Your Ultimate Guide to Gasparilla
Gasparilla is BACK for 2022! The Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest is the quintessential uniquely Tampa holiday, festival, event, party, boat show, costume contest, and most of all party. More than a day or an event, Gasparilla now spans a 3-month season consisting of parades, parties, music and art festivals, movies, a marathon, and much more.
This is your Ultimate Guide to Gasparilla, covering everything you need to know in one place.
When is Gasparilla?
In a span of about 3 months from December to March each year, Tampa hosts upwards of 6 parades along two primary routes – and even to native Tampanians, they can get a little confusing. Three of the parades don’t have anything to do with Gasparilla; there’s a Santa parade around the holidays, an Outback Bowl parade in December, and a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The remaining three parades – Children’s Gasparilla, the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, and the Knight Parade – are lumped together and commonly referred to as the Gasparilla Parades, or just Gasparilla. Two of the parades occur during the day on the last two Saturdays in January along Bayshore Blvd in south Tampa. The third parade takes place on the second Saturday in February, at night, in Ybor City, just north/north-east of downtown Tampa.
Key Gasparilla event dates for 2022 are:
- Children’s Gasparilla: Saturday, January 22, 2022
- Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest: Saturday, January 29, 2022
- Nighttime Sant’Yago Knight parade in Ybor: February 12, 2022
- Gasparilla Outbound Voyage: February 26, 2022
- Gasparilla Distance Classic Marathon: February 26 – 27, 2022
- GMF Gasparilla Music Festival: February 27 – 28, 2022
- Gasparilla Art Festival: March 5 – 6, 2022
- GIFF-Gasparilla International Film Festival: March 10 – 13, 2022
Children’s Gasparilla: Jan 22, 2022
Known as the “alcohol-free” parade, the Children’s Gasrparilla consists of family-friendly and kid-orientated activities, followed by a parade along Bayshore Blvd. You’ll find it commonly referred to as the “Kids Parade” (although it’s grown to be more than just a parade). This event always occurs a week before the primary “adult” Gasparilla pirate invasion and parade. Children’s Gasparilla provides a family-friendly, alcohol-free environment for families to see over a hundred floats, collect throw beads, engage in a preschooler stroll or a bike safety rodeo. Alcohol is prohibited along the parade route.
For detailed info on the Gasparilla Children’s Parade, check out Tampa Bay Parenting’s detailed article on the best way to enjoy this family-friendly event for kids of all ages!
Gasparilla Pirate Fest: Jan 29, 2022
This is the Big Deal – THE Gasparilla event that put Jose Gaspar (and maybe Tampa Bay) on the map! The Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest takes place on Saturday, January 29, 2022 from 9am to 10pm in Tampa. Sponsored by Seminole Hard Rock Casino, this main event features the 106th Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Expect between 500k to a million people to take part.
The Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest officially consists of three primary events:
- The Gasparilla Invasion – the pirate ship Jose Gasparilla invades the City of Tampa with cannons firing!
- The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates – having again successfully invaded Tampa, the Pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla celebrate with a parade down Bayshore Blvd.
- Pirate Fest – although the Parade of Pirates ends around 5pm, that doesn’t mean the partying stops!
Related: Gasparilla Survival Tips
The Gasparilla Invasion: 11:30am – 1pm
Presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the festivities begin when the mystical ship Jose Gasparilla will magically appear in the southern end of Hillsborough Bay at 11:30am. The Jose Gasparilla is the only fully-rigged pirate ship in the world, and during the Gasparilla Invasion it is loaded to the brim with the legendarily mystical pirate Jose Gaspar and hundreds of his swashbuckling buccanneers.
Shouts of “Land, ho!” will ring out from the Jose Gasparilla, once it magically appears, poised to invade and conquer Tampa. In response, Tampanians will launch a defending flotilla of ships, boats and watercraft of all kinds to stop the pirate invasion. You’ll see over a thousand boats and watercraft of every kind in the water along Hillsborough Bay (the body of water along Bayshore Blvd) as they prepare to meet the invading pirates.
Legend has it that the mystical qualities of Jose Gaspar and his pirates are too great and overwhelm the defending flotilla of ships, so all the ships join forces with Captain Jose Gaspar and his pirates of Gasparilla, and they escort the Jose Gasparilla north across Hillsborough Bay and into the Seddon Channel (between Harbour Island and Davis Island), making their way to downtown Tampa. The City of Tampa is defenseless to stop the invasion, as the massive Gasparilla flotilla quickly invades Tampa.
The Gasparilla invasion flotilla is an unbelievable site to behold. Said to be the largest annual boat parade in the United States, more than 1,300 boats, ships and yachts of all kinds are estimated to take part in the invasion. Iif you’re lucky enough to be on a boat during the Invasion, it sure is a heck of a party! Although the waters are heavily patrolled by federal, state and local law enforcement to prevent boat DUIs and injury, it seems like everybody except the boat pilots are drinking, socializing and having a great time.
Around 1pm the Jose Gasparilla docks at the Tampa Convention Center, and the pirates demand the Mayor hand over the key to the city. The pirates then celebrate their victory by parading down Bayshore Blvd. in south Tampa.
Where is the best place to watch the Gasparilla Invasion?
The best place to view the invasion is on a boat in the invasion. Other great spots are:
- American Social and Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island
- The Sail
- Tampa’s Riverwalk
- Tampa Convention Center
No matter which location you choose, be prepared for the crowds! If you can snag an invite to a party on Harbour Island or Davis Island, that’s a great bet too as the ships all pass along the Seddon Channel heading to the Convention Center. Many parties begin in the downtown Tampa high rises – which have stellar views of the water and provide a true birds-eye view of the invasion.
Official Gasparilla Brunch
You can also join in the Official Gasparilla Brunch inside the Tampa Convention Center, which provides a prime viewing area of the invasion. This fabulous brunch buffet, held at the Tampa Convention Center, begins at 10am and includes entertainment, a cash bar and a reserved seat for the best view of the historic Gasparilla Invasion. Tickets to brunch are $140.
Gasparilla Parade of Pirates: 2-6pm
To celebrate their stunning victory, these friendly pirates parade down the streets of Tampa, showering the crowds with treasures along the 4.5-mile parade route.
The parade begins at 2pm at the intersection of Bay to Bay and Bayshore Blvd, and proceeds down Bayshore Blvd. towards downtown. With over 140 groups participating in the Parade of Pirates – consisting of over 103 high tech, elaborate floats, 5 marching bands, and over 50 Krewes, the parade is a cool and unique Tampa spectacle.
First time at Gasparilla? You’ll need some survival tips!
The first float is staged along Bayshore just south of Bay to Bay – but with 140+ units in the parade, the staged units extend more than 2 miles all the way south to Gandy Blvd and Bayshore Blvd. Federal, state and local law enforcement enforce a tight security zone around the staging area, and access is often limited to parade participants on floats or in groups with special passes. Lots of people line up along Bayshore south of Bay to Bay, but there’s a reason the crowds are thin. The floats and Krewes cannot interact or throw beads before the official starting point at Bay to Bay.
Alcohol and Safety
The City of Tampa typically establishes temporary wet zones along the parade route. These wet zones are the only safe places to consume alcohol.
Unofficially, the law enforcement officers working the parade tend to be pretty cool as long as you’re respectful. There are some certain don’ts – which can basically be summed up by saying don’t be an idiot. If you’re underage, don’t drink; the police can and do make underage drinking arrests every year. Don’t pee in public – there are portapotties throughout the route, use those, don’t pee on the shrubs and houses around the parade route. Don’t have glass, don’t bring coolers, don’t bring weapons, etc. Check out the City of Tampa’s Gasparilla Safety Page for more info.
The pirates and krewes in the parade celebrate by throwing beads and trinkets to the crowds (think Mardi Gras). Most of the beads are cheap “throw beads”, but if you’re lucky enough to catch the attention of somebody in the parade, you might end up snagging a really cool set of beads – some of them are pretty fancy!
Where can I watch the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates?
The non-water side of Bayshore Blvd is mostly open to the public, whereas large chunks of the water side of Bayshore are restricted and reserved for private paid seating or viewing areas, corporate tents, and these areas are limited access to the public. Reserved seats can be purchased from Gasparilla Treasures.
Gasparilla is in January, and while it is Tampa, the parades along the water on Bayshore can get chilly sometimes. If there’s a wind coming off the water it’ll feel cooler. Dress appropriately – in pirate garb of course!
With almost a million people descending on a 4.5 mile route, there’s barely any room for people to move, much less park tens of thousands of cars. Best bet is to not park if possible. Grab a hotel, carpool, Uber/Lyft, bus, etc. If you simply must drive and park, allow ample time to arrive to your destination and secure parking.
Need help finding a Gasparilla hotel? We detail some great Gasparilla hotel options for you!
Pirate Fest: Beginning at 10am
Before and after the Parade, official Gasparilla parties and stages showcase music performances at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park.
Where is the best place to watch the Gasparilla Invasion + Parade?
This is an excellent question, considering how crowded the parade is each year. If you are interested in a more low key afternoon, where you can collect a lot of treasure, you should try and get as close to the starting point as possible. Once the Gasparilla Invasion lands at the Convention Center, the starting point is Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard. Other than that, any spot is a good spot for the parade. Just make sure to get there early in order to get a good place to stand.
Advice from our resident Pirate, “The best way to watch is by purchasing bleacher seats through EventFest. You can also arrive early and line up on the land side of Bayshore blvd between Bay to Bay blvd and Rome to find a section of grass and line up against the barricades along Bayshore. Another good Section is downtown along the barricades.”
Do expect heavy traffic during the day of the Gasparilla invasion and parade. There are trolleys which can take you from your parking spot to the actual parade if you choose to drive. However, Uber is always an option, and may be a bit easier for your and your significant other. Plus, if you plan to drink, which we know is a very important hobby for a pirate, you may be better off just hopping in an Uber.
Gasparilla Knight (Night) Parade in Ybor: Feb 12, 2022
Another featured parade in Tampa Bay’s Gasparilla season is the Knight Parade. Officially titled the Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade, it’s unofficially known as the Gasparilla Night Parade. This nighttime light up parade takes place on 7th Avenue in Ybor City, usually two weeks after the Gasparilla Pirate Fest (a/k/a the Day Parade). This year the Illuminated Knight Parade is Saturday February 12, 2022 from 4-11pm.
Exact details including the parade route and ticketed seating at TBA for 2022. Check the website for the latest information.
Gasparilla Survival Tips!
The last weekend in January is a big one for the city of Tampa Bay. People from all over come to celebrate the pirate invasion of Jose Gaspar and his crew. About 300,000 people make their way to Bayshore Boulevard for the main parade of Gasparilla in the afternoon after a morning full of mimosas and rum filled drinks. With so many people coming to town from outside the Bay, there is always bound to be chaos, and you need some Gasparilla survival tips from the pros! Even those who have been to the parade for years make rookie mistakes on the big day. Make sure you make it through the day (at least to after the parade) with these Gasparilla survival tips.
If you really want to get the full Gasparilla Experience, start early! The invasion starts at 11:30am with the parade to follow and various parties happening throughout the day. With all that partying you are going to need to start with a hearty brunch to help you last through the day. It’s also a good idea to travel well before the festivities begin. Traffic will start getting crazy as early as 9am and will not slow down throughout the day. You may not be able to park close to your final destination so leave extra time to either a) find parking, or b) walk to your destination.
The sun will still be shining bright in the sky during the parade even if the temperatures are a little cooler than what Floridians are used to. It is important to protect your skin and your eyes throughout the day. I recommend carrying around a little travel sized sunscreen, a hat (preferably pirate themed), and sunglasses.
Almost every bar in South Tampa hosts a Kegs and Eggs event in the morning. Breakfast is a big deal the morning of Gasparilla, but people tend to forget about food throughout the rest of the day once they have had a few drinks and their necks are filling up with beads. It is important to have a few snacks on hand or money for food as you make your way to and from the parade.
Where To Park and Stand
If you are looking for a spot to catch a lot of beads, try to get to the parade early and stand at the beginning. Park by MacDill or Howard and walk to where the parade starts its course for great views and lots of treasure. Park in Ybor or Channelside if you’re into the crazier side of Gasparilla. You can take the trolley from where you parked to the parade to catch the end of the annual parade.
Insider Tip: Bring posters, poster board or even a white board to write down your favorite krewe names as they pass you by on the parade route. It will give you the upper hand on more beads and even the potential for special beads, bracelets, or special gifts.
Should I Travel to Gasparilla by Boat?
If you are planning to travel by boat there are a few things to consider. First of all, know it will be extremely crowded. When the invasion starts out in the bay you will have your share of space, however if you think you are going to come into the channel and dock – you are sorely mistaken. Plan to stay on your boat for the duration of the invasion and return trip back to your docking location. Docking in downtown is extremely limited and most likely will not be an option. (Plan accordingly for restroom breaks – take them when you can.) Also be aware that the invasion is heavily monitored by law enforcement, boating regulations do apply and a designated driver should be appointed. All together being a part of the invasion and celebrating by boat is a great experience and a preferred way to enjoy Gasparilla. Just be prepared for the reality when the big day hits!
Have Cash on Hand
If you plan to eat a at a restaurant, have pre-purchased tickets to an event, or don’t plan to purchase anything you should be fine without cash. However, it’s a good idea to have cash on hand as Charity Beer Gardens and Event Vendors accept cash only! There will be ATM’s throughout the parade route to help you out, however we would suggest having it ahead of time.