Relax in stunning Aloft Tampa downtown hotel and explore fabulous culture and great grub in Florida on magical …

I HAD always associated Florida with the magic of Disney. Having been once before, the iconic Magic Kingdom castle was the lasting memory I’d kept from a family Discount Holidays © holiday in 2004.

Find another type of magic in Tampa

But I was after something different with my partner, Angela, who also had only ever thought of Florida as “where Mickey Mouse lives”. We opted for Tampa — and Mickey was forgotten as we found another type of magic.

We had a comfortable flight with Icelandair via Reykjavik and, as it was September, there was still plenty of heat in the Sunshine State. The Aloft Tampa downtown hotel was where we hung our hats and, given that it was right next to the stunning Riverwalk, we had the parks and loads of restaurants in walking distance.

Take a trip to Amsterdam and Hamburg for a Christmas market cruise[1]

It was the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring. Our lovely, spacious room came with all amenities, including a brilliant shower to wake you for the day ahead.

The staff were extremely friendly and endlessly helpful. We’d made up an itinerary to make sure we didn’t miss out on anything and started our break with a visit to Oxford Exchange for breakfast. We met Tampa Bay guru Stephanie Fred who was wonderfully helpful throughout our week with some cracking advice on where to eat, drink and everything else.

Relax in stunning Aloft Tampa downtown hotel and explore fabulous culture and great grub in Florida on magical ...

A tour of the stunning Tampa Theatre will leave you speechless

After my brilliant ham and cheese toastie it was off to try the water bikes ([2]).

I can’t swim so the thought of jumping into the Hillsborough River on what was basically a bicycle attached to flimsy canoes was a leap of faith. I wasn’t helped by seeing Angela attempt to hop on and land on her backside. I did try, but I just ended up cycling round in circles and forgetting how to reverse so called an early end to the fun.

Tampa has a rich pirate past so we sailed the seven seas on a Pirate Water Taxi ([3]) to get to lunch. Our captain, Salty Sam, was full of fun and facts. I’d recommend buying a day pass at £20.

It may seem steep but there are plenty of stops for you to hop on, hop off and the tour guides keep it light-hearted AND educational.

Relax in stunning Aloft Tampa downtown hotel and explore fabulous culture and great grub in Florida on magical ...

Getty – Contributor

The TECO streetcar is worth jumping on

Ulele ([4]) was a picturesque lunch area where the steak tips were perfect. And had we lined up a trip to Armature Works then we would have taken advantage of the beautiful terracing and enjoyed one or two cocktails. Steelbach ([5]) at Armature Works in Tampa Heights is a must for lunch or dinner, offering diverse food options.

The Works is like a modern food court with something for everyone.
The Cuban district was a huge attraction and it didn’t disappoint. Firstly, Cuban bread is the best I’ve ever tasted. I hope I can find some back in Scotland.

Breakfast at La Segunda Bakery ([6]) was a terrific sandwich that set us up for a day that would prove to be one of the most interesting of the trip — Ybor City, Tampa’s Latin/Cuban quarter. Our guide Lonnie ([7]) took our small group on a long stroll around La Septima, outlining the history and telling how the cigar industry had enticed immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Italy and Germany to the city in the late 1800s.

Relax in stunning Aloft Tampa downtown hotel and explore fabulous culture and great grub in Florida on magical ...

Tampa’s Latin/Cuban quarter is a must-see

Perhaps the most bizarre fact about Ybor City is that instead of pigeons or seagulls wandering the streets, it was ROOSTERS. Another fun fact?

Cuban hero Jose Marti campaigned for national independence in Florida and has a park in his honour in Ybor City which is still owned by the Cuban Government. That means, when you step inside the park, you are officially entering Cuba! Tampa is a real craft beer city and, if you’re like me and enjoy a tipple now and then, Cigar City Cider has a great range of drinks from one of the top five breweries in the world.

Relax in stunning Aloft Tampa downtown hotel and explore fabulous culture and great grub in Florida on magical ...

Mark and partner Angela loved their trip to Tampa

The TECO streetcar got us back to our hotel just in time a stroll to CW’s Gin Joint for a tipple before returning for a game of snooker in the hotel and an early night.

A tour of the stunning Tampa Theatre satisfied Angela’s lust for magnificent architecture and the interior even impressed me. Away from the culture we played some games at Top Golf ([8]) and enjoyed some chicken wings, chips and . . . more chicken wings all washed down with some Tampa brews. We got our park fix at the iconic Busch Gardens.

I love roller-coasters and there was no shortage of rides to keep me going all day. Angela was more taken with the beautiful safari trip.

What costs what?

Extensive list of excellent cocktails at CW’s will set you back £10 DO: take time to stroll along the Riverwalk
DON’T: miss a visit to Ybor City — it’s truly memorable


GETTING THERE: Icelandair offers return flights from Glasgow to Tampa from GBP441.92pp leaving in January 2019. Includes all taxes, fees and charges.

See[9]. STAYING THERE: Aloft Tampa prices are from GBP114pn room-only. See[10]

MORE INFO: Tampa CityPASS offers over 50 per cent savings to get into Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium and ZooTampa at Lowry Park. See More info, see

We could have been forgiven for heading to the hotel room to crash out, but we had reserved a table at Bern’s Steakhouse ([11]) and we weren’t missing out. It boasts the largest wine collection in the world, and a wide menu with some of the most mouth-watering steaks I’d ever seen and every one comes with FIVE entrees. You even have to book a separate reservation for the dessert room upstairs.

Our waiter noted down every sensitivity I suffer from so I could enjoy everything in comfort — it meant a wonderful THREE-HOUR experience.


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Chill out at the luxury TUI Sensimar Cabo Verde Hotel in Cape Verde for the perfect ‘no stress’ break with endless sunshine We were even given a tour of the kitchen and wine cellar before we left. One last stop for breakfast before we headed for the airport was a final chance to grab a sandwich on Cuban bread.

Who needs Disney? This was fabulous Florida.

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