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10 ways to entertain holiday visitors in the Tampa Bay area

Fishing on the Pinellas side of the  Sunshine Skyway Pier State Park.

Chris Zuppa/tbt*

Fishing on the Pinellas side of the Sunshine Skyway Pier State Park.

Once the turkey has been consumed and the small talk begins to dry up, it's time to take those visiting relatives and friends out to see why it is you live in Tampa Bay. Here's a list of 10 ways to entertain your Thanksgiving guests.

1. Shuffleboard: After the initial hoot of "I'm too young to play shuffleboard!" your guests will be amazed at the hip crowd that hits the shuffleboard courts at the Mirror Lake complex in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday nights. This is an especially good stop if you have a large crowd to entertain, because there are dozens of open courts, it's free, easy to play and it is accessible for any age group. You can pack a cooler of your own snacks and drinks and do not let the kids run on the courts, which are carefully waxed for maximum slide. The courts are open every Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at 559 Mirror Lake Drive. stpeteshuffle.com.

2. Manatees: Nothing delights Northern relatives more than seeing our famous sea cows up close. Your best bet is Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station, which is open each year from Nov. 1 to April 15. It features a wooden boardwalk over the water, garden and habitat displays, a snack bar and decks to view the manatees. The animals are attracted to the plant's warm water when temperatures in the bay fall below 68 degrees. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach. tampaelectric.com/manatee.

3. Sunshine Skyway pier: Grab some fishing poles, because the water is rich with fins around the old Sunshine Skyway bridge, which has been turned into a fishing pier with a snack bar and picnic area. You don't need a fishing license since they have a pier fishing license that covers all of their guests. Rod rentals are $8 a day with deposit. They'll even loan you a bucket.

4. Sunset on the beach: Both Fort De Soto Park and Caladesi Island State Park have earned "Best Beach in the United States" titles in recent years, and Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 is always popular.

5. Gambling: You can now play slots at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa. And St. Petersburg's Derby Lane offers up a poker room and a retro racing spectacle on a track built in 1925. Derby Lane is at 10490 Gandy Blvd. in St. Petersburg and the Hard Rock is at 5223 Orient Road (and I-4) in Tampa.

6. Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks Sponges may not be as sexy as casinos, but you can kill a day and get some great food checking out the quirky shops (the Spongeorama museum of all things sponge is our favorite retro haunt). See real sponge divers in action, get some fantastic Greek food and even rent a bike to hop on the Pinellas Trail.

7. USF football: The Bulls play their homecoming game against the Louisville Cardinals this Saturday at noon (Pinellas County students can get in free) and the Miami Hurricanes next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. See gousfbulls.com for details.

8. Miniature golf: Take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and hit a mini course. Smuggler's Cove — with locations in Indian Shores and Madeira Beach — are two of the best. They are even open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Go to smugglersgolf.com for details on locations and prices. Give them your e-mail address and they'll send you a coupon for money off a round.

9. Take in the local attractions: If you haven't checked out Tampa Bay like a tourist, now is the time. If you have little ones visiting, the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa will be open Thanksgiving Day. Over at Busch Gardens, the park will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo and Great Explorations Children's Museum are all closed Thanksgiving, but will be open that weekend.

10. Finally, it's Christmastime: If your guests hang around after the big feast, then you may want to get them into the Christmas spirit by taking in a Tampa Bay tree lighting. In St. Petersburg, the ceremony begins at 7 p.m. next Friday with activities for kids, live entertainment and a showing of Miracle on 34th Street at the Museum of Fine Arts. In Tampa's Old Hyde Park from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 28, the Enchanted Tree Lighting Ceremony will feature Santa arriving to light the 30-foot tree and kick off a four-week series of holiday events.

Contributing: Sherry Robinson

10 ways to entertain holiday visitors in the Tampa Bay area 11/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 8:19am]

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