Gaspa who? Gasparilla is the nickname of Jose Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who raided the west coast of Florida during the late 1700s. The folklore accounts for the festival’s location in Tampa, but Gasparilla, the man, may be a fabrication.
The story goes like this. An old man named Jose Gomez, who lived in Boca Grande, used to regale locals with tales of his exploits as a young man. Jose claims to have served in the Spanish Navy in the late 1700s, but left this life behind when he captured and ransomed a wealthy man’s teenage daughter. After this successful exchange of booty for booty, Gomez made a career of raiding merchant ships in the Gulf of Mexico.
Problem is, the first documented occurrence of this myth is from a 20th century advertising brochure for the Boca Grande hotel. It’s widely believed that the land developer fabricated the myth to add sizzle to his brochure.
The festival, however, is real.
The hosts are The City of Tampa and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. The Krewe is an event organizer that brings a family oriented style of Mardi Gras atmosphere to the Tampa area.
Children can get their faces painted like fearsome pirates and costumes are encouraged. In fact, more adults dress up than kids! And, as with most festivals, there are plenty of street vendors selling food, t-shirts, and pirate memorabilia, of course.
• Pirate ship boat parade in the harbor (11am– 1pm)
• Parade of Pirates on Bayshore Blvd. featuring pirate-themed floats (1pm – 5pm)
• Free concerts (5pm – 10pm)
The Pirate Festival occurs between 10a.m. to 10p.m. on the last Saturday in January, a time of year when Florida weather is spectacular. Admission is free.