Ultimate Gasparilla Guide

Your Ultimate Guide to Gasparilla 2020

Last updated Jan 2,2020

Gasparilla 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 each spring in Tampa consisting of parades, parties, music festivals, art shows, movies, marathons, and much more!

This is your Ultimate Guide to Gasparilla – everything you need to know, in one place!

**Some details on this page are from 2019 and will be updated as information becomes available. 

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Tampa’s got a lot of parades! In a span of about 3 months from December to March each year, Tampa hosts upwards of 6 parades along 2 primary routes – and even to native Tampanians, they can get a little confusing. 3 of the 6 parades don’t have anything to do with Gasparilla – there’s a Santa parade around the Holidays, an Outback Bowl parade on December 31, and around St. Patrick’s Day – you guessed it, a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The remaining 3 parades – the Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza, the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, 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 2 Saturday’s in January and take place along Bayshore Blvd. in south Tampa; the third parade is the second Saturday in February, at night, and takes place in Ybor City, just north/north-east of downtown Tampa.


Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza

January 18, 2020

Known as the “alcohol-free” parade, the Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza 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. The Gasparilla Children’s Extravaganza 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 articles on the best way to enjoy this family-friendly event for kids of all ages!


Gasparilla Pirate Fest

January 25, 2020

This is the Big Deal – THE Gasparilla event that put Jose Gaspar (and maybe Tampa Bay) on the map, so to speak!  The Gasparilla Pirate Fest takes place on Saturday, January 25 2020 from 9am to 9pm in Tampa. Sponsored by Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Gasparilla Pirate Fest features the 103rd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Expect between 500k to a million people to take part in the Gasparilla Pirate Fest.

The 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.
  • Gasparilla After-Party and Sunday Jazz Brunch – although the Parade of Pirates ends around 5pm, that doesn’t mean the partying stops!

Related: JUMP to Gasparilla Survival Tips


The Gasparilla Invasion

The Gasparilla Invasion begins on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 11:30am. 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 over 500 of his swashbuckling buccanneers.

Related:  We answer the question “What is Gasparilla” here!

Shouts of “Land, ho!” will ring out from the Jose Gasparilla, once it magically appears, poised to invade and conquer Tampa (but in a friendly way, of course).  To defend itself, Tampanians will launch a defending flotilla of ships, boats and watercraft of all kinds to defend the city and 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 of all the ships escorting the Jose Gasparilla is an unbelievable site to behold. Said to be the largest annual boat parade in the United States (and maybe the world), more than 1,300 boats, ships and yachts of all kinds are estimated to take part in the invasion. It’s an awesome sight to see, and if 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 in downtown Tampa, and the pirates demand the Mayor hand over the key to the city – which is sometimes handed over and sometimes not – but regardless the pirates celebrate their victory by parading down Bayshore Blvd. in south Tampa.

The best place to view the invasion is on a boat in the invasion. Other great spots are along the downtown waterfront – check out American Social and Jackson’s Bistro on Harbour Island, The Sail and Tampa’s Riverwalk, and of course the Convention Center itself – but 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 with yards 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.

Brunch.  There’s the Official Gasparilla Brunch, and then there are other brunch options.

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 10 a.m. and includes entertainment, a cash bar and a reserved seat for the best view of the historic Gasparilla Invasion, presented by the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Children two years of age and under do not need a ticket, as long as they remain in the lap of an Adult Ticket holder at all times. Children must have a ticket if they will be occupying a seat. Tickets to brunch are $110.


Gasparilla Parade of Pirates

To celebrate their stunning victory, these friendly pirates share the wealth of their pillaging as they parade down the streets of Tampa by showering treasures with the crowds along the parade route. Beginning at 2pm, the parade begins at the intersection of Bay to Bay and Bayshore Blvd, and proceeds down Bayshore Blvd. towards the 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.

“An expanded Pirate Fest in 2020 will feature stages along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa, presented by Budweiser. Pirate Fest will feature stages with live entertainment pre and post parade in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (Ashley and Twiggs), and MacDill Park (Ashley and Whiting). Entertainment lineup will be announced soon.” ~ gasparillapiratefest.com

First time at Gasparilla?  You’ll need some survival tips!

Staging.  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 because the crowds are more thin there – 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.

Time. The parade officially begins at 2pm, and ends approximately at 5:30pm.

Alcohol and Safety. The City of Tampa has established temporary wet zones along the parade route. These wet zones are the only safe places to consume alcohol.

gasparilla wet zone
Official 2019 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Wet Zones

Unofficially, the law enforcement officers working the parade (there seem to be thousands of law enforcement officers from all over the state working the parade) tend to be pretty cool as long as you’re cool and respectful. There are some certain don’ts – which can basically be summed up by saying don’t be an idiot or an a-hole. 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.  And if you are unfortunate enough to get arrested, in the days following Gasparilla you’ll see a ton of local criminal lawyer ads with cheesy slogans like, Arrrrrrested?!!

Beads. 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!

Attire. Duh, pirate garb, of course!

Viewing Areas. 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, some of which include things like bar and food access, private portapotties, etc. from Gasparilla Treasures.

(Check out our post on Where to Watch Gasparilla)

Weather. Gasparilla is in January, and while it is Tampa, the parades along the water on Bayshore can get chilly sometimes. The weather in 2020 is anticipated to reach a high of about 70 on Jan 25, so if there’s a wind coming off the water it’ll feel cooler. Dress appropriately.

Parking. 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.

(Need help finding a Gasparilla hotel? We detail some great Gasparilla hotel options for you!)

If you simply must drive and park, allow ample time to arrive to your destination and secure parking. Below we’ve outlined some available event parking options:

  • Tampa Convention Center Garage (Tampa St & Brorein St) will open at 7:00anm at a rate if $10/vehicle
  • Ft Brooke Garage (Whiting St between Franklin St & Florida Ave) will open at 7:00am at a rate of $10/vehicle
  • Poe Garage (Ashley St south of Cass St) will open at 7:00am at a rate of $10/vehicle. Due to the parade route, this garage will be closed from 1:00-6:00pm. Customers will not be able to enter or exit this garage until after 6:00pm.

Attendees may also consider parking in Ybor or the Channel District and taking the Tampa Streetcar for FREE to the event.  Side streets are often closed off and designated NO PARKING zones, with towing heavily enforced!

Gasparilla Parking Options
Gasparilla Parking Options

Road Closures.  The City is alerting the public of road closures and towing zones to minimize congestion in neighborhoods that border the parade route. “No Parking” signs will be installed in the neighborhoods west of Bayshore Blvd. and will be in effect beginning Friday, January 24, 2020 through Saturday, January 25, 2020. Tampa Police Department advises motorists to avoid parking in the “No Parking” areas or vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense.  A detailed listing of when and where road closures occur is available here.

Streetcar is FREE!


Gasparilla After Party & Jazz Brunch

*Due to construction in Downtown Tampa, JazzFest will be postponed until 2022!

Before and after the Parade, official Gasparilla parties and stages showcase music performances at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.  And new in 2019 is the 1st Annual Gasparilla Jazzfest on Sunday, January 27th 2019 in Curtis Hixon Park.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and EventFest are excited to announce that Smooth Jazz artist NAJEE will headline the 1st Annual Gasparilla JazzFEST on Sunday, January 27, 2019 in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park…. a new addition to the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest in downtown, Tampa.

Gasparilla JazzFEST will feature live entertainment from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, January 27, 2019. JazzFEST is family friendly and FREE to attend. There will be several vendors and food trucks on site, each with a variety of brunch options available to purchase.

Gasparilla JazzFEST will offer a VIP Brunch Ticket, featuring a fully catered buffet from 11am – 2pm, lounge experience and two complimentary drink tickets. VIP Brunch Tickets are $65 each and are available exclusively from EventFest at www.GasparillaTreasures.com or by calling Gasparilla Tickets (813) 251-8844.

“We are delighted to add the Gasparilla JazzFEST and Sunday Brunch to our 2019  Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest schedule” said Darrell Stefany, President of EventFest and Project Manager for Tampa’s signature Gasparilla Community events (Children’s Gasparilla and Gasparilla Pirate Fest). “With construction in downtown reducing our Pirate Fest stages on Saturday, the expansion to include Sunday became a logical addition to our Gasparilla festivities” said Stefany. “While our guests come for the Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates on Saturday, they’ll come out on Sunday for the music, and we are thrilled to have NAJEE headlining our Sunday JazzFEST this year!” Stefany added.


Gasparilla Knight (Night) Parade in Ybor

Saturday February 8, 2020

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 Knight/Night Parade is Saturday February 8, 2020.

Parade Route

The Knight/Night Parade route is about a mile long down 7th Avenue in Tampa’s Ybor City.  The parade is hosted by the krewe The Knights of Sant’ Yago.  Road closures include 7th Avenue, and Nuccio Parkway around Ybor City.

Knight Night Parade
The Knight Parade Route in Ybor City

Ticketed bleacher seating for the Knight Night parade is available starting at $25/seat, but most of 7th Avenue is open seating, first come first serve. *Details are yet to be announced for 2020 and we will update once available! 

Booze and Beads

The 2020 Knight Night parade is advertised as a non-drinking parade. Bars and restaurants along 7th Avenue will have alcohol available for sale, but public drinking on 7th Avenue is prohibited. In a change from years past, there is no wet-zone established along 7th Avenue. The parade’s sponsors have attempted to make the parade more “family friendly” – it’s no longer the adult-orientated drunken Bourbon Street festival of years past. It’s also a fast parade – while the Day Parade is a full day of partying, the Knight Parade lasts about 2 hours.


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 mimosa’s 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. ~ “It’s not a race, it’s a marathon”

Start Early

Gasparilla Survival Tips 1: If you really want to get the full Gasparilla Experience, start early! The invasion starts at 11:30 in the morning with the parade to follow and various parties happening throughout the day. With all that parting 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 9 a.m. 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. And as they say “you can’t party all day if you don’t start in the morning!”

Spending the morning out in the bay waiting for the Invasion to begin!

Protection

Gasparilla Survival Tips 2: The weather for this years parade looks like it is going to be close to perfect with a low of sixty-five degrees and a high of seventy-six. 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.

Snacks

Gasparilla Survival Tips 3: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

Gasparilla Survival Tips 4: 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. For more details on where to stand check out —> Where to Watch? Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates

**Insider Tip** “It’s always a good idea to 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”

Gasparilla Invasion making it’s way across the bay

Should I Travel by Boat?

Gasparilla Survival Tips 5: 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!  Learn about buying a ticket for a Gasparilla Invasion Cruise Here!

Have Cash on Hand

Gasparilla Survival Tips 6: If you plan to eat a a restaurant, have pre-purchased tickets to an event, or don’t plan to purchase anything you should be fine with out it. 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.


If you’re looking for things to do after Gasparilla weekend passes, check out Tampa Riverwalk Date Night and The Top Tampa Girls Night Ideas: Ybor City.


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