free morning in Tampa before my 3:30pm flight home

Tampa Travel Blog

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plate #2 of my breakfast: strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, orange, blueberries, blackberries

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.

fruit, toppings, salmon, and hard-boiled eggs station at the breakfast buffet at Café Elise
  I also picked up a granny smith apple and a banana, but took them to go because I needed to pack and check out.

 

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.

Vietnamese cook in the special order station at Café Elise's breakfast buffet
  I checked my bag with the ladies at the counter and asked for ideas of nearby things to do given my 3:30pm departure time.  Elisa, a Puerto Rican woman from New Jersey, suggested I spend the morning in Channelside and a bellhop helped explain the bus schedules to me.

 

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.

inside Blue One Transportation on my way to Channelside
  Both were from the Dominican Republic, but the short, pretty one had grown up in New Jersey and had only a slight accent.  I asked them about life in Tampa and we talked about the heat, humidity, botany, and the ever-menacing palmetto bugs.

 

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.

random view on North Meridian Avenue, Tampa
  Up on the second level, I found better views of Garrison Channel.

 

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.

Garrison Street entrance to Channelside Bay Plaza (the two guys seem to be dressed like photographers)
  Accepting of my sweat, I thought along my walk how nice it would be to make Tampa my home.  At the end of a service road between the aquarium complex and the Tampa Port Authority building, I found the massive World War II, Navy cargo ship docked along the waterfront on the Ybor Channel.

 

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.

stitched panorama of Ybor Channel, Port Ybor, Sparkman Channel, Harbour Island, & Garrison Channel
  In cargo hold three, I glanced at the exhibits before manning the bridge on the mock wheelhouse display.

 

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.

large open court at the center of Channelside Bay Plaza
  I opened hatches to find passageways, storage closets, and electrical rooms and saw the engine room from the catwalk above.  The wheelhouse was roped off except for the perimeter, but topside, I was able pilot the wheel on the flying bridge.

 

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.

Harbour Island across Garrison Channel
  On my way out, I ran into my retired pals in the quarterdeck and decided to walk with them to catch the trolley for a loop around the city.  Waiting in the stylishly designed shelter, I read the posted schedule and saw the next car was not due for another 11 minutes, so it would not have had me back in time and I had to skip the ride.  Of course, I might have hesitated anyway because of the costly $4 round-trip fare.  One of the guys let me use his cell phone to call Blue One and my ride picked me up 15 minutes later on Garrison Street where it had earlier dropped me off.

 

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.

jetways modified for cruise ship use and Ybor Channel
  Looking at the menu, I asked Susan if I could get the chicken wrap to go, but then I heard another patron ask about the buffet, so I had to check that out first.  A glimpse and whiff of the chunks of roast turkey was enough to change my mind.  The full buffet was only $3 more than the wrap, so it was also a superior value.

 

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.

Sling Shot and Banana Joe's Island Party at Channelside
  I took my new receipt to the hotel counter to use the phone.  After calling in my survey responses once more, I jotted down my redemption code and went back to Elise for another free slice of pie.

 

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.
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plate #2 of my breakfast: strawber…
plate #2 of my breakfast: strawbe…
fruit, toppings, salmon, and hard-…
fruit, toppings, salmon, and hard…
Vietnamese cook in the special ord…
Vietnamese cook in the special or…
inside Blue One Transportation on …
inside Blue One Transportation on…
random view on North Meridian Aven…
random view on North Meridian Ave…
Garrison Street entrance to Channe…
Garrison Street entrance to Chann…
stitched panorama of Ybor Channel,…
stitched panorama of Ybor Channel…
large open court at the center of …
large open court at the center of…
Harbour Island across Garrison Cha…
Harbour Island across Garrison Ch…
jetways modified for cruise ship u…
jetways modified for cruise ship …
Sling Shot and Banana Joes Island…
Sling Shot and Banana Joe's Islan…
Channelside Bay Plaza court and Ga…
Channelside Bay Plaza court and G…
sea life themed vestibule at Chann…
sea life themed vestibule at Chan…
Florida Aquarium in Tampa
Florida Aquarium in Tampa
Tampa Port Authority parking garage
Tampa Port Authority parking garage
SS American Victory Mariners Memor…
SS American Victory Mariners Memo…
American Victorys rudder and prop…
American Victory's rudder and pro…
Evans at the helm on a mock wheelh…
Evans at the helm on a mock wheel…
block and tackle display of mechan…
block and tackle display of mecha…
lifeboat in cargo hold #2 of SS Am…
lifeboat in cargo hold #2 of SS A…
midship house on the SS American V…
midship house on the SS American …
forward 3-inch/50 caliber gun on t…
forward 3-inch/50 caliber gun on …
Florida Aquariums water park shot…
Florida Aquarium's water park sho…
Garrison Channel viewed from the S…
Garrison Channel viewed from the …
Evans on the forward 3-inch/50 cal…
Evans on the forward 3-inch/50 ca…
topside the SS American Victory sh…
topside the SS American Victory s…
Evans at the bow of the SS America…
Evans at the bow of the SS Americ…
yacht tour boat on the Ybor Channel
yacht tour boat on the Ybor Channel
rusty chains on the deck of the SS…
rusty chains on the deck of the S…
Evans on SS American Victory’s s…
Evans on SS American Victory’s …
mainmast, booms, and standing rigg…
mainmast, booms, and standing rig…
passageway in the focsle (abrevia…
passageway in the foc'sle (abrevi…
four-bunk crew cabin in the SS Ame…
four-bunk crew cabin in the SS Am…
engine room below the catwalk in t…
engine room below the catwalk in …
small harbor patrol boat behind th…
small harbor patrol boat behind t…
3-inch gun, booms, king posts, ven…
3-inch gun, booms, king posts, ve…
view down the 5-inch/38 caliber st…
view down the 5-inch/38 caliber s…
Tampa Port Authority on Ybor Chann…
Tampa Port Authority on Ybor Chan…
5-inch/38 caliber stern gun deck o…
5-inch/38 caliber stern gun deck …
looking down a companionway on the…
looking down a companionway on th…
looking up a ventilator at the top…
looking up a ventilator at the to…
US Coast Guard boat on Ybor Channel
US Coast Guard boat on Ybor Channel
wheelhouse seen through the chart …
wheelhouse seen through the chart…
Evans at helm on the flying bridge…
Evans at helm on the flying bridg…
Evans at helm on the flying bridge…
Evans at helm on the flying bridg…
birds on standing rigging on SS Am…
birds on standing rigging on SS A…
search light on the SS American Vi…
search light on the SS American V…
Florida Aquariums water systems s…
Florida Aquarium's water systems …
captains office on the SS America…
captain's office on the SS Americ…
Evans having a rest in room 9 on t…
Evans having a rest in room 9 on …
fire station number 7 on the SS Am…
fire station number 7 on the SS A…
radio room in the SS American Vict…
radio room in the SS American Vic…
crow’s nest, birds, smokestack o…
crow’s nest, birds, smokestack …
helicopter in the sky and a massiv…
helicopter in the sky and a massi…
portside lifeboats on the SS Ameri…
portside lifeboats on the SS Amer…
portside bumper tire on the SS Ame…
portside bumper tire on the SS Am…
marsh by the Tampa Port Authority …
marsh by the Tampa Port Authority…
Tecoline Streetcar trolley 433 on …
Tecoline Streetcar trolley 433 on…
Tecoline Streetcar on Channelside …
Tecoline Streetcar on Channelside…
downtown Tampa skyline seen from C…
downtown Tampa skyline seen from …
Tampa area still growing
Tampa area still growing
Floridian houses along I-275 North
Floridian houses along I-275 North
large American flag flying along I…
large American flag flying along …
Tampa Airport Marriott pool and pa…
Tampa Airport Marriott pool and p…
Tampa Airport Marriott hot tub by …
Tampa Airport Marriott hot tub by…
lizard on the patio at the Tampa A…
lizard on the patio at the Tampa …
Café Elise at the Tampa Airport M…
Café Elise at the Tampa Airport …
entrance to the Tampa Airport Marr…
entrance to the Tampa Airport Mar…
Evans by the Boeing 737-400, US Ai…
Evans by the Boeing 737-400, US A…
view from my seat on the Boeing 73…
view from my seat on the Boeing 7…
Tampa
photo by: ejames01