Tampa: Great Getaways by the Bay
Tampa, Florida, may be home to the Lightning, the Rays and this year's Republican National Convention, but there are scores of other reasons to visit this Gulf Coast city. From the colorful nightlife of Ybor City to dinner and dancing at Florida’s oldest restaurant, Tampa offers a boxful of getaways by the Bay.
Arrive after dark and the streets are lit up -- and ready for some of Tampa's more colorful nightlife. Red brick and wrought iron paint this neighborhood and its narrow streets with an almost tangible connection to the varied cultures of its founders. Cuban, German, Spanish, Jewish and Italian influences are still felt in the art, music and food of this animated Tampa neighborhood.
A maze of dining rooms, each with a different look and feel, are abuzz with scores of diners here for the famous food and the renowned floor show. Castanets bark out a staccato rhythm as Spanish flamenco dancers stomp, whirl raucously and strike dramatic poses during nightly shows in two of the dining rooms, Monday through Saturday.
Exhibits begin with a walk through “Wetlands,” continue into “Bays and Beaches” and eventually into the newest gallery, “Ocean Commotion.” Those with scuba certification and steely nerves can dive into the aquarium's 500,000-gallon Coral Reef exhibit and spend some up-close and personal time with sand tiger sharks. Certification must be provided at the aquarium. No need to pack your fins: The Florida Aquarium provides all the equipment (and your toothy tank-mates.)
The building was also used as a base of operations during the Spanish-American War by Roosevelt and his Rough Riders before heading to Cuba. An admirer of Moorish architecture, Plant built his hotel with soaring minarets and inviting arches for a then-princely sum of $3 million. Much of the building preserves the Gilded Age of the 1890s, when sipping drinks on the verandah was the height of indulgence.
Fire up one of Tampa's famed hand-rolled cigars on the outdoor patio and settle in for some live music surrounded by a motley assortment of pirate gear and buccaneer paraphernalia -- after all, Jose Gaspar, the mythical pirate credited with sacking Tampa, still sits in quiet residence on the wall.