What we saw at Children’s Gasparilla, the family-friendly pirate invasion

The family version of the Gasparilla pirate invasion gave kids their own parade on Saturday, along with an air show, bike rodeo and fireworks in the chilly weather.

Back in 1904, Tampa city leaders came up with a “pirate invasion” on horseback during the city’s May Day festival and it later evolved into its own pirate-themed parade and festival based on the story of the mythical pirate Jose Gaspar (also known as Gasparilla). Similar to Mardi Gras, Gasparilla brings a parade of elaborate floats with beads and toys and candy tossed to the crowd along Bayshore Boulevard. That’s happening next Saturday.

Since 1947, Children’s Gasparilla has been held the week before the big parade. It was created for families with an alcohol-free party on Bayshore that gives kids a first crack at the pirate booty.

Children’s Gasparilla is more than a parade. The G-rated counterpart to the bacchanal that will take over Tampa on Jan. 27 started Saturday with a bike rodeo where kids got a free bicycle helmet before traversing a mini traffic course.

The crowd then looked up into the sky for an air show featuring civilian aerobatic teams, vintage military aircraft and the Chuters, a Tampa-based parachute demonstration team that does aerial jump demonstrations at major events across the country.

Before the big parade, kids were the stars of their own Gasparilla Preschool Stroll, in which families dressed like pirates and decorated their wagons, strollers and tricycles to strut their stuff along Bayshore Boulevard in an adorable parade of pint-sized pirates.

The Children’s Gasparilla Parade, slightly shorter than the one to be held next week, began at Bay to Bay and Bayshore Boulevard, with WWE Superstars Bianca Belair and Montez Ford serving as the parade grand marshals and New York Mets first baseman and Tampa native Pete Alonso honored as this year’s Community Hero for his philanthropic work.

The parade is followed by a pirate-themed fireworks show, a perk the big parade next week won’t get.

For the second year, the Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Group, CARD-USF and Sunrise Group provided a sensory relief zone for those who may become overwhelmed with crowds, sights or sounds.