The drinking started early Saturday.
By about 1 p.m. crowds of shivering pirates could be seen taking swigs from open bottles of Captain Morgan rum as they walked from as far away as Kennedy Boulevard to the Bayshore parade.
Crowds cheered for pirates who stumbled to the ground but managed to pick themselves back up again. They took selfies with less fortunate buccaneers who remained in heaps in the grass lining the parade route.
"For me, Gasparilla is a spiritual experience," said Tyler Parenti, a 25-year-old in a full-body parrot suit who travels from Jacksonville Beach each year to take in the parade with friends.
"It's about coming together and loving your fellow man and drinking with people of all races and religions and creeds."
And what does he know about the history behind the parade, Jose Gaspar and piracy in Tampa Bay?
"Jose Gaspar is a very nice man and he should definitely be allowed to live in America," Parenti said.
- Anastasia Dawson
Andrea Schush grew up in St. Petersburg and fell in love with Tampa's annual pirate parade in 2001. She hasn't missed one since.
Now 40 and living in Cape Coral, she didn't even consider skipping the trip this year. She aims to be the best dressed, either making her own costume or buying one online like she did this year -- a red and black number with a corset and matching pirate hat.
It's the costumes that keep her coming back, "and the camaraderie."
"You're not the first person to ask to take our picture today," she told a reporter. "And I love that."
She brought along friends Meischa Jackson, who last attended in 2002, and and Alex Diaz, a first-timer,and also made sure they were among the best dressed. Jackson even had a fake parrot on her shoulder.
"Every time I see someone who has the same part of a costume I have, I make them stop and take a photo with me," she said.
- Sara DiNatale
Turner Ashby, 11, and two classmates from Wilson Middle School diligently manned a homemade Gasparilla snack stand at Turner's Oregon Avenue home, selling strands of beads five for $1, Gatorade, snack bars, hot dogs and other parade day essentials.
It's been a tradition for Turner for the past six years he said. Business was good Saturday, but crowds two years ago were bigger and willing to drop more cash on snacks. The proceeds will be split evenly among the three for their college funds, they said.
"I've seen lots and lots of Gasparillas," Turner said. "The whole thing is just about bringing people together and celebrating Tampa's history."
Friend Ziggy Bereday, 12, said the three know all about the legend behind the parade, the fearsome Jose Gaspar who "terrorized south Florida and did bad things." They had to write a paper about him last week in school.
"He's definitely fake, there's absolutely no evidence he existed at all," Ziggy said. "But I think Gasparilla is still pretty cool."
- Anastasia Dawson
Brothers Dave and Mike Fitzgerald are loving husbands, respectable businessmen and mild-mannered Chicagoans -- most of the time.
But in the early 70's, the brothers transformed into the "fearsome Cassanovas" Capt. Bjorn Beerwort and -- Col. Dave.
"We live for the serendipitous experience of interacting with people you've never seen before and will never see again," said Dave, a hair dresser and painter who now lives on Bayshore Boulevard and a member of the Krewe of the Kavaliers.
"It's the laughter, the spectacle, the entertainment," said Mike, as he pulled one of a number of silk kerchiefs from his coat pocket to hand to a damsel he met on Oregon Avenue.
Mike, who travels from Chicago every year for the parade, and Dave spend at least half an hour perfecting their pirate makeup alone before donning period overcoats, silk scarves and layers of jewelry to complete a look worthy of Jose Gaspar.
The makeup they use to blacken their teeth tastes just like M&M's chocolate -- they say. But really, it doesn't.
The key to a perfect Gasparilla experience is a combination of champagne for breakfast, rum and coke with lime for lunch, and a "big drunken spaghetti dinner" with friends, Dave said.
And there must be beads and merrymaking to honor the pirate who started it all, a man who absolutely existed despite all evidence to the contrary, Dave said.
"He was a menace. A murdering marauder who pillaged and plundered in the pursuit of pleasure," added Mike, as he swaggered toward the parade in his oversized pirate boots. "Not a nice guy, but if he inspired all of this, we don't care."
- Anastasia Dawson