Gasparilla 2021 Pirate Festival canceled due to continued COVID-19 concerns

Gasparilla Invasion – Courtesy: Gasparilla Pirate Fest website

It seems like every other week another major Florida event is canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this week serves as another example as to why public safety is the main priority for festival and large-scale event organizers during the pandemic.

Despite having the luxury of operating in a fully open state like Florida, many organizers have made the decision to drop the hatchet on plans for major crowd favorite festivals in 2021. And now, one of the state’s most popular will be joining that long list—Tampa Bay’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival. 

“We hoped to safely and effectively hold Children’s Gasparilla presented by Chick-fil-A Tampa Bay and Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest, but believe it is our community’s best interest to refrain from hosting festivities this year,” said Ye Mystic Crew of Gasparilla Captain Peter Lackman. “The pirate invasion will continue in 2022, with the excitement and revelry that Tampa Bay has come to know and love.”

2021 would’ve been more special and likely rowdier than ever before, considering the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl 55. The pirate monikered professional football team shares a unique tie to the festival, and considering they share the same city; it would have been a fitting pirate invasion in the Bay. 

Tampa Bay has served as the home for the pirate invasion since 1904, and this year marks the first time since 1991 that the event will not take place. In its almost 120 year history, the festival has only been canceled 12 times, mainly due to World Wars. 

“Only a handful of times did our daring pirate invaders decide to spare the city from invasion due to unprecedented world events. This year, our pirates are making a similar decision to remain offshore and table their invasion plans until the seas calm,” read an official statement from festival organizer YMKG.

The annual event draws thousands of spectators and festival-goers to the Tampa Bay area, where the “Gasparilla Invasion” begins in a re-enactment of the folklore tales highlighting the pirate invasion of the Gasparilla Flotilla. The only fully-rigged pirate ship in the world leads a Tampa Bay invasion along the Hillsborough Bay followed by hundreds of boats through Davis and Harbour Island before it docks at the Tampa Convention Center where the Mayor of Tampa “surrenders” the key to the city to the YMKG Captain.

Key to the City “Surrender” – Courtesy: Gasparilla Pirate Fest website

The bay invasion is then followed by the Parade of Pirates, which attracts even more spectators along a 4.5-mile-long parade route into downtown Tampa filled with festive music, colorful beads, costumes, and over 100 parade floats, bands, “Krewes,” and pirates. 

According to folklore, Spanish pirate José Gaspar, known by his name of Gasparilla, raided the west coast of Florida on separate occasions between the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Gasparilla Invasion – Courtesy: Gasparilla Pirate Fest website

The annual Parade of Pirates was slated to take place on Saturday, April 17, but event organizers are indicating that it will likely be rescheduled for Jan. 29 of next year. According to the festival website, the festivities would begin with the children’s parade the week before and would end with the Outbound Voyage on the final Saturday in February. 

Floridians and out-of-state pirate lovers will have to wait until 2022 before they can celebrate this iconic Florida festival.

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