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Have a great time in the Sunshine State
From Orlando and Pensacola to Miami and the Keys, Florida is the place to go for sun, sand, and fun. Where do you start? Relax! This guide ...
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Have a great time in the Sunshine State
From Orlando and Pensacola to Miami and the Keys, Florida is the place to go for sun, sand, and fun. Where do you start? Relax! This guide spotlights the best Florida has to offer and makes it easy to plan the perfect vacation.
In This Chapter
* Bringing your car with you
* Mapping out your itinerary beforehand
* Roller-coasting through Busch Gardens
* Dining out and dancing to the tunes of flamenco
Tampa and St. Petersburg, which are separated by 20 miles including Upper Tampa Bay, have at least one characteristic of sibling rivals: competitiveness, though it's more a case of one-upmanship than battling for the same prize. Although they have some things in common, including ultra-flat terrain and Interstate 275, there are distinct differences. Tampa is more of a business center - whereas St. Petersburg relies heavily on its beaches and tourism - and is also one of the most built-up areas in Florida.
Despite its commercial character, Tampa attracts tourists in droves with its signature theme park, Busch Gardens, and exceptional sports venues. Real baseball (not just spring training) is the newest attraction in the area, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays playing across the bay in St. Petersburg (see Chapter 16 for information). Tampa is also a growing port for cruise ships bound for the Western Caribbean and Mexico. For an overview of things to do, see the "Tampa Attractions" map later in this chapter.
In this chapter, we take you to Busch Gardens, which rivals Orlando's best theme parks. We also highlight the city's smaller attractions, including the Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, and Museum of Science and Industry. And if you're the kind of person who truly comes alive when the sun goes down, we also take a look at the Ybor City club scene. Although this isn't the place to spend a week unless you include St. Petersburg, Tampa's premiere attractions definitely merit a look.
Getting to Tampa
As is the case with most Florida cities, arriving by air is the quickest and, in many cases, the most convenient way to get here. Train travel from the Northeast takes 25 to 28 hours, and those coming by car face a 4 1/2- to 5-hour drive even after crossing the Florida-Georgia line.
Florida's third largest airport, Tampa International Airport (813-870-8700; ) handles about 16 million passengers a year, half the amount of second-ranked Orlando. More than 30 domestic and foreign lines land at TIA.
Hook up with ground transportation on Level 1, the baggage claim area, which has SuperShuttle vans (800-282-6817 or 727-572-1111, $9 to $27 per person one-way throughout the Tampa area). Tampa Yellow (813-253-0121) and United Cab (813-253-2424) also serve TIA. The average fare from the airport to downtown Tampa is $14. Level 1 is also home to Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, and National rental desks (see the "Quick Concierge" in the back of the book for telephone numbers); eight other rental agencies have shuttle service to offsite locations. Level 3 has ATMs, information booths, first-aid stations, currency exchanges, mail drops, and other services.
Much smaller than Tampa International, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (727-453-7800;) handles flights from smaller airlines, including American Trans Air and Southeast. Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National serve the airport. Cab fare from this airport to Tampa really is too costly to consider.
Cruise along I-75, the primary north-south route, with I-275 being the spur that cuts through downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg. I-4 is an option if you're arriving from I-95 and the East Coast, though construction and overuse make for I-4 madness worse than in Orlando. U.S. 301, 41, and 19 are options only if you want to take a marginally scenic route - and you have a strong tolerance for bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Amtrak (800-872-7245;) has a station in Tampa at 601 Nebraska Ave. If you bring your car with you on your vacation, drive to Lorton, Virginia (four hours driving time from New York, two hours from Philadelphia); then put yourself and your car on Amtrak's Auto Train out of Lorton. The train stops in Sanford, about 90 minutes east of Tampa. Fares begin at $368 for two passengers and an auto.
Orienting Yourself to Tampa
Most streets in Tampa have names, making the need for a map (see "Fast Facts" at the end of this chapter) reasonably important. Some of the most common streets found in this guide include Dale Mabry (west side); Fowler Avenue and Busch Boulevard (north side); Seventh Avenue and Broadway (Ybor City); and Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, and Ashley streets (downtown). For the most part, the downtown and its museums are dead center, with Busch Gardens due north on I-275, Ybor City's clubs and memories east on I-4, the airport and business areas west on I-275, and St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and their Gulf beaches an hour farther west, traffic willing.
Tampa by neighborhood
Despite its business-destination character, Tampa has plenty of places to stay, eat, party, and play, including Busch Gardens, Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, and Ybor City. Downtown also has a modern performing arts center and the city has pro football and hockey franchises. Surrounding towns include Temple Terrace (north), Brandon and Plant City (east), and Riverview and Ruskin (south).
Street smarts: Getting information before and after arriving
The Tampa/Hillsborough Convention & Visitors Association, 400 N. Tampa St. (800-448-2672 or 813-223-2752;) is your best bet for advance information. The association also operates an information center downtown at the Channelside Entertainment District, 701 Channelside Dr. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. See the "Quick Concierge" at the back of the book for general Florida information sources.
The Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center (813-985-3601) is located near Busch Gardens at 3601 E. Busch Blvd. The privately owned center sells discounted attractions tickets and has many brochures regarding things to do in the area. The helpful staff will also book hotels and car rentals for you. It's open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Getting Around Tampa
The best way to get around the Tampa area is to drive, because the city's public transportation system isn't ideal for traveling to the tourist spots.
Rush hour - the worst of which occurs from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Weekdays - causes severe traffic backups on Dale Mabry, Kennedy Boulevard, I-4, I-275, and I-275's Howard Franklin Bridge (locals refer to it as the "Howard Frankenstein"), which leads to St. Petersburg. Because Dale Mabry and I-275 are frequently used when exiting the airport, allow plenty of time to get to your hotel - or back to the airport if your flight is wrapped around either peak period.
Tampa is in the crosshairs of I-4 and I-75/275. The latter two split north of town. I-75 goes around the city to the east toward Brandon, and then south toward Sarasota (see Chapter 17). I-275 cuts through the heart of downtown and continues across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg (Chapter 16). Tampa is laid out in a grid, but like many of Florida's cities, it relies on named streets. So if you'll be driving - either your own car or a rental - get a map (see "Fast Facts" at the end of this chapter). Major roads here include Florida Avenue, which separates the east and west portions of the city, and Kennedy Boulevard/Highway 60/Adamo Drive, which divides Tampa's north and south.
You won't find many taxis cruising the streets, waiting to be hailed, but they usually line up at hotels, performance venues, and train stations. United Cab (813-253-2424) and Yellow Cab (813-253-0121) are the major taxi companies in Tampa. The meter starts at $1.45, and it's another $1.75 per mile. Fares are for up to five people.
HARTline, Tampa's public transportation system, serves the city and the suburbs. Fares are $1.25 for adults and 60¢ for seniors, children, or riders with disabilities (exact change is required). For information, call 813-254-4278 or check its Web site. As is often the case, city buses aren't the best choice to get to and from tourist areas.
Staying in Tampa
Although high season in Tampa runs from December to April, peak season rates here are lower than those at properties near the beaches. Downtown and the area near the airport are mostly commercial, so hotels in these areas - although close to many of Tampa's attractions - are usually filled with businessmen and convention attendees during the week. (Just ahead, see the map of "Tampa Accommodations and Dining.") You may also find a number of national chain hotels in these zones. See the "Quick Concierge" in the back of the book for a listing of chain hotel numbers and Web sites.
Because Tampa actively caters to business travelers, visitors can often get better deals on weekends, especially in the downtown area. And, if you plan on visiting Busch Gardens, ask whether a hotel offers special discount packages. Also, many accommodations let kids under 12 (and sometimes under 18) stay free if you don't exceed the maximum room occupancy. To be safe, though, ask when booking a room.
All the accommodations listed here offer free parking, air-conditioning, and pools, unless otherwise noted.
Sales and hotel taxes add 11.75% to your bill.
If you don't want to haggle, the Florida Hotel Network (800-538-3616;) can take care of making accommodations arrangements for you.
Tampa's best hotels
Best Western All Suites $$ North Side
Located right behind Busch Gardens, Best Western's 150 suites have recliners, two TVs, balconies, refrigerators, microwaves, dataports, and sleeper sofas. Other features include a free country-style breakfast buffet, a hot tub, an onsite restaurant, and a free daily newspaper. The upstairs suites are the best of the bunch.
3001 University Center Dr. 800-786-7446 or 813-971-8930. Fax: 813-971-8935. . To get there: At I-275 and Busch. Rack rates: $109-$159 Dec-April, $89-139 May-Nov. AE, CB, DC, DISC, MC. V.
Doubletree Guest Suites/Busch Gardens $$ North Side
This property's 129 suites offer kitchenettes with refrigerators, sofa beds, and dataports. A continental breakfast and daily newspaper are also included in your rate. Located less than 1 mile from Busch Gardens, the hotel runs a free shuttle on mornings and afternoons to the theme park.
11310 N. 30th St. 800-222-8733 or 813-971-7690. Fax: 813-972-5525. To get there: South of Fowler Avenue on 30th. Rack rates: $99-$139 Dec-April, $79-$119 May-Nov. AE, DISC, MC, V.
Hyatt Regency $$$ Downtown
Situated in the business district, near the Performing Arts and Convention Centers, this hotel caters to the corporate crowd. All 521 rooms have dataports, and mini-refrigerators are available on request. The Hyatt also features a small fitness center, rooftop sundeck, lounge, and onsite restaurant.
2 Tampa City Center, 800-233-1234 or 813-225-1234. Fax: 813-204-3095. To get there: South from I-275 on Ashley to Jackson, east on Tampa Street. Parking: Valet $12 per day. Rack rates: $205-$255 Dec-April, $165-$225 May-Nov. AE, DC, DISC, MC, V.
La Quinta Inn & Suites $$ North Side
This property is a shade on the upscale side, but La Quinta's 105 rooms are still standard motel fare. The rooms have all the standard amenities, including dataports; a free continental breakfast is included in your rate. The property also has a good location - only 1 1/2 miles from Busch Gardens.
3701 E. Fowler Ave. 888-729-7705 or 813-910-7500. Fax: 813-910-7600. To get there: Take the Fowler Avenue exit off I-275 east to the motel. Rack rates: $105-$129 Dec-April, $89-$119 May-Nov. AE, CB, DC, DISC, V.
Radisson Riverwalk Hotel $$$ Downtown
The hotel sits on the banks of the not-so-scenic metro leg of the Hillsborough River, but the Radisson Riverwalk is a good option if you're after a central location. Set three blocks from the convention center, the hotel's 286 large rooms come with dataports and a free daily newspaper. Two restaurants, a bar, a fitness center, and a sauna are also onsite.
200 N. Ashley St. 800-333-3333 or 813-223-2222. Fax: 813-221-5292. To get there: Take Ashley Street exit off I-275. Parking: Valet $10 per day. Rack rates: $209-$279 Dec-April, $169-$209 May-Nov. AE, CB, DC, DISC, MC, V.
Saddlebrook Resort $$$ Far North
Located 30 minutes north of Tampa, this 480-acre resort is a dandy landing zone for golfers (36 holes plus an Arnold Palmer school), tennis players (45 courts and a Harry Hopman school), and self-indulgent types (the spa features out-of-this-world treatments). All accommodations have dataports; suites come with kitchens and balconies or patios. Although the resort is heralded as a corporate retreat, many mainstream tourists stay here, too. After you park yourself, almost everything on the property is within walking distance. A number of golf, tennis, and spa packages are available.
5700 Saddlebrook Way, Wesley Chapel, 800-729-8383 or 813-973-1111. Fax: 813-973-4504. To get there: Off I-75 east on Hwy. 54. Note: The following rates are per person, double occupancy, and include breakfast and dinner daily. Rack rates: $205 rooms, $212-$287 suites Jan-May; $175 rooms, $197-$259 suites Oct-Jan; $130 rooms, $145-$180 suites May-Sept. AE, DC, DISC, MC, V.
Wyndham Westshore $$$ West Side
Corporate and professional types usually patronize this Wyndham, which is located near the airport. The hotel's 324 rooms come with free coffee, dataports, and a free weekday newspaper. A business center, an 11-story atrium, and a restaurant are onsite.
4860 W. Kennedy Blvd. 877-999-3223 or 813-286-4400. Fax: 813-286-4053. To get there: It's on Kennedy, south of I-275 and west of Westshore. Rack rates: $194-$234 Dec-April, $174-$214 May-Nov. AE, DC, DISC, MC, V.]
Excerpted from Florida FOR DUMMIES by Cynthia Tunstall & Jim Tunstall with Lesley Abravanel Copyright © 2003 by Wiley Publishing, Inc. . Excerpted by permission.
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