April 20, 2015

2 Days In Tampa Bay With Kids

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions expressed on the blog are my own. Allegiant Air provided complimentary roundtrip airfare for my family. I was provided complimentary passes to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Morean Arts Center, The Florida Aquarium and MOSI. Epicurean Hotel provided free brunch for my family at Elevage.  This post contains affiliate links.

Two days in Tampa Bay is a fun, quick getaway for Omaha families. In early April, Mr. Wonderful and I took the kids – ages 3 and 5 – on a whirlwind weekend trip to southwestern Florida. We crammed a lot in. I had a plan (and I had some local advice on what to do, as well).

2 days title

Skip past the “Getting there” section if you want to read a sample two-day itinerary.

Getting there

Allegiant Air offered to fly me and my family to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport in exchange for telling you all about it. The beautiful thing about that flight? It’s direct. No schlepping kids on and off planes for an extended layover. 

Love that.

Destination: Florida.

Destination: Florida.

The downside? There are only two flights to and from Omaha each week – Thursday and Sunday. You’ll have to plan your trip around those days, but really, Tampa is as good of a getaway for a weekend as it is for a week. We took a Thursday to Sunday trip. We were to arrive Thursday afternoon, but due to some major delays (I’ll tell you all about it in my Allegiant Airlines post), we didn’t get in until night time. It affected our plans big time, but we still managed to have a ton of fun. 

You can pack a lot in over the course of two days in Tampa.

Arriving at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport

You aren’t technically arriving in Tampa, though you’re close to it. Tampa isn’t far, but it’s still between 20 to 40 minutes away depending on traffic. The beaches are closer to this airport, if that’s what you were headed for on a trip to Tampa Bay.

Our rental car was on site at the airport, which was super convenient. We decided to fork over extra money at Enterprise to drive this beauty.

I let Mr. Wonderful arrange the car rental and we ended up with a Mustang convertible. I would've booked the budget sedan, so this was a nice surprise.

I let Mr. Wonderful arrange the car rental and we ended up with a Mustang convertible. I would’ve booked the budget sedan, so this was a nice surprise. (Ignore that Alamo sign, that’s just where we had to park the car)

It fits two car seats (well, technically, Farley was in a booster), and the experience of feeling an ocean breeze with the top down is memorable!

This is Farley on our drive from the airport to our hotel on Thursday night. A Mustang lover is born.

This is Farley on our drive from the airport to our hotel on Thursday night. A Mustang lover is born.

Where to stay

If you want all things beachy, you’re better off finding a hotel on the St. Petersburg/Clearwater side of the bridge. If you want a mix of beach and city (like museums or Busch Gardens), Tampa is a better choice.

We opted to stay in south Tampa at a gorgeous place called Epicurean Hotel, located in Hyde Park.

Just beyond the main lobby of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa is this inviting sitting area. While the family slept in, I was relaxed on one of these couches with a cup of coffee. Loved it.

Just beyond the main lobby of the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa is this inviting sitting area. While the family slept in, I was relaxed on one of these couches with a cup of coffee. Loved it.

It was a 20-mile drive from St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport – when we had to do it at 10 p.m. The hotel is near attractions and restaurants my family wanted to go to on our trip, so it made sense. Check back to this blog in a week to read more about Epicurean!

 

Two days in Tampa

With Allegiant’s schedule, you’ll arrive in Florida on Thursday afternoon. Usually. For this post, I’m writing as if you only had Friday and Saturday there.

I planned our days out to allow enough time in the car between attractions so that my youngest could nap. I was optimistic. You can be, too, but between you and me, things like that never go according to plan.

 

Day 1

For our first day, we had breakfast at Dough, a few minutes of a drive from our hotel. They’re known for their donuts – you’ll be tempted to order them all.

"Um, yeah...can you just give me one of everything?"

“Um, yeah…can you just give me one of everything?”

The kids picked out a chocolate M&M donut and a s’mores donut (hold on to your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen). I tried the pistachio donut and Mr. Wonderful ordered the winner of the morning, maple and bacon donut. Get that one, for sure!

Behold, the maple and bacon donut (and a southwestern quiche).

Behold, the maple and bacon donut (and a southwestern quiche).

We also ordered coffees, milk and some quiche (I recommend quiche lorraine), and later, an oatmeal when Mooch’s tummy was upset and she actually wouldn’t eat a donut.

Sufficiently sugared up, we drove a short distance to The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa. Much larger than the aquarium at Omaha’s zoo, The Florida Aquarium puts you up-close to a lot of animals.

Mooch spies some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.

Mooch spies some turtles at the Florida Aquarium.

The kids got to touch a baby alligator, stingrays, sea urchins, starfish and more.

Both kids loved Explore a Shore, the outdoor water adventure zone, included with admission. Definitely pack swimsuits to change the kids into (there are changing rooms outside).

Once the kids spotted this spraygarden, there was no getting them to stay indoors at the Florida Aquarium.

Once the kids spotted this spraygarden, there was no getting them to stay indoors at the Florida Aquarium. This picture only shows about a third of what’s out there.

Lunch was at one of the Taco Bus locations downtown (located very near the Glazier Children’s Museum). I’d heard good things about it, and wasn’t disappointed. It seemed less a tourist spot than a quick place for nearby office workers to grab lunch.

Everyone must stop for the Taco Bus.

Everyone must stop for the Taco Bus.

Farley got his usual chicken quesadilla and Mooch, her usual rice and beans. I tried a salad topped with grilled portabella mushrooms and a tangy avocado dressing and Mr. Wonderful ordered a humungous burrito.

We topped everything off with ice cream bought at CVS. I’m going to kick myself if someone comments saying I was a block away from the city’s best ice cream shop. That’d be my luck.

Rockin' the shades and a Drumstick.

Rockin’ the shades and a Drumstick.

Our next destination was Clearwater Beach, with a little nappage along the way – after stopping several times trying to find pillows to make the uncomfortable rental carseat bearable.

We visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin from “A Dolphin Tale.” Farley was totally in love with this place, loving every minute of it, even getting soaked by Nicholas, the dolphin.

If you're familiar with "A Dolphin Tale" and its sequel, you'll recognize this place as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

If you’re familiar with “A Dolphin Tale” and its sequel, you’ll recognize this place as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

You’re probably wondering how it compares to the first aquarium of the day and if it’s worth going to both. They’re vastly different places and the experience is not similar. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is much more like a functioning marine animal hospital, and the Florida Aquarium has bigger variety of animals and more elaborate displays of animals in natural settings.

We had a celebrity sighting on our way leaving the aquarium – it was all Hulkamania up in there.

Hulk Hogan spotted outside the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Oh yeah!

Hulk Hogan spotted outside the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Oh yeah!

Our next stop was an early dinner at Frenchy’s Saltwater Café. Frenchy’s is a well-known local chain of restaurants (five in all). Several people recommended it, suggesting we try the grouper sandwich, so I had to oblige.

Believe the hype. This is a tasty grouper sandwich.

Believe the hype. This is a tasty grouper sandwich.

It’s well worth going there! The waiter was friendly, the atmosphere was low-key and fun, and after a long day of running around, it was perfect for kicking back.

All smiles at Frenchy's Seaside, a walkable distance from Clearwater Beach.

All smiles at Frenchy’s Seaside, a walkable distance from Clearwater Beach.

But there was a beach to see, so we weren’t there for long.

Clearwater Beach was a busy place, even after dinner when things cool slightly.

There's a stretch of fine, powder sugar-like sand to cross before reaching the water, and you bet kids are going to run it all the way to the water's edge.

There’s a stretch of fine, powder sugar-like sand to cross before reaching the water, and you bet kids are going to run it all the way to the water’s edge. That’s the famous Pier 60 in the background.

We didn’t mind. The gentle waves and powdery white sand were inviting.

This was just a beautiful evening. Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

This was just a beautiful evening. Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

I regret rushing the kids out of the water to check out the Sunsets at Pier 60 festivities. I had heard it was a nightly street festival type deal, with street performers and vendors.

Vendors set up their tables along the pier. I left the kids with Mr. Wonderful while I browsed the goods, it was just to crowded to keep track of little ones here.

Vendors set up their tables along the pier. I left the kids with Mr. Wonderful while I browsed the goods, it was just to crowded to keep track of little ones here.

It was neat to see, but I think the kids would’ve liked staying in the water a little longer.

Street performers abound at Sunsets at Pier 60. Bring extra cash or suffer the wrath of tired kids wanting balloon animals.

Street performers abound at Sunsets at Pier 60. Bring extra cash or suffer the wrath of tired kids wanting balloon animals.

Bring extra cash because there’s a lot there to tempt your kids, from inflatables, to balloon animals to henna tattoos.

On weekend nights, they show a free, kid-friendly movie by the pier, so we laid our towels down and watched the old school “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It was pretty late, so Mooch was ready to crash.  Sticking around for the entire movie (with intermission) made for a very late night for the kids.

We were hungry once back at the hotel, so Mr. Wonderful picked up some ‘za by the slice at New York New York Pizza. Yummo.

And no, I didn’t get them balloon animals. I am, in fact, the meanest mommy.

Day 2

We slept in after the late night at Clearwater Beach. We had an early brunch at Epicurean’s Elevage – they have a foodie’s dream of a brunch on the weekend. If you go right when it starts, 9 a.m., you’ll be with other families with young kids and not feel like a bother to the child-free crowd.

I'll admit it took about 6 tries to get Farley to smile for this picture at Elevage. He is not a morning person.

I’ll admit it took about 6 tries to get Farley to smile for this picture at Elevage. He is not a morning person.

We met friends in St. Petersburg and visited the Morean Arts Center, timing it right to enjoy the free kids’ art activities. It was not a typical tourist thing to do, which made it a nice change of pace.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

It was hard to get everyone to leave the room when it was lunch time for the art instructor, it was that inviting and fun of a place for kids.

The boys all found something to love about one of the temporary exhibits at the Morean Arts Center. I swear didn't even pose this. It was like, "Whoa! And look at that!" "No! Look at this!"

The boys all found something to love about one of the temporary exhibits at the Morean Arts Center. I swear didn’t even pose this. It was like, “Whoa! And look at that!” “No! Look at this!”

We checked out the current exhibits at Morean before going next store to the Morean Hot Shop to watch a glass blowing demo.

We watched a live glass blowing demonstration at the Morean Hot Shops.

We watched a live glass blowing demonstration at the Morean Hot Shops.

Ours were the only kids there (evidently, it was a perfect beach day). If you have time, take the 1-mile drive or walk to the Chihuly Collection, included with your St. Petersburg Art Experience ticket. Our group of cute but nearing-nap-time kids made the decision to skip the glass exhibit easy, but I’m bummed I missed it.

Lunch was at nearby Bodega, a popular Cuban sandwich shop.

Most seating at Bodega is outdoors, though Bodega's juice bar next door is air conditioned and you can bring your food in there.

Most seating at Bodega is outdoors, though Bodega’s juice bar next door is air conditioned and you can bring your food in there.

It’s walkable from Morean, but in the heat of the day and with small kids, it probably would’ve been better to drive.

Waiting for our food to arrive at the juice bar next to Bodega. You can hum the "Jeopardy" theme song in your head.

Waiting for our food to arrive at the juice bar next to Bodega. You can hum the “Jeopardy” theme song in your head.

Expect a wait. It was a tough one with four kids in tow. Oh, but that Cuban sandwich was divine. I may have been the only adult to say it was worth the wait, but whatever. I loved my sandwich.

If you're headed to Bodega in St. Petersburg, get the Cuban sandwich. You're welcome.

If you’re headed to Bodega in St. Petersburg, get the Cuban sandwich. You’re welcome.

The kids crashed in the car and we debated on our next step. But, I’m a checklist kind of girl, so we drove the long drive to MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry. I knew the kids would love it but I didn’t know how long they’d nap.

Spoiler Alert: A long time.

Head to the Kids in Charge building for activities perfectly suited for toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers.

Head to the Kids in Charge building for activities perfectly suited for toddlers, preschoolers and grade schoolers.

We didn’t get much time at MOSI, the pitfalls of a quick getaway weekend, huh? We explored Kids in Charge, a building dedicated to younger kids with a lot of fun activities. We also checked out some of the activities for Robotics Week and the weather exhibits. There was so much more we missed out on.

We met our friends for dinner at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City (a neighborhood in Tampa), a place that always seems to be on top 10 lists of places to eat or things to experience.

Four adults and four children at a Flamenco dancing show and not a single person cried. Columbia Restaurant with the win.

Four adults and four children at a Flamenco dancing show and not a single person cried. Columbia Restaurant with the win.

We had reservations for the Flamenco dance show. Plan on spending your whole evening here if you’re watching the show.

The kids liked the dancing and tried mimicking it later (admittedly, the two 3-year-olds didn’t like how loud it was). The food was superb, and the kids food was reasonably priced.

 

What I’d do differently

Mooch dressed for the beach and impatiently waiting for dinner to wrap up at Frenchy's Saltwater Cafe.

Mooch dressed for the beach and impatiently waiting for dinner to wrap up at Frenchy’s Saltwater Cafe.

I’d probably spend more than two days there, that’s for sure. We fit a lot into our weekend, but didn’t get any downtime. Next time, I’ll plan some relaxation and pool time in.

Facebook fan tip: Sherri recommended visitors look into purchasing the Tampa Bay City Pass. Three of the places we visited are included in it. For $99 for adults and $84 for a child ages 3-9, you get admission into Busch Gardens, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, The Florida Aquarium,  and the Chihuly Collection or MOSI. The price to Busch Gardens for an adult is at least $75 alone. One CityPASS booklet saves up to 51% on admission to the 5 best attractions in Tampa Bay! Shop Now!.

Want to know more about the trip? Read these posts about family-friendly things to do in Tampa Bay and how to get there.

Allegiant Airlines 

Epicurean Hotel

The Florida Aquarium

Columbia Restaurant

Clearwater Marine Aquarium 

Morean Arts Center and Hot Shops

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

It’s inexpensive to get to Tampa Bay. We flew via Allegiant, but you can find deals with other airlines. Book a Trip with Airfarewatchdog and Save Big!


Save up to 49% or more on Tampa Bay’s 5 best attractions at CityPASS.com - Shop Now!

Comments

  1. Sounds awesome! Very event packed trip! I have a friend that will be going with her family this year, so I can’t wait to share this with her!

    • Thanks for sharing it with your friend! It was a whirlwind of a trip, for sure…but I’d recommend factoring in more downtime.

  2. What a great getaway! My kids have never been to the beach, so I know they’d be in heaven! That race car was a nice surprise.

  3. Omg so fun! Josh and I are going to Tampa in October! I’m really excited now!

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