Oh Florida, I already miss you! Dave and I visited Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Seminole for Gasparilla and to see some good friends (who are always rubbing it in that we’re freezing and they’re off boating during the winter months). I love the snow and don’t mind the cold, but it is nice to get a little break now and then. When I lived in New York and Boston, friends would always talk about flying down to Florida for the weekend because it’s such an easy flight. I always thought that was an exaggeration, but wowza! There are cheap, one-way flights to Tampa and Miami available all of the time. From Michigan, we were on the ground 2 hours and 20 minutes after take off and got a great deal on the flight thanks to my husband signing up for Spirit’s $9 Fare Club last year — you should definitely look into it if you’re looking for flight deals and don’t have a problem paying for travel “extras” (i.e. beverages, carry-on bags, etc.).
The first activity on our itinerary was a visit to Cigar City Brewing. They are a literal hop, skip, and jump from the Tampa International Airport (4.5 miles or a 10 min drive) which makes it a very easy stop that you should not miss! Cigar City has a ton of beer on tap at their brewery that you cannot get anywhere else like Peach Muffin Brown Ale, Nitro Cafe Con Leche, and Nitro Vanilla Maduro. Check online for what is on tap because they do change out regularly. The tap room’s website also lists which beers are available to take with you in a growler. Cigar City was a perfect place to start our trip. It has a relaxed environment and a lot of Floridian personality.
The main event was Gasparilla along the Gulf of Mexico in downtown Tampa on Saturday. Our friends prepped us for a crazy day of drinking, partying, crowd ruckus, and pirate shenanigans…I was a little scared, but it turned out to be an awesome experience because we did our research and went to the event with real Gasparilla experts. If you plan on making a trip down to Gasparilla next year for the pirate festival, keep these tips in mind: 1) Get down there early. The pirates come in on the boat at about 1PM. If you don’t want to struggle with people and parking, get downtown by 11:30AM. 2) Spend the money and buy VIP tickets. They vary year to year so check on pricing for 2018. The VIP section has security guards, bleacher seating, water views, private porta potties, and significantly less people. Also, the parade consists of about 150 floats each year and the pirates participating walk 4 miles after drinking an insane amount of alcohol. By the time the parade participants get down to throwing beads to onlookers they have no tolerance for nonsense. You’ll get a much better reception from the parade “krewes” (the Tampa-based philanthropic groups heading up this exclusive event) giving out beads if you’re on the VIP side. 3) Pack your own food, booze, and blankets. 4) Dress up enough to have fun, but not so extreme that you’re uncomfortable for the day. Think red and white striped shirt and a pirate hat versus high heels, a tutu, and bustier. Not only will you be more comfortable in the former, but it’ll be easier to enjoy the parade, last the whole day without getting dirty or injured…remember those porta potties…oh yeah…enough said.
On our last day, we spent the afternoon at our friends’ home in St. Petersburg near Johns Pass (a turn-of-the-century fishing village that is now a great touristic spot filled with bars, restaurants, and local shops). We ate some delicious cajun-style seafood, drank big pints of beer, and then set off on the boat for a tour of the marina and neighboring towns. It was a beautiful weekend filled with new adventures and catching up with old friends. We didn’t see any live gators (much to my husband’s dismay), but we saw dolphins swimming and jumping in the gulf and a ton of gorgeous, colorful birds. If you have a free weekend and need to get out of the cold, make sure that Tampa and St. Pete are at the top of your list for an easy, inexpensive getaway! Happy travels!