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Published:October 31st, 2005 14:32 EST
Leaving on a Jet Plane -- to Tampa, Florida

Leaving on a Jet Plane -- to Tampa, Florida

By S Renee Greene

Avast ye and ahoy mates! Swashbuckling. Pirates. Buccaneers. Those are single words (fighting words?) that conjure up danger, intrigue, swordfights-duels to the death, and gangplank walking ... and the name of the local football team. A look back into Tampa Bay`s history gives away long-held secrets about how the area was settled and it`s not a pretty one, nor one that should make Tampa Bay residents necessarily proud. Its history, nevertheless, is something that can`t be changed. Founded in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, La Florida ( the flower ") was the official name of all of Spain`s holdings in North America and east of Mexico. In 1821, the United States government acquired Florida from the Spaniards, and in the 1830s decided to remove all Floridian native Americans to Indian " territory in the West (what is now known as Oklahoma) to resolve conflict between the Seminoles and white settlers. In 1834, more than 3,000 natives were ordered removed and sent westward. The good news (for what it`s worth) is that in 1985, a Tampa Seminole reservation opened.

Coming forward in history, Tampa Bay holds some surprising accomplishments in American history: It was where the first scheduled passenger airline flight took place, it holds title to some of the most magnificent lighthouses ever seen -- Egmost Key Light -- and is home to a place called Ybor City, one of Tampa Bay`s best known places for dining and partying. While I was there, I didn`t make it to Ybor City, unfortunately, though it came highly recommended by some locals, and my brother-in-law who used to live there in the 1980s.

I went there to spend a day or so at Busch Gardens and lived in a very luxurious Wyndham Harbour Island hotel only a few blocks from Channelside Drive for the week. My desire to visit Busch Gardens had gone on unsatisfied for almost 10 years; but my excitement diminished easily when I arrived and [shiver me timbers!] didn`t find the locals very friendly, or helpful. My brother-in-law, the former resident, said it could likely be attributed to Tampa`s stolid history and pirate-ridden past. A few cabbies and hotel attendants briskly answered some questions and gave me a few maps with directions and sent me on my way.

Jackson`s, just underneath the hotel overlooking the harbor that emptied into Tampa Bay, was a fresh seafood lover`s dream. I did find out the hard way that the public transport system, the Hartline, is not very useful for getting around Tampa in a timely manner, so taxis were in order for the remainder of my trip. My recommendation? Get a rental car while you`re still at the airport. I thoroughly enjoyed the Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens, however; while taking in two very good shows (a little too old for the "ride` thing, which a young college student told me was the best thing going at Busch). I found Ka`Tonga -- Musical Tales from the Jungle and Moroccan Roll, a Britney Spears-like show on speed, the most delightful part of my day in the park. The Ka`Tonga show ended with a shower of color paper butterflies all over the theater and I caught a few as they drifted into my box seat near stage center; I daresay, I had a moment where I relived my childhood all over again. I guess it depends on how old you are what you may enjoy the most.

Would I return to Tampa again? Most definitely! I didn`t get enough of Busch Gardens and there were many other places I wanted to visit, including Ybor City. Next time, though, I will take a travel partner with me -- it`ll give me someone to talk to.