The Gasparilla Pirate Fest, better known as the Gasparilla Day Parade, has been Tampa Bay's biggest annual party for decades.The Tampa parade officially takes place from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, but expect people to start showing up at dawn to reserve a spot along beautiful Bayshore Boulevard. Here are 15 rules for having a safe, fun day while surrounded by 400,000 party people.
1. Don't be a bead bully: If you get the urge to push over your neighbor in attempt to grab the shiny object being hurled from the float high above, remember, those beads are basically worthless.
2. Follow the rules of boozing: If you are age 21 or older with valid photo identification, beer along with Captain Morgan Rum and cola can be purchased at one of several Gasparilla Charity Beer Gardens located throughout the event. Despite what you will surely witness as flagrant breaking of the rules, attendees are not allowed to bring their own booze.
3. Bring water: There are more than 100 food, beverage and novelty vendors located throughout the event so you'll survive without packing liquids and lunch. But a couple water bottles and some beef jerky or trail mix stuffed in a pocket or purse always comes in handy. You just can't use glass containers, Styrofoam cups or coolers. Small soft-sided coolers and lunch bags are permitted for childcare needs and medical needs.
4. Bring cash money: All the vendors are cash only so come prepared. If you over-spend, though, there are mobile ATMs located throughout the parade route as well as a few banks and merchants close to or within the event site.
5. Get info on Gasparilla Invasion Flotilla: So ya wanna pretend you're a pirate and travel by boat from Bradenton to come ashore and plunder? Boats larger than 65 feet in length must have dock space secured and must also be permitted to participate. Also, keep in mind that docking space in and around downtown Tampa for Gasparilla is extremely limited. For more information, call 813-251-4500 (participating) or 813-259-1604 (docking).
6. Don't drink and boat: Impaired boaters will have their vessel towed unless there is someone onboard who can operate it.
7. Pick a side and stay: Parade-goers are strongly advised to get to their seats early and cross Bayshore prior to the start of the parade. Event guests with reserved parade seating may be allowed to cross Bayshore at reserved parade seating gates and only when there is a break in the parade lineup as permitted by the gate security officer. Can't get to your seat because the parade already started? Too bad.
8. Plan ahead for parking: Many private lots will sell you a pass days in advance. For more official information regarding parking, transportation and disabled parking, visit gasparillapiratefest.com/parking.shtml. With the additional parking in north downtown, the new parade route up Ashley and the expanded Ybor Street Car, there will not be a shuttle this year for Gasparilla.
9. Leave your pet at home: There are already going to be way too many people acting like animals for any pets to be present. Gasparilla organizers put it only slightly
less bluntly: "Due to the size of the crowd and the nature of the event, we strongly encourage you to leave your pets at home!
The event site is too crowded and is not a conducive environment for animals." Pets (with the exception of animals assisting the handicapped) are prohibited at the Gasparilla Invasion Brunch in the Tampa Convention Center or in the reserved bleacher seating sections.
10. Leave your baby at home: Strollers are allowed in reserved seating sections but they must be stowed under the bleachers or in a non-obstructive area on ground level. Really, though, Gasparilla is too loud and rowdy for any baby to be anywhere near the action. Incidentally, there are no strollers for rent at the festival.
11. Get directions: Information on the street closures and the parking and traffic plan for the Gasparilla event is posted on the City of Tampa's Special Event Office website www.tampagov.net or call 813-274-8750.
12. Reserve space at own risk: No tents of any sort. No reserving an area with rope or fencing it off. You may reserve a spot along the parade route in designated areas by arriving anytime after dawn and physically occupying the space. Attendees are welcome to bring a chair or blanket but don't be surprised to see that blanket get trampled if you plop it down too close to the parade route, a hot dog stand, beer booth, punks, etc.
13. Mark your spot: As soon as you find your a spot, locate a cross street, vendor stand and anything else that will help you to give directions to friends or get back to your spot after a long afternoon of revelry.
14. Beware of rain: Unless it's severe or dangerous weather the parade will proceed. So if there's a chance of rain jam a poncho in your pocket or purse, too.
15. Find a bathroom: Port-o-lets are located throughout the parade route but there never, ever seem to be enough. Some lines are much longer than others. Before reserving your spot, make sure it's near a bathroom line you can live with.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057.Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.