Orlando may get the tagline, but Tampa, 90 miles to the west, is pretty darn magical for kids, too: It’s home to Busch Gardens theme park, Adventure Island water park, Lowry Park Zoo, and the Florida Aquarium, as well as beaches, museums, and animal and bird sanctuaries. Need other ideas? There are fossil-hunting tours, airboat rides, and pro sports games galore. And for when it comes time to crash and recharge, consider these seven family-friendly hotels.
The mid-range Hyatt Place Busch Gardens is a family-friendly property with an outdoor pool that's less than a five-minute drive from Busch Gardens. The 126 rooms are spacious and have swiveling flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, and separate sitting areas with sofa beds, but bathrooms are small side and despite 2014 renovations, decor is already a bit worn. A free continental breakfast is served, and hot dishes plus cold grab-and-go items are available. Kids' activities and menus, as well as cribs, are available. Parking is free and a free shuttle runs to local attractions and businesses within a three-mile radius, including Busch Gardens.
Emerald Greens Condo-Hotel is a 50-room upper-middle-range property on the grounds of Carrollwood Country Club, within a half hour's drive of many Tampa Bay attractions. Perks here include a large swimming pool, family activities (such as kids nights, movie nights, and barbecues), two restaurants and eight tennis courts on site, and discounted tickets to Busch Gardens theme park and Adventure Island water park. Rooms are clean and spacious with full kitchens and free Wi-Fi.
This 293-room Sheraton isn't exactly luxurious, but it's one of the most affordable chain hotels in downtown Tampa, thanks to its heated outdoor pool, free shuttle service, and central riverside location. Many downtown attractions are within fifteen minutes of the hotel, including the Lowry Park Zoo, Convention Center, WestShore Plaza shopping mall, historic Ybor City, the Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena, the art museum, and the airport.
There are other hotels that are closer to Busch Gardens, but this 100-room chain is one of the most affordable options. (Freebies include breakfast, Wi-Fi, parking, and a nightly ice cream social.) Rooms are generic, but are modern and convenient, with mini-fridges, coffeemakers, microwaves, and flat-screen TVs. The hotel features laundry facilities, an outdoor lagoon-shaped pool, a putting green, and a landscaped pool deck with requisite Florida palm trees, lounge chairs, and umbrellas.
Sailport Waterfront Suites is a 191-room mid-range hotel located less than 10 minutes from the airport on Tampa Bay. There's a modest and rocky bay beach, but the gulf beaches are about a half-hour's drive away. Families appreciate the comfortable condo-style rooms with full kitchens and balconies; many offer views of the water. Overall, it offers a solid value with amenities such as a small outdoor pool; deck with fire pits, tiki torches, and barbecue grills; and free Wi-Fi and parking, but there's no full restaurant and the fitness facilities are located outside.
The 123-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites Tampa USF-Busch Gardens is a standard, mid-range chain hotel just down the road from the Busch Gardens theme park, in a slightly seedy neighborhood. While the common spacious look a little dark and dated, guest rooms are bright, welcoming, and fairly large. The hotel has free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and an outdoor pool, as well as a small fitness center. Most guests are in town to visit the University of South Florida, Yankees baseball spring training, or Busch Gardens, to and from which the hotel provides a free shuttle.
This budget chain hotel is a five-minute drive to Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. The hotel runs a free shuttle to the theme parks, as well as to local businesses and attractions, like the Museum of Science and Industry. The 85 rooms look dated, but they're large and feature flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, safes, and irons and ironing boards. Some rooms come with microwaves and mini-fridges. A small pool and free breakfast and Wi-Fi are other perks.