From Toddlers to Teens: Family Fun in the Florida City
Nestled between the glistening waters of Old Tampa and Hillsborough bays, Tampa, FL, is a mecca for outdoor activities. Bask in the Florida sun as your kids come face-to-face with wildlife at the zoo or soar through the air on rip-roaring roller coasters at popular theme parks. For travelers in search of a more scholastic vacation, Tampa also offers a host of museums where science and learning is made fun through scores of hands-on exhibits.
One of the more affordable family attractions in town, Glazer Children's Museum (110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, FL) lets kids experience the real world in a pretend setting as they visit a bank to withdraw money, operate a crane on a construction site and slide down a pole in a firehouse. Creative types can craft artwork in the studio, direct a play in a small theater, try their hand at global instruments and build a fort out of blankets and pillows. Special events include weekly storytime sessions and play groups for toddlers, as well as free outdoor movies during the summer. On select mornings, the museum caters specifically to kids with special needs.
Fun in the Wild
Covering 56 acres, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo (1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa, FL) is home to more than 1,300 animals, from elephants and penguins to orangutans and manatees. Featuring mid-range admission prices, the zoo offers up-close interactions with animals through exhibits that let visitors walk among wallabies and macaws in flight. There’s also a petting zoo filled with llamas, horses and goats. For an added fee, kids can feed critters such as giraffes, stingrays and lorikeets. Tiny tots may also enjoy pint-size carnival rides, a miniature train and a carousel. An on-site splash pad lets kiddies cool off on hot days.
The moderately-priced Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL) showcases marine life not just from the Sunshine State, but around the globe. Children will watch in wonder as tiger sharks navigate their way through a coral reef and 300-pound goliath groupers swim in the Bays and Beaches gallery. Little ones will enjoy touching stingrays, horseshoe crabs and sea cucumbers in touch tanks and taking walks through a Madagascar exhibit housing lemurs and tortoises. There’s also a 2-acre outdoor splash pad for kiddies and a nearby bar for their parents. Watch animals frolic in the wild when you take the 75-minute dolphin-watching boat tour in the Tampa Bay.
Although the cost of admission is admittedly high, Busch Gardens Tampa (10165 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa, FL), which is part amusement park, part zoo, provides plenty of thrills. Major rides include water flumes and six major roller coasters, such as Sheikra, a floorless dive coaster with speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Tiny tots will enjoy the Sesame Street-themed area outfitted with rides, costumed characters and a splash pad with dump buckets, water jets and geysers. Explore the massive zoo, home to over 12,000 animals, complete with bird gardens, cheetah runs and the Australian-themed Walkabout Way, where kids can hand-feed kangaroos. For an added fee, take the Serengeti Safari Tour, a 30-minute off-road excursion through a savannah dotted with roaming zebras, giraffes and ostriches.
Explore more than 450 hands-on activities at the Museum of Science and Industry (4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL). Little visitors will learn how to farm food on the moon, face 75 mph winds in a hurricane simulator and pedal a bike across a wire three stories in the air. Small children will put their imagination to the test in a playground where massive foam blocks are used to build structures. The museum, which features moderate admission fees, also houses an IMAX theater, zip lines, elevated rope courses and a planetarium with a star projector at an added cost.