free morning in Tampa before my 3:30pm flight home
Tampa Travel Blog› entry 4 of 6 › view all entries
Up at 7:00am, 40 minutes after my wake-up call, I went downstairs for breakfast and discovered a wonderful buffet spread. A little round Vietnamese cook prepared my special order of a butter-free egg white frittata. With a heavy accent, she apologized repeatedly for the appearance of what were essentially scrambled egg whites mixed with ham and vegetables, but I reassured her that it looked perfect to me and the taste was excellent. She also prepared for me a fresh Belgium waffle, which I loaded with delicious strawberry topping.
Moving on from the cook’s station, I filled a plate with fresh fruit including strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, orange, blueberries, and huge, delicious blackberries. Having cleaned my plates, I went back up for a second helping of fruit plus smoked salmon, dried apricots, prunes, and yogurt.
With tax and tip, my meal was $20 and I charged it to the room. Reading my receipt, after an hour of gorging on all things delectable, I noticed a line that read “free desert,” so I inquired of Susan, the Filipina manager tending the front desk. She printed an extra copy for me to take to my room, so I called the number listed, completed an automated survey regarding my dining experience, and received the code for one free desert.
By 9:00am, I had showered, dressed, packed, and vacated my room. I went downstairs to check out and to start making use of my free day in Tampa.
Siada, from Morocco, another Guest Service Rep, advised that I could take the free hotel shuttle rather than wasting my time on city busses, but a minute later she realized she had made a mistake. The shuttle only serviced the other Marriott in town, but to make good on her word, Siada made a phone call and arranged for the shuttle to come pick me up at no charge. My day was beginning well!
Waiting for my ride in the parking area, I met two valet girls.
Soon a Blue One Transportation van pulled in and I climbed aboard. After dropping off the other passenger at another hotel, driver Umberto took me to Channelside Bay Plaza and let me out on Garrison Street. I first walked through the lower level of the plaza and took a look through the tall iron fence toward the water.
From there, I strolled to the Florida Aquarium and asked the ticket agent if there was anything interesting inside that I might not have seen at other aquariums. She replied, “otters” with a smirk, but admitted they feature nothing bigger than sharks and there are no other special or unusual creatures. She did tell me about the boat tour, however, which goes a couple of miles out onto the bay to see dolphins. That piqued my interest, but the 90-minute tour would not begin until noon and I might not have been able to get back to the hotel in time for my flight, so I asked what else I could see in the area.
Following the girl’s directions to find the SS American Victory Museum Ship, I walked around the building through the heat and humidity of the bright, sunny morning.
Up the stairs and through the quarterdeck I entered iron behemoth where a lone attendant greeted me in a heavy Dutch accent. A white-haired immigrant from Holland, the mature man asked if I was a veteran, in the military, or had AAA. With a dollar off for my triple-A membership, I charged the $7 admission fee to my credit card. While the transaction processed, the gentleman shared some history of the ship and then directed me toward the exhibit area to begin the self-guided tour.
In hold number two, rests a lifeboat to one side and on the other a series of block and tackle rigs hung for hands-on educational lessons on mechanical advantage. I continued through hold number one and up the stairs (or “ladder” in nautical terms) and outside to the main deck. The surface of the vessel, cluttered with masts, loading cranes, ropes, chains, vent stacks, and every other contortion of metal was monochrome gray aside from some isolated spots of rust on chains and equipment.
With few other tourists at the early hour (around 10:30 in the morning), I had the run of the ship. I explored each deck, gained an elevated view of the sprawling aquarium complex from starboard, and from portside admired the ships across the channel docked at Port Ybor.
The late morning was blazing hot and I was sweating through my shirt. I sought temporary shelter in the shade of a covered portion of the deck where I met three nice retired fellows. We talked about my job search, local taxes, and the best areas to live in and around Tampa. Nearly dizzy from dehydrated, I asked the guys if they knew where I could find water and one directed me to a fountain in the foc’sle (or “forecastle,” sailors’ living quarters) and I was grateful for the lifesaving drink.
Having toured the ship inside and out by shortly past noon, I was ready to move on.
Back at the Marriott, I returned to Café Elise after stopping to thank Elisa for her advice and Siada for arranging my transportation. My stomach was still loaded from the huge breakfast I had consumed, but I wanted to get some food to take on the plane.
Because I was a hotel guest, Susan permitted me to load up a container to take my food to go. Of course, I also ordered a slice of famous Floridian key lime pie for my free desert. While Susan retrieved my pie from the kitchen and sealed my containers in plastic wrap, I chatted with servers from Thailand, Japan, and Jamaica along with my Vietnamese breakfast cook.
When Susan returned from the kitchen with my pie, I had her charge the meal to my room.
With a half an hour still to spare, I sat out by the pool to snack on the cold cuts sandwich I had prepared at the buffet. Whiling away my final moments in Florida, I observed several lizards scampering around concrete patio and took a few pictures. At 2:30pm, I retrieved my luggage from Siada and I took the tram to my Terminal F and found my departure gate, F85.