With our glorious winter weather, it’s no wonder that Tampa Bay is a choice destination for vacationers and relatives seeking a warm refuge from the rigors of colder climates. So in the spirit of getting together and getting out to enjoy the sun in the Sunshine State, we’ve put together some suggestions for holiday fun Tampa style.
John B. Sargeant Sr. Park
12702 U.S. 301
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
You’ve got the right weather, so hit the water. A good place to do that is at Canoe Escape’s Hillsborough River location. Immerse yourself and your guests in this 16,000-acre wildlife preserve with a native population that, in the fall, includes white ibis, deer, wild hogs and, in the winter, turkey. You can canoe or kayak anywhere from two hours to a full day on this beautiful river or schedule a guided tour that will take you trough a cypress swamp full of aquatic plant and animal life. Have your camera ready because the natives include gators, turtles and large mouth bass. This natural oasis is just 16 miles from downtown Tampa and has been delighting young and old since 1991.
Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises
603 Channelside Drive
Tampa, FL 33602
No matter what you’ve been doing, you and your family and friends can work up an appetite for the Yacht StarShip. AAA ranks this floating palate pleaser in the top 28 percent of all restaurants and dubbed it America’s first three-diamond-rated Dining Yacht. The star is a slow-roasted turkey with sage pan gravy, and culinary co-stars include candied sweet potato and pecan mash, and much more. There are two cruises – one boarding at 12 noon and the other at 3:30 p.m. If you miss Thanksgiving, don’t fret because the StarShip does it all over again for Christmas with its River of Lights Cruise up the Hillsborough River.
Candy Cane Acres
Hernando County Fairgrounds
6436 Broad St.
Brooksville, FL 34601
Enter an enchanted holiday world at the Hernando County Fairgrounds and its annual Candy Cane Acres. Meet Santa and visit Mrs. Claus’ kitchen where she will greet you with her homemade cookies and all of the fixings to decorate them in your own favorite holiday style. You can wash it down with some cider or the holiday favorite – eggnog! Enjoy the dazzling lights of the Christmas Village, see a magical parade of trees and find out what a Florida sleigh ride is all about. There will also be crafts to make and take home. Get in the spirit every Friday and Saturday beginning November 28 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per car and includes 10 tickets. Additional tickets are $.50 each.
The Oakdale Christmas House
2719 Oakdale St. S.
St. Petersburg, FL
A half-million lights make the Oakdale Christmas House in St. Petersburg one of the country’s most spectacular light displays guaranteed to emblazon itself on your memory for years to come. While it has varied slightly over the last 38 years, this dazzling array is spread over a half-acre and has attracted visitors from all over the world. Among the amazing sights to behold is a 70-foot, well-lit Christmas tree. The top of The Oakdale Christmas House is festooned with four giant Christmas trees made of lights and approximately 700 moving and animated objects. On the ground, children can play with a bubble machine and see a manger scene that includes more than 150 pieces. There’s an 18-train HO scale model railroad, 16 carnival rides, a talking and dancing life-size snowman, an animated talking teddy bear and more. This is one Christmas Village not to be missed. And best of all, it’s free. The Oakdale Christmas House opens the day after Thanksgiving and runs through January 3, 2015.
The Florida Aquarium Holiday FantaSea
701 Channelside Drive
Tampa, FL 33602
Tampa’s world famous aquarium is doing its own special holiday event called FantaSea. From December 26-30, it will treat all guests to real snow and dancing mermaids. And the snow isn’t just for show – kids can actually play in it. What a treat for young ones who’ve never seen the white stuff in person. What’s Christmas without a model train display? Yep, that will be there too. All of the regular exhibits will be open and the FantaSea Harbor cruise begins at 5:30 p.m. The special light show starts at 6 p.m. and the mermaids will show off their aquatic skills three times each afternoon. In the holiday spirit, the Aquarium will stay open until 6:30 p.m. while the festivities are on.
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Maryann Tobin is an award-winning writer based in Tampa, Florida. She has appeared on the History Channel’s ‘DECODED’ series, and her investigative reporting on animal welfare issues led to a WTSP 10 News Investigators report. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.