This is the second guest post from our friend, Ellen Hearn. She’s a fellow retiree who is spending much of her retired life exploring the world and enjoying new adventures.
Due to the marriage of my nephew, we had family members from across the country gathering in Tampa, Florida. When you have a family gathering, that is what you want to do…. “gather” so there are many opportunities to laugh, share memories and enjoy food! That is not easy to do when you are in multiple hotel rooms, with no private area to eat, drink and be silly.
Originally, we all had reservations to stay in a Hampton Inn. However, thanks to the urging of my younger sister, we began to look for a better option; something that would allow more interaction between family members. HomeAway provided a perfect option. Using HomeAway’s website we were able to specify where and when we needed to stay, along with the number of guests that we needed to accommodate.
Through HomeAway we ended up staying in Lutz Florida (just north of Tampa), in a huge home that provided accommodations for nearly everyone. We had a full kitchen, a large dining room, and lots of places to gather and mingle. First, second and third generation cousins were together again, or some for the first time, learning more about members of their extended family. It was so much better than everyone staying in their hotel rooms and gathering in the lobby to try to link up. It was like a home away from home!
Not only did we have an incredible amount of space in which to share and mingle we also saved money doing so. The HomeAway lodging ended up costing the family about ten percent less that if we had rented the traditional hotel rooms we had originally booked.
Since the trip, I have also used HomeAway to find a great place for my family to gather at nearby Lake Sara, and wonderful accommodations for a weekend in downtown Chicago. Most locations require a minimum stay and there may also be additional charges for housekeeping.
The HomeAway experience was so positive, I will use their service again for booking travel and/or planning a family vacation or reunion. You can select your destination, and the type of housing you want, or vice versa. Do you want to stay in a castle, stay by the sea, stay in a high rise, or stay on a lake or in a cabin? Let Home Away help you find the perfect vacation location! It’s amazing how many choices you have to choose from. HomeAway can truly help you find your home away from home!
Note: This is not a HomeAway sponsored review. I think it’s simply that good!
Through my booking on Home Away, I was able to buy a Tampa Bay CityPASS at a discounted rate. For only $10 more than the admission to Busch Gardens alone, I had free access to The Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry or the Chihuly Collection.
One of the advantages this pass has over other passes is that you have 9 days to use the pass from the first day it is redeemed. Other passes required you to visit all the available attractions in 24, 48 or 72 hours with the price increasing based upon the available time used.
If you like roller coasters, you will love Busch Gardens. This attraction mixes roller coasters on steroids, with wild animal encounters, plus beautiful landscaping. We visited on a Thursday in February, which meant we had the added benefit of small crowds and no lines.
My favorite ride continues to be the white-water rafting, which would be wonderfully refreshing on a hot summer day. However, when the sun began to set the temperature dropped quickly from 75 to 65 and my wet clothes chilled me to the bone! Watching my sister’s grandchildren enjoying the Park was well worth the goosebumps created by the rides and the chill. These young ladies really enjoyed their time in the sun before returning home to cold Alaska.
The Lowry Zoo
This Zoo is truly unique. It offers more opportunities to connect with the animals than most others that I have visited. I fed the birds and the sting rays. Could have fed the giraffe’s, as well. This would be a bit expensive for a family because each feeding is an additional $5.00, per person.
This zoo is also special because it has a manatee enclosure and koalas. There is also a children’s area that not only has a petting zoo, but it has rides and a water play area. (Another wonderful feature because Tampa’s summers can be especially hot and humid.) There are also electric trains available for riding. They circle the park and enter the large enclosures of some of the animals for an up close and personal experience.
When you first arrive at the zoo, you are photographed in a variety of poses. You are then offered the opportunity to purchase photos that have been photo shopped showing you interacting with elephants, birds and giraffes. We would have purchased them if the camera lens would have been just a little less honest about our appearance!
Clearwater Beach is just west of Tampa and provides beautiful access to the Gulf of Mexico. We made two visits to the beach. Our first experience was a lunch cruise in Clearwater Bay. This was a great way to enjoy the sunshine, a cocktail and a meal with family members.
Later, on President’s Day, we returned to Clearwater Beach along with thousands of other visitors. One thing you learn quickly in Tampa is to anticipate extra time for traffic. A twenty minute drive turned into a hour and a half marathon to the beach. Luckily, it took us only twenty minutes to return home that evening.
It was well worth the drive. We quickly found a cabaña for shade and watched the kids romp in the sand and chilly waters. For the two hours before and after sunset there is a lot of free live entertainment such as jugglers and musicians. We also ate on the beach at Frenchy’s Original Café which is a tradition for locals. A very popular location with long lines and a 45-minute wait. The calamari and grouper sandwich was worth the wait!
Tampa Dining Recommendations
Speaking of food; here are some quick recommendations for other restaurants to enjoy while you are in Tampa.
Deli – Wright’s Gourmet House – #1 of 697 on TripAdvisor Corned Beef Sandwich on Rye – still makes my mouth water!
Fine Dining – The Columbia Restaurant – # 6 of 697 on TripAdvisor and known for its salad. I loved the ambiance and the warm French bread was the best I have ever eaten!
Shells Seafood #5 of 74 Seafood Restaurants in Tampa
Frenchy’s #6 of 51 Clearwater Beach
Dinner and a Movie – When you just want to eat a good meal AND see a movie…check out CineBistro. I loved how the seats are so comfortable and the rows tiered so even a short person like me doesn’t have to worry about someone’s head blocking the view of the screen.
I had a great time visiting Tampa and luckily I was able to do a lot within my six day visit. However, Tampa has a lot more to offer and I would love to go back. On my next visit I would like to swim with the manatees and visit Tampa’s Modern Art Gallery. I can’t wait to go back!
Here’s a link to HomeAway.com
Headed to Busch Gardens? Here’s a link to their site Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Link to Lowery Park Zoo
And finally, here’s a link to Clearwater Beach.
Marvin’s Note: I had never heard 0f HomeAway until reading Ellen’s post. We’ve since followed her advice and used HomeAway to help find places to stay in Iceland and Florida. We love HomeAway’s ease of use, the wide variety of offerings and the great value of the vacation rentals. We will definitely be using HomeAway again!