Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Floating Potatoes!

 For Christmas this year, part of the boys' gift was a trip to Tampa, Florida, for Martin Luther King weekend. We had a FABULOUS time. I wish it was closer so that we could go back more often because there was a LOT we didn't get to do!

On Friday, we left mid-afternoon in order to make the LONG drive down to Treasure Island, Florida, where our hotel was. We couldn't have loved Treasure Island more! It was a cute town with a few restaurants and shops that were in walking distance of where we were staying. It wasn't overly crowded or touristy. The hotel we stayed in was NOT so great, so I won't recommend that to you, but the character of the town was awesome! The ONLY problem we had while we were there was that it was frigid and we just didn't get to do as much outside and on the beach as we had hoped.

Saturday morning, we hit the ground running and headed to Raymond James Stadium for a tour of where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play. (We scheduled this ahead of time through their website. It was fairly cheap, but they don't run every day so we planned around this particular thing!) Again, it was FRIGID, but we LOVED this tour. The tour guide was knowledgable, nice, and had worked for the Bucs for many, many years. He had lots of fun stories to tell. We all picked out our box seats, enjoyed hanging out on the pirate ship, and the boys loved walking on the field. Even Cacky loved this tour!

After we left there, we had lunch at Riveter's. It was excellent food and the atmosphere was fun! (Take note: there IS a very adult "bar" next door that James found hysterical and Will was appalled about once we explained what it was. It is VERY clear from the sign that clothing is not worn by members of the staff. Just hate to recommend a restaurant and have you be as surprised as we were!)

After lunch we made our way to the place we'd built the whole trip around - the Tampa Power Plant Manatee Viewing Center. This would be SO MUCH FUN if the temperatures were higher than 40*. It was MISERABLY cold on the water and we didn't want to watch the manatee for long. A few days later another friend went, there were manatee EVERYWHERE, and they were warm. I guess we need to go back again sometime! This place was AWESOME, though. Tampa Power Plant warms the water surrounding it and in the winter, manatee come close to it to avoid the colder water. They have boardwalks in several directions giving you prime viewing into the water - the "floating potatoes" could only be seen way out in the water from the longer boardwalk while we were there. They also have an excellent information/learning center that gives plenty of information on manatee and how to keep them safe. Downstairs under the building they have a sting ray touch tank. Will loved that! It was AWESOME, but a few things to note - I'm not sure if it's only open seasonally, but we've always heard that manatee only come in during colder months. Summer isn't prime viewing time. Also, the parking was HORRENDOUS. And if it's cold, BUNDLE UP. It's primarily outdoors and on the water. It was free to get in and Will said the hot chocolate at the concession stand (for about 60 cents!) was money well spent!

That night, we had dinner at Captain Bill's Oyster Bar in Treasure Island. The boys found it to be EXCELLENT food. I had shrimp and grits. I can't remember what everyone else had. We did arrive during happy hour so we enjoyed a few half-price drinks and appetizers before dinner. Our children ate their weight in calamari. We all enjoyed it!

Sunday morning, we got going early again and headed to Busch Gardens for the day! James' class trip for school this year is to Busch Gardens and he opted out of it back in September. It's a one-day trip and it's a LONG way to go for just a few hours of roller coasters. SO we decided while we were in Tampa we would take him! Because it's the off-season, there were plenty of things that weren't open, unfortunately. I commented over and over that it wasn't Disney World. We did try a food pass for Eddie's ticket so he was able to get food every hour and we all split it. NOT worth it in our opinion - the lines were long and we were having to stop every 60 minutes to feel like we got our money's worth. The boys liked the animals the most. Next time, we will go to the Tampa Zoo instead! Busch Gardens wasn't bad, it just wasn't SUPER fun or memorable. 

On Monday, we checked out of our hotel and drove north to Clearwater for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Will and I watched Dolphin Tale back in December and it was so fun to see where the movie was based and partially filmed. They have an IMPRESSIVE new building and it was really a fun experience. All of their animals have either been injured or are unable to go back into the wild for one reason or another (there are several dolphins with hearing problems and one or two that don't know to stay away from humans). The employees were really kind and helpful and answered all of our questions. It's not like SeaWorld or Georgia Aquarium, but it was a very nice facility and really interesting. One of the dolphins, Hemingway, passed away a week after we visited from some sort of intestinal bacteria. It was really neat to see him doing some jumps the week before. He was "elderly" at about 37 years old.

Tampa was a great trip for our family! We love getting away for fun long weekends and finding new places!

No comments: