While Tampa Bay makes rooms for the ghosts of bygone days by paying homage to them in such neighborhoods as Ybor City (a.k.a. the Latin Quarter), where well-preserved historic buildings, cigar factories and century-old restaurants dot the brick-laden streets, the destination also has its eyes squarely planted on the future, making room for new hotels, entertainment hubs and even thrill rides such as North America’s tallest, steepest and fastest hybrid rollercoaster, Busch Gardens’ Iron Gwazi.
“This is a destination that continues to evolve, progress and change for the better,” said Santiago Corrada, Visit Tampa Bay’s president & CEO, during a press conference at Florida Huddle, which took place earlier this year. That said, he noted that it’s also “a destination that values its history. You will see physical attributes of our history that have been preserved and reused for modern-day purposes and that doesn’t happen in a lot of cities in Florida…it’s something that’s very important to the fabric of this community.”
One of the neighborhoods where the city most notably embraces its past is Ybor City, known for its cigar production during the late-1800s and early-1900s. But on a walking tour of this National Historic Landmark District with Ybor Walking Tours, travelers will also peek into the Italian and Cuban social clubs, learn how the city got its name, and understand how the varied cultures—Cubans, Sicilians, Spaniards, etc.—created a melting pot that is palpable to this day. As they wander through the destination, recommend clients:
• Dip into the J.C. Newman Cigar Museum, America’s oldest family-owned cigar factory, which is still in operation.
• Spend an afternoon at the ZooTampa at Lowry Park, where a tortoise encounter is a must.
• Check out Sparkman Wharf, a waterfront food hall with refurbished shipping containers as eateries.
• Have lunch at Heights Public Market at Armature Works, housing an array of dining choices and some of the best skyline views.
• Take a few hours to enjoy the destination’s cultural centers, including The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Tampa
Bay History Center, which puts the spotlight on Tampa’s pirate past, its connection with baseball, and its over 500 years of Cuban history.
• Your clients can’t visit Tampa Bay without spending a day at Busch Gardens, where thrill rides like Falcon’s Fury, known for its 335-ft. freestanding drop tower, might take center stage, but where the Serengeti Safari, with its up-close giraffe encounter, makes for the most memorable pics.
The destination, said Corrada, has been focusing on the culinary scene, with “new chefs moving to the area,” among other gastronomy-focused enhancements. During our visit, we visited a handful of dining spots that you’ll want to put on your client’s radar, including Sal y Mar, with its hip vibe and eclectic menu options (located atop the Aloft/Element Tampa Midtown property); the stylish Oxford Exchange, a combo restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore and home decor shop that’s just perfect for brunch (think Southern grits); and Casa Santo Stefano, housed in a former macaroni factory and offering a true culinary feast that pays tribute to Tampa’s Sicilian culture.
One of the destination’s newest properties is the 519-room JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, with spacious guestrooms that feature views of the city or the water. The property’s sixth floor is a hub of activities with an expansive pool and sun terrace; the Spa by JW, complete with a spa lounge, 10 treatment suites, plunge pool and retail boutique; and SIX, a chic eatery with indoor and outdoor dining overlooking the rooftop pool and the bayfront. Menu delights include strawberry bruschetta, shrimp ceviche shooter, focaccia crusted grouper and cauliflower steak. For breakfast, the JW Market serves sandwiches, pastries and a great cup of coffee.
The property’s location in the Water Street neighborhood of downtown Tampa is also a plus as it’s within easy walking distance of the Tampa Bay History Center and Amalie Arena as well as the 2.6-mile Tampa Riverwalk that runs along the Hillsborough River to the Garrison Channel, with many attractions along the way.
For more information on Tampa Bay, check out visittampabay.com; for more on JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, visit marriott.com; and for those Ybor Walking Tours, travel on over to yborwalkingtours.com.