There was plenty to see and do at the Children's Gasparilla Parade on Saturday, but for the youngest in the huge crowd, it was all about the beads — booty tossed by passing "pirates" as the procession rolled along Bayshore Boulevard.
The roadway was flanked by strollers, blankets, lawn chairs, coolers and other essentials for the family-friendly event that has been part of Tampa's Gasparilla celebration since 1947. Vendors hawked pirate-themed merchandise, from skull-and-crossbones flags to plastic swords.
"Beads are the big thing," said Nicole Russell as she held her 2-year-old, Jaden, and watched for the next wave of airborne beads. Husband James was having better luck, with son Jakobe on his shoulders. Nothing could break their lucky streak, until the 4-year-old announced it was time to find the nearest portable toilet.
Philip Gaukel of New Port Richey had a prime parade position and the booty to show for it. Leaning across the barricade, the 9-year-old used his 18-inch plastic sword to snag high-flying beads headed for the masses behind him.
His collection of trinkets exceeded those he wore. "He had to take some off because they were so heavy they hurt his neck," said his mother, Christine Gaukel, pointing to the bulk of the beads packed for the trip home.
With an excitement rivaling Christmas morning, Gaukel's children woke her at 7:30 a.m., urging an early departure for the 3:30 p.m. procession. No matter, the popular Children's Gasparilla Extravaganza, which included an air invasion with parachute jumps, began at 11 o'clock in the morning.
Kathy Demme of Riverview and Sharon Solt of Zephyrhills first attended the parade as childhood friends and neighbors in 1961. "We went every year together, our whole life," said Demme, 54. "So now we have our children and grandchildren here."
Even Demme's 4-year-old granddaughter grasped Saturday's mission: "Pirate beads," she said.
Fernando Galvan, 49, of Wesley Chapel made the trip to Tampa so brother Ricky, 36, visiting from Chicago with his family, could experience a parade on a day of 73-degree weather, albeit cloudy.
"It's nice down here; it's beautiful," said Ricky, dubbing the parade "excellent, good quality" family entertainment.