Tampa is Terrific for Conventions and Family Fun

Art and culture abound in Tampa

Tampa Convention Center Waterfront
Tampa Convention Center Waterfront

Tampa is an ideal convention and meeting destination. I can say that with authority because I recently attended one of the biggest conventions in the city, the Florida Music Educators Association, a convention of teachers and students from around the state. The Association meets there annually and takes up nearly all the city's 2,500 rooms downtown near the convention center and an additional 4,000 rooms within four miles of the center.

My grandson, who is in the fourth grade, was chosen to perform in the Florida Music Educators Elementary All-State Choir in the Tampa Convention Center Auditorium. Approximately 1,000 forth and fifth grade students in Florida were selected by their music teachers to audition for the chorus and 198 students were selected for the honor of being a member of the All-State Choir. Being a proud grandmother, I joined my daughter and her family for the event.

The Tampa Convention Center is a 600,000 square-foot facility and it was filled to capacity with music students from elementary school through high school, their teachers, parents and friends, but its wide passageways and restroom facilities took care of the thousands of guests attending the convention.

The Tampa Convention Center is located directly on the waterfront in the heart of downtown Tampa. It has a 36,000 square foot ballroom that can be divided three ways and 36 breakout rooms, several overlooking the water for groups of up to 7,500 people. Not only that, the facility has a waterfront cyber café and five gourmet grills located outside the exhibit halls.

My daughter and grandson stayed at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, just across the street and walking distance to the Convention Center and were pleased with the convenience of the hotel and the service. Also adjacent to the Convention Center is the Embassy Suites Tampa-Downtown Convention Center property.

TECO Line Streetcar System in Ybor City
TECO Line Streetcar System in Ybor City

I stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Ybor City, less than three miles from the convention center. I enjoyed my stay at the Hampton Inn and the free shuttle with door-to-door service to the Convention Center and other area attractions. The Inn also had a delicious free breakfast buffet and free use of two computers in the lobby and free wi-fi in the rooms. Strolling around Ybor City was great fun with its eclectic shops and restaurants. Ybor City is Tampa's National Historic Landmark District. Once the cigar capital of the world, old cigar factories have been given new life as trendy restaurants, nightclubs and one of a kind specialty stores. Downtown Tampa and Ybor City are connected by the Teco Historic Streetcar System and trolleys.

Tampa is an easy city to get around. Many attractions surround the downtown area and the convenient TECO Line Streetcar System offers a route stretching from historic Ybor City to Channelside Bay Plaza and the convention center core. There is also a trolley which circles the downtown area.

Tampa Aquarium
Tampa Aquarium | Larger

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts is located in the downtown area along the Hillsborough River and plays hosts to converts, ballets and plays. The St. Pete Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lighting is located next to the convention center. The Florida Aquarium, located in the downtown area allows guests to encounter the awesome animals that thrive in local waters via a journey through the bay aboard a 72-foot powered catamaran. Bring along a pair of binoculars to check out the wildlife and plan to stay about three hours to see all the exhibits.

Tampa Lowry Park Zoo
Tampa Lowry Park Zoo | Larger

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is also located in the downtown area and will keep youngsters entertained for several hours at this outstanding wildlife habitat with more than 2,000 animals including the koala, tigers, primates and Florida manatees.

Tampa's Museum of Art is located downtown and has a collection of contemporary and classical art. Designed to inspire children, the Glazer Children's Museum in downtown opened in 2010 and has a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits as well as play and discovery.

Dining at the Columbia
Dining at the Columbia | Larger

When it comes to dinning, there are many outstanding options, but one of the most popular is the Columbia. I enjoyed dining there with my family in a cozy corner. The restaurant is located in Ybor City near the downtown area.

Flamenco dancers
Flamenco dancers | Larger

The restaurant opened in 1905 and has passed into its third generation of family ownership. Local residents and tourists visit the Columbia for its delicious Spanish/Cuban cuisine as well as its lavish décor, part of which includes hundreds of hand-painted tiles depicting the world of Don Quixote. The restaurant seats more than 1,700 in 15 dining rooms. Ask for the dining room where the nightly flamenco show takes place. You won't be disappointed as the show is authentic and even more entertaining as flamenco shows you would see if you went to Spain.

Bern's Steak House is also located in the downtown area. Whenever the president comes to town or other dignitaries, Bern's is also high on their list of restaurants to frequent. The restaurant is known for its vast collection of wine and perfectly aged steaks. But don't leave without checking out the upstairs dessert room.

Lunch at Moxie's Café
Lunch at Moxie's Café | Larger

Lunchtime is special at Moxie's Café in downtown Tampa. Place your order and have a seat. The salads are gigantic and tasty. Try the Moxie's Mocha from the espresso bar. Moxie's also makes a delicious fruit smoothie, but plan to get there early or you won't find a seat as the locals outnumber the tourists in this popular lunch spot.

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