Moving in the direction of Tallahassee, where we were headed to attend a Full-time Families Rally, our next stop was the Tampa area. We have two nearby Encore RV parks included in our Thousand Trails membership, and since neither had availability for all three nights we planned to stay there, we stayed in both.
Vacation Village in Largo, FL, is perhaps our least favorite campground so far. The sites are tiny and way too close together (we call them “sardine sites”) and most of the park guests are permanent residents. So the atmosphere is more of a trailer park than a resort or campground. We did not enjoy it.
Schedules and campground availability forced us to move on a Sunday, which we try to avoid doing as a general rule. This left us looking for a church that had a Sunday evening service, since check out times prevented us from going in the morning. We found a small church, Christian Fellowship Church, that happened to be hosting a good old fashioned traveling preacher who also sang a bunch of songs together with his wife. It was a pretty new style for us, since it’s not so common anymore, and the music was also distinctive. There was no children’s ministry but the kids did pretty well. In fact, some people were so impressed with our kids that someone gave us a bunch of McDonald’s gift cards that were left over from an event. Or at least that’s the reason they gave us. When we shared this story with another full-time family, they said they probably thought we were homeless. It had happened to them before. They might be right. While we’re really not fans of McDonald’s, a free meal is a free meal and the kids thought it was a really big treat.
Glazer Children’s Museum
We drove into downtown Tampa for a day to visit the Glazer Children’s Museum. Again we used an affiliate membership, the ASTC passport program,* to get in for free. Free or not, we highly recommend this museum for families living in or visiting the Tampa area.
The museum is highly interactive, educational, and well-designed. The employees we met were friendly, helpful, and kid-oriented. About half of the first floor was basically a giant water table, with various activities and experiments available to try in the water. In the weather exhibit, if you created the right conditions, you could create a storm – “lightning” flashed, thunder sounded, large fans blew wind gusts, and it started raining from the ceiling into the water table. A multi-story climbing area allowed kids to climb through “clouds” and pretend to be a water droplet going through the water cycle.
The second floor had exhibits related to sports and the human body, a Lego building area, a place to build and test paper airplanes, and rooms set up like a grocery store, a veterinarian’s office, a hospital, a restaurant, and a firehouse that were fully equipped with all the supplies you’d need to role play in all of those situations. In the center of the little town was the “bank” where different ATM-style screens offered a variety of games related to counting and using money. There was a dance area with dance floor, special lighting and buttons to choose different styles of music. It’s not surprising that this area was very popular with our kids.
But the Lindström kids’ clear favorite was the theater room. There was a small stage area, complete with choices of backdrops, costumes and props in the front. In the back, a sound and lighting table allowed kids to change the lighting and add sound effects to their production. And it definitely was a production when all was said and done.
I haven’t listed all the different areas of the museum, but most of them. We didn’t spend time in the areas specifically designated for toddlers, so I can’t comment on those. The museum isn’t huge and it isn’t hard to see everything in a short time. But each area is so creative and so inspires the imagination that when given free reign to play in this museum, it isn’t hard for kids to fill a day in just a few of the exhibits. We are huge believers in the importance of play and wish that all kids could have easy access to this type of museum!
We were there shortly after they opened for the day and stayed until closing, except for a lunch break. No outside food is allowed in the museum. There is a Subway just inside the entrance, but we had packed a picnic and chose to go to the park just outside the museum to soak in some sunshine and eat. At closing time, two of the museum employees gathered up all the kids and organized them into a parade through the museum ending at the exit. It’s adorable. There weren’t so many kids in the parade – it wasn’t very crowded that day and most of the kids that were there had left earlier. But what a great way to make closing time fun, without the inevitable tears that come when overtired kids are forced to leave a place that’s so much fun. High five, Glazer!
*About the ASTC Passport Program: The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) has a reciprocal membership program similar to the AZA program we described in a previous post. Our annual membership at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, which is a Passport Program member, gives us free entry to other program member museums, excluding those within 90 miles of our home museum or our home address. We support the work of a museum that we love and save a ton of money on fun, educational experiences for the whole family. Kind of a no-brainer.
On our last night in the Tampa area we stayed at an Encore park called Winter Quarters Manatee, just off I-75 in Bradenton. This certainly isn’t our favorite campground so far, but it was much better than Vacation Village, and if we visit the Tampa area again we would try to stay here.
Our site was small and angled strangely. At most campgrounds, the sites are more or less in rows, but this one really seemed to be trying to max out and use up every oddly shaped bit of land they had. It was level enough that we could keep the trailer hitched to the car, which was great since we were only staying one night and needed an early start in the morning. All the kids cared about was that they had a heated pool, so they were happy. There was some kind of problem with the water system while we were there and they recommended that all water be boiled – which was very inconvenient – but doable for just one night. I would assume that problem is resolved by now.
Tampa is an area that certainly offers a lot more than we were able to take advantage of. We really enjoyed our short stay, and like so many other places, it’s on our list of places we’d like to go back to sometime.
Any other tips for the Tampa area that we should remember for next time?
Posted in Campground Reviews, Explore and tagged ASTC Passport, Bradenton FL, Encore Florida, Florida RV parks, Glazer Children's Museum, Largo FL, Tampa Bay, Tampa FL, thousand trails, Vacation Village, Winter Quarters Manatee by Christine with no comments yet.