Colorful beaded necklaces, eye patches, whiskers — real and fake — and pirate hats of every variety were the uniform of the day at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Saturday. The annual invasion, parade and party are Tampa's signature event, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the city's waterfront. This year's festivities took place on an ideal Florida winter day: blue skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the 70s.
It's about the beads
Dozens of people leaned into the railing of Platt Street Bridge, some waiting hours for the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship to sail across Hillsborough Bay and up Seddon Channel to downtown Tampa. Children and adults alike were eager to scream for fistfuls of the marauders' colorful, sparkling beads.
Alas, law enforcement officers arrived to shoo them away — something about safety on the drawbridge. Some people crept back onto edges of the structure to cheer the pirates' arrival amid booming cannons, fluttering flags and smoke curling from the invaders' pistols.
Everyone had a bead-catching technique.
Milwaukee resident Dave Wolff held his 2-year-old grandson, Amir Hosni, aloft on his shoulders for one of the best views of the downtown harbor. Amir's grandmother, Karen Wolff, told the boy to raise his arms and yell, "Beads!" when the pirates came ashore.
During the subsequent parade on Bayshore Boulevard, Florida State University student and Texas native Maria Cardenas, 21, stretched out her arms and shouted, "Pink is my favorite color!" Around her neck were at least a dozen strings of colored beads; one was pink. But the pirates got the message. Her strand of pink trinkets piled next to others that were white, purple, green, black, red and silver.
Mayor backs down
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who took the city's helm in April, seemed to be everywhere in days leading up to Saturday's invasion. It was his first watch as mayor during Gasparilla.
On Tuesday, he boldly refused to surrender the key to the city when a handful of pirates showed up at City Hall. On Saturday, however, he reluctantly gave in after a much larger band of the scallywags came ashore at the Tampa Convention Center shortly after noon.
"They've kidnapped my daughters. They've kicked my dog. They don't smell good," his honor lamented.
The masses gathered at the convention center roared approval when Buckhorn asked if he should give up the city.
"I think we're overrun by these lame pirates," the mayor said. "I'd rather be alive to fight another day."
He handed over the key to the city — festooned with a purple ribbon.
Great day for a parade
A major road improvement project along Bayshore Boulevard was completed just in time for Gasparilla. Floats, convertibles carrying politicians and sports figures, and marching pedestrians traversed the route smoothly.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Tampa Bay Ray stars Matt Joyce, David Price and James Shields were among those waving to revelers and tossing beads to the crowd.
The Pirate Fest parade featured pirates, marching bands, Tampa Bay Buccaneer stars LeGarrette Blount and Arrelious Benn, a once-stumbling Captain Morgan and even a Tampa Bay Lightning float complete with recently maligned mascot ThunderBug.
Armwood High School football players walked the route, waving one banner proclaiming that the team went 15-0 and won the 2011 state championship. Players held another banner reminding revelers the team also "shut out Plant (High School) 21-0."
Joyce, the Rays' right fielder, said he was excited about being one of the parade's grand marshals and his team's chances for success this year.
"We're going to be good," Joyce said. "The guys are excited and it's right around the corner, so we're ready to go."
News Channel 8 reporter Jennifer Leigh said it was tradition to kiss the mayor, but she also kissed Joyce on the cheek.
"I think we might be going steady," she told him.
Leigh also kissed Buckhorn's cheek. Buckhorn told Leigh he was "far better looking and far more athletic and talented" than Joyce.
After the kiss, Buckhorn crowed, "It doesn't get any better that."
Police arrested hundreds fewer people at Gasparilla this year than last year.
Most of the arrests in previous parades resulted from people walking around with open containers of alcoholic beverages. But this year, thanks to a new city ordinance, police instead issued citations to revelers drinking outside designated wet zones.
As of Saturday night, police had made about 50 arrests and issued 302 citations.
Police arrested 342 people last year, including 277 "alcohol arrests" and 43 for underage drinking. In 2010, police arrested 415 people, including 367 "alcohol arrests" and nine for underage drinking.
This year, adults with open containers of alcohol in unauthorized areas received a $75 citation for a first offense, a $150 citation for a second offense, a $300 citation for a third offense and a $450 citation for a fourth offense.
On with the show
When the parade came to an end on Ashley Drive, concertgoers began flocking to nearby Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
The Gasparilla Pirate Fest Stage there put on three free post-parade performances: C'NERGY, Daniel B. Marshall and Skycoasters.
Just before taking the stage, Rafael Olmeda, C'NERGY's musical director, said he never had played for pirates before but was looking forward to standing before hundreds and performing everything from rhythm and blues to pop, from old school to new school.
"It is very energetic," he said of the crowd. "You can feel the happiness of party time."
Asked how intoxicated he thought the concertgoers would be, Olmeda said, "Drunk or not drunk, we're going to make them dance."
Karen Cook and her boyfriend, Sebastian Casal, sat in Curtis Hixon and rocked to C'NERGY's music — even while the parade carried on behind them.
"This music goes back," Cook said. "This is awesome. You don't hear this a lot. You could catch a parade anytime — but not this."
Aargh! What a mess
City cleanup crews were hard at work all evening.
More than 100 staffers from the city's parks/recreation and solid-waste departments focused on gathering trash left by revelers along the parade route.
Tonya Brickhouse, solid waste director, estimated the crew would collect 30 tons of trash and 12 tons of recyclable material.
Workers broke into six teams and took positions at locations along the route. Using everything from garbage trucks to rakes and shovels, they began picking up the mess Saturday afternoon and planned to have the area looking pristine by the middle of the night.
Among the recyclables: cardboard, glass, cans and plastic bottles.
Among the trash: cups and beads — lots of beads.