With an early visit from Old Man Winter, our mid-November trip to Tampa was truly a blessing! We lucked out with 85 degrees and sun the whole time we were down there. My husband and I did a 4-day trip, but technically got 2 full days of exploring, so I decided this would make a good weekender guide.
When we went, I was happy that the tourism was minimal. There was very little traffic, so we had a lot of the beaches and places to ourselves. November is right before the high traffic season, and the weather isn’t horribly hot and humid. I highly recommend trying to go at this time!
A summary of the major things we hit within our 2-day exploration that will be covered in more detail below:
- 3 Beaches: Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island and Clearwater
- 2 Aquariums: The Florida Aquarium and The Clearwater Marine Aquarium
- An Amazing Dolphin Sight-Seeing Tour at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
- The Seminole Hard Rock Hotle and Casino Tampa
- Crabbys at Clearwater: My First Authentic Seafood Experience! and Spiralz: My First Rolled Icecream Experience!
The white sand beaches are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, we dealt with some red tide which is a shame to see, but it really didn’t affect our visit!
My husband and I have pretty sensitive skin, so we aren’t sun bathers. We don’t really like to swim in the ocean either. We prefer to stroll along the shoreline, get our feet wet and look for cool seashells and washed up creatures.
The three beaches we visited were Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island (which is also a State Park) and Clearwater Beach.
First of all, you should know you have to go to Honeymoon Island to get to Caldesi. Honeymoon Island is definitely more touristy and populated than Caldesi because you can only access Caladesi by Ferry. I highly recommend taking the ferry. It is relatively cheap and the ferry runs every 30 minutes.
Both beaches are great for shelling, strolling or a casual beach day. Clearwater beach is definitely similar to something like Myrtle Beach or Ocean City. The beach shore is lined with various hotels and tourist shops and attractions. Between all three of these beaches, you can get a little bit of everything!
I am a HUGE fan of getting up close and learning about different kinds of creatures. The Tampa area offers 2 aquariums which made me pretty excited to explore.
The Florida Aquarium is your run of the mill aquarium offering a variety of marine life and shows. It is definitely not a bad aquarium! However, I personally enjoyed the Clearwater Aquarium more, because they were more up close and personal with the marine life. Clearwater’s aquarium was certainly smaller, but it is actually a rehabilitation center. All of the marine life there were saved, which gives them a chance to study and rehab these creatures. This made me a little warm and fuzzy inside, such as seeing a turtle with an under developed fin thriving and being taken care of, when it would have been in danger out in the wild.
They also house the dolphins and other creatures that starred in the two A Dolphin’s Tale movies which I thought was pretty cool and adorable. They offer a variety of shows, and in my opinion, the most humane dolphin sight-seeing tour.
The Dolphin Tours: The Good Vs. The Bad
Let me first start out with the good of the Dolphin tour. We went through the one at the Aquarium in Clearwater and it was very professional, safe and fun! We managed to see 15-20 different dolphins sometimes within feet of the boat. Truly such a magical expereience that almost brought me to tears! I won’t spoil too much of the ride–so I will get to the part of dolphin tours that concerns me.
With a quick Google or stroll around Clearwater, you will find at leat 10 different dolphin tours guaranteeing that you will see a dolphin. They are pricey and tackey–which doesn’t bother me so much, it’s their lack of safety. While on the Clearwater Dolphin Tour the tour guide was very informative and described that this sight-seeing tour was also a scientific observation ride. Any dolphins seen, she would photograph and analyze to study the various dolphins in the area to keep a tab on them! They also made sure to not get too close to disturb the dolphins, as they are wild!
We quickly found out that tourists in their own boats were speeding overtop the dolphins and startling them to try and get pictures with their phone. The residents/tourists in boats and even the commercial dolphin tours would speed and try to follow us around in hopes that they would find a dolphin for their pleasure. However, even the commerical boats often sped way too fast that could potentially cause harm to the dolphins. They would often boat over top of them, as well.
Our tour guide even photographed the one residential boat and send the picture to the cops because an attempt to interact with the wildlife like that without proper licensiing can result in a $10,000 fine, even jail time.
So just think and do your research before choosing what Dolphine Tour to attend! The Clearwater Aquarium one is definitely safer and more scientific in my opinion, and actually a few bucks cheaper!
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa
Everytime my husband and I travel, we HAVE to go to a casino that’s in the area. We actually collect all of the player’s cards at the casinos that we visit! First of all, casinos usually have great new member deals. This time, both of us combined got $25 in Free Slot Play! Second, it’s nice to just dress up and go out, play some slots and eat some good food.
The Hard Rock is beautiful on the inside with it’s classic rock and roll memorablia lining the walls, which is a nice touch. They have a wide variety of places to dine, from buffets to elegant to food court food. We personally went somewhere in between and dined in the Hard Rock Cafe where they had a live band which added nicely to the atmosphere. We decided on build your own fajitas–which reminded me a bit of Chipotle, and they were delicious. We split an Oreo Cheesecake slice–always a good option.
The slots were awesome! Tons of new games I have never set my eyes on, and we suprisingly hit pretty well! If we leave with more than we came with, it was a good night! We ended up wining around $200-250. So that paid for our night out essentially and then some!
Casinos are always a great time anywhere that we go!
The Unique Dining
Last but not least would be the two local places we went to grab some grub! I am not much of a person to branch out with food, as I have mentioned in my Myrtle Beach Travel Guide. I have gotten much better and my anxiety about trying new things has certainly settled down. The two places we decided to try were Crabbys (A nice beach restaurant/bar for fresh seafood) and Spiralz (my first rolled ice cream experience).
Crabbys 110% exceeded my expectations. Think of this as an Applebees but for seafood and a bit higher quality. You can dine outside near the beach or upstairs indoors and catch a great view of Clearwater. We chose to dine inside cause it was pretty warm out. The alcohol was amazing. My husband ordered a bucket of a tropical mix and I could drink that like it was water! I ordered myself a tropical lemonade and that was yummy too!
I knew nothing about seafood, but they had a wide variety of dishes (even chicken)! After asking my super friendly and helpful waitress, she suggested the Grouper Crab. All was fresh caught. So I tried the Grouper Crab with a spinach crab sauce on top with mashed potatos and a side salad. DELICIOUS. I’m not one for a fishy taste in my seafood and this just tasted SO good. My husband is a seafood lover and will eat raw oysters for the experience so he had a great time as well!
If you are in the Clearwater area, this is located right in the center of the north and south beach split just to the south side. Certainly a great find!
For dessert, as we were heading back to our car in the parking garage, a sign advertising rolled icecream caught our eye. I’ve been dying to try it so we went for it. When we walked into Spiralz, the decor was adorable and fresh. The menu choices for rolled icecream were a sugar lovers dream! Everything from Red Velvet Oreos (my choice) to Captain Crunch. You get drizzles on top of everything and they even make the icecream right in front of you! My dumbass thought the icecream was heated and fried into the rolls somehow, lol. Nonetheless, after finding out it was a cold “grill” they use, it made much more sense and oh my gosh did they give you a huge portion! I couldn’t finish it all, but it was so good! Another highly recommended place!
And with that, that concludes our magical trip to Tampa, Florida. It was a much needed cold-winter getaway. I recommend going around this time of year for a less crowded, more inexpensive experience while the weather is still nice! Now you can add maybe one, a few or all of these awesome stops to your next Florida trip!