It's Sunday, May 1st and finally after months of planning and waiting, it's Day One of our Caribbean cruise.  Carl, our shuttle driver from the Hampton Inn, dropped us off at the Port of Tampa cruise terminal along with 3 other couples who also stayed at the Hampton Inn.  But it is only 11:30 when we reach the check-in area of the cruise ship.  Technically, we still can't board for another half-hour.  What to do?

Literally right across the street is the Florida Aquarium.  Why not spend a couple of hours here?  So, we gave our big luggage to the porters at the cruise terminal and walked across the street to the Aquarium.
What a fantastic aquarium!

Nice teeth!

This lobster won't end up on someone's dinner plate!

Plus, he has lots of friends.

There were beautiful sea urchins...

Sea turtles...

Freshwater turtles...

A big moray eel...

Delicate-looking seahorses...


Lots of fish...

In all shapes...
And colors...
Plus, many species of our feathered friends...
We had so much fun at this aquarium.  What an unexpected treat!  But it's time to leave and board our cruise ship.  We had a great view of the ship from the Aquarium...
but now I'm ready to check in, see our cabin with its balcony, get rid of these bags we've been carrying and most importantly: EAT.  Carnival Legend...here we come!

The Florida Aquarium is located in downtown Tampa at Channelside directly across from the cruise terminal.

Photo courtesy of www.flaquarium.org.
The Florida Aquarium
Tampa, FL 33602
Phone: 813-273-4000

Open daily 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

For more information visit: http://www.flaquarium.org/



I can't believe we've already been home two weeks from our long-planned Caribbean cruise.  We love cruising.  This was our fourth. 

We live much closer to O'Hare, but we decided to save on baggage fees and fly Southwest Airlines from Midway Airport to Tampa.  It's amazing that I can travel to Europe for 8 days with my sister and pack everything in one carry-on suitcase.  For this 7-day cruise we had two large suitcases, one suit bag and one carry-on bag full of toiletry items.  Well, they do have two formal dinners on a 7-day cruise, plus there's swimsuits, casual dinner clothes, so several suitcases were necessary...for my husband.

Oops!  I put all the toiletry items in several Ziploc bags in the carry-on bag.  Thankfully the TSA guy just told me how I was supposed to pack liquids in the carry-on instead of confiscating them.

My husband works near Midway airport so we parked our car in the parking lot of his job.  A friend drove us to the airport.  Below is our plane:

It was worth the extra fee so we could board early.  Remember no assigned seats on Southwest.  We got close to the front!
We flew down to Tampa the day before the cruise left.  I love staying at Hampton Inn hotels.  They're reasonably priced and you get free breakfast.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn near the airport.

What a convenience.  Hotel courtesy shuttle from the airport and to the port: NO EXTRA CHARGE!  Plus the shuttle would drive you anywhere within a 3-mile radius of the hotel.  Carl, the shuttle driver, was so nice!  That's him on the right.

We were starving but we never should have eaten at the Cheesecake Factory.  What is it with these huge portions? Three people could have split that cheeseburger!  Who has room for cheesecake after eating this?

And we have reservations at Ruth's Chris for dinner tonight!  I know you're supposed to eat on vacation, but...

I know now I'm not in cold, rainy Chicago anymore.  Palm trees in the mall.

Hey, we're on vacation.  Let's sit down in the middle of the afternoon and have a beer.  Now that's a cool set of draft beer pulls in Bar Louie!

Someplace we've always wanted to eat was at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.  The Ruth's Chris in Tampa is right next to our hotel.  OMG!  $126.16 for dinner!  Thank goodness for that $100 gift card I got by cashing in those debit card points.  The food was good...but not worth $126.16.  That's a only-once-in-a-lifetime experience.

That was our day in Tampa.  Tomorrow we finally board our cruise ship.  Stay tuned!

Our Hotel:
Hampton Inn Tampa-International Airport/Westshore
4817 W. Laurel Street
Tampa, Florida, USA 33607
Tel:  813.287.0778
Fax:  813.287.0882

We visited:
International Plaza Mall, an upscale mall two miles from the hotel.

We ate at:
Ruth's Chris Steak House
1700 N. Westshore Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33607
Phone: 813.282.1118
Fax: 813.281.0982
Email: tampa@ruthschris.com