Have a swashbuckling good time at these festivals


By Sarah Sekula, published in USA TODAy

Put on your eye patch and grab some grog, there are plenty of pirate parties to keep you busy all year long. From Pirates Week in the gorgeous Cayman Islands to Gasparilla in downtown Tampa, one thing is certain: pirates sure knew how to live it up.

Pirates Week, Cayman Islands

Each November, the Cayman Islands hosts its wildly popular 11-day pirate extravaganza that typically attracts 35,000 visitors. First there are fireworks, then a local song contest and a mock invasion where two old-fashioned sailboats packed with pirates make a surprise landing in the George Town harbor. There are parades galore, street dances, games, food and music that sometimes last until the wee hours. Adding to the mayhem is the cardboard boat regatta at George Town harbor. The best part for festivalgoers? It’s all free. Nov. 12-22, 2015; piratesweekfestival.com

St. Augustine Pirate Gathering, St. Augustine, Fla.

This is one of the best spots in the USA to revel in the pirate era. It’s the oldest city in the nation, complete with a 17th-century fortress where Spanish officials once tried to confront Bahamian pirates. Each November, there’s a pirate gathering, and admission is only a “buck-an-ear.” See a re-enactment of a pirate mutiny, learn about authentic plundering weapons and visit the wee matey’s play area. Be sure to come ashore dressed in your best piratical attire to celebrate the Golden Age of Piracy. Nov. 6-8, 2015; thepirategathering.com

Gasparilla, Tampa Bay, Fla.

There’s nothing quite like Gasparilla. Out of all the pirate soirees, this is the most popular, with half a million people in attendance each year. Watch the Jose Gasparilla, the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, make its way toward downtown Tampa along with 1,000 other vessels. After the mock invasion and once the ships are docked, the party officially begins. Pick a spot along picturesque Bayshore Boulevard, and watch more than 100 floats pass by. To add to the rowdiness, there’s a street festival that completely takes over downtown Tampa with live music, food, entertainment and plenty of crazy pirates. Events from January through March each year; visttampabay.com

Contraband Days Louisiana Pirate Festival, Lake Charles

From chowing down to dancing until the wee hours, it’s not hard to have a rollicking good time in Louisiana. Add pirate festivities to the mix, and it’s that much better. The event, based on the legend of Jean Lafitte, has land- and water-based activities, carnival rides, games and live music. During the two weeks, in fact, there are more than 100 events. You’ll see pirates in full regalia capture the mayor, put him on trial and force him to walk the plank. Enjoy delicious barbecue and then cheer for your favorite during the arm-wrestling competition. April 28-May 10, 2015; contrabanddays.com

Fort Myers Beach Pirate Fest, Fla.

This festival, which has been running for a decade now, begins with a boom (aka cannons firing). Be on the lookout as pirates invade the docks beside Matanzas Pass at Fort Myers Beach. There is live music, pirate ship rides, live mermaids and other themed events. Or you can opt for the pub crawl and the scavenger hunt. Oct. 9-11, 2015; fortmyersbeach.org/piratefest

Pirate Invasion, Beaufort, N.C.

Come August, step back in time with sights and sounds of the 17th century as this sleepy town comes alive with more than 100 pirate actors entertaining the crowds. If you’re lucky, you may spot a Captain Jack Sparrow lookalike. See blackpowder weapons displays, a mock trial and costume contest. Be sure to save some time to picnic by the water and stroll through the North Carolina Maritime Museum, full of cannons and gold guineas recovered from the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Aug. 7-8, 2015; beaufortpirateinvasion.com

Blackbeard Pirate Festival, Hampton, Va.

Plan ahead for this raucous annual festival where you’ll land smack-dab in the middle of sword fights, lively music, pirate encampment, children’s activities, sea battles and fireworks. It’s a way to celebrate Hampton’s maritime heritage and relationship with the infamous Blackbeard, one of the fiercest pirates ever known. Plus, there’s a grand pirate ball on May 29 where you show off your best period attire. May 30-31, 2015; hampton.gov/blackbeard