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Tampa Family Vacation Ideas Include Waterslides, Manatees, and an Austrailian Connection.  The Tampa Bay area has enough for three maybe four complete vacations with plenty of interesting options no matter the time of year or family interests.Manatee Watching at Lowry Park Zoo
I have gathered the high points for your reference so it will be easier to make plans. 

Explore the sea, slide down a waterslide. At the Florida Aquarium you’ll find Explore A Shore, 2.2 acre aquatic discovery zone for kids.  In the zone kids can climb on aquatic animal models, climb aboard a two-story pirate ship, slide down a waterslide, play in water jet sprays and watch live animal programs while socializing with family and friends. Join the crew aboard the two-story, 24-foot pirate ship and shoot water cannons, then climb across the cargo net to the ships main deck and look through the telescope for a manatee, dolphin, shark and a shipwreck.  Discover coral caves while playing on ladders, cargo nets and slide through tunnels while misters spray around a giant eel’s head. Crawl through an eight-foot by four-foot wave in the Surf’s Up Wave Tunnel. Slide down the waterslide or ride the dolphin model or surfboard. It’s all pure fun. (The Florida Aquarium, Inc, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa 33602. (813) 273-4000 or

Count the fishes, talk with divers. The impressive glass domed facility provides a comfortable way to learn about the diverse ecosystem and aquatic habitats of Florida. Stroller friendly pathways provide hundreds of viewing points including kneecap level water views for the tiniest of visitors. Native ducks and turtles and terrapins are within a few feet of the pathways that weave through the wetlands area. In the transition areas there are touch tanks with enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides available to answer questions and encourage discoveries. Florida Aquarium Scuba WatchingBonus Points: Throughout the day in the largest of tanks divers provide audio lessons through a unique sound system that allows the diver to speak into a mask and be heard dry side. This unique two-way communication also allows audience members to ask questions about the sea aquarium habitat and get answers immediately. Our favorite gallery was the one with pigmy ponies and leafy dragons. Species adaptation at its best, many of the creatures looked more like seaweed. (813) 273-4000. (The Florida Aquarium, Inc, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa 33602. (813) 273-4000 or

Discover the “Outback for Tykes”. Hidden within one of Tampa’s north side neighborhoods is the Lowry Park Zoo a top-notch facility, ranked the #1 Zoo for Families by Parents magazine. Compact in reality it seems unending and provides a natural place for wandering. Stroller friendly elevated boardwalks provided easy movement and ideal shaded viewing spots. Kangaroos at Lowry Park Zoo in TampaWallaroo Station is a special enclave created for the youngest of guests. With a distinctly Australian theme it includes Billabong, pony treks, a tree house, petting area and a chance for kids to curry a goat, no experience necessary. Like the main entrance there is a delightful fountain designed for carefree encounters with water. A bonus for weary adults, rocking chairs are provided with ever-changing kid views. Discovery: Unique to this zoo is a Florida manatee hospital and aquatic center. There is above water viewing area and an incredible set of underground viewing rooms. Bonus Points: A Tampa secret this wonderful facility embraces the holidays. Each year families celebrate with the Wild Wonderland Winter Festival. Twinkling lights, mood music and goats pretending to be reindeer make the holiday fun and carefree.  (1101 West Sligh Avenue, Tampa, 33604-5958. (813) 935-8552 or

We love MOSI. We found our science fix at The Museum of Science and Industry. In the entrance hall two diplodocus dinosaur skeletons hang suspended and invite discovery of more. As with any large museum geared to brain trips a plan is necessary. Less is always more. From riding a trapeze bicycle above the gallery entrance to operating robot arms within a display case there are many learning points. The themed areas are well organized and the interactive stations abundant. One of our favorite spots, the inside of an operating room with a patient, had a video camera showing open-heart surgery in progress. We also discovered an awesome translucent body on a bike - weird but memorable. Bonus Points: During each holiday season the skilled staff explores both the real North Pole and the magical world of Santa's workshop in the holiday exhibit, "The North Pole," from November - January. A ride-aboard train transports kids around the scene.

Unique to MOSI the Disasterville experience that provides visitors with a safe way to experience hurricane force winds without the real threat of deadly flying objects or rising water. Within sight of the hurricane encounter is a tranquil enclosed butterfly garden. We saw all stages of development including the wiggling of a cocoon as its owner began evacuation. Discovery: This facility is the location of the first IMAX Dome Theatre in the state of Florida and it has an ever-changing list of IMAX films. The museum also is the home of The Saunders Planetarium with ongoing programs providing unique ways to visually make sky/earth connections. A bonus to stargazers MOSI has a roof top sky watch program complete with qualified star guides and telescopes.  (4801 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa 33617. (813) 987-6000 or

The bottom line: Tampa is a brain trip for all ages, a city full of discoveries to be made. Our weekend was filled with thinking, doing and having fun. We ran out of time before we ran out of things to do. For more details go to  

Content posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.  Images provided by Lisa Kamps -Duac, Krys Kamps, and the Florida Aquarium. Copyright updated 2017.
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