Exploring Tampa Bay!

This week I stayed local with the Tampa Bay City Pass and a few extra attractions. The City Pass included Busch Gardens, The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, The Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa, and either the MOSI or the Chihuly Collection. While I did enjoy many of the City Pass attractions, it really wasn’t worth it for me and I thought several of the attractions were overpriced anyway.

I started this week’s exploring at Busch Gardens. I don’t really enjoy rides and would not consider myself a theme park person. There were a few water rides and the skyride that I did enjoy though. I also enjoyed the animals throughout the park, and the animal care center where I got to watch physical therapy on an osprey. There was enough to do as a non-ride lover that I wasn’t bored, but I don’t think it was really worth it for me. If I was with a group that was enjoying the rides, it may have been different, but definitely not worth a separate trip for a non-ride lover.

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The second thing I did this week was go to a Rays game. It was interesting going to a major league game in another city. Tickets were incredibly cheap and the stands were pretty empty. It was not the atmosphere I’m used to feeling when going to professional sporting events, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

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The Clearwater Marine Aquarium was my third stop this week. It was by far the most overpriced attraction I think I have ever been to. The main attraction is being the site that Dolphin Tale was filmed and the home to Winter the dolphin. This is such a big publicity pull for them that their website is literally just seewinter. I have not seen the Dolphin Tale movies, but even if I had I think I would have been disappointed. Aside from the dolphins they have 2 tanks with various animals who aren’t release-able and a hospital wing of animals that they are working to rehabilitate and release. There are 2 dolphin tanks with a total of 3 dolphins. Hope and Winter share a tank inside and Nicholas has an outside tank. It is impossible to see anything in the outside tank unless the trainers are working with Nicholas. There is no underwater viewing area, so it pretty much just looks like a pool. As for Winter and Hope, there is an underwater viewing area, but the windows are pretty small and it’s incredibly difficult to actually see anything through them. They don’t do any planned “performances” or sessions with the dolphins, so there is no guarantee that you will see them. They were out when I went, but weren’t really doing a ton. The caretakers also continue to play with and work with the dolphins even when they are in the back tanks that are there for them to have privacy and relax. While I definitely think they should have a place to go away from the public, continuing to play with them in the back really meant that they had no incentive to stay in the front. For a place that is so heavily reliant on Winter as there main attraction, they really could have done more to make sure that you could actually see Winter.

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After feeling like the first 2 stops of the City Pass weren’t really worth it, I was hoping for a strong finish from the last 3. I started my 3rd day of exploring this week at ZooTampa. I did really enjoy the zoo. The Africa section was probably my favorite. Even though there were several different enclosures, the whole area seemed to flow together which made it feel like one big landscape. I also really enjoyed the penguins. Many of the animals were either inside or hiding in the shade because it was so hot, but I did really enjoy the regional and cultural touches in the different sections of the zoo.

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After the zoo, I went to the Florida Aquarium. The first section I walked through definitely made me feel like I was going to be disappointed again. The first exhibit area is a Florida river habitat and has some fish and turtles, but nothing too spectacular. Even the start of the second area is some smaller tanks with corals and lobsters. It wasn’t until the 3rd section that I was really impressed by the aquarium. There are bigger coral tanks with rays and lots more fish, and then you walk through a cave tunnel with some tanks along the side. At the end of the cave hallway it opens up, and there is this amazing view of a tank that takes up the entire wall. The tank has sharks and rays and all kinds of amazing fish. There are also presentations and divers that sometimes go in the tank which is really cool. The aquarium also has a Madagascar section with lemurs and reefs tanks from that area of the world which was neat to see.

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I still had a little bit of time left after the aquarium so I went to the MOSI. Since I have a science center membership I used that and save the City Pass for the Chihuly Collection. The MOSI was a bit disappointing. It’s a science center that was on the verge of closing down entirely last year, and it’s definitely still limping along. There are also plans that may lead to the MOSI relocating, so it was a little unclear how much they cared about being a quality attraction in the meantime. There is a huge building that used to all be open and part of the science center, and now all 4-5 exhibits they have are in what looks like it would have previously been an event hall. There was an exhibit on the Tampa Bay Lightning and the science of hockey which was really neat. There was also a big emphasis on art which I really enjoyed. I definitely enjoyed what the MOSI did have to offer, but it was really sad to see the huge building that used to be the science center sitting there closed to the public.

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My last day of exploring this week was very art heavy. I started out at the Chihuly Collection. I had no idea that St. Petersburg had such a large glass blowing community, but going to the Chihuly, there were advertisements for tons of other galleries nearby. I’ve always thought that the Chihuly pieces at the botanical garden were beautiful, but being in a museum dedicated just to his work was really cool. There is so much mastery that it evident in each individual piece, and the combination of pieces to create these elaborate scenes was really neat. There were also drawings and paintings, and it was really neat to see this other side and creativity shown when all I’d really seen before was the glass work.

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After the Chihuly, I went to the Dali Museum. I really enjoyed getting to see so many of the paintings that I’ve heard about or seen in books in person. It was also amazing to just see how much of a master of visual space and using objects as more than one thing Dali was. I love how all of his paintings it really feels like the longer you look at them the more things you will see no matter how many times you have looked before. There was also a collection of photographs of the area of Spain where Dali was from that were really interesting in putting some of his work into context. Overall, it was a really cool gallery, and while a few big name pieces were not in this museum, getting to see such a large collection of his work was really neat.

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While the City Pass may not have been as big of a success as I would have liked, it was still a lot of fun getting to explore the local area. I’ve got just over a month left to fit in a ton more adventures, and I’m hoping to make the most of it.

Sarah

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