The gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, Port Tampa Bay is the jumping-off point for cruises to Mexico. Arrive early to take advantage of the surrounding area's bounty, from amusement park thrill rides to sugar-sand beaches. Cruise ships dock near downtown at the start of the Riverwalk, so there's lots to do right near the port.
What We Love
Cigar City Brewery: This Tampa brewery is part of the craft beer revolution. Take a tour or just hit the tasting room for ever-changing draft selections, plus bites from a revolving array of food trucks.
Ybor City: Cuban immigrants made this the center of U.S. cigar production in the late 1800s. The Ybor City Museum has a re-created worker's cottage and exhibits on how rollers practiced their craft. And you'll find many neighborhood cigar shops.
Best Known For
Riverwalk: Tampa's downtown entertainment district spans 2.5 walkable miles, along which you can spy on the 2,000 residents of the Florida Aquarium, hit the slides at Water Works Park, or climb aboard the American Victory, a World War II-era cargo ship.
Busch Gardens: Mickey may reign farther inland, but Tampa's Busch Gardens is for real amusement park lovers. Test your nerve on the scariest collection of thrill rides in the state — including Falcon's Fury, the tallest drop tower in North America.
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Who It's Best For
Families: Loaded with attractions including theme parks, a children's museum, and a downtown water park, Tampa has something for kids of all ages, indoors and out.
Sports Fans: Between the Buccaneers (NFL), Lightning (NHL), and Rays (MLB) — plus baseball spring training camps (the Yankees play here), soccer, and arena football — the city stages action almost year-round.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
There's No Beachfront: Port Tampa Bay is a long inland harbor, so you'll need to drive 20 miles or more to get to those Gulf of Mexico beaches. Focus on Fort De Soto State Park in St. Petersburg, which has 3 miles of gorgeous white sand.
Susan Moynihan is a Florida-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Parenting and Woman’s Day.