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January 4, 2019

Gasparilla Children’s Parade | It’s a Pirate’s Life for Tampa Bay Kiddos! 

By Anu Varma Panchal

Calling all pint-size pirates and diminutive buccaneers: Your day has come.  

And lucky you, because only in Tampa Bay do we have an entire afternoon set aside for the tiniest of our sea-faring folk to strut their stuff up and down Bayshore Boulevard.  

Related: Recycle your Gasparilla beads at the Florida Aquarium and get admission discounts!

The Children’s Gasparilla Parade is Saturday, January 19, 2019. Whether you’re new in town or a seasoned buccaneer who keeps her dagger sharpened and his seafaring legs braced, this day might be the most fun one of the calendar year till Halloween and Christmas swing back around. In addition to the actual parade, which features dozens of floats rolling down Bayshore Boulevard throwing beads, there’s a bicycle rodeo, a preschooler’s stroll, an “air invasion” and SOCOM jump, and to cap it all off, a magnificent fireworks display over the bay.  

Related: The Ultimate Gasparilla Pirate Fest Guide

This year, the parade is sponsored by Chick-fil-A for the first time. “We are excited about the new partnership with Chick-fil-A this year!” says Maiken Stefany, vice president of Events and Development at Eventfest. “They’ve come on board as our Presenting Sponsor for the Children’s Gasparilla event in 2019 and there’s going to be a lot of fun and great activations taking place with them!” 


Bicycle Safety Rodeo 

Ships are all very well, but sometimes, a pirate needs his or her wheels. Come check if your skills are up to par by participating in the popular Bicycle Rodeo on Bayshore Boulevard between Rome Avenue and Dakota Street  from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.  

“The clinic is a basic skills course and general education of bike safety for kids ages 4-17,” explains Tampa Police Officer David DiMarco. “Our target audience is typically 6-14 years of age. Every kid participating will receive a free helmet that was donated from FDOT.” The event will be staffed with volunteers from Hillsborough County BPAC, St. Joseph’s Hospital Safe Routes to School, and Bike/Walk/Tampa Bay. 

While supplies last, children will be fitted with bicycle helmets that they can take home for free. Last year, 350 helmets were donated by onbikes and FDOT, and about 1,500 children rode in the course. Some lucky children also received free bicycles raffled off by onbikes, a charity that aims to provide foster children with bicycles. This year, although the logistics of the bike giveaway proved to be a little too complicated to repeat, DiMarco says about 350 helmets will again be given away.


Preschooler’s Stroll 

At the 2019 Gasparilla Preschooler’s Stroll presented by ZooTampa at Lowry Park, a 14-year tradition that was started in 2005, kids 5 and under can strut their stuff down a half-mile parade route from Howard to Rome Avenues. Any little ones who don’t yet have their land legs can parade in or on a decorated scooter, stroller, bicycle or tricycle. Grand-pirates and others can get the best view of the parade from the Howard Avenue bleachers.  

Pirates love mayhem, but they also follow strict rules of conduct. Here’s the preschool stroll manifesto: 

  • The stroll will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. Schedule naps accordingly. 
  • Pirate attire is mandatory. Think menacing, but overlaid with a dash of adorable. 
  • Pirates must be accompanied by a landlubber/adult. Rules are rules, and those old seadogs have their uses, such as carrying snacks.  
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed. Don’t be the son of a biscuit eater who rolls up on an electric scooter and is turned away. 
  • No walkups on the day of will be allowed. The privateers over at the Eventfest office must receive your application by Jan. 5 or you’ll have to drown your sorrows on the sidelines with a bunch of spectating scallywags.  

So dust off those feathered hats. Polish those boot buckles. Put the final touches of frippery and feathers and beads on that wagon. Because when you roll down that road with the kind of swagger your parents can only dream of imitating, you’ll want to be seen on the sweetest ship on the sea. 


The Children’s Gasparilla Parade  

This is the main event, and each year, the crowds have only gotten bigger! So come early and find a good spot. The Children’s Gasparilla Parade will begin at Bay to Bay and Bayshore Boulevard, proceed north along Bayshore Boulevard and end at Edison Avenue.  

Related: Local Parents Share Pro Tips to Navigate Parade Day

Past parades have seen more than 100 units roll past, with marching bands, dance units and numerous school, community and neighborhood organizations. The highlight, of course, are the krewes and their elaborate floats. This is where kids 6 and above can participate. 

Train your eyes on the skies for two incredible shows put on by the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Parachute Team as they perform a “Gasparilla Air Invasion,” landing on Bayshore Boulevard just before the start of the children’s parade. They’ll perform again at night just before the day’s grand finale—the Gasparilla “Piratechnic” Extravaganza Fireworks show—which will be launched just off Bayshore Boulevard. The ideal spot to watch the fireworks from is near Show Center at Howard and Bayshore, as this is where you’ll best hear the music to which the fireworks are timed.  

You won’t be allowed to park in the neighborhoods around the parade route, but there’s plenty of parking available in lots and garages around town that charge a one-time fee. A shuttle will operate continuously from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., picking up at Fort Brooke Garage at the corner of Franklin and Whiting Streets and dropping off at Bayshore Boulevard and the Crosstown Expressway. Adults pay $10 to ride the shuttle; children accompanied by an adult ride free. 

You can come early and snag a spot for your blankets and picnic on the grassy median, or you can reserve seats. These are $40 in advance (plus tax) for bleacher seats; $50 for reserved chair seats; and $135 for adults and $85 for children for private seating and a catered lunch. All these are available on a first come, first served basis, and prices will go up on the day of the event.  

For more information, to reserve seats or stock up on pirate gear, visit www.gasparillatreasures.com. 

If you absolutely can’t make it, here’s the other way you can watch it: It will be broadcast live on FOX 13 and streamed live on their website.


This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine! Click to read more Gasparilla related fun!


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