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Fun on the Water
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Fun on the Water

Gain a new perspective of Tampa Bay with a variety of on the water tours

By Jessica Vander Velde

Whether you’re looking for adventure or a way to unwind, trading dry land for Tampa Bay’s sparkling blue waters unlocks a new world of activities. Experience the quiet serenity of gliding through the peaceful waterways of Tampa Bay’s many nature preserves. Or, stay in the mix in downtown Tampa Bay where water sports and a river taxi are a short drive away from the area’s best restaurants, museums and nightlife.

The Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa, Florida

Water is one of the city’s best features. The vast expanse of the bay wraps around the south side of the city. Exotic mangroves dot its coastline. A river snakes through its urban core. And with great weather year-round, getting to know Tampa Bay from the water is always a perfect option. Jump in!

Paddling

Hop onto a stand-up paddleboard or into a kayak to experience migrating birds above, solitary wildlife around and friendly marine animals below. Experience Urban Kai Stand Up Paddleboarding at either one of its two locations—one at the edge of the Wheedon Island Preserve, where dolphin and manatee sightings are common, and another in downtown Tampa within walking distance of some of the city’s best hotels. Urban Kai offers classes, but getting started on your own is easy, too. Rent by the hour or take one of their fitness or yoga classes. Keep an eye out for fish—from your standing position on the board, they’re easy to spot. And watch for Florida’s unique, native water birds. You’ll likely see black anhinga sitting on branches with their wings spread to dry, as well as herons, ibis, osprey, pelicans and even pink roseate spoonbills.

Stroll by the river on the Tampa Riverwalk, Florida

To really get away from it all, rent a kayak or canoe from Canoe Escape, located just north of Tampa Bay. They’ll drop you off and pick you up, so you only have to paddle downstream on the Hillsborough River. Spotting plenty of birds and turtles is a guarantee as you travel through a 16,000-acre wildlife preserve. The best part of this trip is when the river narrows and oaks and cypress surround you, providing a peek into “Old Florida.” Stop paddling for a moment to soak up the silence. The cacophony of chirps, tweets and gurgles are incredibly soothing and you’ll feel relaxed and refreshed by the end.

Pirate Water Taxi

Tampa Bay is all about the pirate lore and this taxi—nope, not a wooden ship with a plank—is your ticket to a bounty of downtown Tampa hotspots. Hop on and off at parks, bars, museums and restaurants while cruising along the Tampa Riverwalk, Channel District and Davis Island, all while getting a spectacular view of Tampa Bay you can’t get from land.

The Pirate Water Taxi in Tampa, Florida

Start at the Tampa Museum of Art, located next to the sprawling Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, which is perfect for lounging, picnicking or tossing a Frisbee. Then, hop back on the Pirate Water Taxi to see Tampa Bay’s very own pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla. Get back on land two more stops away to enjoy dinner at Jackson’s Bistro Bar & Sushi or Café Dufrain—both located right next to the taxi’s two Harbour Island stops. Or travel a couple stops farther to Channelside Bay Plaza, where a slew of exciting nightlife options await. After trying the Pirate Water Taxi, regular taxis might seem so passé!

The Florida Aquarium

Hop off the taxi at Stop 2 along its route to show your Pirate Water Taxi wristband for discounted admission to The Florida Aquarium (one of several Pirate Perks when you ride with them). Once you enter the wave-shaped building, you’ll experience a lush, tropical environment and the underwater world you’ve been taxiing above. Interact with tens of thousands of fish and mammals through educational programs, diving activities in their giant tanks, dolphin cruises and behind-the-scenes penguin experiences. Plus, the kids can cool off on their splash pad. But that’s just the beginning of what can be explored. All you need to do is hop off and then dive in!

Girl pets stingrays in touch tank at The Florida Aquarium, Tampa
Girl pets stingrays in touch tank at The Florida Aquarium, Tampa

Water bike

Want to experience the water in a whole new way? Try a water bike—a unique human-powered watercraft that is so much fun. You pedal and steer, just like a bike, but this one’s suspended on two small hulls that keep you floating as you travel on the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. Virtually impossible to flip, water bikes are a favorite of families and anyone who wants to be active on the water. The Tampa Bay Water Bike Company also offers “biyaks”—kayaks that you propel by pedaling. Rent a tandem biyak for a one-of-a-kind date before heading next door to the Sail Pavilion for a waterside cocktail to toast to your success.

Discover more ways to tour Tampa Bay from the water.