Tom’s passion is horse racing, and for his birthday this year, he wanted to visit a race track that he’d never been to. Out of a number of choices, based on convenience, cost, weather and other factors, his decision was a long weekend in Tampa, Florida, where he could see Tampa Downs.
I was more than happy to go there with him, since I had never been to the western side of Florida either, and I had several friends who live in the Tampa area and was happy for the opportunity to meet up with them.
So, being the CTP (Chief Travel Planner) of the family, I booked our flights and a room at the Homewood Suites in St. Petersberg, which was centrally located between some of the places we wanted to go (specifically Tampa Down, Clearwater, and Ybor). We headed out on a Friday morning, our goal being to have a relaxing, unstressful trip (for once) and soak up the Florida sun, while my daughter took care of the house and dogs for a few days.
Getting there is half the fun
When things go right, I thoroughly enjoy flying – and this was one of those times when everything did. Check-in and security at the airport went quickly and smoothly (Three thumbs up for Global Entry/TSA Pre-✓), and as usual, the Admiral’s Lounge at DFW was a nice place to while away the time before our flight started boarding.
The flight itself was also nice; we had two aisle seats and the people around us were “mostly harmless” (and small); the plane had wi-fi and our new T-Mobile plan provides for an hour of GoGo Inflight free, so we were able to use the Internet. I spent the rest of the time reading a book, and before I knew it, we were preparing for landing.
A quick side note: I almost always get good service from American Airlines and on this flight, as usual, the flight attendants were super attentive and friendly. There was a period of time following 9/11 when it seemed the airline crew members were always stressed, irritable, and on edge, but I haven’t seen that in the last several years.
In keeping with the day’s good luck, we landed smoothly at TPA, got our luggage quickly, and picked up our rental car without incident. The phone GPS and Waze app guided us to the hotel, where we were greeted by a very friendly desk clerk who checked us in quickly.
We picked Homewood Suites because we’d stayed at a couple in the Houston area that were extremely nice and a great value, with their large rooms, separate bedroom, full kitchen and dining area. This one was just as spacious, but the building, furniture and facilities were much older and hadn’t been updated. Still, it served the purpose with no major problems (though there were a few minor ones). It was clean, not too noisy, and hotel staff was responsive.
You can read my complete review of the hotel on the TripAdvisor.com web site.
Dinner at Luna
After traveling, we were hungry and looking for a nice restaurant that was close by. A web search revealed that there was a Hilton (Homewood’s “big sister”) just across the street, and the menu looked mouth-watering. One thing that’s nice about hotel restaurants is that even at the upscale ones, they usually don’t expect you to get all dolled up to eat there.
Both the hotel and the restaurant proved to be very nice, and nicely situated on a large pond/small lake. The atmosphere was relaxing and since we were there early, it wasn’t at all crowded. The hostess and servers were very pleasant and friendly. The Food channel was playing – silently, thank goodness – on a large wall-mounted flat-screen TV.
We started with drinks – Tom had a Manhattan and I had a piña colada, which was cold and refreshing but more on the “crushed ice” side than the “smooth and creamy” type that I prefer. Still, the taste was good and there was plenty of rum in it.
Tom ordered both a crab martini and something called Cremini Mushrooms, which was like a thick soup topped with Bleu cheese and served with grilled bread slices as appetizers. I ordered crab bisque but it didn’t arrive with the appetizers and I ended up eating most of the mushroom dish, which was absolutely wonderful.
As an entree, I ordered Chicken Scallopini. It consisted of very tender chunks of chicken breast and soft artichoke hearts with tomatoes and Boursin cheese all simmered in a creamy pesto sauce and poured over linguini. To say it was delicious would be an understatement. It was one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten.
Tom got a very large “Black and Bleu Bacon Burger” with peppered bacon and Cajun spices, and said it was extremely good. Neither of us had room for dessert after all that.
In fact, we needed to “walk it off” – and the location made it easy. Just outside running off the patio were multiple walking paths that go over the small lake there, and there was an abundance of wildlife, especially birds, that made it a great “back to nature” walk. It was a really pleasant way to wrap up a big meal and work off a few of the calories in a beautiful environment.
I would definitely return to this restaurant.
Going to the Dogs
Tom had discovered that a greyhound race track, Derby Lane, was nearby, and wanted to head over there and check it out after dinner. We drove down to the track and walked in just as they were gearing up for the next race. You could walk right up to the rail, which we did.
We didn’t stay long – but it was long enough for me to pick a winner – well, actually a “placer.” Anyway, I won some money.
After that, we headed back to the hotel to plot out what we were going to do and see on Saturday, which you can read about in Part Two.