Unlocking Tampa Bay for an unforgettable adventure

By Mark O’Brien


I admit it. My parents were right.

When they told me we were going to Tampa for a long weekend, I said, “No way.” I’m 12, going on 13. I’m old enough to stay home alone. I didn't want to ride around Tampa with my parents and my 7-year-old sister, Jenny.

But then I looked online at Busch Gardens® Tampa, the Tampa Trio (Tampa’s Lowry Park ZooMuseum of Science & Industry, and The Florida Aquarium) and some of the other attractions my parents said we could visit, and realized this trip is going to be an awesome adventure. We weren’t just going to visit Tampa Bay—we were going to take over!

Getting started
After we checked into the Hilton Tampa Downtown, my dad got us each a discount pass called Tampa Bay CityPASS, so we could get into a bunch of attractions at a lower price. My mom said Jenny and I could choose the spots we wanted to visit (score)! My parents downloaded free apps that told us about shows and waiting lines. If one attraction had a long wait, we just went to another that had a short line. Dad said we were "modern conquestadors," using technology to explore Tampa.

Jenny got to choose the first attraction to conquer. She had trouble deciding, but eventually picked The Florida Aquarium. It was amazing! We could see everything in the glass tank that stretched from floor to ceiling.

The aquarium was full of sharks, alligators, otters and even hissing cockroaches. We got to pet a penguin, feed a stingray and take a cruise where we saw dolphins. My sister wanted to take home one penguin, one otter, and all the dolphins. When I told her they wouldn’t be happy in our backyard, she said they could stay in Tampa, but she still considers them her animals.

More daring than when we started, I decided that next time, I’m coming back and swimming with the sharks!

After lunch, I chose the Museum of Science and Industry, (MOSI) because I wanted to go in the tornado simulator. We filed in a basement and looked out the windows (they are really TVs). The room shook and it got cold. A truck flipped over. Exciting for sure, but I’ve decided I’m not going to be a storm chaser when I grow up.

MOSI has zip lines that go over buildings and an IMAX theater. There’s also a ropes course that was tough, but I conquered it. I especially liked the mummies because they scared my sister. I may have told her they were watching her.

Conquering giants
Day two was reserved for Busch Gardens® Tampa. We did a bunch of rides as a family in the morning. After lunch, my dad and I went on bigger rides while my mom took Jenny to stuff that was more her speed like the Animal Care Center and TreeTop Trails, which is like a giant jungle gym.

The first ride my dad and I went on was Falcon’s Fury. At the top, you’re 335 feet up in the air. You can see out across Tampa for forever, when all of a sudden the car tilts face down and you see the ground a million miles away. Then you drop. You plunge almost 300 feet at 60 mph. It was such a rush!

Then we conquered the roller coasters. I thought SheiKra, Montu and Cheetah Hunt® were the best. My stomach dropped on Cheetah Hunt®, which has lots of hills and turns. SheiKra has really good loops and it’s fast. Montu is floorless so your feet are dangling. My dad said Montu was his favorite because of all the twists.

At home, my parents make us eat healthy food, but they were relaxed on vacation. I even had a bacon-wrapped pretzel!

Next time we go to Busch Gardens® Tampa, I want to check out the water rides. Congo River Rapids looked like it had some scary parts, and Tanganyika Tidal Wave looked pretty steep. But after conquering Falcon’s Fury, I can handle anything.

For our third day, my sister picked Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. I was up for an adventure and trying something new, so I picked stand-up paddling.

Up close and personal
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo had lots of animals, but it also had rides that my mom and I took while my dad and Jenny went to Safari Africa to look at elephants and zebras.

Mom thought she was funny, splashing me in bumper boats. I got her back by making sure she got nice and soaked on Gator Falls Flume.

We caught up with Dad and Jenny, and came face to face with giraffes. There was a platform where you could stand as tall as they are and feed them lettuce. It was so weird the way they pulled the lettuce out of your hand with their long tongues and lips!

After that, we went to the Primate World. That's where we saw some Florida panthers. I read that panthers can walk 19 miles in a single night, and they have fur between their toes so you can’t hear them sneaking up on you.

On the water
Our last stop before going home was Urban Kai Standup Paddle Boarding. The instructor gave us lessons and everyone did well, although my dad fell in the water twice and we all laughed at him. He eventually got better, and we paddled all around the Hillsborough River.

Stand-up paddling is different from being in a boat. You can see a lot more in the water. And now I know why they say it’s good exercise. I could feel it in my abs big time!

Vacation success
The trip went by too fast, but I loved every minute of it. While we were packing up and riding to the airport, we couldn’t stop talking about all the cool things we did. We decided that the whole city was made for us. Sure, other people could enjoy Tampa Bay, but really, we know that—just like Jenny’s new animals—it’s ours.

I remember getting on the plane, but after that, I woke up from riding a roller coaster to someone telling me to put my tray table up. Reliving the fun is definitely a sign of a successful vacation.

Book your Tampa adventure today and get the Tampa Bay CityPASS to unlock Tampa Bay treasures!