After becoming a success in the railroad and steamship industries, 1800s businessman Henry B. Plant set his sights on a new venture: building a luxury hotel near Florida's cerulean shores. His vision landed him in an area that was but swampland and sand in 1889 Tampa. But three years and $3,000,000 later—including $500,000 in furniture and art—he successfully opened The Tampa Bay Hotel, a 511-room luxury destination sprawled over six acres.
Today, Henry's architectural and engineering feat serves as the home of the Henry B. Plant Museum, an institution that educates visitors on Plant's life, the Victorian period, and life in early Tampa. Among the building's groundbreaking aspects, the hotel was among the first in Florida to feature electrified rooms and pampered guests with in-house billiards, a babershop, and a telegraph office. His guests even enjoyed in-room telephones and private baths with hot and cold running water, a lofty accomplishment considering man wouldn't invent soap for another 13 years. The museum has now been restored to its former glory, showering current visitors in Victorian opulence, art, and its historic achievements.
Since its construction in 1944, the 455-foot SS American Victory has weathered quite a few storms, including World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. From those storms, the steamship developed a rich history filled with stories that echo throughout its three-level cargo holds, hospital, flying bridge, mess halls, crew cabins, and lifeboats. Located in downtown Tampa, behind The Florida Aquarium, the cargo vessel now serves as a museum with exhibits showcasing rare artifacts including photographs, uniforms, medals, documents, and naval gear. Guests on the shipboard museum may take in the history at their own pace with self-guided tours, or book a guided tour led by knowledgeable docents able to walk backward as smoothly as Michael Jackson.
The Florida Aquarium gives families a glimpse into the mysteries and magic of the undersea world and some of the land that surrounds it. The new Journey to Madagascar exhibit provides a look into the island's unique wildlife and diverse geography as well as the nearby Indian Ocean coral reef. The marine life exhibits spotlight the creatures that live in the bay or deeper underwater, even allowing kids to touch rays and sharks at Stingray Beach or lock eyes with sea turtles. Kids also see the sights of a 60-foot dive at the coral-reef exhibit's walk-through tunnel, whose underwater coral cave and brightly colored fish earned the aquarium a place in Parents magazine's top 10 aquariums for kids. A trip down the Wetlands Trail allows visitors to get face to face with playful otters and more circumspect Burmese pythons, while the Penguin Point opens a window into the lives of the best dressed of the flightless water birds.