Tampa is an unexpected gem, combining the laidback Florida lifestyle with stunning beaches, watersports and great attractions. Editor of Cruise International, Liz Jarvis, offers top tips for your pre- or post-cruise stay in Tampa

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There’s a huge advantage to flying in to Tampa to join your cruise and that’s the airport – widely regarded as one of the best in the US. Compared to Miami and Orlando, getting through security is incredibly quick and hassle-free.

Plus you’re right on the Gulf Coast – so within 20 minutes of picking up your bags, you could be sunning yourself on the beach.

The port is located right next to The Florida Aquarium (flaquarium.org), with its excellent marine displays (including tropical fish and illuminated tanks of jellyfish), and within easy reach of other attractions.

So whether you have a few hours before your cruise or are staying a bit longer, there is plenty for you to do.

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Things to do

Busch Gardens (buschgardens.com) is one of the biggest draws here – it’s a more laidback theme park than its Orlando cousins, and although it offers plenty of high-octane thrills on rollercoasters including Cheetah Hunt, there’s also the chance to get up close and personal with giraffes and other animals.

The historic neighbourhood of Ybor City is well worth a visit, just a short tram ride from the cruise terminal. It’s where many of the early immigrants settled and you can still buy hand-rolled cigars there, plus there’s a market at weekends and from lunchtime onwards the bars and restaurants spring to life.

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Beautiful beaches

St. Petersburg and Clearwater (visitstpeteclearwater.com) with their miles and miles of glorious beaches are just over half-an-hour from Tampa by car and ideal for families or anyone who wants to chill out.

Get out of the sun for a few hours by exploring the Dali museum (thedali.org). And if you fancy a taste of Greece in Florida, head over to Tarpon Springs, where you’ll find authentic tavernas and sponges for sale.

Where to eat

You’re spoiled for choice because the restaurants here are excellent. Try Datz (datztampa.com) for breakfast or brunch and local neighbourhood-style tapas restaurant Ceviche (ceviche.com) for dinner.

Where to stay

The luxurious Intercontinental (intercontampa.com) is the perfect base if you’re just spending one or two nights in Tampa, as it’s within easy reach of the airport, cruise port and all the main attractions. If you’re staying a bit longer, then the Sandpearl (sandpearl.com), located right on Clearwater Beach is widely regarded as one of the best hotels in the area, with stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico.

FACT FILE

Port: Tampa

How far from airport? 20 mins

Cruise lines that go from there: Carnival, Norwegian, Holland America, Royal Caribbean

Read Florida Cruise and Stay: Miami

For more information go to visittampabay.com

Read the latest issue of Cruise International in shops now

Photos © Visit Tampa Bay/ visitstpeteclearwater.com

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