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Destination Guide

A day in Tampa Bay can go non-stop dawn-to-dawn or stop cold (well, warm) as you ease into a seductive strip of sand, watch an errant wave lap over your willing toes, and let the world do what it will...without you.

No matter the season of the year, you won't be alone. According to Visit Florida, the states promotional arm, Tampa Bay is among the top five most-visited places in Florida. While Tampas business environment takes itself very seriously, its entertainment empire is out for a good laugh, a good dinner, a little, or a lot, of dancing, and some sports, spectator or participatory, tossed in for good measure.

Animal Kingdoms

Undisputed king, queen and courtier of the Tampa entertainment scene is Busch Gardens, one of the states liveliest places to play. In this African-themed park, more than 3,000 animals dwell on a Serengeti Plain veldt, much as they would in the Dark Continent. Listed among the top 10 attractions in the nation by Byways magazine, the park was in 1998 ranked third most popular attraction in Florida among visitors arriving by car.

Dedicated to animals but prepared to give the human species a run for its money, the park is home to five terrifying roller coasters, including the Montu and the Kumba, two thrillers that will knock your socks off, whether you're wearing any or not. Both were ranked among the top five steel roller coasters in the world by Amusement Today magazine. A third, Gwazi, is the Southeasts largest and fastest dueling wooden roller coaster.

Busch Gardens' watery diversion, Adventure Island, splashes across 30 acres of drenching amusements ranging from a bevy of corkscrew slides to a wave pool, water falls, and childrens play area.

Two attractions devoted to injured animals make for a heartstring-tugging adventure here. In Tampa, Wildlife on East Street harbors a coterie of lions, tigers and other big cats without a home, and you can even sleep among them in three rustic cabins. At the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Rocks Beach, the care and feeding of injured birds is the focus and offers a close up look at some winged critters who can't fly away.

Other intriguing amusements in the Tampa Bay region include Lowry Park, an 'open' zoo where 1,500 animals are separated from visitors by moats or other similar impediments; The Florida Aquarium, which offers a close-up look at 4,300 salt and fresh water dwellers, including an encounter with some toothy sharks and gentle sting rays; Dinosaur World, where you can go eye-to-ankle with 200 massive dinosaurs, including one 40 feet high and a Brachiosaurus thats 80 feet long, all dwelling in a cypress forest in which the real critters would have felt quite at home. Fantasy of Flight offers a look at 20 historic aircraft and lets you try your had at a flight simulator.

Educational Adventures

Tampa Bays museums cover a wide gamut of informative adventures. St. Petersburgs Florida International Museum has welcomed many a notable traveling exhibit in its short history including the "Treasure of the Czars" and "Splendors of Ancient Egypt." Currently the museum is featuring, through mid- November, a tribute to former President John F. Kennedy, showcasing the worlds largest private collection of Kennedy memorabilia.

Tampas free-wheeling days of yore are chronicled at the Henry B. Plant Museum in the wildly whimsical onion-domed Tampa Bay Hotel, once one of the nations most extravagantly elegant hostelries. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay History Center outlines the geography, history and multicultural influences that have affected Tampa Bay while the St. Petersburg Museum of Historydoes much the same for that city.

Tampas Museum of Science & Industry is a playground for budding scientists, offering 450 hands-on activities and a Hurricane Chamber that offers you the dubious thrill of 74mph hurricane winds, plus a rockin', rollin' huge-screen IMAX theater adventure.

And talk about museums! How many cities can lay claim to a history museum thats 10 blocks long and 10 blocks wide? Antique Ybor City stretches over that much territory and more, its streets lined with antique buildings and its history tied closely to the 200 cigar companies and 12,000 cigarmakers who once rolled the worlds stogies here.

Culture Pearls

There are those who like to call all of Florida a cultural wasteland, but Tampa Bay isn't sitting still for that kind of talk.

Tampa Museum of Art features a permanent collection of Greek and Roman classical pieces as well as contemporary art and sculpture; and the University of South Floridas Contemporary Art Museum has a 3,600- piece permanent collection of artworks that includes work by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist, as well as African art.

Arts art and Salvador Dali is, well, Salvador Dali, one of the worlds more controversial and weirdly, wacky artists whose Surrealist art is displayed in the largest collection of its kind at St. Petersburgs Salvador Dali Museum.

As for performing arts, the citys Tampa Bay Performing Arts Centerclaims to be the largest performing arts complex south of Washington, D.C. It has four theaters for opera, cabaret, plays, dance, music, alternative and Broadway theater.

A little aside here: rhythm and blues pianist Ray Charles got his start playing Tampa dance halls and is the possessor of an honorary music degree from the University of South Florida.

Tampa Theater is a delightful 1926 creation thats listed in the National Register of Historic Place and hosts a film series, concerts, special events and backstage tours.

Many clubs throughout the region, particularly in St. Petersburg Beach and the string of islands along the coast cater to the late-night crowd with music and dance opportunities.

Whatta Sport!

Tampa Bay looooooves its sports. From the Tampa Bay Buccaneer football team to professional baseball and hockey teams, Tampa Bay is strong on sports and always has been?baseball great Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here at Plant Field on April 4, 1919 when he whacked a 587-foot, record-setting homer. Another famous baseball name, Al Lopez, known as "El Senor," and named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, was an Ybor city native.

Tampa Bays Raymond James Stadium is a nationally acclaimed arena that frequently hosts the nations most ballyhooed sports event, the Super Bowl, and will do so again in January, 2001. Tampas Lightning hockey team plays in the citys new Ice Arena. Tampa Bays Devil Rays baseball team is closely followed by enthusiastic fans.

Many are those who prefer their sports participants to have four legs. To accommodate them, Tampa Bay has two greyhound racing tracks, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, billed as the worlds oldest continuously operating dog track, and Tampa Greyhound Track in Tampa. Meanwhile, in nearby Oldsmar, Tampa Bay Downs thunders with the racing hooves of thoroughbred horses.

Those who want to do it themselves can rise to the sky in hot air balloons, jump from airplanes in free-fall thrills, and participate in a plethora of water sports from canoeing in a 16,000-acre wilderness preserve peppered with alligators with Canoe Escape guides to parasailing, jet skiing, water biking, sailing, motorboating, and fishing, both deepsea and fresh water.

Finally, for those who want a scenic walk or job: Bayshore Boulevard, which runs alongside Tampa Bay for a serene 4.5 miles of panoramic views and greenery, is said to be the worlds longest sidewalk. A favorite with joggers, walkers, skaters and bikers, its the citys epicenter for fitness fans and was cited by the American Automobile Assn. as one of the states "Top Roads."

In St. Petersburg, the historic, mile-long pier is a delightful place to stroll the regions historic past, enjoy the present and contemplate the future!

Marylyn Springer