Champagne toasts, ball drops, confetti and renditions of Auld Lang Syne. These are the familiar sights and sounds of New Year’s Eve across the nation.
In Tampa, you’ll find plenty of the bubbly and fireworks at midnight, but you’ll find much more than that.
An eclectic city that seamlessly meshes a tropical climate with culture, class, and community, you’ll find New Year’s Eve celebrations just as diverse and distinctive as its inhabitants.
Having called the city home for more than 30 years, I’m proud to share with you some of my favorite Tampa spots to ring in the New Year.
For an at-sea New Year’s Eve party experience, the Yacht Starship can’t be beat. A dinner or lunch cruise on this AAA 3-Diamond rated ship is always a popular outing, especially for out-of-town guests. On New Year’s Eve, it becomes a night to remember.
Passengers are offered an unparalleled view of the Channelside fireworks and ball drop from the ship’s Promenade Deck. Boarding for the annual New Year’s Eve Celebration Cruise begins at 10:00 p.m. from the docks at Channelside (located between the St. Pete Times Forum and the Florida Aquarium). The ship sets sail at 10:30 p.m. for a two-hour cruise on Tampa Bay. Dance music permeates the Lounge Deck and lavish food stations offer up gourmet enticements. There is also an open bar and a champagne toast at midnight with party favors. Cost is $125.00 plus tax and tip, and you must be 21 or older to sail. Make reservations at www.yachtstarship.com or by calling 813-223-7999 or 800-744-7999. But don’t delay, this cruise sells out every year.
Party All Night
Start your New Year’s Eve party experience at Floyd’s Nightclub at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, or head there after the other parties have closed their doors. Located on a Native American Reservation bordering Tampa’s east side, Floyd’s does not come under local ordinances governing closing times. The fun flows (as well as the booze) until 6:00 a.m. And, if you’re still up for action after that, the casino is open 24/7. If you make it by 3:00 a.m., you can join in on Floyd’s annual “Toast to the West Coast”, when party goers re-ring in the New Year at midnight Pacific Time. Be sure to spruce up a bit – no flip flops or t-shirts, Floyd’s enforces its dress code. Don’t forget your I.D., either. Floyd’s is 21 and older, and everyone gets carded.
Ride ‘Em Cowboy
If a Country New Year’s Eve is more to your liking, you can’t beat the party at the Dallas Bull. A $20 cover charge for 18-20 year olds covers non-alcoholic drinks all night. A $40 ticket for those 21+ keeps the grown-up beverages coming, including Top Shelf and shots. If you find yourself channeling John Travolta or Debra Winger, take a ride on the mechanical bull – although you might do well to try that before you’ve had one too many. To make a night of it, make reservations at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn Tampa East (813-626-6700), which offers a Dallas Bull Patron rate. A mainstay for Tampa’s country music fans since 1979 (It’s where I learned to line dance in the early ’80’s!), the new saloon (built 2006) is located at 3322 US Highway 301. For more information, call 813-987-BULL (2855).
A Fun Family Outing
Looking to spend New Year’s Eve with the kids? A Busch Gardens daily admission ticket ($74.95/adults; $64.95/children 3-9) gets you a full-day of fun starting at 9:00 a.m. and lasting until 1:00 a.m., with a spectacular evening fireworks presentation. Buy your ticket on-line and get adult tickets discounted to the child’s rate. Florida residents can purchase a Fun Card for $69.95 and get unlimited admission until December 31, 2010.
Staying for the whole day? Consider purchasing an all-day dining wristband. The band, which costs $29.95 for adults and $13.95 for children 9 and younger, entitles the holder to one entrée, one side item or dessert, and one drink each time they go through a serving line. Children’s wrist bands are good for Kids Meals only. The wristbands are honored at the Zagora Cafe, Crown Colony Pizza, Bengal Bistro, Garden Gate Cafe, Zambia Smokehouse (excludes Baby Back Ribs), Desert Grill (excludes Baby Back Ribs) and the Orang Cafe. Our family always enjoys a sit-down meal at the Crown Colony Restaurant. Located near Montu, at the Edge of Africa, window seats give you a view of the Serengeti Plain, and the air-conditioned dining room gives you a break from the Florida heat.
Ybor City – Where There’s Always a Party
For some early in the evening family entertainment, folks will be lining 7th Avenue in Ybor City (Tampa’s Latin district) to watch the United HealthCare Children’s Foundation New Year’s Eve Parade at 5:30 p.m. This year’s procession, an officially sponsored event in the city’s week-long Outback Bowl celebration, will include numerous floats and marching bands, including musicians from both competing schools. At the culmination of the parade, there will be a pep rally at 7:00 p.m., complete with cheerleaders, at the corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue.
Before or after the parade, find a quick bite or a sit-down meal at one of the many restaurants that fill the streets of Ybor. If you’re in the mood for authentic Spanish cuisine, my favorite is still The Columbia. I recommend the 1905 Salad and the Snapper Alicante – an original recipe created by the current owners’ grandfather. Have a feeling for a French flair? LeCreperia – a wonderful crepe bistro and espresso bar next to The Italian Club on 7th Avenue – offers a delicious cheese, chicken, and mushroom crepe (De Pollo). Try the Rasputin (I prefer mine with raspberry jam.) for dessert. Greek, Italian, and Cuban restaurants can all be found within walking distance of the main thoroughfare. Or, hit one of the patio bars or nightclubs that come to life in the evening. Blues, jazz, salsa, reggae, even hip-hop can be heard as you stroll down the streets lined with red brick buildings and wrought-iron balconies. If you still want to catch the midnight ball drop and fireworks, Channelside is just a trolley-ride away.
Wherever you choose to ring in the New Year, if you’re in Tampa, you’re bound to make memories that will last a lifetime.