When we think of April Fools’ Day (or Poisson d’avril in French), the first thing that comes to mind are the best tricks and pranks that we can play on other people. With the word “poisson” (or fish in English) in mind on our trip to Tampa, we took a short stroll down Channelside Drive to explore The Florida Aquarium, home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals from Florida and around the globe. If you’re looking to get up close and personal with some of the most interesting specimens the sea has to offer, this place will not disappoint!
Stingray exhibits are among the more popular attractions at the aquarium. At Stingray Beach, you can actually touch a variety of different species of stingrays, including Southern Rays and Blue Spotted Rays while walking along a boardwalk. As intimidating as they might look, don’t be intimidated by these venomous creatures at all. They’ll typically only resort to using one or more of their barbed stingers if they feel threatened.
It’s safe to say sharks are naturally intimidating. Here’s the proof! The Florida Aquarium, however, can help anyone overcome their fear of these daunting creatures. They actually offer a unique opportunity for certified divers to head into this very tank and be surrounded by everything from massive sharks and eels to barracuda and sea turtles. Talk about the experience of a lifetime.
While marine life might be fairly harmonious, wars are likely waged every now and again. Case in point was this epic tilt between a pair of otters during our visit. It’s a good indication of how things should go down when the Canadiens and Lightning do battle at the Tampa Bay Times Forum during our stay. We, of course, plan on coming out on top!
When you find yourself in Tampa Bay, time is best spent outside. Nevertheless, a visit inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum to check out a Lightning game can yield some interesting finds. We begin with the two large Tesla coils that are used to generate lightning bolts inside the building. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to take shots of them in action. Imagine, however, a sudden burst of lightning inside your house. Scary, isn’t it?
Another interesting facet of the arena is the rather enormous organ situated in the upper bowl. While it boasts rather impressive pipes, it actually runs on digital technology alone and is composed of five separate keyboards that can generate up to 42 different sounds through no less than 260 speakers. It ranks as the largest digital organ in the world.
At the same time that the arena underwent a name change from the St. Pete Times Forum to the Tampa Bay Times Forum back in 2012, the rink was privy to a major upgrade – a state-of-the-art giant scoreboard that would make any hardcore sports fan jealous. Anyone who thinks they made a tremendous Boxing Day purchase by picking up a new 57-inch TV might think again when they see this monster device. The scoreboard’s two largest displays measure approximately 28 feet high by 50 feet wide. Two accompanying side panels at each end come in at 28 feet high and 20 feet wide.
Right across from the Tamps Bay Times Forum, located in the Channelside district of Tampa you’ll find an art gallery unlike any other you’re apt to come across. Wandering through the area ahead of the Habs’ match-up with the Lightning, we passed by a storefront window and couldn’t help but notice this awesome and hilarious statue of Bill Murray (pictured below in Caddyshack attire) staring out at us. The gallery displaying the sculpture is David O’Keefe Pop Culture Icons, and trust us, if you’re a fan of pop culture in any way, you’ll have a blast checking it out. A local illustrator that began his career as a promotional artist for the Tampa Tribune, O’Keefe has now made a career painting and sculpting beloved pop culture icons. From Seinfeld to the Godfather to Mohammed Ali and Tim Tebow you’re bound to find something you want to take home. Check out more of his work at davidokeefe.com, and David, if you’re reading this – your next project: A painting of the 2012-13 edition of the Montreal Canadiens please.
If you’re a cigar lover, Tampa Bay’s Ybor city is probably the place for you. The neighborhood, founded in 1880 by cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor and populated by mostly Spanish, Italian and Cuban immigrants, is chalked full of tobacco shops and was mostly known for its cigar manufacturing before becoming the tourist destination it is today. Visiting one of the shops (complete with cigar store Indian out front) we came across one of the craziest cigars we’ve ever seen, which was actually three cigars intertwined, pictured below.
If smoking cigars isn’t quite your bag, head back to the Channelside district to pay a visit to the 250,000 square feet of marine magic that is the Florida Aquarium and see a slew of exotic fish and animals from around the world. On our way in, we were under the impression that if you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen ‘em all, but with a great lay out and some fantastic exhibits including this Tampa Bay Rays namesake, an hour later we were singing a different tune.
Rays were actually all over the place in this aquarium and even on display in a tank close to the entrance where visitors were invited to stick their hands into the water and give them a gentle poke. We also spent a few minutes checking out their newest exhibit – a bunch of tiger sharks that now call a basin containing 1.9 million liters of salt water at the Florida Aquarium their home.
Whenever the canadiens.com staff comes across a novelty landmark that’s listed as being “The Biggest Something in the World” you can pretty much bet it’s going into our On the Road Blog. We unexpectedly stumbled across such a landmark in Tampa Bay while wandering through the Channelside Mall located between the Aquarium of Florida and the home of the Lightning, the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Outside of a bowling alley aptly named “Splitsville” sits what according to Parade Magazine, is the largest bowling pin on earth.
Hooked by the ridiculously large pin, we entered to give the interior the once-over and discovered a luxury bowling alley and pool hall decked out in a retro 1950s malt shop aesthetic. In a glass case by the cash register we spotted numerous bowling pins autographed by celebrities that had made their way through the establishment at one time or another. Among them were stars from local teams like the Lightning, Buccaneers and Rays, and nestled between them all, even a pin signed by the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. Despite much pleading and attempted bribery, none of the staff would divulge what his average had been when he visited the lanes.
It might not be as elaborate as San Francisco’s, or even the one Montreal boasted in the early 1900s, but Tampa Bay’s cable cars are still a great way for anyone visiting the area to travel between different parts of the city. After disappearing from Tampa in 1946, the city finally opted to bring the classic mode of public transportation back on Oct. 19, 2002 with the electric “TECO Line” linking the Ybor City, Channelside and downtown districts together along 2.4 miles of track.
If you have over three hours to eat your meal and are looking for an original experience, Bern’s – listed as one of the Top 10 Steakhouses in the U.S. – is probably the place for you. Pretty much everything we ate was made from scratch by the restaurant itself – likely part of the reason that while touring through Bern’s sprawling kitchens we were explained that the preparation and storage areas of the establishment are actually way bigger than the dinning rooms themselves. To put that into perspective, the restaurant can seat nearly 400 people. Every cracker or piece of bread that came with our dinner was baked in-house; every vegetable organically grown by them, either in the restaurant or at the restaurant’s farm. The steaks would have made Queue de Cheval jealous, and the wine cellar is bigger than anything you’ve ever seen.
Comprised of “only” 100,000 bottles ranging from everyday to extremely rare, we were informed that what we were looking at only represented about 15% of the total collection – the other near-million bottles were stored at a warehouse within walking distance. The collection is the biggest of any restaurant in the world, and it definitely felt that way standing in among the never-ending rows of bottles.
Pay a visit to the Bell Centre for a game and you’re bound to notice the bronze statues of Canadiens legends adorning Centennial Plaza just outside the front doors. A few thousand kilometres south, Tampa has its own version of urban art decorating the path leading up to St. Pete Times Forum. This 75-foot triple-pronged lightning bolt statue has been welcoming Lighting fans to home games since 1997 – although it looks a lot more festive when the plaza is packed for the pre-game tailgate party.
The NHL’s annual Winter Classic provides players with an opportunity to relive some of their favourite childhood hockey memories. While the Habs won’t be playing in the great outdoors this season, they still managed to channel their inner Atom players in Tampa Bay, suiting up in full gear – minus skates – to board the team bus heading for the practice facility. Looks like the days of riding in mom’s minivan to the rink at 6:00 a.m. aren’t so far behind them afterall…