Anndrea and Josh Dohring launched eBoats Tampa, a tour designed for those with relaxation in mind. Guests can spend time moving along the canals and waterways watching the sights glide by. Here they cruise through the Channelside district. STEHLIK PHOTOGRAPHY
Want to get to know Tampa and its neighborhoods? There are a number of fun and unique tours that give natives and visitors alike an experience they won't soon forget. You can see the town by Segway, boat, helicopter, bike and on your own two feet. Whether you bring the family, or fly solo, tours of the city and its surrounding areas will entertain, inform and, in some cases, amaze you.
Here's a sampling of some of the tours. For a list, visit Tampa Downtown Partnership's touring Tampa website at www.tampasdowntown.com. Prices vary and reservations are recommended, so be sure to plan ahead. Now go forth and explore! Magic Carpet Segway Glide Ready to roll? This tour lets you see the sights standing up while you're rolling. Segways, the two-wheeled, self-balancing, personal transportation systems, are cool and easy to operate. The battery-powered machines move in response to the rider's body. Lean forward and it goes that way. Lean back and it stops. A slight tilt of the steering column turns it. Don't worry, you get a training session before you hit the bricks. You also have to wear a helmet. Riders on a Segway tour zip along the Riverwalk, to the Tampa Convention Center, through Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (where you can cool off in the misters if you like), The Forum, and through the streets of downtown Tampa, while Brian Gagnon, one of four Magic Carpet guides, points out area landmarks and shares entertaining stories and facts. Gagnon likes to keep the tours equal parts fun and historically relevant for those interested in learning about the area. "There are people that just want to goof off," said Gagnon, who has been a tour guide since 2011. "But most people enjoy hearing about the city and riding (the Segway). I think people are surprised by how easy it is to ride." Tours run year-round and leave from Channelside several times a day, and in the evening. Arkansas tourist Terry Watts recently gave the Segway tour a thumbs-up. "I absolutely loved it," said Watts, who brought along his children, John and Brianna. "It was fun, and we didn't have to walk. It's too hot." Tours start at $55. Call (813) 637-9797 or visit www.magiccarpetglide.com ***** Helicopter Tours of Tampa From 800 feet up, the birds-eye view of the city is completely unfettered as you fly over landmarks such as Bayshore Boulevard, The Florida Aquarium and Ybor City, Davis Islands and downtown Tampa, above its skyscrapers, before dropping down for a chance to spot bottlenose dolphins and manatees in Hillsborough Bay. Whether you've seen the sights before, or you're seeing them for the first time, there's something about leaving terra firma that puts them into a whole new perspective. "I haven't been in anything that small; it was a totally different view of things," said Adam Hamid of Lakeland after the helicopter ride. "To be eyeball to eyeball with the buildings ... It was real peaceful man, real peaceful. A cherished moment." The helicopter tours, which can seat up to three, take off daily from Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands, offering eight sightseeing flights, from 10-minute trips to 45-minute excursions. They also offer night tours and sunset tours - popular for marriage proposals. "Most people are pretty nervous about going up the first time," said pilot Jordan Hess, who has been flying the skies since 2009. "But once they get up in the air and see its not as bumpy as they thought it was going to be, they really enjoy it." Tours start at $39 per person. Call (813) 254-1300 and visit www.tampahelicopters.com ***** History Bike Tampa When people think of visiting Tampa, cycling down the streets of old Hyde Park or Seminole Heights neighborhoods aren't usually the first images that come to mind. But Eric Turner wants the change that. His History Bike Tampa tours helps participants discover new and surprising things about their city on two wheels. "It's a very laid-back tour," said Turner, who founded History Bike Tampa six months ago. "I've had families with kids, 10 to 12 years old, who do it. It's really for everyone. We keep it at a relaxed, slow pace, but we hit the landmarks and cover a lot of ground." Turner takes cycling tours through Hyde Park, Seminole Heights, Ybor City, Davis Islands and other neighborhoods. The bicycle tours are held the first Saturday of each month. The next tour, Tampa in Three Acts, will explore Fort Brooke, the Tampa Bay Hotel and the Ybor City area. It leaves at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, from Kawha Coffee, 808 N. Franklin St. If you don't have a bike, no worries. City Bike Tampa, a partner company, will rent you one for a small fee. "There's so much history in the city of Tampa, you could do a long tour in one tiny neighborhood," said Turner, a teacher at Dowdell Middle School. "I want to showcase our city to the people who live here." The bicycle tours are free. Call (813) 263-7678. ***** eBoats Tampa This tour is designed with relaxation in mind. Guests can spend time moving along the canals and waterways around Tampa watching the sights and monuments glide by. "It's one of the most relaxing ways to see the city," said Anndrea Dohring, who launched the business last year with her husband, Josh. "You're on the water ... and it's silent and fumeless and intimate." The movement of the water is the only noise you'll hear aboard one of three Duffy electric 21-foot boats - which seat up to 10 people - as you take in such sights as the Tampa Convention Center, Harbour Island, Tampa Bay History Center, The Forum and Davis Islands, where you can catch a glimpse of Yankees captain Derek Jeter's multimillion dollar mansion. Head out to the bay and experience the beauty of a sunset along Bayshore Boulevard, move gently past the University of Tampa's minarets, pull up to Rick's on the River and grab a bite to eat, and cruise beneath one of Tampa's illuminated bridges. Where you go is up to you. You can charter a captain for your trip, or go it alone. Tours are priced by the hour. The boat tour also will cater breakfast, lunch or dinner, or you can bring your own food and drinks. "You really get to see a perspective of the city you can't see in a car or walking," added Dohring, who also runs Tampa Bay Sailing Tours, which offers a 36-foot chartered catamaran. "It's a nice way to connect with nature, and at the same time be in the center of an urban environment and all it has to offer." Tours start at $75, but vary. Call (813) 767-2245 or eboatstampa.com ***** Ybor City Historic Walking Tour Ybor City is steeped in history. There's something to see and learn around virtually every corner. "The history of Ybor City is unique and it is still ongoing," said Lonnie Herman, who founded Ybor City Historic Walking Tours in 2011 and also runs the Official Ybor City Ghost Tour. "There is a rich past, a promising present, and a hopeful future. That all-encompassing story is right within the 10 or so square blocks preserved as a National Historic Preservation District." During this 90-minute walking tour, an animated Herman leads participants on a journey from the humble beginnings of the historic district, its founder, Vicente Martinez Ybor, and what he paid for the swampland before it was the cigar capital of the world. You'll learn about the history of the casitas (old shotgun houses of cigar workers), Cuban patriot Jose Marti, his visits to the area, and his namesake park, where you can find the last patch of free Cuban soil. Walkers explore landmarks such as the Cuban Club, Jose Marti Park, the Don Vicente Inn (once the site of the Ybor City Land and Development Company and Gonzalez Clinic), old cigar factories (one is now the Church of Scientology), and Ybor's first fire house and much more. The tour was an eye-opening experience for Glenn Molina Coats, of Tampa, and his goddaughter, Brittany McCordick, who was visiting from New York. "I had never heard of Ybor City before today," said McCordick, a 17-year-old student. "This is a special place. The history is so interesting."?"Even though I live here," Coats added, "There were a lot of things I didn't know about the area. You know it's historical, (on this tour) you learn why it's historical." Tours are offered daily and costs $15 for adults, $5 for children. Call (813) 505-6779 and www.yborwalking tours.com