Port of Tampa
The Seaport Street Terminal
651 Channelside Drive, Pier #2
Tampa, Florida 33602
Phone: (813) 905-7678
After a meal or a movie on Tampa’s revitalized downtown waterfront at Channelside, little wonder that locals and visitors get wanderlust for Caribbean adventure aboard an expanding roster of gleaming cruise ships. The Port of Tampa, handling nearly half of all seaborne commerce passing through the state (and almost as much cargo as all Florida’s other deepwater ports combined), also has caught on big as a passenger cruise terminal, aided in no small measure by award-winning convenience and amenities of nearby Tampa International Airport.
On Florida’s central west coast, Tampa’s nickname, The Big Guava, stems from when early pioneer Gavino Gutierrez unsuccessfully tried cultivating guavas commercially, failing because of climate and rising land prices. An area newspaper columnist was far more successful in planting notions that if New York could be The Big Apple, Tampa could certainly be The Big Guava. Consequently a Latin-style Halloween celebration called Guavaween, based on the nickname, takes place in nearby Ybor City each October.
Any time of year, cruise passengers love The Big Guava’s semi-tropical climate and immediate access to the Gulf of Mexico, to a point where passenger counts have zoomed from 200,000 in 1998 to more than a million in 2004. Projected growth is also of stellar note with more and bigger ships. It doesn’t hurt that Tampa’s strategic location provides the most direct route to Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, or that the Port of Tampa is the closest full service port to the Panama Canal. (Home to a diverse traffic base besides people, terminal facilities encompass container, bulk, break bulk, ro-ro, and project cargoes, plus North America's largest dockside cold storage terminal.)
Cruise industry leaders like Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America and Royal Caribbean regularly sail from here as do other top lines such as Radisson Seven Seas on occasion. Historically, trail-blazer Carnival launched Tampa service in 1994, quickly adding a second ship in response to demand. In 1998, Carnival introduced the 2,600-passenger Sensation – specially designed to fit under Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge -- as the tallest ship ever to sail from the Port of Tampa. By 2002, Carnival had posted a whopping 977 percent increase in passenger sailings from 1995, its first full year of Tampa operation. Pushing numbers ever upward is November, 2004’s introduction of the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle for itineraries to Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Belize. Holland America, also celebrating 20 years of sailing from Tampa, in 2003 replaced the aging Noordam with the 1,600-passenger Veendam, sailing seasonally to Key West, Jamaica and Mexico. In 2001, Celebrity Cruises became the third line to sail from Tampa with Zenith, since replaced by Horizon. Royal Caribbean then joined the Out-of-Tampa fleet in 2002.
More ships equated to a growing port, spurring Hillsborough County’s Tampa Port Authority to expand Garrison Seaport Center Terminal #2 in 1998. Then 2002 brought opening of Terminal #3 – a 110,000 sq ft state of the art facility with easy access to downtown Tampa. That in turn spawned Channelside improvements and added attractions such The Florida Aquarium and the SS American Victory, being restored into a Mariners Memorial & Museum Ship. (Among other watery developments, 2004 also brought debut of a marina at the doorstep of the Tampa Convention Center, accommodating 24 to 28 boats of varying sizes. In all, the Port of Tampa now hosts adventure itineraries ranging from 4 to 14 days.
The Seaport Street Terminal is in Garrison Seaport Center, adjacent to the Florida Aquarium, about 15 miles from Tampa International Airport.
From the north, take I-75 South to I-4 West or I-275 South to I-4 East. Take Exit 1 (sign reads: Port of Tampa / Ybor City). Take 21st Street South, turn right on East Adamo Drive / Hwy. 60, which turns into Channelside Drive / 13th Street. Bear left to follow signs for the Florida Aquarium / Seaport Terminal.
From the south, take I-75 North, then Crosstown Expressway West (toward Tampa). Take 22nd Street North Exit (sign reads: Port of Tampa / Ybor City) onto 22nd Street North. Turn left on East Adamo Drive / Hwy. 60, which turns into Channelside Drive / 13th Street.
From the east, take I-4 West to Exit 1 (sign reads: Port of Tampa / Ybor City) to 21st Street South to East Adamo Drive / Hwy. 60, which turns into Channelside Drive / 13th Street.
From the West or Tampa International Airport, take I-275 North (stay in right lane), take I-4 East, take Exit 1 (sign reads: Port of Tampa / Ybor City), take 21st Street South and turn right on East Adamo Drive / Hwy. 60, which turns into Channelside Drive / 13th Street.
After dropping luggage at the terminal, parking is on left. Port Authority Garage Parking ($14 per day, with rates subject to change) is under cover, with payment due upon arrival in U.S. dollars or with Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.
For pre- and post-cruise adventure, here’s a sampling of hotel, dining and attraction options near the Port of Tampa:
Bern’s Steak House
Owned and operated by the Laxer family for more than 40 years, Bern’s Steak House consistently rates accolades for food amid gilded red-wallpaper décor, often likened to a bordello. Bern’s buys only U.S. Prime, organically grows its own vegetables and salad greens, and has among the world’s largest wine lists. (Nearby, the offspring Sidebern’s also sizzles with African, Asian, French and Latin influences.) 1208 South Howard Avenue. (813) 251-2421
Ybor City’s Columbia’s Restaurant (Florida’s oldest eatery, founded in 1905) has been family-run for five generations, and seats 1,700 in a dozen rooms covering a city block. For centennial hoopla, custom tiles and chandeliers were commissioned from Spain for two new dining rooms, the first added since 1956. Desserts include Brazo Gitano (from the recipe used by founder Casimiro Hernandez, Sr.), a sponge cake soaked in syrup with Spanish Manzanilla sherry and cream, topped with meringue, and flambéed tableside. 2117 East 7th Avenue, Ybor City. (813) 248-4961
Kojack’s House of Ribs
Family-run since opening in 1978, this casual eatery with a trio of dining rooms and a terrace outside is favored among locals ravenous for tender, succulent barbecued ribs or chicken, with sides of coleslaw, potato salad and corn on the cob. 2808 Gandy Blvd. (813) 837-3774
Tampa’s downtown waterfront, transformed from dilapidated warehouses and banana docks, has established itself as not only a great place from which to embark on a cruise, but also as a destination entertainment complex a short walk from cruise embarkation facilities. Channelside has a multiplex cinema often showing independent films, an IMAX theater, entertainment, shopping and restaurants all in a seaside atmosphere. Restaurant options range from the sophisticated Jackson's Bistro to casual patio dining at The Marriott Waterside Café, or wings and things at Hooters.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
This 300-acre African-themed family entertainment park offers fascinating attractions based on exotic encounters from the continent with a blend of thrilling rides. Cheetah Chase, the newest roller coaster, has four-passenger cars so families can experience the drops and corkscrews. Other coasters include Montu, among the world’s largest inverted tracks, and Gawazi, Florida’s only double-wide wooden model. Corner of Busch Boulevard and 40th Street, eight miles northeast of downtown Tampa. (813) 987-5082
Henry B. Plant Museum
In the heart of downtown, this circa 1891 National Historic Landmark was built as the Tampa Bay Hotel by transport magnate Henry Bradley Plant. Exhibits in the Victorian palace with Moorish revival architecture reflect Tampa’s early years and its tourism Gilded Age, featuring original opulent resort furnishings. 401 West Kennedy Boulevard. (813) 254-1891
Ybor City, center of Tampa's nightlife, brims with dining, shopping, and entertainment. The Ybor City Museum State Park showcases influences of Cuban, Italian, Spanish, and German immigrants. In 1886, Vícente Martinez Ybor shifted his cigar factory from Key West to Tampa, establishing the "Cigar Capital of the World." Maps, posters, area guides and more are at the visitor information center. Museum, 1818 East 9th Avenue. (813) 247-6323
For more on where to stay, what to see, where to dine, and what to do, visit:
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