While Florida may be best known for its beaches and theme parks, there are also a number of fun festivals throughout the year worth checking out. From the panhandle to South Florida and points in between, pirates, strawberries, seafood, and music are celebrated. Here are four fun festivals to keep you entertained when you take a break from those beaches and theme parks.
Each January Tampa Bay's mythological pirate, Jose Gaspar swashbuckles his way into town to kick off Gasparilla Season with the Gasparilla Pirate Fest. The invasion begins when Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails the world's only fully rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, into downtown. The pirates disembark at the Tampa Convention Center, where the Mayor hands over the key to the city of Tampa and the celebration begins! The party rolls down Bayshore Boulevard as spectators cheer the elaborate floats, marching bands, and krewes flinging thousands of beads into outstretched hands.
The Saturday prior to Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the mini-pirates take over Bayshore Boulevard in the Gasparilla Children's Parade. This family-friendly event follows a shorter route than its grownup counterpart and includes dance troops, a preschooler's stroll, and more pirates. After the parade, stay and watch the Piratechnic Extravaganza, one of the largest firework shows in the country.
As the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, strawberries are part of the everyday fabric of Plant City, Florida and the biggest event in this community every February is the Florida Strawberry Festival. The festival began in 1930 when the Plant City Lions Club conceived the idea of an event to celebrate the bountiful harvest of strawberries. It ranks among the Top 40 Fairs in North America and typically attracts over 500,000 people during its 11-day run.
The festival has rides along the midway, arts & crafts, livestock exhibitions, and a neighborhood village featuring award-winning cakes, pies, cake decorating demonstrations, quilts, and other crafts including scrapbooking. There are numerous competitions including a Baby Parade where little ones are dressed up and showcased on decorated mini floats. Local beauties even compete for the coveted title of Florida Strawberry Queen.
The festival draws an amazing line-up of entertainers for the nightly shows. Performers in prior years have included Vince Gill, Toby Keith, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, just to name a few. And in 2015 it included actor Kevin Costner and his band Modern West, Boyz II Men, and on the closing night, John Legend!
Founded in 1982, SunFest is Florida's largest waterfront music and art festival. Held each May in downtown West Palm Beach along the Intracoastal Waterway, the festival attracts more than 175,000 visitors. The 2015 line up included Lenny Kravitz, Sammy Hagar, and Stone Temple Pilots. I even caught up with the Village People there a few years back - costumes and all.
Three floating barges along the waterfront offer themed bars with dance music, sports, food, and drinks. SunFest events include the Juried Fine Art & Craft show featuring the work of over 150 national artists. Their art pieces include jewelry, painting, pottery & ceramics, photography, sculpture, wood, arts and crafts, and more. For families, a mini-SunFest features kid-sized fun, activities, and entertainment with face painting, bounce houses, and sandboxes. On the final night, a fireworks display set to music lights up the sky with one of the largest fireworks shows on the East Coast.
Nestled in Florida's panhandle is a place seemingly untouched by time, a place where fishermen head out each day for the perfect catch and communities have country music worthy names like Apalachicola and Alligator Point. This is Franklin County, Florida's forgotten coast, home of the world's smallest police station, a single traffic light, and the annual Florida Seafood Festival.
The festivities kick off each November with the colorful Seafood Festival Parade featuring bands, floats, and local dignitaries. There are blue crab races, arts and crafts exhibits, midway rides, and musical acts. A favorite tradition is the annual Blessing of the Fleet where clergymen, joined by festival royalty King Retsyo and Miss Florida Seafood, bless the parade of passing fishing, shrimping, and oystering vessels along with recreation vessels jammed into the marina.
The nutrient rich waters of the Apalachicola Bay estuarine system produce some of the finest seafood in the country. And at the Food Row area of the festival you can sample delicacies ranging from oysters to smoked mullet and everything in between. If it is caught in the local waters, you will find it here. Oysters are the main attraction at the festival with an oyster eating contest and oyster shucking contest.
What are some of your favorite festivals around the country?
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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