Troubles in Tampa Florida

Genie Davis October 18, 2011 No Comments

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Usually I come to you with tales of the great times we’ve had, or the cities and events I can recommend as a scenic stop or vacation destination families will enjoy. Sure, occasionally I unleash a diatribe against discount airlines, or a less than pristine hotel. But this is the first time in this arena that I’ve cautioned against an entire destination.

Floridians, if you love Tampa, then forgive the rant; tourists who’ve found pleasure in the amusement park Busch Gardens or exploring the small Ybor City art district, I’m glad you enjoyed your stay. But we found Tampa to be troublesome in a number of ways on our recent summer family vacation/music tour travels.

First, there was rain. Now you can’t blame a city because you had bad weather, arrived after dark, and were struggling to find two separate performance venues in a sprawling town – and how many of you are going to be having that sort of an evening, anyway. But poorly marked street signs, poor water drainage, and poor lighting is something one has to note as the city’s responsibility, and all three of these factors made cross town travel somewhat daunting during a sudden downpour.

Second, there was traffic. Rush hour. Football game. Road construction, and again, the poorly marked signage. When leaving Tampa for St. Petersburg one of the main thoroughfares to accomplish this mission was – simply closed. Detours led in circles.

Third, there was finding a place to eat. Most of Tampa’s restaurants closed early; and many of the choices were chain restaurant style. With much of Tampa spread out in suburban style, looking for a particular spot took time. Distances were not easily walkable.

Lobby at the Sheraton Suites Tampa Westshore

The lobby of the less-than-friendly Sheraton Westshore Tampa

Fourth, friendliness factor. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but of all the cities and small towns we passed through on our East Coast trip this past August, Tampa was the surly one. I had made a reservation on line through a discount site for the Sheraton Suites Tampa Airport Westshore, near Tampa’s airport. The hotel had misplaced the reservation and made me jump through hoops to retrieve my on-line confirmation from my email via the hotel’s business center. Our special rate included a buffet breakfast, but the desk staff argued over that one, saying that because our stay was on a weekend, it wasn’t valid. Did I mention we got in late, and had places to go? I let that one slide until the morning. Room service was not delivered with a smile either, and the prices were equivalent to that which you’d expect in New York or Boston. The hotel itself was touting a recent rehab, and the junior suites were comfortably sized. Still, with rooms facing an interior courtyard where canned music played all night long – we had to request a volume reduction, twice – and lumpy sofa beds, this was by far our least comfortable stay of the trip.

Fifth, grunge alert. I’m sure the shiny central skyscrapers are immune to this, and certainly a morning visit to a pristine Whole Foods for a picnic at the beach speaks to the fact that not all of Tampa needs a scrub. But in the area immediately adjoining Busch Gardens – surely a top tourist destination for the city – the chain restaurants, markets, gas stations, and mom and pop shops we stopped into asking directions were all somewhat worse for wear.

Sixth, sporting venue observation. While we were not in town to attend a football game, we were staying fairly near the vast stadium. And we couldn’t help but notice jammed parking lots, snarled traffic, and much, shall we say, kvetching among attendees. If you’re picking Tampa as your touchdown-town, allow plenty of time to get in and out of the stadium, and be prepared for satellite lot parking.

Seventh, things to see. We’d heard historic Ybor City had galleries, shops, and good restaurants. It does appear to have some nice looking and very busy bars and clubs — not a scene for families, though. And several restaurants certainly trump the chain fare closer to where we stayed. But on the whole this community has the vibe of a factory town that’s a bit down on its heels. Which was also the general feeling of Busch Gardens itself.

Winged creatures were one of the highlights in our Tampa stay

Eighth, seasonal closures. In the summertime, Tampa is not at its tourist prime. Heat and humidity are high and leads to the closure of certain attractions. For us, this affected our ability to see the Manatee Viewing Center, which we’d heard as a great spot to see manatees swimming closely the viewing decks at the center. Located outside of town in the community of Apollo Beach, the center is open from November to April only.

For us, what was great about Tampa was its proximity to the white sand beaches of St. Petersburg, less than an hour away and where we would be spending the next several days. And in spite of the heat, we enjoyed the ecologically fascinating Morris Bridge Park just outside of Tampa proper, which offered shady trails, river fishing if that’s your thing, and a view of turtles, ‘gators, and wading birds that made up a little for our inability to gaze at manatees.

And we also enjoyed taking a drive on the Sunshine Skyway. Yes, it’s a bridge, but the ocean views are great, and the architecture is sweepingly awesome. If you’re in the Tampa or St. Petersburg area its a must-drive, with rest and fishing areas on either side of the structure. And of course I must note that the Sunshine Skyway is another way to leave the Tampa area, and I have to confess that for our family, leaving Tampa was more fun than staying there.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: Reviews, Travel Disasters

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