Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Gasparilla 2024: A First-Timer’s Exciting Recap

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCF chapter.

Like many others, I went to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival last weekend in Tampa. This year, the festival drew in around 300,000 people to Tampa, Florida. After seeing the numerous crowds and barely being able to navigate the packed streets, this number seems wildly accurate.

Although it is a well-known celebration in the state of Florida, let’s start with the story behind Gasparilla. Admittedly, when my friends first invited me to join them, I had no idea what it was or what it was about. A pirate festival sounded strange and even a bit childish to me. However, I soon came to realize that Gasparilla is a serious tradition for the city of Tampa, during which they honor the Bay Area’s rich culture and history of pirate activity. Particularly, the celebration of Gasparilla commemorates Jose Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who is said to have pillaged the Florida coast in the late 18th century. Although there is no real evidence that Gaspar existed, the reenactment of the legend has been the fun behind the tradition for over a century now. One of the highlights of the festival is a mock “attack” on Tampa Bay by Gaspar himself in a full-fledged pirate ship. 

The Outfits

As a first-timer, I did not know what to expect at Gasparilla. I was told that people would be dressed up, but based on my prior experiences with parties, I was afraid that the bandana in my hair and my matching romper would seem like I was overdoing it. However, I soon came to find that the opposite was true. At Gasparilla, the outfits did not disappoint at all. Most people were completely decked out in themed garb, with many going as far as to include pirate hats, eye patches, high boots, long gloves, and even full-body parrot costumes. In the end, I felt massively under-dressed. The advice I would give to anyone attending Gasparilla in the future would be to use your outfit to express as much of your inner pirate as possible! 

Gasparilla festival outfits and beads
Photo by Mary Connolly

The Parade

When I was initially told that the Gasparilla parade was among the largest in the country, I was skeptical. One of the biggest parades we have is for a pirate festival? However, I was soon proven wrong. My group was lucky in that we managed to score a spot in the very front of the crowds in full view of the parade, which lasted a little over four hours. It was distinct from any other one I had been to in a great way! The first characteristic that stood out was the enthusiasm of all of its participants. Everyone inside and around the floats were having the time of their lives, and it made for a very pleasant viewing experience. The second notable aspect of the parade would have to be the beautiful artistry behind the floats. There was a ton of effort put into their design and details, especially with the many various-themed pirate ships. My favorites would have to be the Italian and Victorian-themed ships. 

The Beads

The beads of many different colors that are given out during the parade are undoubtedly one of Gasparilla’s highlights. Although they are plastic and can easily be bought in bulk at the dollar store, there is something special about collecting them during the festivities. They are such a valued commodity at Gasparilla that people were continuously fighting over them. The beads definitely added to the enjoyment of the parade and the festival overall. From seeing the amount of people there, I was not expecting to get many beads at all. However, I walked away with over 35 sets around my neck; the beads all coming in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. I am proud of my accomplishment, although I do not know what to do with the beads I was able to collect apart from storing them in my dorm until next year. 

In conclusion, the Gasparilla Festival this year was a one-of-a-kind experience. If you are on the fence about going next year, I highly recommend it! Not only are the festivities college student-friendly (free of charge), but you will be sure to enjoy its vibes, enthusiasm, and uniqueness. Last weekend was my first time at Gasparilla but it certainly won’t be the last as I wholeheartedly intend to return in 2025!

Mary Connolly is a Biomedical Sciences major at UCF with a minor in Political Science, originally from New Hampshire. In her free time, she enjoys doing community service, working out, and hanging out with her beloved Mini Aussie. Some other clubs that Mary is involved in include Catholic Campus Ministry, College Republicans, Volunteer UCF, and Omega Phi Alpha.