By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on May 20, 2013

What to do in Tampa before or after your cruise?

Tampa is a great destination – especially when you’ve only got a day or two on either side of a cruise. Here are my favorite activities for a short visit in the Tampa area.

Busch Gardens

A theme park to end all theme parks, Busch Gardens has some heart-stopping, blood-pumping rides. SheiKra, for instance, is America’s first dive coaster, dropping passengers quickly only to pick them up again. Kumba has a drop, too, boasting three seconds of weightlessness and one of the world’s largest vertical loops. In addition to rides, the park has dozens of animal attractions, such as the brand new live stage show “Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation.” With more than 135 acres overall, Busch Gardens requires at least a full day to take in everything.

Adventure Island

Adventure Island, Busch Garden’s water park, requires additional admission but is located right across the street. This park offers all the fun of spending the day at the beach without actually being at the beach. With corkscrew slides, waterfalls, a giant wave pool and a lazy river it’s a great way to cool off from the hot Florida sun. Our favorite feature: private cabanas; when the sun (and the bickering family standing next to you) becomes too much, you can retreat to your own private oasis. Most cabanas come with four lounge chairs, a locker, mini-fridge with cold beverages, and four souvenir towels.

Viewfinder Tip: When visiting the Tampa Museum of Art, grab a coffee (or a gelato) at the on-site Sono Café.

Other activities

Tampa has other great short-stay attractions. The Tampa Museum of Art shows world class traveling exhibitions, as well as contemporary and classical art. The Glazer Children’s Museum, just across the street, has 170 hands-on exhibits and a dozen themed areas, one of which is a Cruise Ship where kids pretend to be captains and pilot the ship to their destination.

How about a little sushi and bowling before you set sail? Just steps from the cruise terminal you’ll find Splittsville, where you can dine on everything from sushi to sliders. This bowling alley/dance club/restaurant also has a full-service bar, and their specialty is a variety of Schooner Cocktails with names like Kool-Aid Bowl, Hurricane Bowl and Beach Bowl. Consider yourself warned: The drinks are big enough to share.

Finally, if you enjoy fish, wander on down the road to the Florida Aquarium for a little stingray and shark feeding. This 250,000-square foot hotspot aims to entertain, educate, and inspire, and it is almost always ranked one of the best aquariums in the country. The kids will love getting wet in the waves, slides, and gushing geysers in the 2-acre outdoor water adventure zone. The parents will enjoy watching from beneath an umbrella at the Cantina Bar & Grill.

What’s your favorite thing to do before you cruise?