There aren't many places where families can get close to exotic animals one minute, hop on a roller coaster the next, and then settle in for a live musical performance. Busch Gardens Tampa combines the wonders of the natural world with opportunities to feel a little like those animals, perhaps by zipping along on the Cheetah Hunt coaster or getting an eagle's-eye view from the Skyride.
Each area of the park offers shopping and dining to match its region's theme. Among them is Pantopia, a fully remodeled wonderland featuring thrilling rides, new global culinary options, and an indoor theater, along with many other attractions and entertainments such as Falcon?s Fury, Busch Gardens? newest thrill machine.
Someone's little brother shrieks, mournful at being too small to play laser tag with his cousins. Another youngster wants to bowl, but can’t pick up the ball. To Terrace Sports's manager, John McMillan, these are simple problems. A crew member scurries through the laser-tag arena, holding the toy gun for the little boy who would otherwise be too small to play. Another sets up a ramp at the top of a bowling lane, helping the toddler to push the ball into the pins with a satisfying clatter.
Smiling on as his staff solves such crises, McMillan strolls through Terrace Sports, which he remodeled after taking the reins from his father. Leading the way to the laser-tag arena, skating-rink, indoor-climbing wall, bowling alley, and arcade, murals stretch down the entryway, saluting the nearby Hillsborough River with more than 85 depictions of the waterway’s inhabitants, dynamic ecosystem, and naturally occurring steamboats. The entryway leads to the snack bar, where a full menu of gator tail, buffalo burgers, and sweet-potato fries glide down countertops handcrafted from teak and embellished by solid-brass elephant heads.
Entering the laser-tag arena gives one the sensation of delving into the interior of a complex machine, with mechanical parts strung with LED lights lining the walls and generating an eerie glow. Imaginations run wild as players choose to take on roles as monarchy loyalists or rebel forces, with both sides fighting for command of the heart of the machine and firing at one another's bases. The guns, powered by unlimited ammo, unleash streams of crimson and emerald light, and fiber-optic aiming ensures pinpoint accuracy. Vests beep when another player is taking aim, giving warriors a moment to find obstacles to hide behind or nearby portraits of themselves to hide in front of. On an observation deck, cheers rise from friends and chaperones as a 32-inch monitor displays scoring and live footage from six in-arena cameras.
Named one of USA Today's Top Ten Skating Rinks in 2008, USA Skateplex sends eight-wheelers careening around a skating arena, competing in a full arcade, and snacking at concession stands. During public skate sessions, freewheelers strap on their own blades or a rental pair of old-school four-bangers and do the counter-clockwise coast to DJ hits. Pairs of floating friends can take a breather for intermittent soda and arcade breaks; groups of four get twice as many game tokens and a large cheese pizza to salten the deal.
Named by USA Today as one of the top 10 roller-skating destinations in the country, United Skates of America in Tampa provides indoor family fun with a spacious rink and various skating games. Jam skating combines dancing and gymnastic moves set to Top 40 hits, and skating limbo blends the formerly disparate joys of rollerblading and chiropractic therapy. When fatigued by the rigors of the rink, children can refuel on pizza and soda at the snack bar. Inside the arcade, they enjoy games of air hockey and Ms. Pac Man, which teaches kids the importance of a nutritious diet high in fruit and ghosts.
The Tampa Bay Derby Darlins' teams bash up all comers and one another in intense, low-friction combat. Spectators catch the action at the Skateplex in Temple Terrace, where they may choose between safely sequestered viewing space or front-row "suicide seats," (18 and older only), which quicken pulses and energize parent-teacher conferences thanks to the possibility a crashing skater colliding into you. Root for a favorite team or skater nickname before settling into the high-velocity excitement of each bout where, in two 30-minute periods, jammers infiltrate the pack, blockers strive to keep rivals at bay, and both sides rush to the oft-occupied penalty box to share victory haikus.
At Cinco Soccer, coaches don't just help others play one of the most popular sports in the world: they also specialize in a unique style of play that's growing in popularity throughout Europe and South America. The all-weather athletic facility hosts two springy, rubber in-fill turf fields that are regulation-sized for five-a-side, a play scenario that pits teams of five against each other on a smaller field using a slightly smaller ball. Players can put these arenas to the test in Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday night-leagues for adults and reanimated stone gargoyles. Meanwhile, children's lessons held on a kid-sized five-a-side field instill universal soccer fundamentals from dribbling to shooting. The training facility also features a soccer-themed pub equipped with big-screen TVs and private rooms for children's birthday parties.