The suitcases are filled, the back of the car is packed, and as soon as Elvis' catsitter arrives, we'll be on the road and in Tampa by dinner time. When preparing to sail from Fort Lauderdale or Miami our routine is pretty well established. Our destination is a "favorite" in the GPS and the car can almost find its own way down I-95 to our favorite pre-cruise hotel. However, Tampa is a new embarkation port for us. For a hotel and restaurants we turned to Chapter 3 (Embarkation Ports) in one of my favorite guidebooks, Fodor's Caribbean Ports of Call. I'm proud to be one of several dozen editorial contributors, but my area of expertise is the cruise content. For pre-cruise guidance, I'm following the advice of my fellow Fodor's writers, who really know their stuff.
Where to stay? The Hilton Garden Inn Tampa Ybor Historic District is "Highly Recommended" by Fodor's and we saved $30 a night by pre-paying at the time we made our reservation. The location is excellent—a block from the dining and entertainment palace Centro Ybor and less than two miles from Channelside, where the offical Tampa Bay Visitor's Center is located amid shops, restaurants, and clubs. The Florida Aquarium is also near by. Best of all, the hotel is only minutes from the cruise terminal where we'll board Carnival Inspiration on Thursday for the Malt Shop Memories Cruise.
Where to eat? For dinner, we plan to try Columbia Restaurant, also in Ybor City, which is described as having some of the best Latin cuisine in Tampa. It's also a "Fodor's Choice" as well as recommended by a family friend.
The pre-cruise party planned for the Malt Shop Memories cruisers is being held at Gaspar's Grotto on Wednesday night and we may drop in there as well. With information provided by Sixthman, sponsors of the Malt Shop Memories Cruise, and our copy of Fodor's Caribbean Ports of Call in hand, we should be set to explore historic Ybor City, sleep in comfort, and dine on Cuban classics.