|A day in Tampa Bay can go non-stop dawn-to-dawn
or stop cold (well, warm) as you ease into a seductive strip of
sand, watch an errant wave lap over your willing toes, and let
the world do what it will...without you.
No matter the season of the year, you won't be alone. According
to Visit Florida, the states promotional arm, Tampa Bay is among
the top five most-visited places in Florida. While Tampas
business environment takes itself very seriously, its
entertainment empire is out for a good laugh, a good dinner, a
little, or a lot, of dancing, and some sports, spectator or
participatory, tossed in for good measure.
Undisputed king, queen and courtier of the Tampa entertainment scene
is Busch Gardens, one of the states liveliest places to play. In this
African-themed park, more than 3,000 animals dwell on a Serengeti
Plain veldt, much as they would in the Dark Continent. Listed among
the top 10 attractions in the nation by Byways magazine, the
park was in 1998 ranked third most popular attraction in Florida among
visitors arriving by car.
Dedicated to animals but prepared to give the human species a
run for its money, the park is home to five terrifying roller
coasters, including the Montu and the Kumba, two thrillers that
will knock your socks off, whether you're wearing any or not.
Both were ranked among the top five steel roller coasters in the
world by Amusement Today magazine. A third, Gwazi, is the
Southeasts largest and fastest dueling wooden roller coaster.
Busch Gardens' watery diversion, Adventure Island, splashes across
30 acres of drenching amusements ranging from a bevy of corkscrew
slides to a wave pool, water falls, and childrens play area.
Two attractions devoted to injured animals make for a heartstring-tugging
adventure here. In Tampa, Wildlife on East Street harbors a coterie
of lions, tigers and other big cats without a home, and you can even
sleep among them in three rustic cabins. At the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
in Indian Rocks Beach, the care and feeding of injured birds is the
focus and offers a close up look at some winged critters who can't
Other intriguing amusements in the Tampa Bay region include Lowry
Park, an 'open' zoo where 1,500 animals are separated from visitors
by moats or other similar impediments; The Florida Aquarium, which
offers a close-up look at 4,300 salt and fresh water dwellers, including
an encounter with some toothy sharks and gentle sting rays; Dinosaur
World, where you can go eye-to-ankle with 200 massive dinosaurs, including
one 40 feet high and a Brachiosaurus thats 80 feet long, all dwelling
in a cypress forest in which the real critters would have felt quite
at home. Fantasy of Flight offers a look at 20 historic aircraft and
lets you try your had at a flight simulator.
Tampa Bays museums cover a wide gamut of informative adventures. St.
Petersburgs Florida International Museum has welcomed many a notable
traveling exhibit in its short history including the "Treasure
of the Czars" and "Splendors of Ancient Egypt." Currently
the museum is featuring, through mid- November, a tribute to former
President John F. Kennedy, showcasing the worlds largest private collection
of Kennedy memorabilia.
Tampas free-wheeling days of yore are chronicled at the Henry B. Plant
Museum in the wildly whimsical onion-domed Tampa Bay Hotel, once one
of the nations most extravagantly elegant hostelries. Meanwhile, Tampa
Bay History Center outlines the geography, history and multicultural
influences that have affected Tampa Bay while the St. Petersburg Museum
of Historydoes much the same for that city.
Tampas Museum of Science & Industry is a playground for budding
scientists, offering 450 hands-on activities and a Hurricane Chamber
that offers you the dubious thrill of 74mph hurricane winds, plus
a rockin', rollin' huge-screen IMAX theater adventure.
And talk about museums! How many cities can lay claim to a history
museum thats 10 blocks long and 10 blocks wide? Antique Ybor City
stretches over that much territory and more, its streets lined with
antique buildings and its history tied closely to the 200 cigar companies
and 12,000 cigarmakers who once rolled the worlds stogies here.
There are those who like to call all of Florida a cultural
wasteland, but Tampa Bay isn't sitting still for that kind of
Tampa Museum of Art features a permanent collection of Greek and Roman
classical pieces as well as contemporary art and sculpture; and the
University of South Floridas Contemporary Art Museum has a 3,600-
piece permanent collection of artworks that includes work by Roy Lichtenstein,
Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist, as well as African art.
Arts art and Salvador Dali is, well, Salvador Dali, one of the worlds
more controversial and weirdly, wacky artists whose Surrealist art
is displayed in the largest collection of its kind at St. Petersburgs
Salvador Dali Museum.
As for performing arts, the citys Tampa Bay Performing Arts Centerclaims
to be the largest performing arts complex south of Washington, D.C.
It has four theaters for opera, cabaret, plays, dance, music, alternative
and Broadway theater.
A little aside here: rhythm and blues pianist Ray Charles got
his start playing Tampa dance halls and is the possessor of an
honorary music degree from the University of South Florida.
Tampa Theater is a delightful 1926 creation thats listed in the National
Register of Historic Place and hosts a film series, concerts, special
events and backstage tours.
Many clubs throughout the region, particularly in St. Petersburg
Beach and the string of islands along the coast cater to the
late-night crowd with music and dance opportunities.
Tampa Bay looooooves its sports. From the Tampa Bay Buccaneer
football team to professional baseball and hockey teams, Tampa
Bay is strong on sports and always has been?baseball great Babe
Ruth hit his longest home run here at Plant Field on April 4,
1919 when he whacked a 587-foot, record-setting homer. Another
famous baseball name, Al Lopez, known as "El Senor,"
and named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, was an Ybor city
Tampa Bays Raymond James Stadium is a nationally acclaimed arena
that frequently hosts the nations most ballyhooed sports event,
the Super Bowl, and will do so again in January, 2001. Tampas
Lightning hockey team plays in the citys new Ice Arena. Tampa
Bays Devil Rays baseball team is closely followed by
Many are those who prefer their sports participants to have four legs.
To accommodate them, Tampa Bay has two greyhound racing tracks, Derby
Lane in St. Petersburg, billed as the worlds oldest continuously operating
dog track, and Tampa Greyhound Track in Tampa. Meanwhile, in nearby
Oldsmar, Tampa Bay Downs thunders with the racing hooves of thoroughbred
Those who want to do it themselves can rise to the sky in hot
air balloons, jump from airplanes in free-fall thrills, and
participate in a plethora of water sports from canoeing in a
16,000-acre wilderness preserve peppered with alligators with
Canoe Escape guides to parasailing, jet skiing, water biking,
sailing, motorboating, and fishing, both deepsea and fresh
Finally, for those who want a scenic walk or job: Bayshore
Boulevard, which runs alongside Tampa Bay for a serene 4.5 miles
of panoramic views and greenery, is said to be the worlds
longest sidewalk. A favorite with joggers, walkers, skaters and
bikers, its the citys epicenter for fitness fans and was cited
by the American Automobile Assn. as one of the states "Top
In St. Petersburg, the historic, mile-long pier is a delightful place
to stroll the regions historic past, enjoy the present and contemplate