Thousands will flood the streets for the Gasparilla parade on Saturday, turning a big swath of South Tampa into a raging buccaneer street party.
And it's not only locals who want in on the action. The city's most famous tradition draws people from around the country – many who've never been before.
In the interest of helping newbies avoid embarrassment, aggravation and possible arrest, we asked for your help guiding them. It turns out that after more than 100 years of partying like pirates, this city has some strong opinions about how to do it the right way.
With the help of your suggestions, here's our Gasparilla do's and don't's guide. First-timers (and maybe veterans too), check it out and learn a thing or two.
Ride the streetcar
The best way to get to – and escape from – the action is to take the TECO Line Streetcar from Ybor City to downtown. If you're cool with loud, off-key singing and being very close to strangers, you might even have more fun on the streetcar than you do at the parade. Note: the streetcar driver does not want a sip of your drink.
Eat a hearty breakfast.
Yes, we're going to sound like your mom here but eat some food before heading out and drinking all afternoon. Also, don't forget water. This is Florida. Don't underestimate the need to stay hydrated when you're out in the sun, even in January. (Oh yeah, wear sunscreen too.) The Gasparilla Invasion Brunch at the Tampa Convention Center is a good option for pre-eats.
Obey parking signs
Speaking of parking, those no parking signs are no joke. You will get a ticket, even on the neighborhood side streets.
Dress like you have some common sense.
Ladies, that means ditch the high heels. Yes, you look hot in stilettos, but if we have to hear about your aching feet every 10 steps as you slow down the entire group, we're going to hand you over to the pirates.
Guys, this means please leave your shirt on. Yes, we know you want to show off your tattoo of the Tazmanian Devil smoking a doobie, but save it for the beach.
Pay for a bleacher seat
The parade and festival are free, but if you cough up $40 you can get a reserved bleacher seat on Bayshore Boulevard, and avoid wandering aimlessly in the huge crowd. Bonus: beads are plentiful on the Bay side especially.
Get there early
South Tampa streets become a parking lot. Early risers have already staked out their spot with a tent. The only decent place to park costs $25. We could go on but just trust us, get there early to avoid the hassles you can avoid.
Leave your kids at home
The kiddos had their turn last week at the children's Gasparilla parade. Now it's the grown-ups turn. If you do decide to take your strollers for something other than carting "essentials," you shouldn't complain when you're surrounded by cursing, loud, and possibly drunk paradegoers.
Be an overzealous bead catcher
The laws of supply and demand dictate that for one magical day in January, plastic beads actually become more valuable than gold in Tampa. But the fact remains: They. Are. Just. Beads. Please don't embarrass yourself by shoulder-checking a 9-year-old kid in order to grab a 10-cent strand of plastic. Plus, as one reader points out, catch too many beads and "your neck will hate you."
Rely on your cell phone
Cell phone service has been known to go down in the parade area because of so many people using their phones at once. Pick a place to meet your friends if you get separated. Just don't pick the Davis Islands Bridge. Memo: Everybody picks the Davis Islands Bridge.
Wee-wee on anything that's not a toilet
It used to be that a man in this town could dress up like a pirate and relieve himself on a stranger's lawn without a care in the world. Ah, simpler times. Now the police have instituted a zero-tolerance policy. Stay close to the portable toilets, or face arrest.
Waste money on an elaborate pirate outfit
Own a scarf? Tie it around your head. Done. Now you have more money for food, drink and merriment. While you're at it, remember to carry cash. The vendors along the parade route don't accept plastic.