The National Hockey League’s All-Star Weekend in Tampa took a slight swashbuckling detour Saturday afternoon, as an estimated 300,000 pirate-clad parade watchers and onlookers swarmed Bayshore Boulevard for the annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest.
The 2018 edition of Gasparilla looked a lot like many of its 101 previous incarnations – albeit for the noticeable fondness for ice hockey. This year, the Stanley Cup – complete with life jacket – sailed into Tampa aboard the Jose Gasparilla. Mayor Bob Buckhorn handed over keys to the city to pirates in exchange for hockey’s beloved championship trophy.
Many attendees of the alcohol-friendly celebration were locals, like Sue Trujillo and Leo Bonnes, 12-year veterans of Gasparilla. The couple said they spend about 30 hours each year buying beads and putting together their outfits for Gasparilla. It’s the camaraderie and partying spirit that they love.
“Watching the ship invade the city, and all of the people, this is what Tampa is about,” Trujillo said.
— Daylina Miller (@DaylinaMiller) January 27, 2018
Tampa Police said there were relatively few arrests, considering the number of people attending the event. One person was arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer, while 19 people were charged for misdemeanor crimes, including 14 for underage drinking and other charges: misdemeanor battery, disorderly conduct and trespassing after warning. One person received a civil citations for possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.
Also, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers patrolled the flotilla in the waters near the parade. A total of 15 people were arrested and removed for being impaired and under the influence while operating a boat.
Newcomers like Sallie Payne were quick to embrace the fictional tale of the pirate Jose Gaspar that fuels the event. The drinking that’s also a legendary aspect of the parade is fun, in moderation, she said.
"The pirate life is doing what you, want when you want, but being respectful as well, Payne said. “You can have a good time, but still be respectful."
David Sabo, another Gasparilla rookie, enjoyed the opportunity to don a pirate hat, a wig with fake dreadlocks and contact lenses that change color.
“Being dressed up is kind of fun and there’s a lot of activity going on, a lot of fun people,” he said. “It’s a friendly place to be.”
While the parade didn’t officially start until 2 p.m., many people were in place hours before, such as Lashanda Lovett, a University of South Florida alumna who drove from Orange City to celebrate. Her advice: "avoid eye contact with weirdos" and arrive early.
“It's a time to come and celebrate and have a good time, she said. “Drink, eat and be merry."