Details: Tampa, Fla.
The western Florida city on Tampa Bay is gentle in size and ego. It has the hallmarks of the Sunshine State, including palm trees, brown pelicans and Southern kindness, but none of the artifice of, say, Orlando or Miami. The downtown area, the center of convention action, is undergoing a growth spurt; cranes dot the waterfront and optimistic signs describe future projects. In addition, sports, museums and nature tug at the sleeve, demanding your attention.
One at a time, children. With three days in Tampa, we’ll get to all of you.
With no Google assistance, I can now name all of Tampa Bay’s pro teams: the Tampa Bay Rays, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. I can also ace the tougher trivia: In the spring, the Yankees train at the George M. Steinbrenner Field, which is also the home of the minor leaguers, the Tampa Yankees. That’s a lot of game for one town.
Unfortunately, most of the teams were away during my recent stay; same deal during the GOP event (I checked; you’re welcome). But thankfully, convention-goers won’t be reduced to watching aerial seagull wrestling or egret fishing competitions.
The Raymond James Stadium indulges visitors’ football fantasies with year-round tours of the Buccaneers’ home turf. Our guide started the hour-long outing with the Super Bowl of Fan Moments, letting us roam free on the field. While Peter Pans in football jerseys wandered off to phantom-kick field goals, Marissa encouraged our remaining pod to “feel” the Tifton 319 Bermuda grass. I appreciate a tour that lets you touch the art.
We followed her into the locker room, where posters warn players about concussions, drug use, bribes and gambling. Although the team has won the Super Bowl only once (after the 2002 season), the locker room restores confidence with its esteemed title of best-smelling changing room in the league. (Another proud accomplishment: No. 1 in beer sales. “Yay us,” said Marissa.)
Set loose to explore again, I wandered into the nine-foot-tall showers and peeked into a bathroom stall, where my assumption was confirmed: The toilet seat was up.
The ceilings grow even higher in the club lounge and restaurant, where indoor palm trees stretch their fronds. The expansive windows overlook the athletes’ parking lot, which transforms during the season into a fancy car show. “People like to watch the players come out of their cars,” Marissa said.