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Only the Drinks Are Frozen in Tampa


When most people think of things to do for New Year’s Eve, water activities don’t come to mind. The weather in most parts of the U.S. simply doesn’t allow it. But Tampa, Fla., begs to differ. In fact, water ended up being sort of a theme during my New Year’s Eve visit to the city.

My first stop in this aquatic city was the Marriott Waterside downtown. As the name suggests, the building sits no more than a few steps from a riverside dock. With it being a football weekend, boats were lined up along the side of the riverwalk adjacent to the building with people casually tailgating—or maybe it’s boatgating. During the day, the rear patio was an awesome spot to soak up some sun and enjoy the boating crowd and passersby, and it only got better at night when the ambiance and fires were both turned up.

The rooftop pool also didn’t disappoint; it was a pleasant open layout with plenty of corners to utilize for event space. I may or may not have indulged in a pre-New-Year’s-Eve nap on that pool deck. After all, it was going to be a late night.

I was most impressed with the hotel’s main four-story high atrium. I’m a natural light snob, and the atrium was exactly what I like: tons of it coming through both the front and back of the building. I learned that the hotel is undergoing some major renovations, some modern stylistic updates and big plans for another hotel connected by skybridge to make meeting and event space—and guest rooms—more plentiful and accessible than the current 50,000 square feet. The hotel expansion is really reflective of the city of Tampa in that sense—lots of development and really big things coming down the pipeline.

After settling in, I made the long trek to the water simply by crossing the street. There’s a waterside bar there called The Sail Pavilion. It’s a pretty fun spot for a dog-friendly, cabana-style bar, and I always love a place that’s got just the right size crowd.

We had made friends pretty quickly, but found that with all of the water-related activities available we’d be splitting up already and meeting back for more nautical adventures later in the day. Our friends elected for some paddleboarding in the bay. Even with a healthy amount of boat traffic, the water scene is quite peaceful for a manned paddleboard adventure. No wetsuits needed—even in December.

My crew, on the other hand, took to the air. We viewed the Neptunian city’s landscape through the lens of a helicopter tour with Old City Helicopters on Davis Island. From there, we were able to trace the path of the famous Gasparilla Pirate Fest and could only imagine how lively the city becomes as hundreds of pirate ships invade to turn thousands of responsible onlookers into buccaneers and swashbucklers. We were also able to get the birds-eye view of how much space there is to breathe in Tampa. It’s not a crowded place, and even with the development plans in motion, there’s enough real estate so that the growth will only serve to complement the pace of the city.

We finally reconnected with our Ohio friends for more seafaring when we shared an eBoat. We were blessed with a captain for ours so that we could peacefully navigate, though I would’ve preferred the two-man vessels that sit a foot above the water. Imagine go-carts for the sea. Alas, I was burdened with wine, cheese and a tour guide. Not to mention the best nap-weather you could ask for. I’m not sure which was better, the feel of the sun, the cool breeze of the boat’s oceangoing or the informative and relaxing eBoats Tampa tour of the city.

After a phenomenal meal (even for a picky eater like me) at the hotel’s in-house restaurant, Il Terrazzo, we walked a few blocks in more pleasant weather and boarded our yacht for the night, the Yacht StarShip. From the open deck, we enjoyed music, champagne and, of course, New Year’s Eve fireworks amid the charming Tampa skyline.


Where to Eat

Ulele: If there was ever a perfect word to describe this restaurant, it would be “eclectic.” This open kitchen restaurant is a tasteful and rustic hodgepodge of nursery rhyme statues, sports paraphernalia, abstract art, stained glass, Peruvian sculptures and more—all while somehow paying homage to Florida’s Native American Heritage through it’s aesthetic as well as its ingredients. I ate the filet mignon with white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes and chef’s vegetables, and a dessert of Key West Key Lime pie and a brûléed meringue, all prepared by executive chef Eric Lackey. 

Where to Drink

The newest, hottest bar in town, of course: American Social. I love the name; it’s understated and just exudes power. The bar is right on the water; it’s a beast of a bar with multiple rooms and a great balance of indoor and outdoor space. It was well attended the night we went (the day before New Year’s Eve) and boasts a classy, modern design with a somewhat younger crowd. We sat outside by the fire, enjoying drinks and people watching. When I come back to Tampa, I’ll definitely be revisiting American Social. Good energy, stylish people and a waitress who said I was cute.

About the Author

Alex Luna

Alex Luna is currently an employee at San Jose State University in California with plans to pursue an MBA. He graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with degrees in Marketing and Psychology. While at UTD, he was a student member of MPI as well as an attendee of IMEX in Frankfurt as the recipient of the Larry Lee Memorial Scholarship.