As travel slowly resumes, North America is emerging as the number one long-haul destination for British travellers – and Tampa Bay in Florida is quickly becoming a hit.
With theme parks, museums, the historical Ybor City and a bar on every corner, it has attractions to suit everyone. Here is a summary of the best bits…
The sheer size of Busch Gardens makes it the number one thing to do in Tampa. A safari experience, several roller-coasters, a waterpark, and a zoo are all included in the $100 ticket price. I spent around five hours walking through the park, with stops for food and drink. But I could easily have spent twice as long enjoying the entertainment on offer.
A highlight is the guided safari tour, where guests can learn about endangered species, observe rhinos and even hand-feed giraffes. Led by a tour guide, who shares information about the animals and the park’s contributions to conservation, the Serengeti Safari costs an extra $40 per person.
Food and drink stalls in a Mardi Gras-themed section of the park include an outlet selling homemade jambalaya. A live band and dancers complete the party atmosphere.
JC Newman Cigar Factory tour
This historic building, named El Reloj, still functions as a working cigar factory, and guests can watch as each step of the cigar-making process is completed.
For $15 you can take a guided walking tour detailing the history of the building and the family that still owns and runs it. Guests can also visit the cigar museum, theatre, rolling room, and factory store for free.
Walking tour of Ybor City
Ybor City is listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to its huge contribution to the cigar industry, its history of immigration and connections to the Cuban revolution. Learn about the rich culture with a guided tour for $25, by Ybor City Walking Tours.
We went inside some of the older buildings in the area, including several Italian and Spanish social clubs which were key for these communities. And look out for a plot of land still legally owned by Cuba; when you step on to it, you officially leave the United States.
And then there are the roosters. Allowed to roam freely, each rooster is a direct descendent of livestock brought to Florida during the immigration wave following the cigar boom, and this family line gives them federal protection. Even touching a bird could bring a $500 fine.
Dinner at the Columbia
The Columbia first opened as a cafe in 1919, and is still owned by the same family five generations later. This restaurant has survived tough times, including the end of the cigar boom.
The 52,000 sq ft restaurant boasts 15 dining rooms, with seating for up to 1,700 people, and encompasses an entire city block.
There is a huge array of Cuban and Spanish-inspired meals on offer but special mention must be given to the famous Cuban Sandwich and paella. Main meals cost $28-40 on average.
Visitors to Tampa Bay can now buy an all-inclusive Riverwalk Attraction Pass for $55, covering entry to many of the waterfront attractions, including the aquarium and several museums.
The pass also covers a 30-minute guided ride on a water taxi with fully equipped bar, where a guide explains the history of the area.
Candle-making and shopping at Hyde Park Village
Hyde Park Village is home to many high-end iconic brands and is a truly beautiful place to walk around. But make a beeline for The Candle Pour, a quaint shop that teaches its customers the art of candle-making. Workshops can only usually be booked for groups, but it’s a joy to sniff (and splurge) on the delicious scents.
Sparkman Wharf in downtown Tampa is a riverside area that has recently undergone renovations. Dine in a vast selection of restaurants and food huts, including a large beer garden/patio that overlooks the water, with a stage for live music.
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Tampa from £510 return. Visit
. Rooms at the Hotel Haya (hotelhaya.com) start from £153 per room per night.
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