Ahoy, me hearties! Ever since learning September 19 is opens in a new windowInternational Talk Like a Pirate Day, a silly holiday invented in 1995 by two guys from Oregon, I always think of September as “Pirate Month.” In celebration, I’ve compiled some of the fun places in Florida to embrace your inner pirate.
Let’s be honest, pirates were not and are not nice people and they have been humanized by Hollywood. Still, we have a fascination with these marauders and their colorful history. Documentation indicates pirates and privateers (pirates who were granted permission on behalf of a government) have been in Florida since the 1500s when the Spanish settled here. They raided and pillaged settlements with the most notable being an attack on St. Augustine in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake, an English privateer. The city burned to the ground.
To protect the city against pirates and other nations, opens in a new windowCastillo de San Marcos was built beginning in 1672 and completed in 1695. Designed by Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza, it’s the oldest masonry fortress in the United States and has a bastion system (star-shaped with angles) which helped protect against the impact of cannon projectiles. Its architecture is also unique in that it’s made of coquina, a form of limestone.
Today, Castillo de San Marcos is a National Monument and is available for self-guided tours and the National Park Service offers interpretive talks on the park’s culture and history as well as historical weapons demonstrations throughout the day.
Across the street from Castillo de San Marcos is the opens in a new windowSt. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. It’s a fun interactive experience with pirate artifacts dating back about 300 years including a Jolly Roger flag (skull and crossed swords), swords, guns, coins and treasures. Visitors are led on an adventure to experience what it was like to be a pirate in Port Royal, Jamaica, with several please-touch displays. The museum was previously located in Key West and was called Pirate Soul Museum.
This Northeast Florida barrier island of Amelia Island ran amok with pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries because of the deep harbor that allowed galleons to enter no matter how low the tide was. French-born Luis Aury is the island’s most famous marauder. After a three-day battle he led on behalf of the Republic of Mexico, the Mexico flag was raised making it the sixth of eight flags to fly over the island.
Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island embraces its freebooting history and it’s common to see members of the opens in a new windowFernandina Pirates Club throughout the year. This is a non-profit, volunteer organization founded in 1973 and is recognized as “Amelia Island’s Goodwill Ambassadors to the World.” One of the events they promote is the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival held the first full weekend in May.
Search downtown Fernandina Beach for the big oak tree with a chain hanging from a branch. Local lore states there’s buried pirate treasure under this tree. Problem is, once people find the tree, leave to grab a shovel and return, the chain is gone!
Grownups will appreciate stopping in opens in a new windowThe Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest saloon, to sip a Pirate Punch. Children will enjoy the opens in a new windowPirate Tuck-Ins at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. For $65 on Friday and Saturday evenings, children receive a private bedtime story read by a princess and a pirate with a parrot in tow. The children receive milk, cookies, a bounty of treasure, and memories to last a lifetime.
Florida’s Gulf Coast
Did Jose Gaspar, also known as Gasparilla, really exist or was he a fictional character utilized by the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway in marketing materials? Is Lovers Key State Park named for opens in a new windowlegendary buccaneers John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Anne Bonny? I’m not definitively sure but ready yer sea legs for some merry pirate cruises along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
In the Tampa Bay area, hop aboard the opens in a new windowRoyal Conquest Pirate Ship in Johns Pass or opens in a new windowCaptain Memo’s Pirate Cruise in Clearwater Beach. In Southwest Florida, walk the plank onto opens in a new windowSalty Sam’s Pirate Cruises in Fort Myers Beach or opens in a new windowBlack Pearl Pirate Tours on Marco Island.
Join the crew of the opens in a new windowSea Dragon Pirate Cruise in Panama City Beach and in Destin, sail the seas with opens in a new windowBuccaneer Pirate Cruise. On both, enjoy a 2-hour family-friendly experience with treasure hunts, swords fights, and lots of memories.
My first pirate-themed attraction in Florida is the opens in a new window“Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort. Guess it’s because I remember the scene with pirates behind bars trying to convince the dog with the key to come toward them. I also remember the hairy-legged pirate hanging over an arch. Also in Central Florida is opens in a new windowPirates Dinner Adventure of Orlando which features a frolicking, entertaining dinner show encouraging audience participation.
Wanting to celebrate and rub elbows with pirates? opens in a new windowFlorida Rambler has a list of pirate festivals in Florida.
Crash Course in Pirate Speak
Before heading out on your swashbuckling adventure, and prepping you for opens in a new windowInternational Talk Like a Pirate Day, here are the five key “A” words in the pirate language.
Avast! “Hey! Stop, pay attention.”
Aye! “Yes, I agree.”
Aye! Aye! “Yes, I’ll get right on it.”
Arrr! Not to be confused with “argh.” Think of it as a versatile phrase when needing to say something pirate-like.
Plan Your Plunder
International Talk Like a Pirate Day
opens in a new windowtalklikeapirate.com
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
1 South Castillo Drive
Saint Augustine, Fla. 32084
Tel: (904) 829-6506
opens in a new windowwww.nps.gov/casa
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
12 S Castillo Dr.
St. Augustine, Fla. 32084
Tel: (877) 467-5863
opens in a new windowwww.thepiratemuseum.com
Pirate Tuck-Ins at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island
4750 Amelia Island Pkwy
Amelia Island, Fla. 32034
Tel: (904) 277-1100
opens in a new windowwww.ritzcarlton.com
The Palace Saloon
117 Centre St.
Fernandina Beach, Fla. 32034
Tel: (844) 441-2444
opens in a new windowwww.thepalacesaloon.com
Royal Conquest Pirate Ship
140 Boardwalk Place West
Madeira Beach, Fla. 33708
Tel: (727) 423-7824
opens in a new windowwww.boattoursjohnspass.com
Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise
25 Causeway Blvd.
Clearwater Beach, Fla. 33767
Tel: (727) 446-2587
opens in a new windowwww.captainmemo.com
Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruises
2500 Main St.
Fort Myers Beach, Fla. 33931
Tel: (239) 765-7272
opens in a new windowwww.floridapiratecruise.com
Black Pearl Pirate Tours (seasonal)
951 Bald Eagle Dr.
Marco Island, Fla. 34145
Tel: (239) 404-5422
opens in a new windowwww.piratesofmarco.com
Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise
5325 North Lagoon Dr.
Panama City Beach, Fla. 32408
Tel: (850) 234-7400
opens in a new windowwww.piratecruise.net
Buccaneer Pirate Cruise
88 Us Hwy 98 E
Destin, Fla. 32541
Tel: (850) 269-0896
opens in a new windowwww.destinpirateship.com
Walt Disney World Resort
Orlando, Fla. 32830
Tel: (407) 939-5277
opens in a new windowwww.disneyworld.com
Pirates Dinner Adventure
6400 Carrier Drive
Orlando, Fla. 32819
Tel: (407) 206-5102
opens in a new windowwww.piratesdinneradventure.com/orlando