It wasn't a hard decision not to fly since it was the safe choice, but boy it would have made a great trip even better! Two weeks ago I had taken vacation time to be with my little girls so my wife could have a weekend with her cousin to go relax and have some much deserved fun. My original plan was just to stay home; which isn't very original at all. My dad and stepmom, who own Ellie Lance Creations, were in Tampa selling at the FISAC-IRSF (Rope Skipping) World Championships being held at the University of South Florida (USF) so I figured we'd just head down and join them. There's was bound to be some fun things I can do with the girls during the day and they would also have some precious time with their grandparents at night, right?
It would have been an easy one hour flight down to Tampa, but I wouldn't do it with just my daughters and myself. Mary (2 1/2) still needs to be in her car seat and Abby (9) is not old enough yet to be responsible for being "in charge" since I would be obviously flying and unable to help. Both girls are good to travel with, Abby is an awesome, helpful big sister, and I'm sure we would have made the short flight without issue, but I just couldn't risk it in case things didn't go just perfect. I still want to share the benefits of this destination, because we will be back and with the plane as you'll soon read and see why!
A little over 3 hours after leaving home, we turned off I-4 on to I-75 and happened to drive past the approach end of RWY 23 at Tampa Executive Airport (KVDF) *sigh*, and soon pulled up to the front to the Embassy Suites Tampa USF/Busch Gardens. We checked in, unpacked, and waited for Grandpa & Grandma to arrive from their show. Once they did we all headed down stairs for the Manager's Reception and dinner. The hotel restaurant meals turned out to be quite good there and reasonable in price as well. After a little more visiting we all went to bed. Thursday was going to be a big day!
We got up Thursday morning and enjoyed the large cook -to-order breakfast & buffet that is always included at Embassy Suites! After breakfast, we loaded up our backpack and stroller and headed downstairs to catch the hotel shuttle to Busch Gardens! The hotel provides a free, on-demand shuttle service anywhere within 5 miles which includes Bush Gardens. After a short (less than 5 minutes) ride to the park, we began our day of adventure!
The first place we headed to was Sesame Street Safari of Fun. Abby and Mary rode the Hippo Water Ride first and Mary was hooked. They both wandered around this section of the park for a few hours enjoying the various rides and play areas. It was perfect! Mary was even willing to go on the roller coaster with me, but she was a fraction of an inch too short. :( Oh well, big sis got to go and when she was done it was time for bigger and faster rides! Before lunch we boarded the train and enjoyed the ride through the park to see some of the animal exhibits.
We had lunch at the Desert Grill and got to see a great show, Dance to the Music, while we ate! We were entertained by the likes of Abba and The Village People! After lunch, Mary took it easy and we wandered the park while Abby took in a few more roller coasters. Abby even went on one by herself that did a vertical loop! I was especially impressed since she forewarned me prior to arriving at the park she would absolutely NOT go on any rides with loops!
Before we left, there was just one more request that had to be fulfilled.....
After a great day at the park, we called for the hotel shuttle and without delay we were back at the hotel to see the Grandparents, have some dinner, and crash! Friday would be another fun filled day.
It turned out that USF was having their graduation on that Friday and Saturday so we got some bonus grandparent time! After breakfast we all headed out for the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI), which also just happened to be down the street from the hotel. We have a membership to our local museum at home so it was nice that MOSI was on the reciprocal membership list and we all got in free! Once we checked in, we headed back to the huge "Kids In Charge" hall which is full of interactive exhibits. Abby really enjoyed the drums and Mary couldn't get enough of her "store".
Grandma and Grandpa treated Abby to the Sky Trails Ropes Course and Zip Line. She was amazing! I hate heights. There is no way I'd climb up there, but Abby did awesome. She said there were a few parts that scared here, but she really liked it.
Here is a video!
We also enjoyed the exhibits on natural disasters. Abby's favorite was the hurricanes, since there were two exhibits that you could go inside and "experience" a hurricane with generated storm force winds. At the end of our stay we visited their Butterfly Garden. We pretty much made MOSI a full day adventure which was easy to do.
Saturday was a bonus. We had originally bought one day tickets to Busch Gardens, but if you went to the Customer Service Center they would convert the tickets to 2-day passes for free! So Grandpa & Grandma agreed to watch Mary and play with her at the hotel pool, while Abby and I went back to the park to ride the big rides! And boy did we! We got there not long after they opened and went straight for their new ride that opened this spring called Cheetah Hunt. It was already a 50 minute wait, but we had to do it and it was so worth it!
After that we took the Skyride tram to the back of the park and to our surprise we never found another line for a ride again all day! Well, not really, but most of the rides for the rest of the day either had no lines, or we only had to wait about 10 minutes. Needless to say we got to have a lot of fun and even went on some roller coasters multiple times like Montu! We never did make it on SheiKra; I guess we'll just have to go back!
We got up Sunday morning and took our time having breakfast, packing up, and checking out of the hotel. Before we got on the road for home, we stopped off at USF to visit Grandpa & Grandma at their booth and to watch some of the jump roping or as it's known internationally, rope skipping. The freestyle competitions were amazing and it was really cool to see all the teams from all over the world. We said our good byes around lunch time and headed home.
We really did have an awesome time and while we were there it made me realize how easy it would be to get to with our plane and how perfect the locations of the Tampa Executive Airport, Embassy Suites, and the attractions all were to each other. I'll have to check in with fellow pilot and blogger TJ. I think KVDF is his home field. You also cannot beat the services of the Embassy Suites for a family especially with the free shuttle service. We've talked about annual passes to Disney someday, but I think this might actually be better for us right now with the age of our girls and the amazing experiences we just had. Hmmmmmm...................Christmas is just around the corner!