Tampa – pre cruise stay
Many people drive through Tampa on their way to Clearwater or St Petersburg, well, why not stop awhile and give this interesting city a few days, as we did on our way to the cruise port for the next leg of our journey.
Busch Gardens is one of the reasons many people come to Tampa. It is a theme park with a difference, yes, you get the ‘thrill’ rides and the many, many food outlets but you also get the ‘call of the wild’ as giraffes, antelopes and zebras wander around this extensive parkland.
We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express Hotel on the outskirts of Tampa. This hotel is a good base for visiting the area and does have a free shuttle bus to take you to Busch Gardens.
The hotel boasts a small swimming pool and includes breakfast, but don’t expect it to be a ‘Full Monty,’ it is a basic buffet with paper plates and plastic cutlery, but it does the trick with a cup of strong coffee and you are ready to face the day. Busch Gardens cover 335 acres which is a substantial area to walk or stroll around! So, you do need a ‘sugar’ boost before you set off.
The Holiday Inn Express is only bed and breakfast but is next to two very good restaurants, that you can walk to, the Olive Gardens and the Red Lobster. Both have a good and varied menu but be prepared to wait if you haven’t made a booking.
Be aware of your surroundings, people hardly ever walk anywhere, so just take care when walking and be sensible with your belonging and money wherever you are in Florida.
The cost of going into Busch Gardens is approximately £100 (depending on the season) but ask at your chosen hotel if they do a discounted ticket – ours was £60 per person for the day, bought at our hotel.
The area in Busch Gardens that has most of the animals is the Serengeti Plain which can be viewed by train or on the Skyride. All the areas in the gardens have names such as, Nairobi, Pantopia, Serengeti, Congo, Jungala. All of these can be found on a map given to you as you enter the park.
The Skyride is an overhead ‘gondola’ ride that takes you high above the animals that are roaming on the Serengeti Plain. It is a wonderful sight to see giraffes, zebras and buffalos in an ‘almost’ natural setting. A small train also takes you from the Serengeti Outpost Station to the Stanleyville Train station where you get a closer look at the animals.
There are other areas where you will see crocodiles, cheetahs, monkeys, flamingos, kangaroos and a beautiful bird and butterfly atrium. This theme park is very child orientated but has lots to offer the adults and of course the rides are higher and wilder than any we had seen. The Cobra’s Curse looked terrifying (no, didn’t go on it!!.) The Stanley Falls Flume ride – well you certain do need a change of clothes for this one! Also check out the restaurants that gives you a taster of local beer which is free and very nice too.
Good shoes, water, a sun hat and call at the information desk at the entrance of the park for express tickets or any deals they are offering on the day. If you have a disability or are unable to walk for a long distance, then electric wheelchairs or push wheelchairs can be hired.
Tampa does have other attractions: the Aquarium which is spectacular, and The Ybor City area is very popular for shops and restaurants. This lively area is known for boutiques and vintage shops on 7th Avenue, which also hosts Cuban and Latin American restaurants. Ybor City State Museum has exhibits on the area’s immigrant communities plus a cigar industry exhibition.
We did visit Clearwater again and St Petersburg for the day and having been there before, renewed our good memories of these beautiful places and beaches – see my review on Clearwater and St Petersburg.
A Silver Traveller colleague has also written about the surrounding areas of Tampa; read David Graham’s reviews.
Our short visit to this interesting area was a stop off on our way to the cruise port at Tampa. A taxi took us from the Hotel, where we left our car, to the port area for our ship boarding to take us to the Caribbean.
We hired our car for the month and asked at the hotel if we could leave it in their car park – they agreed but this is done at your own risk. However, if you wish to leave your car in the designated cruise car park the cost will be about $10 per day. If you want a valet service (where the steward takes your cases out and parks your car) then that will be $95 dollars for the week.
The next stop was the Caribbean with visits to Key West, Belize, Costa Mya and Cozumel – a lovely break and rest before we returned to our Florida adventure.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky.