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Look back on a fun-filled Gasparilla day

Published:   |   Updated: January 25, 2014 at 10:49 PM

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TAMPA — It was a full day for Gasparailla pirates, parade participants, vendors and spectators. Here are some snapshots of Saturday's festivities, from the anticipation of mid-morning to the aftermath of early evening:

9:05 a.m. Bayshore Boulevard and W. Platt Street

Raymond Christopher hasn't been to Gasparilla in some 40 years, but he's prepared.

Raymond, his wife, Patty, and son, Ryan are planted in folding chairs in front of a Publix supermarket long before throngs of pirates swarm through Tampa's streets.

Patty grabs her husband's wallet and heads into the store for a pair of sunglasses. They're traveling light. They'll go back to the store later when they're hungry or thirsty.

“We'll go from here, straight to the Lightning game after the parade,” Ryan says.

- Yvette C. Hammett

9:40 a.m. Davis Islands boat ramp

While waiting for the rest of their pirate crew to arrive, Ruby, Lauren and Hector Valdes busy themselves stringing beads around the T-top on the Strike III, their center-console boat. Nathan Russell uncorks a bottle of champagne, offering mimosas, as Kristen Adkins and Sharon Russell arrive for the boat trip into Hillsborough Bay. They'll meet up with the Jose Gasparilla as it sails toward Seddon Channel and downtown.

“When you live here, you have to embrace Gasparilla,” Sharon says. “We watched it from land for years. Now, we're going by boat.”

- Yvette C. Hammett

10:30 a.m., Bayshore and Gandy boulevards

While pirates scurry aboard the Jose Gasparilla ship at the Tampa Yacht Club and the first cannon booms echo across Hillsborough Bay, authorities block off Bayshore Boulevard and prepare for the afternoon parade.

Massive floats taking their places in the parade line are met by about two dozen police officers. Police dogs search each vehicle and all 140 parade floats for bombs and other weapons. Officers check credentials for people marching and performing in the parade.

Security is heightened for this year's parade after the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

“That basically changed the landscape for the way large events are staged and secured,” says Jane Castor, Tampa's police chief, at a pre-parade media briefing on Bayshore.

Authorities have installed more surveillance cameras and posted elevated cubicles along the route, with police officers watching the partying crowd from above.

By 7 p.m., after the parade, authorities announce a preliminary tally of arrests made throughout the day: 3 felony arrests and 39 misdemeanor arrests, including 12 for underage drinking. Sixty-three open-container citations are issued.

- Elizabeth Behrman

11 a.m., Bayshore Boulevard

A mail truck hurries down Bayshore Boulevard to complete its rounds before the roadway is choked with parade-goers. By mid-morning the truck had reached the security checkpoint near Gandy Boulevard for all parade floats and participants.

11:15 a.m., Ybor City

Melissa Dietrich and Rebecca Leipold of Milwaukee are eager to get day passes and pack into the TECO streetcar filled with revelers heading to the Gasparilla parade.

Accompanied by their friend from Valrico, Jodi Hafemeister, the trio are primed for the party. Melissa and Rebecca brought wench costumes with them on the plane. They're carrying water bottles and backpacks loaded with some hard stuff.

“Do you realize how cold it is in Wisconsin?” Rebecca says. “We came last year and loved it, so we came back again.”

A crew of costumed women ramble up 15th Street, singing the University of Florida Gators' song, 'We are the Boys From Old Florida.'

 - Yvette C. Hammett

Noon, Tampa Convention Center

As the Jose Gasparilla sails across Hillsborough Bay toward downtown Tampa, pirates' fans dine on scrambled eggs, bacon, berry tarts and croissant doughnuts. Some make repeated trips to the bloody mary and mimosa bars.

For two days before the invasion, some 25 members of the kitchen staff at the Tampa Convention Center sliced melons and Plant City strawberries, pre-cooked French toast, baked breads and loaded up the bar for some 700 guests who paid $70 each for a front-row view of disembarking pirates capturing the city.

“It's not the biggest event we do. We've done some for 8,000 people,” said Chef Michael Russell. But for locals it might be the most memorable brunch of the year.

“We pre-make the fruit platters; we have a team on sausage and bacon and prepare platters of cheeses,” he said.

When diners head out to watch the parade, their bellies full, and the convention center staff will move in to clean up and restock the bar in preparation for an after-party slated for late afternoon.

 - Yvette C. Hammett

1:45 p.m., Publix supermarket

The Publix store at Bayshore and Platt is overrun with parade-goers buying — or replenishing supplies of — sandwiches, fried chicken and cases of beer.

2:45 p.m. South Parker Street

Small groups of revelers walk toward West Kennedy Boulevard, unsure where they should stand to watch the parade.

Some ask for directions from a security guard blocking the entrance to The Tampa Tribune, then turn around and head for Bayshore Boulevard.

- Yvette C. Hammett

3:30 p.m., Bayshore Boulevard

As the parade lumbers by, Nick and Jennifer Friedman, along with about 200 of their friends and relatives, enjoy a party on the front lawn of the couple's Bayshore home.

The guests — dressed in their best Gasparilla garb — watch the revelers, listen to music and pose for photographs with live parrots. A bouncer stands by the gate, checking guests off an invitation list and giving them bright-green wristbands.

This is the second parade-viewing party hosted by the Friedmans, who moved into their home in December 2012. Banners for Nick's company, College Hunks Hauling Junk, hang on a chain-link fence surrounding the property.

“This is one of the advantages of living on Bayshore,” says Nick, 31. “What's better than waking up and seeing a parade out front?”

The pair plan to make Gasparilla parties an annual tradition, each year more elegant and upscale than the last, they say.

“As soon as the Christmas decorations come down, the Gasparilla decorations go up,” Nick says.

- Elizabeth Behrman

 

6:30 p.m., downtown

Weary Gasparilla-goers trudge from Bayshore Boulevard and other parade-watching perches toward downtown, where there is a post-parade party. Others have made it to their cars, and sit in heavy traffic as police officers direct them around still-closed roads toward home or other destinations.

 

7 p.m., Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

Persistent revelers eat, drink and listen to a band. Many of them have collapsed on the park's lawn after a long day of standing or partying.

Rachel Ferguson, 22, and friends planned to stick around for the fireworks, but the show won't start for three hours. The group probably will go somewhere else downtown, they say.

This was the first Gasparilla parade for Ferguson, who moved to Tampa from New York less than one year ago. She was surprised by the amount of alcohol consumed by the attendees.

“It was a good time, though,” she says. “It was definitely a lot more lively that I would have imagined.”

Will she come back next year?

“Probably.”

- Elizabeth Behrman

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