If swords and eye patches capture your fancy more than helmets and eye black, you're in luck: Tampa moved up its annual Gasparilla Fest from February to Jan. 27 and 28 to coincide with the Super Bowl. The festival pays tribute to a time when the port of Tampa was an irresistible draw to pirates and buccaneers. Named after the fictional pirate Jose Gaspar, the festival has been a city tradition since 1904.
Here's what to anticipate:
Saturday: Beginning at 11:30 a.m., the Jose Gasparilla, a fully-rigged ship, begins its "invasion" of Tampa from the south end of Hillsborough Bay, followed by hundreds of leisure vessels and crafts. No less than 700 pirates come out for the annual tradition, dodging cannon fire en route to the Tampa Convention Center to take away the key to the city from the mayor.
At 1:45 p.m., a 3.5-mile victory parade of more than 90 floats and 14 bands begins at Howard Avenue and continues down Bayshore Boulevard.
Performing Saturday night on two different stages are k.d. lang, Richard Marx, the Baha Men, K.C. and Jo Jo, Shaggy. The members of 98 Degrees will host on one stage.
Local acts and giant television screens showing the game will pepper the parade route for visitors milling about Tampa.
The whole event is free of charge unless you want to reserve a seat for the parade. Call (813) 353-8108 to snag a parade seat for $18.
Tampa's Latin district is one of only four national historic landmark districts in the state. It takes its name from Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Spanish cigar maker who arrived in the area in 1886 via Cuba and Key West. Soon his factory and others were producing up to 300,000 hand-rolled beauties a day. Although no longer the cigar capital of world, the smell of hand-rolled stogies still hangs in the air and there are several shops where you can watch the cigars being made.
Ybor City (pronounced ee-bor) has become a center of the city's dining and nightlife. At its heart is Centro Ybor, a new dining, shopping and entertainment complex at 7th Avenue and 19th Street. By day, the area offers museums and restaurants, while at night 7th Avenue is open only to foot traffic, where you can enjoy sports bars, dance clubs and live music ranging from jazz and blues to indie rock.
Ybor city offers the widest range of local favorites, from Cuban sandwiches — boiled ham, roasted pork, cheese and pickles on specially baked bread — black bean soup and Spanish paella. Check out the historic Columbia restaurant. You can't miss it: it takes up an entire city block and features Flamenco dancing in the main dining room. Other favorites include Carmine's, one of Ybor's oldest and most popular hangouts.
Hotels and Other Hot Spots
While busy downtown Tampa is largely booked, some hotel rooms remain in nearby St. Petersburg and Clearwater, where you can expect to pay anywhere between $40 and $400 for a room. The best source for finding a hotel at this point is Super Bowl XXXV's official Fan Housing Bureau at (800) 922-1681. Many residents are also offering their homes for the weekend, but rates range from reasonable to outrageous.