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Gather on the Gulf

Tampa offers vivacious culture and hospitality for attendees

By Linden M. Bayliss

The Pirate Water Taxi and Tampa Convention Center
The Pirate Water Taxi and Tampa Convention Center || Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

On Florida’s stunning Gulf Coast lies a beautiful city rich in culture and history. Tampa, Florida, is part of the larger Tampa Bay region, a major metropolitan area in the west-central part of the state that also includes Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The region is home to 3 million people, and Tampa stands as Florida’s third-largest city. Here, attendees can experience it all—from mock pirate invasions to fine dining to water taxi rides—all while staying in one of the city’s many convenient hotels.

Vibe: “Vibrant, bold, adventurous. With a heaping side of sophistication and luxury.” Those words are the first that come to the mind of Visit Tampa Bay’s President and CEO Santiago
C. Corrada when asked about the city. Tampa is known for its spectacular annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival and is one of the Florida cities that helped popularize the beloved Cuban sandwich as it is known today. The Cuban influence on the city’s culture can be found and appreciated all over Tampa in the artwork, cuisine, and historic cigar shops and factories.

The historic district of Ybor City || Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Transportation: “Getting around Tampa is a breeze,” says Corrada. For example, Tampa International Airport is an 11-minute drive away from the Tampa Convention Center. Once in the heart of the city, attendees will find it offers many options for getting around. One of the best is the free TECO Line Streetcar, available to shuttle attendees to and from meetings in both downtown Tampa and the historic neighborhood of Ybor City. The streetcar runs every 12 minutes during peak hours.

Hotels: There is no shortage of options near the convention center—in fact, there are 3,000 hotel rooms within five blocks of it. Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Center is connected to the Tampa Convention Center. The JW Marriott Tampa Water Street in Tampa’s Water Street wellness district is conveniently connected to the Tampa Marriott Water Street; the two hotels have a combined 1,250 rooms and 125,000 square feet of function space.

Restaurants: If attendees are looking for upscale dining, Tampa Bay has several Michelin 1-star restaurants: Rocca is an Italian concept offering an assortment of house-made pastas showcasing classic flavors, and Lilac—within The Tampa Edition hotel—features Mediterranean and French-inspired cuisine. Attendees shouldn’t leave Tampa without trying a Cuban sandwich, of course—for one of the best, check out Columbia Restaurant and La Segunda Bakery in Ybor City—both winners of Best Cuban Sandwich in Tampa Magazine. Columbia offers group dining, and La Segunda has catering options for events.

Pirate ship  at Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Pirate ship at Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival || Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Must-Sees and -Dos: “Where do we start?” asks Corrada. “From rolling handmade cigars to sinking your teeth into an original Cuban sandwich, the possibilities are endless,” he says. “[Groups] can stroll our scenic Tampa Riverwalk and experience savory restaurants, attractions, and more. Whether you walk, bike, or boat, the views are second to none. Take a ride on the Pirate Water Taxi to learn about the history of Downtown Tampa as you glide along the Hillsborough River or hop on the streetcar to Ybor City.”