Sunday, February 13, 2011

First-time Visitor Guide to Tampa, FL

Tampa, Florida, is a favorite vacation spot for tourists from around the world because it offers a perfect combination of relaxing beaches, stimulating cultural attractions and vibrant nightlife. The city, with is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, is proximate to Clearwater Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and St. Pete Beach. Visitors favor the beaches near Tampa because they are known for having calmer water and whiter sand than the beaches on the Atlantic side of Florida.

Tampa has a long menu of theme parks for visitors to choose from, by my personal recommendation for first-time visitors is Busch Gardens. This classic American theme park brings together the best of two worlds: the zoo and the amusement park. Families and couples are both are guaranteed a good time because the park offers activities to suit every taste. Animal-lovers and thrill-seekers alike will be awed by the Serengeti Safari, which takes visitors on a 30-minute ride through a re-created African plain. Brave souls who exceed 54" in height won't want to miss the one-of-a-kind SheiKra roller coaster, and for visitors looking for a tamer experience, Busch Gardens features 4-D theater shows.

Animal attractions are definitely a recurring theme in Tampa. Other popular Tampa sightseeing destinations include the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center, Big Cat Rescue, the Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium, which is my personal favorite. This aquarium takes visitors "behind the glass" and allows them to actually interact with the animals. Sample experiences include a SCUBA reef adventure, a behind-the-scenes shark-feeding tour and even a "meet-the-penguins" tour.

If you plan ahead, getting to Tampa can be just as relaxing as the vacation itself. Tourists who choose to drive enjoy the beautiful Florida scenery, but cheap flights to Tampa Bay on discount airlines are readily available. Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest and AirTran all offer reasonably-priced flights to Tampa Bay International Airport from major U.S. cities. If you're an international visitor, flights to Tampa are plentiful as well. British Airways offers flights to Tampa from London, with prices peaking during the popular summer travel month of July.

Once you're on the ground, you'll find myriad transportation options available. Lots of rental car services have desks at Tampa Bay International Airport, including Avis, Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, Enterprise, National and Thrifty. If you're not planning to rent a car, though, SuperShuttle provides a convenient and affordable way to get to your hotel. If you're willing to wait a few minutes for the next bus to arrive, you'll save quite a bit over a taxi, and you can also book your return shuttle trip at the same time.

Many visitors stay in the Clearwater Beach area in order to be as close as possible to the ocean, but staying in downtown Tampa will place you closer to the city's sightseeing attractions. If you're looking for luxury, the Hyatt Regency, Sheraton, Marriott and The Westin all have locations in downtown Tampa. Wherever you call home, you're sure to have a great time in Tampa.

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