Tampa resident and history lover Lonnie Herman’s longtime fascination with the haunted has evolved into a broad expertise about the area's vibrant streets where newspapers are printed in three languages. The personable former executive also has the gift of being an evocative storyteller. This convergence of interest and talents resulted in Lonnie's company, Ybor City Historic Walking Tours. Lonnie's upbeat narration carries small groups down vibrant 7th Avenue with detailed anecdotes that reveal the complex past behind Ybor City's cigar factories, Columbia Restaurant, and the story of the eponymous Vicente Martinez-Ybor, who founded the city as a place to store his statues of himself.
A pirate ship hangs suspended in midair. Tennis balls rocket toward the ceiling. Plastic robots jolt to life. Recipient of a 2008 MetLife Foundation award for promising practices, Great Explorations Children's Museum incites creativity and inventiveness from visitors of all ages with a constantly rotating lineup of interactive exhibits that fill 18,000 square feet with touch, light, and sound. Pulley towers allow children to hoist themselves into the air, and a mock fire station thrills wee visitors with a fire engine, child-sized firefighters' gear, and microscopic dalmatians. Museum guides lead lesson programs in a multidisciplinary style, though visitors can also find the friendly professionals and their orange polo shirts bouncing between exhibits while performing science experiments, dancing, and playing music.
Themed events let visitors discover the museum's potential through focuses such as "Superhero Saturday," "Slightly Spooky Boo!seum," and "Winter Wonderland," and seasonal camps explore annual topics such as the life cycle of a bunsen burner.
The thrum of the speedboat's engine carries through the water like an ice-cream truck's jingle. A 4-foot-high wake trails behind, fanning out into a fork as the speed increases and the passengers ready their cameras. Soon, a glistening fin breaks the surface. The first bottlenose dolphin seems to levitate on top of the wave while it bodysurfs for the sheer fun of it, then disappears back into the sea. Its pod follows suit, leaping, splashing, and riding the swells, soaking up the attention of the human spectators.
Sights like this are typical on the Dolphin Racer Speed Boat. The sunny yellow craft skirts across the Gulf of Mexico on 60- to 75-minute trips while up to 125 people lounge on the open deck and the captain narrates the sights of the passing beaches. Ample viewing space ensures that cameras can capture split-second jumps and spins when the dolphins heed the call to play. Whether it's because of the thrill of breaching, the pride in their celebrity status, or an underwater bet to see who can communicate with humans first, the dolphins' presence is virtually guaranteed—the boat offers a complimentary future cruise in the case of no-shows.
In the middle of Saint Petersburg surrounded by tall buildings and shopping malls lies a 100-year-old oasis of waterfalls and lush plant life. Sunken Gardens, one of the city’s oldest living museums, surrounds visitors with a thriving ecosystem of more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. Winding paths lead explorers around rivers and ponds filled with fish and turtles. Flamingos walk the banks as passersby spy parrots and admire butterflies gliding from flower to flower. The tranquil gardens also host educational events and daily yoga sessions that help ease stress generated by everyday lives and not being able to touch your left elbow with your left hand.
Sweetwater Kayak’s self-guided kayak tours give seafarers a quiet look at the ecosystems of Weedon Island without the clamor and commotion of a motorboat or secret-service motorcade. Paddling patrons can wind along the 4-mile marked trail, across crystalline lagoons and under mangrove tunnels in hopes of seeing a resident bird, dolphin, or manatee. Each floating foray lasts up to four hours and provides a panorama of pristine environments and a glimpse into the life of Blackbeard. Sweetwater Kayaks will provide the necessary vessels, paddles, life vests, and trail maps, and Groupon holders can check here for a list of other supplies they need to bring (which can be purchased at Sweetwater Kayaks if they forget).
LED lights glimmer in the dark, illuminating St. Petersburg's scenic streets. As the lights loom closer, they reveal a steel behemoth whose deck is serving as a stage for neon-clad '80s pop stars cycling in tandem and one lone acrobat steadying himself for a mid-motion keg stand. Though this doesn't happen every night, Rhett Reynolds and Daniel O'Brien have hosted several strange occurrences ever since they moved their pedal-bus pub crawls from the Twin Cities to sunnier climes. City Cycle Tours' four-wheeled, pedal-powered bus was designed and contracted by an independent engineering company and transports 14 passengers past the city's scenic sights and to an array of drinking establishments.
The blue-and-silver craft coasts along with minimal passenger effort at no more than 6 miles per hour as participants sit beneath a pounding six-speaker sound system and wide canopy, safe from the eyes of bird paparazzi. Dual 66-liter coolers carry riders' nonalcoholic libations, but the craft also boasts enough room to accommodate a half keg. Groups roll along guided by LED blinkers and headlights, kept buoyant with full suspension. The company's designated drivers hold taxi licenses and reflect a cabbie's knowledge of road etiquette and avoiding jousting matches as they ferry their charges through city parks and along piers.