Cruise Homeport spotlight: Port of Tampa

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Located within 500 miles of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and Western Caribbean islands, the Port of Tampa is an ideal departure point for seven-day or shorter cruises to Cozumel, Costa Maya, Roatan, Belize City, Grand Cayman and other Western Caribbean ports of call. Holland America Line has sailed out of Tampa for three decades, most recently with the Ryndam; Carnival Cruise Lines has two ships deployed in Tampa, the Carnival Legend and the Carnival Inspiration and in the fall of 2011 the line will have the Carnival Paradise and the Carnival Legend sailing out of Tampa; and also coming to Tampa in fall of 2011 are the Norwegian Star and Royal Caribbean International's Jewel of the Seas. The Port of Tampa covers 5,000 acres and offers three cruise terminals.

Nearby Attractions: The Tampa Aquarium is a short distance from the port and offers interactive exhibits the Penguins: Backstage Pass that enables visitors to come face-to-beak with endangered African black-footed penguins; a Wild Dolphin Ecotour; and Swim with the Fishes, a scuba-style diving adventure. Visit www.flaquarium.org. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is one of the country's largest zoos and also boasts multiple thrill rides and attractions. It is located at 3000 East Busch Boulevard. Visit www.buschgardens.com.

Other Tampa attractions include Ybor City, the Latin Quarter northeast of downtown established in the 19th century by a Spanish cigar maker who came to Tampa via Cuba and Key West. The district is a good place to buy hand-rolled cigars and souvenirs. Centro Ybor, at the heart of the district between 7th and 8th Avenues and 17th and 18th Streets is a shopping-dining-entertainment complex. Restaurants here and in other corners of Ybor City serve black bean soup, ropa vieja (a shredded beef dish) fried plantains and other Cuban cuisine specialties.

A streetcar ride (the TECO Line Street Car System) along a 2.4-mile route is a convenient and inexpensive way to see the sights (fare is $2.50 one-way) and it takes to and from downtown Tampa to Ybor City via the Tampa Aquarium and other points of interest.

Fishing, biking, and spectator sports including major league baseball games of the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field and NFL games of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Raymond James Stadium are among popular pastimes.

Cruise passengers who have a very short time pre- or post-cruise have the Channelside Bay Plaza near the terminals with shops, restaurants and an IMAX theater.

Excursions Sold Onboard Ships: Sometimes a city tour to Tampa's historic landmarks including Ybor City is offered including transfer to the airport for passengers with late afternoon flights.Nearby Hotels: Major chains, including Best Western, Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton and more are represented. Good Restaurant For Lunch: The Columbia Restaurant is an institution in Ybor City, celebrating 100 years in 2005. Try the bean soup and the paella valenciana (a rice, seafood, chicken and pork dish). The Columbia Restaurant is at 2117 East 7th Avenue. Visit www.columbiarestaurant.com.

Cruise Lines That Sail From The Port Of Tampa: Ships that you will be able to see and/or sail on include those of Carnival Cruise Lines, of Holland America Line, of Norwegian Cruise Line, and of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.Transportation/Parking At The Port: Passengers who buy air tickets through the cruise lines generally receive free transfers from the airport to the port on embarkation/disembarkation day. Cruise lines also offer nominal fee airport/pier transportation to independent air travelers. The Tampa International Airport is a 15-minute ride from the port. Taxis are plentiful and fare is $25. Parking at the port is $14 per day. Valet parking is available at terminals 2 and 3 for additional charge.

Additional Information: Visit www.tampaport.com. For details on Tampa, log on to www.visittampabay.com.

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