gasparilla Distance Classic Road Race (established 1978), the Gasparilla Film Festival (established 2006), the Gasparilla Music Festival (established 2013), and the Gasparilla Bowl college football game (renamed in 2018). 

Economic Impact  

The Gasparilla parade typically draws around 300,000 people, making it the third-largest parade in the United States. Also, at least 100,000 people attend at least one of the Gasparilla events each year.  

Several studies have found that the Parade of Pirates alone has a local economic impact of over $20 million. The same studies found that all of the Gasparilla events combined bring in over $40 million. 

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