Tampa Bay, Florida
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Why Tampa Bay, Florida, is the Perfect Getaway for Families

Activities and adventure around every corner

By Kevin Wagar

With a gorgeous bay, seemingly endless sunshine and a dynamite food scene, Tampa Bay has a lot to offer families looking for an escape from the cold. It’s no surprise that Florida is one of the most popular destinations for Canadian families, such as ours. But with so many amazing experiences, how do parents choose the perfect spot for a winter escape?

Having traveled to more than 20 countries with our children, my wife, Christina, and I have become tuned in to what makes for an incredible adventure-destination for families. So, we were excited to visit Tampa Bay to explore the city and its attractions, we wondered how family fun in Tampa Bay would compare to the many remarkable destinations we’ve already explored.

During our three days in this Florida hotspot, we experienced the fun and excitement of Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay, explored undersea life at The Florida Aquarium, followed the path of water at the Glazer Children’s Museum, got up close and personal with penguins, giraffes and hippos at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and watched the manatees, sharks, and eagle rays at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center. We combined that with amazing meals at local restaurants including Ulele, and fun local attractions such as the Pirate Water Taxi and the beautiful Tampa Riverwalk for some unforgettable family time.

A young boy in blue plaid shirt looks  up at red and blue roller coasters at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, Florida

Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay: Packed with new experiences

Busch Gardens® was a complete blast with the incredible animal attractions, to the wild rollercoasters. Our boys, ages four and six, loved Sesame Street Village the most. Seeing the fun characters up close and personal was pure joy for them. And the fun, kid-friendly rides and climbing areas were just perfect for their ages.

A young boy in blue plaid shirt looks  up at red and blue roller coasters at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, Florida
Two young boys in plaid shirts watch a scuba diver in an aquarium through an below-water-level glass wall at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay, Florida

The Florida Aquarium: Under the sea

At The Florida Aquarium we were wowed by the amazing variety of aquatic life that was on display from octopus to tiger sharks and beyond. But the biggest wow our kids had was taking part in the aquarium quiz show and getting to see the scuba divers swimming in the massive tank. Our youngest son was absolutely entranced by the colorful anemones in the aquarium’s touch tank as well.

Two young boys in plaid shirts watch a scuba diver in an aquarium through an below-water-level glass wall at The Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay, Florida
Two young boys in plaid shirts play with multi-colored sand in a sandbox at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa Bay, Florida

Glazer Children’s Museum: Made for kids

We opted to walk from the aquarium along the Tampa Riverwalk on our way to the Glazer Children’s Museum. We had already seen so much, so we thought the boys might choose to relax at the water attractions or the gorgeous light cloud sensory experience when we arrived, but boy, were we wrong. When the boys saw all the incredible interactive exhibits, they were off like rockets. Before we knew it, they were rock climbing, sliding down firehouse poles and tracing the path of water through a three-story climbing display. Lucky for us, there were just as many spots for parents to relax while still being able to keep an eye on the little ones.

Two young boys in plaid shirts play with multi-colored sand in a sandbox at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa Bay, Florida
A young boy in a blue plaid shirt feeds lettuce to a giraffe at ZooTampa at Lowry Park in Tampa Bay, Florida

ZooTampa at Lowry Park: Amazing animal sightings

Our next morning was spent exploring the ZooTampa at Lowry Park. The incredible staff at the zoo was excited to show off all the beautiful exhibits. There were even opportunities to feed lorikeets, giraffes and a rhinoceros! We could have spent the entire day there, but we knew we had more stops to make. Plus, since ZooTampa at Lowry Park was growing and continually improving, we knew it meant the next time we visited, there would be even more to see.

A young boy in a blue plaid shirt feeds lettuce to a giraffe at ZooTampa in Tampa Bay, Florida
A young boy in a blue plaid shirt and a black eyepatch smiles and steers a boat with a staff member from Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa Bay, Florida

Pirate Water Taxi: Ahoy, matey!

Our visit also included a chance to see the Tampa Bay skyline with the friendly crew at Pirate Water Taxi. It was a great way to do a unique hop-on-hop-off tour of downtown Tampa Bay.

A young boy in a blue plaid shirt and a black eyepatch smiles and steers a boat with a staff member from Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa Bay, Florida
Two gray manatees float near the surface of the water near the shore at the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center: See the sea cows

A visit to Tampa Bay would not be complete without meeting the loveable manatees. With a live webcam feed to know if they were visible, the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center was the best option for families. The viewing center combined educational and conservation information with amazing viewing angles. We were even able to see black tipped sharks and eagle rays leaping from the water during our visit. Best of all, it was free!

Two gray manatees float near the surface of the water near the shore at the Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa Bay, Florida
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Our visit to Tampa Bay was easy and affordable, which is perfect for families. With the Tampa Bay CityPASS, we were able to visit most of these Tampa Bay attractions for one affordable price. And there was even more we could have explored, if only we had the time. Next time, we’ll catch a show at the beautiful Tampa Theatre, embark on one of the famous wild dolphin tours and take in the views of the gorgeous Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

As we made our way to the airport to head back home to Canada, the boys pleaded to stay for a few more days, or weeks, in Tampa Bay. My wife and I wished for the same.

Kevin Wagar is a family travel expert, travel writer and photographer. Read about more of his adventures at wanderingwagars.com.