Ever since Johnny Depp's Oscar®-nominatedportrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, it seemsas though pirates are everywhere these days.But where can you go in this work-a-dayworld to find some real pirates? Head to Tampa Bay.This February marked the 100th anniversary ofGasparilla, an event that celebrates the rambunctiousand adventurous spirit of piracy as embodied in legendarypirate Jose Gaspar and his motley crew, whoreputedly patrolled the Gulf Coast of Florida in thelate 1700s. The Gasparilla Pirate Fest kicks off with1000 rowdy pirates invading downtown Tampa atopa real-life pirate ship—canons roaring, flags flying—while loyal Tampa residents in their own sea-faringvessels are poised to defend the city. However, thepirates cannot be stopped, and they proceed downBayshore Boulevard in a parade filled with floats, localcelebrities, and enough beads to rival Mardi Gras.
Fun at the Raid, Matey
Lady Tampa Bay
Most parade-goers simply claim a spot along theparade route and clamor to be showered with beads.This tends to be where the rowdy crowds roam. Toget away from the roar of the crowd while still beingin the thick of things, you can purchase a bleacherseat along the parade route for $20. Another morefamily-friendly option is booking tickets on the yachts(813-223-7999; www.starshipdining.com) or(813-229-2248). These yachts do anannual Gasparilla cruise that puts you right in themiddle of the invasion. Another popular choice forenjoying the festivities is the brunch hosted by theTampa Convention Center (where the Gasparilla shipdocks). The cost is $38 to $48 per person and offersfront-row views of the assault.
After matching wits with the local pirates, you andyour crew will probably be craving some grub and grog.An affordably priced local eatery is Cappy's (813-254-4948), which is located on South Howard Avenue inSouth Tampa. They have a fantastic Greek salad on themenu along with their award-winning pizza. For a moreupscale eatery restaurant, another spot that the localsrave about is Bern's Steakhouse. The selection of beefentrees is remarkable, as is the wine cellar—it has morethan 2500 separate wine entries in its vault.
Walk the Culture Plank
For shopping and more restaurant options,Channelside (www.channelside.com) is a newly builtretail complex with plenty to entertain pirate and touristalike, including nightclubs and an IMAX theater. Just ashort walk from Channelside is the Florida Aquarium(813-273-4000; www.flaaquarium.org), which is not tobe missed. The displays are excellent—especially theDragons Down Under attraction, which recreates seadragon habitats, giving you an up-close experience withthese mystifying creatures. In addition to the sites, theaquarium is fortunate to have a staff of retirees who reallyenjoy sharing their aquatic knowledge with visitors.
For those in search of cultural enrichment, theTampa Museum of Art (813-274-8130) houses a veryaccessible collection of art, including 20th-centuryand contemporary art, as well as a renowned collectionof Greek and Roman antiquities. Be sure to checkfor their special exhibition—you may encounter somepretty extraordinary pieces.
If you are interested in the Cuban influences thatgive Tampa its rich cultural climate, hop a trolleydown to Ybor City. Founded in 1886 by cigar manufacturersVincent Martinez Ybor and Don IgnacioHaya, Ybor City was once the crown jewel of thecigar industry, producing over 400 million cigars peryear. The city has recently been rejuvenated and isnow home to a wide range of quirky shops, diverserestaurants, and a thriving nightlife.
After taking in all that Tampa has to offer, you willfind that there are quite a few comfortable accommodationsto choose from. The Radisson Riverwalk Hotel(813-223-2222; 800-333-3333), located on Tampa'swaterfront in the heart of downtown Tampa, oftenoffers specials for Gasparilla weekend. So adjust youreye patch and perch a parrot on your shoulder—thepirates are coming to Tampa.