Florida does have a rep. “God’s Waiting Room” is also billed as a place where blue-haired ladies careen down A1A in their silver Cadillac sedans, determined to make it to Ruby Tuesday by Happy Hour. Or where grandparents arrive on the Auto-Train, hoping to escape a northern winter’s wrath and fill their days with mahjong and golf.
Gasparilla Weekend in Tampa refocuses that Sunshine State snapshot.
Talk about a BOOM TOWN! Standing on the porch of daughter Lisa’s classic bungalow, one block in from the fabulous Bay, I heard guns thundering at 9 AM on Saturday.
And so began the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, a once-a-year-event where hundreds of pleasure ships storm through Seddon Channel to “defend” the city from a friendly invasion of pirates aboard the Jose Gasparilla, the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship. Once docked, the pirate captain demands the key to the city from the mayor, yadda yadda, and the swashbucklers then hold their “victory parade” through the streets of Tampa.
By early afternoon, crowds are standing cheek-to-jowl along Bayshore Boulevard watching the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. Since its inception in 1904, this parade has grown to be the third largest in the United States!
Nearly every float (and there were hundreds) boasts a buccaneer theme and nearly every pirate aboard those floats has one goal: to toss as many bead necklaces as possible to the 300,000 visitors lining the parade route.
But Tampa is not just booming with cannons. This Gulf coast city of 375,000 is enjoying a tropical youth wave. Mr. Wonderful and I sensed the average crowd age skyrocketed while we sipped tangy margaritas at bartaco in Tampa’s Hyde Park district, then later dined in the ultra cool Ulele restaurant along Tampa’s Riverwalk.
Walking through a neighborhood park one morning, I watched 25 guys play a spirited basketball game — at 7:30 AM. I passed the swish Cine Bistro, an upscale cinema chain that serves bistro food, popcorn and cocktails during film screenings.
Live oaks draped with Spanish moss border crescent-shaped Bayshore Boulevard. I admired the roses and magnolias blooming in front of the Georgian and Mediterranean mansions that line this fabulous boulevard, and enjoyed the constant breeze from the sparkling Bay.
After Sunday brunch at the Oxford Exchange, a European-inspired restaurant with bookstore and shops, we headed to Amalie Arena for the All-Star Hockey Game. Mr. W. and I were undoubtedly the only fans NOT wearing hockey shirts touting the numbers of Nikita Kucherov or Steven Stamkos, local ice heroes. The Bolts rule here!
One person pointed out to me that the joy of seeing hockey in Tampa, as opposed to the Boston Garden, say, is that you don’t have to wear scarves, mittens or down jackets to the game. The only frozen thing in Tampa might be a daiquiri.
The sweetest spot in this vibrant city has to be the Sprinkles ATM in the Hyde Park district. Nestled near a Vineyard Vines and Buddy Brew coffee house, this pink ATM machine is open 24 hours a day. Insert your credit card, select from a menu of 15 flavors, out pops a Sprinkles cupcake.
Things are not just sweet but BOOMING in Tampa.