My trip to Tampa, Florida, with my sixteen-year-old daughter, Ashley, was destined to be a good one: the evening before the flight, I saved 40 bucks at carrentals.com. The staff at Tampa Bay & Company (http://www.visittampabay.com) had more to do with the delightful trip, though. We contacted them for advice prior to the vacation, and they steered us in the right direction. Upon arrival in “the Sunshine State,” a boy seated near us, obviously a tense flyer, screamed as the plane touched down. I rolled my eyes. The next day at Busch Gardens Theme Park a man my age, obviously a tense roller-coaster rider, screamed. Everyone on the ride rolled their eyes…at me. In addition to a number of thrilling rides, Busch Gardens (http://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa) also boasts several great shows and an incredible variety of live zoo animals. I’m aware of a fairly well-known amusement park 40 miles to the northeast of Tampa, but Busch Gardens is a pleasant place that will please families too, especially family members who want to scream a little. There are a number of hotels that cater to Busch clientele; we chose Holiday Inn & Suites (http://www.histampa.com) and were impressed.
Downtown Tampa was also memorable, and we enjoyed our time at the Tampa Museum of Art (http://www.tampamuseum.org) –which regularly hosts exhibits from around the globe. Ashley especially enjoyed the ceramics from the ancient Mediterranean world.
During our stay in “the Big Guava,” we dined at a standout restaurant with a unique history. Bern’s Steakhouse (http://www.bernssteakhouse.com) has been in business for over fifty years. Our server, Lee, was super suave and treated Ashley like a princess. He was also extremely knowledgeable, adeptly answering all of my queries about the establishment’s rich tradition. Lee was one of many handsome waiters in pressed suits, many of whom have worked there for 30 plus years, serving outstanding fare to smiling patrons. After dinner, you can retire to an upstairs room for some dreamy desserts. Many also come from far and near for Bern’s unmatched wine collection. I agree with one of the locals who described Bern’s as
“more than a meal—it’s an experience.”
Another delightful culinary treasure is a few minutes away from Bern’s in the Ybor section of town. The Columbia restaurant
(http://www.columbiarestaurant.com) is Florida’s oldest restaurant. In 1905 the restaurant began serving immigrants, but over the years the reputation grew, and today The Columbia attracts an international pilgrimage. I think I embarrassed Ashley as I moaned with delight throughout the meal while enjoying the famous 1905 salad, black bean soup, a Cuban sandwich, and key lime pie.
Greater Tampa includes two cities: St. Petersburg to the south and Clearwater to the west. We explored St. Petersburg, which is home to a professional baseball team—the Rays. I had hoped to root for the home team and buy Ashley some peanuts and cracker jacks, but the Rays were on the road the week we were there. However, St. Pete has enough to keep disappointed baseball fans busy, including the amazing St. Pete beach and (I know this is going to sound random but it’s true) the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings (www.thedali.org). We also immensely enjoyed a 90-minute Speed Boat Adventure
(http://tampaspeedboatadventures.com) through the St. Petersburg waterways. Ashley and I were in our own speed boat, following a seasoned guide as he gave us a tour from his boat (via a radio communication system). It was fun, informative, and one of the highlights of our vacation.
Clearwater is probably best known for its Marine Aquarium (http://www.seewinter.com). Not ringing a bell? What if I tell you its mission is rescuing and rehabilitating animals? Still not happening? How about if I mention that the Aquarium’s most famous resident is Winter, the dolphin who made waves in the 2010 hit A Dolphin Tale? Now you’re with me!
Close by is the beautiful Clearwater beach, with its warm, clear water and white sand. We spent an evening there, walking along the beach and visiting some shops near the shore. Our trip to Tampa is past, but fabulous memories remain. We’re glad we met this great city and look forward to getting together again real soon.