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Tampa twice

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I don’t know why it took us this long to discover Tampa for a short trip away with the children, given our eldest is now four.

Most of our short trips off island are in search of the shops. As we are familiar with Miami (and are big fans of Aventura) we got used to heading in that direction. However, having taken on board two Tampa recommendations, we found it has much to offer. Both trips have been tried and tested by other Cayman families as well, so come well rehearsed and highly recommended.

The entire trip starts off on a high as you don’t have to grapple with Miami airport/immigration queues. Tampa airport is smaller, quieter and much less stressful. As yet we haven’t tackled the big theme parks, Disney etc, so there’s still loads more to see and do than we covered below.

Trip 1 – Hotel based. 2 children. Four nights.

A tough day at Busch Gardens

A tough day at Busch Gardens

We stayed at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza. We didn’t do a lot of independent research, but apparently this hotel is about as good as it gets in Tampa. Why is this hotel perfect for families?

1. It’s attached to a pretty good mall so in the evening, my husband and I took it in turns to do bed/bath time with the children while the other one literally walked across the hotel lobby into the mall for late night shopping (minus children!). This freed up the days to do family stuff.

2. Next to the hotel/mall is Bay Street, an “open air village of fine dining and small boutiques”. Loads of family friendly restaurants. Witching hour kids welcome.

A thrilling walk through Dinosaur World

A thrilling walk through Dinosaur World

3. The hotel has a Club level which gave us access to milk and snacks for the children early morning and at bedtime. We had a free upgrade to this level (I have no idea why but we weren’t complaining!) and I would consider paying for this facility if we were to return.

4. Close to lots of fun stuff for the children to do. Our highlight was Busch Gardens which merits a full review to itself.  We also visited the associated water park (Adventure Island). Buy tickets online in advance for discounts for multiple park entry.

Other places we recommend are the Tampa Aquarium and Glazer Children’s Museum (both perfect for rainy days). And for our dinosaur-obsessed little boy, Dinosaur World was a must see. This was the perfect way to fill a morning on the way back to the airport and is an amazing place (150 life size dinosaurs, fossil dig, museum, skeleton garden, boneyard – need I say more..!).

 

Trip 2 – Reunion resort. 3 children.  Seven nights.

We couldn’t face squeezing our expanded brood into a hotel room and decided to look for self-catering.  Reunion was recommended by at least four other families. We cannot rave about this place enough. Located in-between Tampa and Orlando, the resort has a hotel as well as self-catering villas and houses for rent. Four golf courses, a children’s pool with waterslides, a lazy river, bikes for rent and it’s near some good shopping malls. There’s also a Publix a 2 minute drive away.

Making new friends at Green Meadows

Making new friends at Green Meadows

Things to do:

1. The unexpected highlight of our trip was a visit to Green Meadows Petting Farm. The children milked a cow, held baby chicks and ducklings, fed loads of animals, caught a chicken (Rocky, eat your heart out!), rode a pony, went on a hay ride and also a train. A great value, activity-packed half day out.

2. Seaworld. The dolphin show and meeting Shamu the killer whale were the highlights.

3. Gatorland.  Fun if you’re into alligators, snakes, spiders etc. I was pulled out of the audience at one of the small shows to hold a huge Burmese python. This elevated me to hero status for my four year-old boy but my two year-old little girl screamed the entire time and tried to run onto the stage to rescue me!

Lunch with a T-Rex

Lunch with a T-Rex

4. Downtown Disney. Good place to wander around for free, and you get an occasional sighting of Disney characters. The T-Rex cafe restaurant was a must for our son and it didn’t disappoint.

Other than these trips, we simply relaxed and took advantage of the Reunion Resort. Oh, and there’s some great shopping at The Mall at Millenia and various Premium Outlet Malls.

With so much still left to discover I am certain another Tampa trip will be on the cards soon!

 

 

About the author: Rebecca Hayward is a lawyer and mum of three kids under 5.  As she still can find time to write us a travel story, that makes her superwoman!

One Comment Post a comment
  1. NikkiCallender #

    I loved and lived by this article during our recent visit to Reunion. A couple of hopefully helpful tips to add:

    We booked our 3 bed condo through reunionvacationhomes.com – there was a much wider choice of available rentals and great rates compared to booking through the resort directly. They were super helpful during our stay too – checking in with us twice during our stay and bringing over a high chair within an hour of calling them.

    We also arranged a sitter through KidsNiteOut.com. Sitters are fully vetted and they came highly recommended by the Hotel at Reunion Resort. Once booked they called me the day before our arrangement to provide the sitter’s name in advance in case i wanted to warm our 3 year old up to the idea of the sitter coming over, and when the amazing Heather arrived for the evening, she was bedecked in full Disney regalia including Mickey Mouse earrings (!) and carrying a Disney Princess shopping bag full of toys, just in case they might be bored with the ones we had with us. She stood up to the scrutiny of our suspicious 3 year old daughter passing the Princess test with her superior knowledge of all things Disney. Our kids spent Heather’s visit fast asleep but Kids Nite Out sitters offer full on entertainment and child care services. The only thing they won’t do is any activity involving water including bath time. For 2 children we paid US$18.50 per hour for minimum 4 hours. Worth every penny for a child-free visit to Target and dinner in a restaurant that didn’t serve chicken dinosaurs.

    Final tip – if you are planning on dining at Down Town Disney you can book ahead at both Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe – well worth doing as the wait time is up to an hour during peak dining times.

    October 29, 2013

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