Make the Most of Your TripWith the world's tourism mecca—Orlando—just 70 miles up the road, it might be easy to overlook the city by the bay as a major travel destination. But Tampa and its communities offer a number of fun things to do with friends and family. First, there's a theme park here: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay preceded Walt Disney's dream by 12 years. With varied cultural offerings, world-class attractions, championship sports teams, water recreation opportunities and a vibrant Latin heritage, Tampa merits a closer look.
During the 18th century the bay belonged to pirates who left a decided influence on the area. The legendary Jose Gaspar may have pillaged his way to annual celebrity—Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes place late January or early February. The NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers also take their name from this era.
In the late 1800s, railroads stimulated the tourist trade, attracting wealthy Northern vacationers. In 1891, royalty, financial bigwigs and luminaries attended the opening of Henry B. Plant's exclusive Tampa Bay Hotel, which is now part of the University of Tampa.
Cigars were once the city's mainstay, and brick and frame factories housing such companies as Hav-a-Tampa and Cuesta-Rey provided employment for Spanish, Italian and Cuban immigrants who labored at long tables hand-rolling tobacco leaves. Cigars are still produced, but the business community has diversified.
Tampa is now the foremost port of Florida's west coast and one of the nation's busiest, with petroleum, coal, steel and cement among its major inbound cargoes. A state-of-the-art cruise terminal welcomes passengers of several cruise lines bound for Caribbean and Latin American destinations.
Architecturally, Tampa admirably records the different periods of its growth. Older stucco homes with flat roofs, patios and wrought-iron balconies show a marked Spanish influence. The Tampa Convention Center, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and skyscrapers and luxury hotels added during the building boom of the 1980s and early 1990s heightened the city's once modest business district to a stature worthy of more established corporate centers.
On the waterfront, The Riverwalk, a 3-mile pedestrian promenade that parallels the Hillsborough River, has transformed the downtown landscape, opening up public access to Tampa’s lovely waterfront and linking museums, parks, hotels, numerous places to eat and outdoor gathering places. Pedestrians can walk alongside the river beginning near The Florida Aquarium, passing Amalie Arena, Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and ending at Water Works Park.
Hosting the Super Bowl for the fourth time in 2009 served notice of the bay area’s passion for sports, particularly football. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took home the Super Bowl XXXVII trophy in 2003, the same year the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team won its fourth championship. In 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning took the NHL’s coveted Stanley Cup. Then there’s Major League Baseball. From late February to early April, the Grapefruit League’s spring training stint renders pro teams accessible to those who want to see how their favorites—including the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays—are shaping up for the real season.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
Sales tax is 8.5 percent in Hillsborough and 7 percent in Pasco County. An accommodations tax is 6 percent in Hillsborough County and 4 percent in Pasco County.
(813) 231-6130; Sheriff (813) 247-8200
AdventHealth Carrollwood, (813) 932-2222; AdventHealth Tampa, (813) 971-6000; Memorial Hospital of Tampa, (813) 873-6400; Tampa General, (813) 844-7000.
201 N. Franklin St., Suite 102 Tampa, FL 33602. Phone:(813)226-2752 or (800)448-2672
Commercial domestic and international flights entering Tampa land at Tampa International Airport (TPA). Several commercial airlines and private planes use St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE). Private and corporate planes have access to Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) in St. Petersburg and Peter O. Knight Airport (TPF) in Tampa.
Hertz, which offers discounts to AAA members, is at the car rental center at Tampa International Airport, (813) 874-3232; St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, (727) 532-4801; and at St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-1631; or phone (800) 654-3080.
Tampa's Amtrak station is at 601 N. Nebraska Ave. in downtown Tampa, behind historic Union Station. Daily service is offered; phone (813) 221-7600 or (800) 872-7245. Bus service to Union Station is available via HART routes 9, 12 and 400; phone (813) 254-4278.
Greyhound Lines Inc. is at 610 E. Polk St. in Tampa; phone (813) 229-2174.
Major companies include United Cab Co., (813) 777-7777, and Yellow Cab Co., (813) 253-0121.
HART serves Tampa and its immediate suburbs, including shopping malls and area attractions. Service also includes the TECO Line Streetcar System, which makes 11 stops along a 2.7-mile track between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. For HART bus and streetcar fares and schedules, phone (813) 254-4278.