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As I write this, I’m sitting on the plane with the window open soaking in the last bit of Tampa sun I can get, before heading back to Grand Rapids. It’s not much sun and it’s really only hitting my right bicep, but it’s more than I can get back home.
Did I mention it’s currently snowing and it’s under 20 degrees there? Yep, not my favorite thing to go back to. That’s why I’m writing this trip report now, so I can relive the warmth, the sun, and the beach. Also, my DS is dead. So, there’s that.
Here’s our quick weekend trip to Tampa…
We flew Southwest to Tampa, because with the companion pass, it’s by far the
best cheapest way to get two people pretty much anywhere in the US (and now parts of Mexico and the Caribbean).
I’m far from a fan of Southwest. The unassigned seats, the boarding process, the seating arrangement, it’s all a mess. That being said, it’s cheap and their companion pass is one of the best companion tickets in the industry. So, we flew with them and made the best of it.
The actual flying time wasn’t too bad. It was a nonstop from Grand Rapids to Tampa, so we were only on the plane for about 3 hours. Would we fly a different airline if we had the opportunity at the same price? Absolutely, but we didn’t, so that’s life.
On short trips like this, we always stay at Club Carlson property’s, because of the generous perks they offer on their credit card. For every stay booked with points that’s two nights or longer, the last night is free. That means every weekend trip (two nights) is basically BOGO.
We stayed at the Tampa Airport Country Inn & Suites, which is not very luxurious, but Club Carlson really isn’t known for that anyway. We did get upgraded to a “suite” courtesy of our Gold status (CC benefit), but their suites are basically smaller versions of regular rooms at Hyatt Place hotels. For real. A category one Hyatt has nicer standard rooms than a suite at a Country Inn.
That didn’t make much of a difference to us, though, because we were barely in the room. We spent most of our time outside enjoying the Tampa weather.
For only having two days, we did a lot. We originally planned on using Uber to drive around, because our only real plan consisted of visiting Busch Gardens. However, as soon as we landed we found out that a friend of ours was in Venice, FL, which is about an hour and a half from Tampa. So, we checked Avis and decided to rent a car for just over $60. Two days for $60 is nothing, especially considering we would have probably spent significantly more with Uber and we wouldn’t have been able to do everything we did.
As soon as got the car, we drove to our hotel and dropped off our carry-ons in our “suite,” then we headed out. Our first stop was the mall, because someone (me) forgot to bring socks. Seriously, what was I thinking?
After spending way too much on something I already own, we drove to a manatee sanctuary. We didn’t know what to expect, but we figured we’d check it out because it was free and it had great reviews on TripAdvisor. There were probably 50+ manatees at the sanctuary, but they all looked like rocks. Big grey rocks. They didn’t have underwater viewing like you’d find in an aquarium, but it was still pretty cool to see them in the wild.
From there we took off towards Venice. The people we were meeting weren’t quite ready to go to dinner, so Jenni and I stopped at Venice Beach. It was, uh, something. There was a Folk concert and a karaoke event going on at the beach and I’d say we were probably 30-40 years younger than everyone there. That wasn’t exactly our scene, so we just walked along the beach and enjoyed the sunset.
Once the sun finally went down, we headed out to dinner with our friends. I’m not a huge fan of fish, but I do love it when it’s fresh, which is exactly how it was. After our delicious meal of Grouper and salmon, we went back to their house to enjoy the hot tub and some classic tropical indulgences (i.e. piña coladas).
Not a bad first day, I suppose. Well, except for the drive back to our hotel. That was ridiculous.
It had just started to rain as we were getting ready to leave Venice. It wasn’t raining hard, just a light sprinkle. However, once we started driving, the rain picked up immensely to the point where we couldn’t see the cars 10 feet in front of us. Fortunately, it was around 1am, so there weren’t many cars out, which is good because I’d say we hydroplaned in our little 4 cylinder bucket every 5-10 minutes. It was quite the exciting trip back!
Our first day was completely unplanned, but we ended up filling it with a lot of events. The next day, however, only had one; Busch Gardens.
I’ve been to Universal and Disney, but never Busch Gardens. Not that that mattered, but I had always heard how fun Busch Gardens is, so we had to check it out.
The park is huge. We were there for about 8 hours and we didn’t even see it all. If you’ve never been, it’s basically an amusement park mixed with a zoo. They have multiple huge roller coasters to ride and a large safari filled with African animals. The idea is pretty cool, because you can do and see a lot that way.
Fortunately for us, it was tad bit nippy outside (mid 60s), so there weren’t near as many people there as I expected. It was still busy, but based on how many stanchions they had set up for lines, I’m sure it can get VERY busy. We got lucky, though, because we were able to get off a ride and hop right back on within 5-10 minutes.
It was pretty sweet, but what really irked me was the nickel and diming scheme they had going on. It’s $95 to get in the park, $17 to park, $10 per meal, $5 per carnival game, $0.50 per locker, and so on. It was ridiculous.
One of the coasters we planned to ride was all the way across the park in its own little corner. Once we got there the attendant said we needed to put Jenni’s purse in a locker. “Can’t we put it in the box next to coaster where people put hats?” I asked. “No, it needs to go in a locker.” He replied. Lockers cost $0.50, so there was basically a fee to ride this and every other coaster if you had a bag or purse.
I rarely carry cash on me, because it doesn’t earn me any points or miles. So, we had to find an ATM, which was about a 10 minute walk away, to get cash out, then walk all the way back. It was a pain. To top it all off, the ATM charged a $3.50 fee to withdraw money. We basically paid $4 to ride a coaster after paying almost $200 to get into the park…
Do you really want to read about another Southwest flight? I didn’t think so, so I’ll just sum it up. It was just as mediocre and money-saving as the trip to Tampa. Done.
We would have loved to have a longer trip in Tampa, but we didn’t have the time, so we just made do. And I’d say we were able to pack a lot into those two days!
Sadly, this is what we came back to…