Fairs & Festivals

STORY | Floats, beads pirates prevail during DeSoto Grand Parade

BRADENTON — There were sights to see and beads to catch.

An Elvis impersonator moved his hips on the front of the Easter Seals float. A Manatee waved from the backseat of a Mustang convertible sponsored by Keep Manatee Beautiful. And floats designed to sail down the street had crew members clad in pirate costumes waving to the crowd.

There were more than 150 parade float entries this year for the 71st Annual DeSoto Grand Parade.

Organizers estimated more than 200,000 people attended the event and stood along the 2.5-mile parade route.

Many organizations enter floats in hopes of bringing awareness to a specific cause.

Children stood on a decorated trailer for the Child Abuse Prevention Coalition of Manatee County.

Spotlights hit a backdrop of the organization’s sign with children waving to the crowd and throwing beads.

“We wanted to put the spotlight on child abuse,” said Carren Burnell, who is a member of the nonprofit volunteer organization that strives to educate the public on abuse issues and encourage reporting incidents.

The organization collected beads from children at local schools to throw back into the crowd Saturday.

“I enjoyed seeing how happy people’s faces were when we threw the beads out,” said Sirena Reyes, a 11-year-old student at Moody Elementary whose class helped donate a bucket full of beads. “I was embarrassed at first.”

Small hands were stretched outward waving to parade float crews anticipating shiny beads, fake coins and candy.

People toted coolers, food, blankets and folding chairs along Manatee Avenue. Some went to so far as to rope off sections of pavement with chairs and tape early last week.

“It’s a routine. We do it every year,” said Brea Scott, 28, of Palmetto, standing with her mother and two children near Manatee Avenue and 14th Street West. She showed up about an hour before the parade to find a spot.

Virginia Stinton, 30, stood with her two children near Manatee Avenue West and Ninth Street West behind metal barricades waiting for floats the roll by.

“We try to come every year,” she said. “It’s fun watching all the floats go by. The kids want to come.”

Stinton’s children both enjoy the floats made to look like ships. “They’ve got real pirates,” said Johnathan Branch, 8. “The other good part of it is getting candy.”

“I like to listen to the music and then catch the beads,” said Autumn Branch, 10, chiming in.

Lots of effort and work went into the floats, crew members on floats said. A women’s organization, the Pinellas County-based organization Krewe of Princess Ulele Hirrihigua of the Tocobaga Tribe, had members clad in Native American dress aboard a float made to resemble a ship.

Gay Varano, an Anna Maria Island native, stood aboard the ship. It wasn’t her first time in the DeSoto Grand Parade though. “As a child, I rode in the parade on horse back with the sheriff’s posse,” said Varano, a Manatee High graduate, who now resides in St. Petersburg. “It’s sort of cool home coming. The parade is much bigger now.”