2016 was a wild ride -- wilder for some than for others. Here in Tampa Bay, it was a year of big changes and fulfilled promises. We're already looking forward to 2017, which should be even bigger and better.
Cross Bay Ferry
For the first time in their history, Tampa Bay's two downtowns are connected by a water route. The Cross Bay Ferry began operating in November on a seasonal basis connecting downtown Tamp and St. Petersburg with a 40-minute cruise across the bay. The ferry service runs until May 2017, when the boat must return to its regular route between Boston and Cape Cod. In the meantime, it provides a fun way to experience Tampa Bay.
John Cena PSA
WWE star and Tampa Bay resident John Cena shares the spotlight with historic Ybor City in the #WeAreAmerica public service announcement that aired July 4.
"The Infiltrator" first public screening
Downtown's historic Tampa Theatre co-stars with Bryan Cranston in a locally shot feature film telling the white-knuckle story of how local DEA agent Bob Mazur brought down the Bank of Credit and Commerce International as part of the government's effort to crush the Medellin drug cartel in the 1980s. You can visit sites featured in both the movie and the book.
Look for another Tampa Bay star turn in January 2017 when Ben Affleck’s “Live by Night” recreates Prohibition-era Ybor City on the silver screen.
Twin clouded leopards
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo spent the year squee(!)zing our heart strings with one cute critter after another. The cutest were twin clouded leopard kits born in the spring.
The newest addition to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's arsenal of excitement brings riders face-to-face with the 80-foot Snake King before sending them dipping and spinning through an amazing ride.
Goody Goody Burgers reborn
The nation's first drive-in burger joint operated for nearly a century in Tampa Bay before closing up in 2004. Lucky for us, one of its biggest fans was local restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart, who bought everything that remained -- right down to the wooden desk-like seats -- and reopened Goody Goody Burgers in Hyde Park Village a few minutes from downtown. The drive-in component is gone, but there's a walk-up window where you can buy a butterscotch pie. Life's full of trade offs. Be sure to download the virtual reservation No Wait app to hold your space in line.
Pirate Water Taxi
Downtown's sparkling waterfront has been rediscovered as Tampa Bay's most cherished asset, and this fleet of new yellow boats takes full advantage of that. Since February, they have run regular routes along the waterfront from Channelside Bay Plaza to Water Works Park, with on-demand side trips farther afield. In 2017, look for a new boat to carry visitors as far upriver as Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.
Zipcar, Uber & Lyft
Getting around became easier with the addition of subscription-based Zipcar, which has six on-demand cars stationed around downtown and ready to ride. They're perfect for quick trips if you don't have your own car or don't want to use it. This was also the year that local government agreed to work with Uber and Lyft, which had previously been banned.
Reconnecting with Cuba
Day trip to Havana, anyone? On December 12, Southwest Airlines began making daily 70-minute flights from Tampa International Airport to Havana -- leave early in the morning and you'll be home by dinner time. Just remember to bring your passport and cash. Look for Royal Caribbean to begin cruises to Cuba from Port Tampa Bay in Spring 2017. Before you visit Havana, sample Tampa Bay's own 130 years of Cuban history.
Tampa Riverwalk completed
Forty years and six mayors after it began, the 2.4-mile Tampa Riverwalk officially reached completion in April. The final section between the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and Water Works Park includes several pieces of public art -- including the towering red metal sculpture "America, America" that once stood near the entrance to the Straz. Swinging benches and a bike maintenance stand complete the amenities. Look for a northern extension to The Heights Market food hall in 2017.