Tampa, Florida (December 2014)

My in laws were vising during the fall/winter of 2014 for the holidays so we wanted to plan a trip to take a break from the cold New England weather. We thought it would be a good opportunity to visit family in Tampa since it had been a really long time since my in laws had seen them in Turkey. We only had enough vacation time to visit during a long weekend, so we booked our flight and were on our way.

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It was the first time Alara and I had met these family members, but they were extremely welcoming and were wonderful hosts. We instantly felt at home there and felt like I’ve known them for years. And Alara LOVED their dog, Hido!

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Since we only had a few days in Florida, we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather and visit a couple of theme parks while also spending some quality time with family.

Universal Studios

Since we had been to the original Universal Studios theme park, we decided to visit the Island of Adventures this time.

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While overall it was a fun theme park and we loved the Harry Potter ride, it was not worth going with a toddler even if she was free. The majority of the rides are either motion/simulator rides or thriller-type roller coasters. In my opinion, Universal Studios in general is geared towards much older kids or even teenagers and young adults. It was hard for us to go on rides since we had to take turns staying with Alara and the lines were pretty long, on average 40 min to an hour. Our biggest mistake was not going into the Dr. Seuss section first. That is pretty much the only toddler-friendly section of the park. By the time we got there, it was the last section of the park and we were just ready to leave since Alara didn’t take a nap and was pretty miserable by the end of the evening. Oh well, at least she met Wolverine and rode a Cheetah.

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My mother in law did go on the Incredible Hulk roller coaster which was pretty impressive since it was her first theme park ride ever!

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Siesta Beach

We decided to spend some time as a family and go to Siesta Key together, which is about an hour away from Tampa. This beach was really beautiful with such white, soft sand and gorgeous blue views of the Gulf of Mexico. Alara also loved the seagulls!

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Tarpon Springs/Clearwater/St. Petersberg

We thought it would be good to bring my in laws to see Disney World for their first time ever, but after our experience at Universal, I decided it would be best to stay local with Alara. I’ve never been to the Clearwater/St. Petersberg area so I thought it would be great to see it and spend some time with Sabiha. Our first stop was Tarpon Springs, which is a beautiful little seaport town (even though it’s technically a city) and has the highest percentage of Greek Americans than any other city in the US.

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They are also well known for their natural sea sponges. Overall, it was a great little place to walk around downtown and enjoy the salty fresh air.

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Our next stop was in Clearwater. I was very impressed with Clearwater Beach. Beautiful resorts, white sand, clear Gulf waters and plenty of activities and fun things to do with kids. There are many restaurants, shops and entertainers nearby at Pier 60 and the Beach Walk. There was also a pretty impressive playground area right near the beach that Alara loved. I would absolutely love to come back to Clearwater when it’s not winter and I’m sure Alara would agree!

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We got to St. Petersberg just around sundown and enjoyed walking around downtown. There are lots of great restaurants and seems like the city has a nice night life. With an average of 361 days of sunshine each year, how could it not be great?

We ended our night with a dinner at the Golden Corral. We always try to visit one when we travel down south and it was not a disappointment. Alara ate the most she did the whole time we were down here, so she must have loved it too!

It was so nice to get away from the chilly, winter weather and enjoy some sunshine while spending time with family. We would definitely love to come back to visit, I’m sure Alara will miss Hido soon enough!

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P.S. For a good 6 months or more, Alara called every dog (real or stuffed animal) Hido. The name really stuck with her!

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