Tampa is excellent for family fun. Here’s how to entertain the little ones with a few days in town.
Spend your first day in Tampa riding roller coasters, exploring recreated African savannas, and splashing down log-flume rides at Busch Gardens. It’s a park for all ages, with a mix of exciting coasters and cool animal attractions. Stay the night at the Holiday Inn Express New Tampa, only three miles from Busch Gardens, and you’ll get free ice cream in the evening, breakfast included in the morning, and access to a nice heated pool to keep the kiddos entertained after the park closes.
Drive for about an hour over the bridge on route 60 to Clearwater Beach for some sun, sand, and surf. For something extra special, take a pirate cruise with Captain Memo’s Original Pirate Cruise. Later, check out Sunsets at Pier 60, a festival that runs every evening with crafts, magicians, and musicians. Pier 60 also contains a covered playground for the little ones. Grab a casual dinner at the Beach Shanty Café before turning in at Frenchy’s Oasis Motel or East Shore Resort.
Alternatively, spend the day at St. Pete Beach, with an optional excursion to John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk for a pirate ship or dolphin cruise. In the evening, take the kids to see the Tampa Bay Rays play ball at the Tropicana Field. If you don’t gorge yourself on hot dogs, have a casual seafood dinner at The Hurricane. Stay in St. Pete Beach at the Sirata Beach Resort or TradeWinds Island Grand.
Start heading north along the coast on U.S. 19 and drive the 73 miles (1.5 hours) to Homosassa or Crystal River. From mid-October to the end of March, you’ll find hundreds of West Indian manatees swimming in the warm waters of Kings Bay in the Crystal River and the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River. Manatee Tour & Dive or Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees will take whole families out for snorkel trips. If you find yourself and your family along the Nature Coast when manatees aren’t in season, there are still good reasons to get wet. Drive to Weeki Wachee Springs for a fantastic Mermaid show and kid-friendly rides, or go scalloping if it’s July 1-September 10. Stay at the Plantation on Crystal River.
From Crystal River, drive for 89 miles (1.5 hours) along Highway 44 and the I-75 Florida Turnpike to Walt Disney World, comprising four distinct parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. Spend the day visiting the most popular one, the Magic Kingdom, making sure to ride the phenomenal Space Mountain, an indoor roller coaster that zips and zooms through the stars along a dark and thrilling space adventure. If you’re on a budget, have a quick and tasty lunch inside the park at Cosmic Rays Starlight Café. If you’re with kids or want to splurge, dine like royalty and have a dinner feast with a princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Continue the Disney fun and stay at the Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, a fun Disney-themed Victorian-style resort that’s just one monorail stop away from the Magic Kingdom.
With More Time
It’s better to spread Disney World out over two days. Continue your adventures in the Magic Kingdom or visit one of Disney’s other parks. My suggestion is to spend the day at Epcot, learning about the future of technology at Project Tomorrow and having fish and chips at the delicious Yorkshire County Fish Shop.
Spend another night in Orlando. In the morning, drive one hour on I-4 back to Tampa to catch your plane home.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Tampa & St. Petersburg.