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Top 10 things to do in Tampa with Kids

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Things to do in Tampa, Florida

Check out our top 10 things to do and see in Tampa, Florida with kids. These are all activities that we really enjoyed with our 3.5-year-old son. Lots of great tips to make sure you have a fabulous time.

1. Busch Garden, Tampa


Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Busch Gardens Florida – Save Over 30% on Tickets!
This place can easily fill an ENTIRE day. We are all about theme parks with our adventuresome little boy.

Here is my suggestion for spending the day with smaller children that aren’t interested in all the big rides. I’ll also post about maximizing your day at Busch Gardens with children who are at least 42″ tall and taller. See that link at the bottom of this section.

As soon as you enter the park, there is a great kids area to the left. The only problem, they don’t open the inside gates until 10:30 am. So if you are early into the park like us, you’ll be waiting for a bit. However, there is a small children’s ride (planes) right before these gates and there are some food options for those of you that need snacks and drinks.

Once the kid’s area opens, your children will be in heaven. There are climbing structures, little rides, a huge jumping pillow, massive sandbox and more. So even if your child isn’t old enough (or doesn’t like) the big rides, you’re all set in the Sesame place.

They have a Sesame Street show and a huge bird aviary where you can pay to feed parrots just around the corner.

Once your children have had their share of fun, head over to Zambia Smokehouse for some delicious brisket and barbecue. It will make your mouth water as soon as you smell it.

Now you can continue to explore the park and see the animals, ride some of the low key rides and watch the shows. We highly recommend their current animal show (Opening Night Critters). Imagine an assortment of animals that do tricks and take part in funny antics. My son loved the show and it is air-conditioned, which is a huge respite on a hot day.

Just below the Pantopia Theater, you will find additional kids rides including a carousel, train ride, motorcycles and games area.

On your way back to the exit, you can swing by the animal exhibits to view the animals.

If you have older children or young children at least 42″ tall, follow my Ultimate Guide to Maximizing your day at Tampa Bay Busch Gardens, here. (I’ll also include tips on the quick queue and all day dining in the post.)

Military tip: You can get free tickets once a year for one active duty member and up to three dependents. You can get your free tickets here.

Tree house climbing area in Busch Gardens Tampa
Sesame Street Children’s Play Area


2. Tampa Zoo (Lowry Park)

Free tickets for active duty military, check those out HERE. They also have the pay once and get in free all year this year (2018) due to all the construction and updates.

CONS:

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about this zoo. I didn’t like the smaller enclosures, terrible design with lots of dead ends  (likely due to the construction). The roller coaster in the kid’s area is very old and rickety. We rode it once (with my arm around my son due to the jerking) and we didn’t ride it again. Food is overpriced and you have to pay for a straw (because the park is straw free) if you want one for a slushie. Lots of closures (bird talk wasn’t running, manatees were under renovation). Most of the rides in the kid’s area weren’t running (train, cars) on the day we visited.

Trolley to see the African animals is ok, but I’d prefer to walk and see them on my own next time. It was a 20-minute wait for the trolley and then you drive past all the animals from the back of their enclosures.

Boy looking at deer at the Zoo.
Watching the animals from the tram ride.

I hope the zoo improves over the coming year. I know they are trying hard to update. You can see their responses to upset guests on TripAdvisor here.

PROS:

There is a nice spray/water park in the kid’s area which is perfect for the heat of the summer. Make sure you bring a bathing suit, towel, and sunscreen. We also wore water shoes, but I didn’t see any signs that they were required. The children’s area also has a petting zoo with lots of animals to feed (but you have to stay outside the fence when feeding because the goats get pretty excited. There are also other opportunities to feed animals throughout the park, including the parrots, stingrays and more (but if the animals aren’t hungry, they stop selling).

Kids playing in a spraypark at the Tampa Bay Zoo
Playing at the Splashpark at the Lowry Zoo.

Other blogs and forums mention really enjoying the animal encounters. There is a variety here on the Lowry Zoo Tampa Page. Our son wasn’t old enough for any of the encounters, so we can’t mention if they would be worth the time and price.

Other Tips:

Parking is free! Yahoo! Bring a stroller or wagon, it’s a lot of walking for little legs. Buy your tickets online to save a bit of cash and skip the line. You aren’t allowed to bring in a full picnic, but each guest can have a sealed bottle with a beverage and snacks are ok. There is also a bag check, so be prepared for that as you enter.

We didn’t ride the new water ride since we wanted to visit the animals, but they are marketing it since it is new.


Tampa Lowry Park Zoo - Save On Tickets!

3. The Florida Aquarium

Phew! This is an expensive Aquarium. If you are military, be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time at ITT, they only offer a 10% discount at the ticket office at the Florida Aquarium. If your not military, but your ticket as many days ahead as you can, that lowers the price to around $25 per adult.

My son and I purchased two admission tickets and the penguin experience for over $100! The penguin experience is $30 per person at the ticket window, only $25 for aquarium members.The Florida Aquarium - Save 20% on Tickets!

The Aquarium was a day well spent. We parked in the designated parking area (keep an eye out for the official signs). It was a short walk to the Aquarium for little legs if you get there when the aquarium opens and get a spot close to the walkway.

We started off going to the 4D theater. It was a fun experience and included in the cost of the ticket price. You can also check out the outdoor playground and splash park before it gets busy.

After the film, we headed to the exhibits. If your child is a Blippi fan, check out his youtube visit to the Aquarium here.

My son isn’t a huge fan of aquariums, to be honest, so we cruised through the exhibits pretty quickly. There were plenty of activities and interactive exhibits. We even checked out one of their interactive shows for 15 minutes before moving on.

Boy standing in front of aquarium exhibit
Exhibits inside the Florida Aquarium

Our favorites were the touch tanks. Sting Rays and invertebrates touch tank. We also spent a lot of time in the downstairs exhibit where you can search for shells, shark teeth and other ocean discoveries in the sand. You can scoop the sand, search through it and then push it back into the tank. We lucked out and found a shark’s tooth!

Boy sifting through sand to find treasures
Picking out treasures in the sand discovery zone.

The spray park was also a highlight. Another great way to cool off and give the kids some free time. There is a bar close by for the adults, plenty of changing rooms and benches. Bring a swimsuit, towel, and sunscreen. There were signs that water shoes were required, but we saw plenty of bare feet.

Penguin Experience:

Ok, so I wasn’t sure about this. My son loves animals, but sometimes backstage tours are a bit too much “information” if you know what I mean. But this tour was awesome! They take you outside the aquarium and into a locked door. You walk into the room and the penguins are right there! There are benches to sit down and you get to interact with the penguins in a variety of ways for the entire 30 minutes. We are no strangers to “backstage” tours and this one tops the list.

Here is how we spent 30 minutes:

The tour guide gives a quick overview of the penguins and the rules. Then she tells you their names and a bit about their personalities. Next, she calls over to the penguins to see who wants to come out. A penguin shuffles over and she brings him over to each of us to pet.

Next, she puts the penguin on the bench and lets each family take photos and hang out with the penguin. She even played photographer for us, major plus! The penguin really enjoys getting a pet and even snuggled up on my leg during our visit. He looked very content with all the attention and didn’t seem alarmed or nervous at all.

Mother and son sitting with a penguin at the Florida Aquarium
Penguin Encounter at the Florida Aquarium

She also took out another penguin and put it into a small pool so you could watch it swim and feel how different the feathers felt when wet.

Boy petting a swimming penguin
Watching a penguin swimming.

Your welcome to ask questions and touch either of the two penguins as much as you wanted.

Once the visit is over, you can either return to the Aquarium or like us, back to the parking area.

4. Glazer Children’s Museum

This ranks in our top favorites! It is an incredible children’s museum with so many things to keep busy!

Parking: There is a paid parking garage directly across from the art museum and the Glazer Children’s museum. Park on the top two decks and take the elevator down, it’s easy to follow the signs. It’s hourly parking and there are plenty of paid machines before you exit or you can wait until you get to the gate and pay as you exit.

Arrival: The museum ticket office is just to the right as you enter. Also, note the Subway on your left (great spot for lunch). This museum takes its security seriously. You MUST be with a child in order to enter. I found this out when I dropped off my husband and son since it was close to closing time. When I tried to enter on my own, they made me facetime my husband to prove that I had a child in the museum. I like it!

Check out their ticket prices here.

The first floor features a huge water play area (complete with items to play with), a smaller children’s area (3 and under I believe), a rubber sand play area and a magical piano. They have bibs for the kids if your child likes to get more water on themselves than you’d prefer.

Boy playing in rubberized sand with a truck
Playing in the rubber sand area

The second area features a variety of areas. Our favorites were the firefighter zone, the cooking area complete with sandwich making and pizza making, the Publix supermarket, house with garden and electric experiments and the creative center. There is also an area with Legos, trains, magnetic blocks, dinosaurs and more.

Boy making sandwiches in the play kitchen at the Glazer Children's Museum
Making sandwiches in the play kitchen

The third floor features a super cool fort area with teepee’s, furniture with hooks and blankets with loops. There is also a wooden and soft building zone. It was a chill zone for us with books to read and fewer children running around.

If that wasn’t enough, check out the climbing zone in the stairway. You can take the stairs while your little one takes the net climb zone!

Boy climbing in the net climbing zone at the Glazer Children's Museum
Climbing in the net zone

Blippi made a visit to the Glazer Children’s museum. Check it out here!

5. Memo’s Pirate Cruise (Clearwater Beach, Florida)

If sailing with kids on a boat for two hours seem daunting and not an idea of a good time, then prepare to have your view changed! This boat cruise is seriously fun! Imagine the joy as your children are entertained by pirates for two hours while you enjoy free drinks and even an 18 and older deck on the ship. Check out our fun day aboard Memo’s Pirate ship below.

Pirate Boat docked in harbor
Pirate ship docked

The instructions tell you to show up an hour early. So for a 10 am sail, we arrived just after 9 am. You can park in the Marina and pay for a parking pass at the ticket booth near the ship. It’s an easy process. But make sure you visit their website to make a reservation. I made one the night before and they e-mailed me before I headed to bed for the next day’s boat trip. Not sure that would work for a weekend sail, but a 10 am sail on a weekday, it worked fine. Here is their website.

After parking, we visited the restrooms located in the Marina parking and then sat on a bench for 15-20 minutes before we were ready to board. Not sure you need an hour, but they say on the site you will lose your reservation if you aren’t there early.

We boarded the ship and the kids were given a wooden pistol and a pirate hat. You take a photo with the ship captain, grab a drink and find a seat. It seemed like all the spots in the sun where eventually in the shade as soon as the boat departed, so something to consider. I preferred the seats at the bottom for the amount of wind and shade.

Mother and son sitting on a pirate boat with drinks in hand
Boarding the boat

After we were under sail, the kids were corraled into the bar area with benches to sit on. The pirate crew traded the pistols for water guns and a water fight soon broke out. It was well controlled and the pirates even armed the parents who enjoyed squirting the kids. After the water fight, the kids learned how to be pirates, found treasure (gold bead necklaces), spotted hidden treasure (gold coins), got a piece of candy and enjoyed their faces being painted.

Boy with face painting like a pirate
ARGH!!

We ended the two-hour boat ride with a dance party and dolphin spotting! We ended up purchasing the wooden gun and the water gun as souvenirs. They were pretty inexpensive and relatively well made.

After the boat ride, we had enough time left on our parking permit to enjoy lunch at Salt Cracker Fish Camp. The waffles and chicken were AMAZING!! Makes my mouth water just thinking about them. I first thought I should have ordered seafood, but not after my chicken and waffles arrived.

6. St. Pete’s Beach

We decided to have a beach day at the TradeWinds Resort. We looked into staying at the resort, but it was way too expensive for just a family weekend away (around $200 per night with the resort fee and that didn’t include any meals).

Thus, we figured we would just pay for some of the amenities we wanted to use.

We parked down by the Publix in St. Pete. Here is the address for the paid parking area with direct beach access: 4700 Gulf Blvd, St Pete Beach, FL 33706. Download the app once you get to the parking area to pay for your parking. Need to stay a bit longer, just pay via the app for more time. Get there early to get a parking spot.

We loaded up our gear into our travel wagon, complete with pop up beach tent, towels, and towels. Then we hit Publix for our picnic supplies (they have a wonderful hot food bar) and got a cooler for drinks. We didn’t want a huge bag of ice, so we paid $1.29 for a drink and just filled the cup with ice. 🙂 Then we walked 20-30 minutes to the TradeWinds Resort. It was a long walk. You don’t want to walk all the way to resort, there is access right at the paid parking area. We wanted to do some of the activities at the resort.

We paid $4 per ride for the huge inflatable slide on the beach. It was a blast. Children must be 42” to ride. A tip: if you ride with your child, you only use 1 token since you are riding together. Make sure you seat them between your legs and it’s a fast ride! We purchased four tokens and took turns riding down with our son.

Mom and son riding down huge inflatable slide in St. Pete , Florida
TradeWinds Resort Inflatable Slide, St. Pete Beach

We also paid $16 per person to pay on the inflatable playground. You buy tickets next to the pool at the resort. We had to check back with them a few times because they keep an eye on the ocean conditions before selling tickets. Took us 3 tries, but we finally got the last time slot from 2-3pm. Children 40-45” must be with an adult. They provide life jackets and do a quick safety brief before you swim out. It was a serious workout, but so fun! It is doable with one adult but easier with two adults. I would only go with children that are comfortable in the water and active. I was surprised that our son spent the full hour playing on the various play areas. The older kids and other adults helped to keep an eye out and we were never concerned about his safety.

Ocean playground with slides
Ocean Playground near TradeWinds Resort

We also enjoyed LOTS of playtime on the beach. Building sandcastles, using water shooters in the ocean and splashing around. Check out our beach set up. (Note: I packed everything in my suitcases from DC!)

Beach set up complete with pop up tent, blanket, folding wagon
Everything you need for a great beach trip!

We love our Shade Shack pop up tent. It opens and closes quickly, you can toss sand into the side pockets so it doesn’t blow away and the back can zip open and closed depending on your ventilation needs. The inside is also large, with the ability to fit a family of four.

7. HorsePower for Kids & animal sanctuary

This place is like a farm meets an animal rescue. So many animals and areas to explore.

Parking: It’s free and plentiful. I guess it could get a bit crowded on a popular weekend, but during the week, it was peaceful. We even found shade under a tree…score!

Walk up to the little trailer and pay for your entry and for any extras. It is $10 per person, plus extras. Babies under 12 months are free. We added a pony ride and food for the animals for an additional $5.

Then you walk past some birds, and into the horse stable area. Off to the right is where you can ring the bell for a pony ride. My son was thrilled, he loves horses. But we’ve had much better experiences with pony rides than here. I told the volunteer that the girth wasn’t tight enough, but he would just push the saddle back into place and my son would slowly slip off. They just walk the pony or horse around the circle 3 times.

I did see that they have horse programs and camps. Looked like the girls were having a great time!

Then you enter another open area with a playground, more animals and our favorite, the guinea pig area. Adults can lift up a guinea pig and the children can sit with a fleece blanket. I’m pretty sure my son could have stayed here for quite a while! He was in love with the little piggies!

Boy holding a guinea pig at the animal rescue
Holding the sweet little guinea pigs

After visiting the animals in this area, we heard the train and quickly lined up for a train ride. The train is for the kids only, so be prepared to walk alongside the train as it travels around the backside of the farm. You can ride if you have little ones that need to be held. I loaded my son up with snacks and off he went. I enjoyed the nice walk chatting with the other moms.

The back area has lots of animals. We enjoyed a nice visit with a fox and ran through the maze. There are lots of benches to take a rest when needed and also food dispensers to feed more of the animals (chickens, goats).

boy sitting next to fox enclosure
A nice visit with the fox

When the kids need to burn some energy, there are tire rope swings, rope bridges, multiple playground equipment and fields to explore. Plenty to keep everyone happy.

There is also a petting zoo type area with goats that you can feed, rabbits that you can pet, a pig, ferrets, and llama. Our favorite was the nursery with all the baby animals. We even got to see some guinea pigs being born!

There is also an area back behind the stables with birds and reptiles. Pretty much any animal you can think of.

Before we left, we grabbed a $1 ice cream and then we headed out for lunch.

8. Adventure Island

Adventure Island Tampa Water Park – Buy Now & Save!

This is the waterpark next to Busch Gardens. It is huge with tons of water slides, but also lots for the little ones to keep busy. On a weekend, it gets packed. Since my husband was in town working, we only had the weekend to visit. We arrived 30 minutes before opening and that gave us time to park the car (regular parking, $22), grab a large locker ($20) and buy a refill cup ($15). If you buy your parking early, you can save a couple of dollars and if you don’t need your stuff, you’ll save a bundle. I will say the refill cup was awesome!

We did a quick walkthrough of the park to get our bearings. We like to preview most of the park before we pick what we want to do. We settled on the lazy river and it was so fun! Easy to get a tube right at opening and we enjoyed how calm it was compared to later in the day.

Then we convinced our son to do some of the tube slides before it got busy. We went on Aruba Tuba and Calypso Coaster. We were able to ride in a double tube with one adult and our son. The other adult used a single tube. There was a lifeguard at the exit to catch the rider and help with the dismount. These were the only slides we did because after we hit the children’s area, the wait times turned into an hour plus. No thanks!

If you love water slides and have to go on a weekend, it would be worth it to look into getting a “quick queue” pass. You’ll pay for ahead of the line privilege.

Since we didn’t want to spend the money, we played in the kid zones. The best was the splash area in the back near the water slides. It had so many interactive components like water bucket dumps, ropes you could pull, pulleys to make water spray and more. Plus there are four smaller water slides and 3 the parents are able to ride with the child. Perfect!

That refillable cup also came in handy. Free refills for the entire day of purchase. We found the refill zone closest to the kid splash zone had the shortest line.

Boy drinking a slushie
Slushies are the best on a hot day!

Tips: the pavement does get hot. So water shoes might be handy for the little ones. There are free lifejackets at various stations around the park. Some of the slides require a vest for children under 42″. So grab one just in case. The chairs did fill up fast, but we were able to snag one when we needed it. There is a bag check and they said we had to remove our little kid water shooters. It was a pain to run them back to the car, so unpack before you head to the park with any toys.

Water splash area with slides
Huge splash area!

9. Ballast Point Park

If you need a laid-back park to spend some time with the kids, this is the place. There is plenty of parking in the lot and plenty to keep busy.

Huge playground for big kids and a smaller playground next to it for the younger children.

Playground
Huge playgrounds

Splash pad with water sprayers to cool off in the summer heat.

spray park

Restaurant for ice cream or a simple dinner.

Fishing pier if you want to try your hand at fishing.

10. Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue is a sanctuary for exotic cats. The organization works hard to rescue and improve the lives of injured and mistreated wild cats. Most of the tours are for kids 10 and older with tickets/reservations are required. They do have a “kids tour” on Saturday and Sunday’s at 12pm. Make your reservations online HERE.

When you show up for your tour, you are shown a video about the history and mission of the Big Cat Rescue. They also go over the rules to ensure your safety during your visit. After the video, they pass out headsets and tour guide leads you into the sanctuary.

The tour includes information about each animal and the story on how they arrived into the sanctuary. You are able to spend time viewing and appreciating these beautiful animals.

We enjoyed the educational aspect of the tour and the ability to get close to so many of the amazing cats.

Tiger inside enclosure
One of the tigers rescued

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all the things to do in Tampa Bay, Florida. Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions!

Click HERE to return back to our homepage to view all the amazing places we have travel to with kids. Need some travel inspiration for adventures in the US and Europe, head over to our destinations page to explore the interactive map.

Check out our gear recommendations below to make your trip to Tampa a success!

 

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