TAMPA, Fla. - Gasparilla season officially kicks off this weekend when little pirates will invade the city. The G-rated Children's Parade is held the week before the more raucous Gasparilla Pirate Fest and has been a part of the festival's history since the 1940s.
Pint-sized pirates come out in force for the annual Gasparilla Children's Parade. There are more than 100 dance groups, marching bands, and floats filled with boisterous buccaneers.
And everyone's got their eyes peeled for the prized booty.
"The beads,” said Tampa mom, P.J. Linn. “Collecting the beads, definitely."
"The energy is really high, it's usually great weather, the outfits and some of the things being tossed out to the crowd are exciting for the kids," Maggie Sullivan said.
The kid-friendly event has been a Bay Area tradition for 70 years, but it started out much different than the parade we know today.
"Beads didn't some into Gasparilla until 1985-1986 and it was a direct result of beads at Mardi Gras," said Rodney Kite-Powell, historian at the Tampa Bay History Center.
He says the first official children's parade took place in 1949.
"Coming out of World War II, Ye Mystic Krewe and the civic leaders of the city really wanted Gasparilla to be something really special,” Kite-Powell said. "They really wanted multiple parades to highlight Gasparilla and bring tourists into the area."
Photographs show the early events had more involvement by community groups and schools, with an almost handmade quality to the parade.
"One of the biggest things is there weren't floats, the traditional floats that were in the big Gasparilla parade, which they certainly had then, they didn't utilize,” said Kite-Powell. “The kids themselves seemingly made these little floats and they were pulled by the kids."
The tiny pirates also marched through downtown on Franklin Street. The procession wasn't moved to its current home on Bayshore Boulevard until 2002.
Over the years, the Children's Parade has not been held continuously and it wasn't always on a Saturday.
"I think as the big parade began to evolve into what it is today, maybe the need for a children's parade on a more consistent basis became more evident," Kite-Powell said.
The event certainly has emerged as a family-friendly way to enjoy the Tampa pirate tradition.
This year, the Gasparilla Children's Parade kicks off at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, with entertainment starting at 11 a.m. If you can't make it out, the entire parade will be broadcast on FOX 13 starting Saturday at 4 p.m.