At first glance, Tampa seems like a pretty safe place. It's hard to imagine any threat to our calm, picturesque Bay waters or tidy downtown.
But once a year, we face a serious threat: one that promises to destroy our tranquility and bring raucous debauchery to the streets. Once a year, we're plagued by pirates.
Just about everyone seems to accept the annual threat of invasion. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people use it as an excuse to party. And not to judge, but the mayor always seems far too eager to hand over the keys of the city to these sea-faring scallywags.
You really don't have any choice. Come January of each year, you'd best prepare for bands of buccaneers to fill the air with cannon fire, the waterways with ships, and the streets with flying beads -- oh, so many beads.
Gasparilla is Tampa Bay's biggest excuse to party. But it's much more than a parade. It's three parades. It's a flotilla and invasion. It's a half-marathon. It's an art festival and film festival. It's an excuse to party, and an opportunity to adorn yourself with countless strands of beads. And most of all, it's an attitude.
The biggest event of the Gasparilla season will be held on January 26, 2013. Gasparilla Pirate Fest starts with a massive flotilla that begins in Hillsborough Bay, and heads up the Seddon Channel (the channel between Davis Islands and Harbour Island). The world's only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, leads the charge, as it Krewe heads to the Tampa Convention Center. That's where Tampa's mayor will be waiting to hand over control of the city to the pirates. The invasion begins around 11:30, and ends at the Convention Center at 1 p.m. A brunch follows.
The famous Gasparilla Parade of Pirates starts at 2 p.m., and stretches for 3.8 miles. The pirates head north along Bayshore Boulevard and into downtown Tampa, and they won't be alone. More than 130 units take part in the procession, including 50 Krewes, 90 floats, and 14 marching bands. Just like the children's parade, the Parade of Pirates is free to attend, but you can reserve bleacher seats for the best, most comfortable view.
The best view might be from your living room. Once again this year, News Channel 8 will broadcast the parade, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. You can also watch the parade online, here on WFLA.com. Our partner radio stations, 970 WFLA and 93.3 FLZ will also be broadcasting the parade.
The fun doesn't end when the parade is over. The Gasparilla Pirate Fest Street Festival transforms downtown Tampa into a giant party zone, with live music and plenty of food. The Street Fest takes place along Ashley Drive, between Kennedy Boulevard and Cass Street, and includes Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. It's open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., on January 26. Live musical performances begin at 5 p.m.