Ahoy Mateys! Gasparilla Time in Tampa Bay

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If you are not from Tampa and didn’t attend Super Bowl XLIII, it’s rare that you have ever heard of Gas­par­illa and it’s his­tory. Gas­par­illa is a Mardi Gras meets pirates fes­tival if you will, that is cel­e­brated the entire month of Jan­uary. Named after the leg­endary pirate, Jose Gaspar who was a Royal Spanish Navy lieu­tenant turned pirate that ter­roized the coastal waters of West Florida, the city of Tampa began cel­e­brating Gas­par­illa in 1904. Far dif­ferent from the cel­e­bra­tion we know today with the orig­inal “Ye Mystic Krewe” arriving via horse back to take over the city. Tampa has cel­e­brated Gas­par­illa with only ten excep­tions every year since. The orig­inal Ye Mystic Krewe num­bered a mere 40 mem­bers now num­bers over 700 members.

old gasparilla

In 1954 the Krewe com­mis­sioned the building of the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship to be built in modern times. Named the Jose Gas­par­illa, the ship is a replica of a West Indiaman used in the 18th cen­tury. She is con­structed of steel at 165′ long by 35′ across the beam, with 3 steel masts standing 100′ tall. During the year she is usu­ally docked at the Tarpon Weigh Sta­tion on Bayshore Blvd. for the public’s viewing plea­sure. 1


There are now over 50 dif­ferent Krewes that par­tic­i­pate in the Gas­par­illa parades and cel­e­bra­tion, raising money through out the year for var­ious char­i­ties and foun­da­tions. The Krewes all have dif­ferent com­mu­nity focus and vol­un­teer oppor­tu­ni­ties as well as requirments for mem­ber­ship. Some of the older Krewes have lengthy wait lists and con­sid­er­a­tion for mem­ber­ship is strictly based on legacy. The increased number of Krewes has helped Gas­par­illa grow from a one day cel­e­bra­tion to a lengthy and extremely fun month long party! To start the cel­e­bra­tion there is a smaller, qui­eter and alcohol free kids parade on Bayshore Boule­vard the weekend before the big inva­sion. The  offi­cial “pirate inva­sion” begins with a float­illa of hun­dreds of boats accom­pa­nying the 165′ Jose Gas­par­illa that is packed to the brim with pirates as it enters Tampa Bay and heads towards down­town. The pirates then demand the key to the city and when the Mayor hands it over, the party begins. The main Gas­par­illa parade starts with an air inva­sion along Bayshore Boule­vard, then the Mayor kicks off the parade and nearly 200 floats make their way down Bayshore towards down­town. In the week or two after the main parade there is a Mardi Gras style night parade hosted by the Krewe of Sant ‘Yago in Ybor City. Adding even more cul­ture there is the Gas­par­illa Music Fes­tival and Film Festival.

The main attrac­tion to the parade is catching beads, not to be out­done, the cos­tumes worn and the floats that the pirates ride upon are absolutely fab­u­lous! Although there isn’t much research avail­able for the design process that the Krewes go through before picking their final float design, each Krewe does a have a par­tic­ular theme and time period that the float and cos­tumes reflect. From pirate ships, a Titanic replica, sub­marines, rail­road cars and rolling pageant stages the floats and cos­tumes range from extrav­a­gant and elab­o­rate mas­ter­pieces to the more home­made yet equally loved. There are all female Krewes, cul­tur­ally his­toric Krewes, cowboy Krewes, marching bands and dance com­pa­nies, all to enter­tain the nearly 1 mil­lion people that line beau­tiful attend Gasparilla.

When Gas­par­illa rolls around you will notice that the res­i­dents, espe­cially in the South Tampa neigh­bor­hoods, will begin to adorn their front doors and bal­conies with Gas­par­illa wreaths and pirate flags. And BEADS! What better way to use all of those beads you col­lect during the parade than to dec­o­rate your bal­cony, mir­rors, chan­de­liers, man­tels, apothe­cary jars and bowls? I’ll admit, when I first moved to Tampa I had a strong dis­like for the tacky wreaths that nearly everyone had fes­tooned to their entryway. By the time my second Gas­par­illa rolled around, these quirky grapevine wreaths accented with feathers, beads, glit­tered flowers and coconut pirate heads had really grown on me and now I am the proud owner of five wreaths! Gas­par­illa is also a won­derful crutch from Christmas dec­o­ra­tion with­drawal. Giving you a reason to dec­o­rate on a bit smaller scale. Clayton Gray Home has fab­u­lous pirate items that will help you ready your home for the pirate inva­sion. I know many friends that even after they move away from Tampa, still pull out their pirate decor and put it on dis­play in their new locale.

pirates booty


Cheers Mate Flask, Pirate Box, Skull Box, Bad Boy candle-​​Marie Todd, Cham­pagne cooler

If you ever have the oppor­tu­nity to visit Tampa during the month of Jan­uary, you should def­i­nitely try to schedule your visit around the Gas­par­illa fes­tival and one of the fab­u­lous parades. In addi­tion, check out our col­lec­tion of pirate booty and show some love for Tampa by set­ting up your own pirate dis­play, no matter what part of the country you reside.

We would also like to share with you a Gas­par­illa cock­tail staple, Pirate’s Milk Punch. This recipe comes to us from the Junior League of Tampa’s Life of the Party Cook­book.

Pirates4 Milk Punch

1 c sugar

1c high quality vodka

1c high quality bourbon (do not use sour mash)

2oz PURE vanilla extract

1c French brandy

1t freshly grated nutmeg

whole milk

Com­bine the sugar, bourbon, brandy and vodka in a gallon con­tainer with a lid. An empty gallon milk jug works well. Secure the lid and shake vig­or­ously until the sugar is dis­solved. (bonus:arm workout!) Add the milk, 2c at a time until the jug is full; shake well after each addi­tion. Chill for 8 to 24 hours before serving. Serve very cold or over ice in old-​​fashioned glasses, we prefer silver mint julep cups. Sprinkle freshly grated nutmeg over the top before serving. Yield 1 gallon or about 16 servings.

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