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Tampa Bay Joins CityPASS Program
Disney World tends to dominate central Florida’s tourism image, but bay-side Tampa easily holds its own as a vacation destination, especially for families with children. The newest CityPASS collects the best family-friendly attractions in the Sunshine State’s third largest metro area into one convenient and economical ticket. Add top-rated beaches, neon nightlife, internationally renowned shopping and dining, the Yankees’ spring training camp, and eclectic events ranging from the Mardi Gras-like Gasparilla Season to a Flan Fest, and you have the makings of a most memorable getaway, no mouse needed.
The anchor of the CityPASS ticket, Busch Gardens reigns supreme when it comes to thrill rides. The renowned theme park also delivers astonishing animal encounters and world-class entertainment. Experience unforgettable G-forces and negative gravity, fighter pilot-style simultaneous loops and rolls, catapult launches, multiple inversions and speeds topping 70 mph – and that’s just on the eight track-style coasters. The newest thrill ride, Falcon’s Fury, opens this spring in the reimagined land of Pantopia. Like its bird-of-prey namesake, Falcon’s Fury dives face-first to the ground at speeds of 60 mph from a 335-foot drop tower, the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America. But Busch Gardens delivers a lot more than adrenaline-pumping fun. Throughout the park, you can observe and assist with animal care, and learn about the conservation efforts for more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including cheetahs, tigers, lions, gorillas, lemurs and elephants.
Add just one more of the fabulous attractions on the Tampa Bay CityPASS roster and you’re already saving money. Parents magazine named Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo the #1 zoo in the country. Continue the African safari here, with sightings of zebras, white rhinos, pygmy hippos, okapi, African penguins and (for an extra fee) a chance to feed a giraffe. This is also a great place to explore Florida’s biodiversity, with manatees, alligators and river otters in residence. At the zoo’s Wallaroo Station, you can introduce the kids to Australia’s distinctive animals, such as wallabies, koalas, cockatoos and emus. You can even “adopt” your favorite, contributing to the animal’s on-site care and to worldwide conservation efforts with your symbolic gesture.
Close encounters with more than 30,000 species of aquatic plants and animals take place at The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. The Coral Reef Gallery simulates a 60-foot scuba dive, starting in the shallows and descending through deeper and deeper microhabitats. At the Bays and Beaches exhibit, you can meet a 300-pound Goliath grouper, the aquarium’s largest fish. The interactive touch experiences at Stingray Beach, Horseshoe Crab Lagoon and the No Bones Zone put the exhibits in your hands, letting you “pet” stingrays, sharks, anemones and sea cucumbers, among others. For an extra fee, you can become part of the attraction at The Florida Aquarium. Visitors six and older can Swim With the Fishes, learning about the aquatic environment while receiving an introductory lesson in scuba diving. Certified divers age 15 and older can even face off with sand tiger sharks and moray eels inside the Aquarium's largest exhibit.
You can meet the star of the movie “Dolphin Tale” at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Staff rehabilitated Winter the bottlenose dolphin after she lost her tail in a crab trap, teaching her to swim with a prosthetic tail. She went on to star in the movie based on her life story. Winter’s co-stars Rufus 1 and 2, pelicans who shared the role, live here too, and in exchange for a few fish, (and an extra fee) pose for fan pictures. But don’t let the Hollywood stars overshadow the rest of the cast, which includes stingrays, sharks, sea turtles and river otters.
Tampa Bay CityPASS holders can choose between exploring magnificent works of art by Dale Chihuly at the Chihuly Collection in nearby St. Petersburg, along with experiencing local live glassblowing demonstrations at the Morean Glass Studio & Hot Shop, or getting some hands-on science experience at the Museum of Science and Industry, located in Tampa-proper.
This permanent collection of Dale Chihuly’s renowned artworks resides in a 10,000-square foot waterfront building custom designed by Albert Alfonso specifically to showcase the large-scale installations. Docent-led tours share detailed knowledge of each piece of art, including the Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier created specifically for the Collection, and the artist himself. You can linger as long as you like among the explosions of color, but it’s possible to view the entire collection in less than an hour, leaving you with plenty of time to visit the Morean Glass Studio and Hot Shop, located in the main Morean Arts Center, less than a mile from the Chihuly Collection. Local glass artists demonstrate their techniques as they create one-of-a-kind blown-glass objects. They are also available to guide you through the process of crafting your own piece of art (must be reserved in advance).
At the Museum of Science and Industry, children answer questions such as “Can you really lie on a bed of nails?” and “Can you ride a bike on a steel cable 30 feet above ground?” They can also experience life inside a lunar colony; survive a tornado, hurricane and wildfire; and see the night sky from any time and place on Earth in The Saunders Planetarium. MOSI’s 400,000 square feet contain more than 450 interactive exhibits, making this the largest children’s science center in the country. It also includes Florida’s only IMAX Dome Theater, which shows science-themed movies throughout the day.