Sailing from Tampa: A Chance to Enjoy
Coasters, Critters and Channelside
By Susan J. Young
Cruisers who step off their ship in Tampa, FL, for a port call or perhaps arrive early in the city for a pre-cruise stay will find multiple options for fun
A couple strolls along Tampa's picturesque Bayshore Boulevard, shown above right. *
At left, the bow of Holland America's Veendam is shown in Tampa Bay (photo courtesy of the Port of Tampa).*
Tampa’s $45 million Channelside complex (a portion of its upper deck area is shown below*) is adjacent to Carnival Cruise Lines’ cruise pier. Channelside is also within easy walking distance for Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line and other cruise line guests.
Dining, Marine Life and Heritage
Channelside boasts more than 210,000 square feet of restaurants, shopping and entertainment venues including an IMAX theater.
So you might have tapas on the patio, enjoy wings at Hooters, or see an impressive big-screen movie.
Sandwiched between the Carnival and Royal Caribbean/Celebrity terminal is the 200,000-square foot Florida Aquarium (813-273-4000 or www.flaquarium.org), 701 Channelside Drive. Editor's note: from our experience, the aquarium's Web site often is difficult to access.
The aquarium features more than 10,000 aquatic plants and animals. The aquarium is the multi-layered glass-top building in the photo at right.*)
In fall 2008, the aquarium will replace its “Sea Hunt” exhibit area with a new “Ocean Commotion” attraction.
Ocean Commotion will use multi-sensory experiences to convey the sights, sounds and action found in the world’s oceans.
Exhibit goers will access such interactive features as cell phone text and voice messages or downloadable Podcasts.
General aquarium admission is $17.95 for adults, $14.95 for seniors 60 and older, and $12.95 for kids.
But certified scuba divers 15 years of age and older might opt for an unusual 90-minute Swim with the Sharks experience (including a 30-minute dive) in the aquarium’s Shark Exhibit; it’s priced at $150 per person, including a tee-shirt, photograph while underwater, and aquarium admission.
At Channelside, clients might hop onboard an electric streetcar to historic Ybor City, a magnet for Irish, Spanish, Italian and Cuban immigrants in the early 1900s.
Streetcars are air-conditioned replicas of those that whisked passengers around the city 110 years ago. The fare is $1.
At night, Ybor City rocks with nightclub and entertainment activity, (see the Centro Ybor complex shown at left.*) but it’s a much quieter experience during the day.
Cruisers might stroll Ybor City to browse shops, watch cigars being rolled (as at right*), and dine at myriad restaurants from Irish pubs to Cuban cafes, and from Island themed venues to Cuban cafes.
One treat is lunch or dinner at the original Columbia Restaurant (813-248-4961 or www.columbiarestaurant.com), 2117 East 7th Ave.
The restaurant was founded by Spanish immigrants in 1905. It's a great place for paella and other Spanish dishes, but even if you don't dine there, peruse both the exterior tiles and interior architecture.
History and Cracker Tradition
One historical spot of interest in Tampa is the Ybor City Museum State Park (813-247-6323 or www.floridastateparks.org), 1818 East 9th Ave.
Here you'll peruse a small museum and have the opportunity to walk through a traditional old-Florida “Cracker House.”
Admission is $3, with no charge for kids 6 and under. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 p.m.
But the most visible historical jewel in Tampa is the Henry B. Plant Museum (813-254-1891 or www.plantmuseum.org), 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., in downtown Tampa.
You'll know you're in the right place when you see the building's minarettes (see photo at left*) rising from the waterfront area.
This 1891 Victorian masterpiece was the original Tampa Bay Hotel, one of the opulent, grand-dame hotels built in Florida by Plant, a railroad baron.
Take your camera. The exterior is simply stunning.
Today, the hotel is part of the University of Tampa, with a section of the historic building preserved as a museum. The building's Victorian-era architecture is shown at right.*
Several hotel rooms are outfitted just as they were in the building's heyday. You'll peruse original antiques, gilded mirrors and clothes and artifacts of the time.
Watch the museum's 14-minute film before you tour; it's quite informative and the historical photos add perspective. To learn more, read our separate story: Henry B. Plant Museum.
A donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12 is requested January through November. Admission varies for the museum's holiday programs; call for pricing.
Coasters and Creatures
In April, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (813-987-5082 or 813-987-5082 or www.buschgardens.com) will open “Jungula,” a new themed area with features from multiple jungles around the world.
Travelers will discover a colorful village nestled within towering trees, floating waterways and elaborate stone structures.
Explore with three tiers of exploration tunnels, climbing nets and mazes.
You might also soar above the treetops on a zip-line adventure.
Or, launch into the sky from a 35-foot waterfall.
Among the exotic jungle animals that will grace the new attraction area are Bengal tigers and orangutans.
Busch Gardens also boasts thrilling coasters, fun rides for smaller kids, and gorgeous floral displays and other natural animal habitats that feature tigers, gorillas and elephants.
Busch Garden’s thrilling coasters include its newest -- ShrieKra (shown at right*), the world’s first dive coaster with a 90-degree drop.
Introduced in 2005, ShrieKra features a 70 mph, adrenaline-pumping experience. But ShrieKra's floor was "removed" last year! Now the ride delivers an even more thrilling experience.
The park also boasts impressive entertainment and shows. Busch Gardens' general admission is $64.95 for adults, $54.95 for children.
For closer views of African plains animals and the chance to hand feed giraffes, though, go behind-the-scenes for the Serengeti Safari optional tour. Priced at $33.99 per person in addition to normal park admission, it's well worth the price say most travelers.
Coaster lovers with limited time might consider an optional Thrill Seekers Adventure, priced at $94.99 per adult, $64.99 per child. A coaster-crazed tour guide will guide your group to the front of the line for all major coaster rides and attractions.
Another attraction for families and animal lovers is Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo (813-935-8552 or www.lowryparkzoo.com), which features 1,300 animals in natural habitats, tame mechanical rides for children, and a great sky ride over the park.
Lowry Park Zoo has been voted the best family zoo in America by Child Magazine. One not-to-be-missed highlight is the spacious manatee exhibit, which allows visitors to view these gentle giants from both above and under water viewing areas.
For the next few months, zoo construction will create closures of sections of the Florida habitat area from the boardwalk entrance near the carousel to the red wolf exhibit.
But the boardwalk will reopen this spring with new experiences for guests including a new white “albino” alligator exhibit and “Gator Falls,” a new water flume ride.
Albino alligators are American alligators which lack melanin, or pigment, in their skin, creating a milky coloring and cloudy eyes which appear pink. An albino gator is shown above.
Visitors will hop into a "log" at Gator Falls and explore Florida’s native wildlife by water, floating through Florida habitats. But watch out for falling water as the new ride plunges almost 30 feet at splash down.
The zoo’s affordable admission is $14.95 per adult, $13.95 for seniors, and $10.50 for kids 3-11, with younger kids admitted free. The zoo has many pay-as-you-go “encounter” options, giving visitors a chance to feed a rhino or take a camel ride.
A well kept secret by Tampa Bay local residents is viewing of manatees in the wild during the winter months at Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Station, just south of Tampa in Apollo Beach.
If you're in town for a pre- or post-cruise visit and have a rental car, you may want to consider a visit to view the lumbering manatees.
When temperatures in local waters dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, this is one of the best places (if not the best) along Florida's west central coast to see manatees (also called sea cows) in the wild.
TECO has built a wonderful Manatee Viewing Center and platform.(www.tampaelectric.com/manatee). The viewing platform is perfect for looking down into the waters and viewing manatees as they surface for a breath of air.
Manatees often weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They move extremely slowly in the water. Often you just see their snout sticking up and the hump of their back.
The park says up to 300 have been spotted at once. From multiple winter visits to the site, my experience is that viewing 100 or more is certainly possible and viewing a dozen or two in winter is very likely.
In addition to the main viewing platform, there is a small visitors' center with information on manatees as well as the power plant's operation, restrooms, and a tidal boardwalk through a mangrove swamp to another viewing spot out further toward the bay.
The Manatee Viewing Center opens on Nov. 1 for the winter season. It's then open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 15. The center is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter Sunday. Admission and parking are free.
Science and Art
Ever wonder how magicians get a live body to seemingly levitate? Then you might head for “Magic: The Science of Illusion," the newest exhibit planned at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry (813-987-6000 or www.mosi.org), 4801 E. Fowler Ave.
Running March 22 to May 26, 2008, this magical exhibit is focused on four magical illusions – mentalism, levitation, transformation and the disembodied head.
Through artifacts, films and interpretive experiences, the exhibit explores science concepts that make magical illusions possible.
After March 7, cruisers who seek a cultural diversion might head for the Tampa Museum of Art (813-274-8130), which boasts masterpieces from the American Modernist Movement.
The art museum has been temporarily relocated to 2306 N. Howard Ave., Tampa (see building at right*), while its new building is being constructed along Tampa's waterfront (adjacent to the old facility)
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the third Friday of the month, it's open from 8 to 11 p.m. as well. The museum is closed on Sunday and Monday.
Admission is by donation. Parking is free.
Some cruise guests may also opt to head a bit further afoot to area beaches (as shown at left*).
Cruisers will find many attractions just across the bay within the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area, where deep sea fishing and eco-tours are among the natural pursuits.
One popular St. Petersburg attraction is the Salvador Dali Museum (727-823-3767 or www.salvadordalimuseum.org), 1000 Third St. South, St. Petersburg.
The Dali Museum features 94 incredible works of art from the master. Generally, adult admission is $15, with students 10-18 admitted for $10 and kids 5-9 at $4.
And, of course, Orlando's numerous attractions including its major theme parks are about a 90-minute drive from the Port of Tampa.
Cruisers who sail to or from the Port of Tampa will find much to explore along Florida's central Gulf of Mexico coastline.
For More Information
Port of Tampa: www.tampaport.com
Tampa Bay & Company: www.visittampabay.com
St. Petersburg-Clearwater Visitors Bureau: www.floridasbeach.com
Carnival Cruise Lines: www.carnival.com
Holland America Line: www.hollandamerica.com
Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruises: www.royalcaribbean.com