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Play at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino without gambling

By STEVE PERSALL

Tampa — Five years after Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened its doors, its image as a playground for the rich and famous is secure.

But what if your name isn't Paris Hilton or Adam Sandler — recent visitors during the Super Bowl — and you don't feel like gambling or spending a car payment for a night's lodging?

That's when you plan a "daycation" focused on Hard Rock possibilities rarely advertised because, frankly, casino and hotel earnings are more profitable. You don't have to stay to play, and play isn't limited to slot machines and card games.

After 24 hours of selfless, grueling research, I learned how to spend fun time — touring a museum, sunbathing in style, getting body treatments and overindulging — at Hard Rock without breaking the bank, banking on luck or dealing with the nighttime crowd. There are even easy discounts available, if you know the ropes.

Living in the past

Suppress the temptation to gamble and instead cruise the casinos for rock 'n' roll history. Hard Rock is a sprawling museum of musical artifacts, from Pete Townshend's smashed guitar to Bob Dylan's harmonica and handwritten set list.

The staff has lost count of how many items are exhibited, but numbering in the thousands is a good guess. Best of all, it doesn't cost anything to look, unless jangling slot machines or the lobby bar with its live music become too enticing.

Marvel at the petite size of Dolly Parton's peignoir, or adolescent scribbles on a battered guitar played by Kurt Cobain. How does Shakira squeeze all that hoochie-coochie into those barely there costumes? Browsing the walls and exhibits for autographed instruments, articles of clothing and celebrity keepsakes can burn up an hour or two of daycation time.

Rock your body

Every daycation deserves a splurge. The Body Rock Spa offers a full menu of primping services, including the signature Hot Rocker massage ($110 for 50 minutes), to melt away worries.

Kristen, my massage therapist, used her fingers on me like Jimi Hendrix on a guitar neck, working from toes to forehead with a mix of deep-tissue kneading, full-range motion flexes and smooth, rounded stones heated and oiled for a sensual twist. Their weight and warmth on pressure points is an eye-closing experience.

Placed on the back or under the shoulders, the stones are an inert nerve energizer. In Kristen's massaging hands they're sublime stress-busters.

My wife opted for a spa pedicure ($55), adding a paraffin wrap ($20) that she swears left her feet feeling as soft as when she took her first steps. Sticking feet inside a bag of hot wax so they look like wickless candles apparently feels more luxurious than it sounds.

The spa also provides an escape from the casino's bustle and flow, with classical background music instead of rock 'n' roll, plus complimentary soft drinks, toiletries, robes, towels and sandals (Okabashis you can keep, costing $13 in stores). Spend an hour cleaning up, winding down or wondering what the heck has happened to Rolling Stone magazine.

Spa treatments include the hotel's $15 facilities fee charged to nonguests for using the hot tub, steam room, lockers, fitness center and pool area (although free pool access doesn't seem tough to manage).

But there's a better way to party with friends poolside with that $15 . . .

Chickee boom

Lots of eye candy and live music at Hard Rock's pool area, although lush landscaping and looming hotel and parking buildings reduce the tanning factor. Look like a high roller by renting a chickee — the Seminole Indian word for "house" — between 3 and 9 p.m. for $75.

Each thatch-and-canvas chickee holds up to 10 people, and renting waives that $15 facilities fee. Therefore, a party of 10 effectively pays $7.50 each for a cabana stocked with a refrigerator, soft drinks, TV, audio system and patio furniture, only steps away from the pools, a waterfall hot tub and a beach volleyball court.

The day we rented, three other chickees were occupied by a bachelorette party train, obviously taking advantage of another chickee benefit: amiably personalized service.

Our perky server Falicia and lifeguard/attendant Joe continually checked on our needs, from towels to a tasty menu of specialty cocktails with rocker names, all priced comparably cheap at $6.75. Let ordinary folks wait at the tiki bar. Falicia became an unofficial member of our party, as we savored the effectiveness of nearly every drink (purely for research purposes).

Faves included Voodoo Juice (four flavored rums splashed with cranberry, orange and pineapple juices) and Pearl Jam (spiced rum splashed with raspberry liquor and Midori and filled with pineapple juice), although the Caribbean Sunrise and Daredevil aren't shabby. Even with a bar tab, chickees offer an inexpensive way to party for a day like a B-list rock star.

Eat it

Hard Rock's pricier restaurants open after 5 p.m., but who wants fancy during a daycation? Arrive before 10 a.m. daily to munch steak and eggs at the Green Room restaurant, or load up at the Fresh Harvest lunch buffet (more about discounts on those in a moment).

Our hearty breakfast at the Green Room included tenderly grilled flank steak, two eggs made to order, toast and bell pepper-flecked home fries. Late lunch at the buffet's seven diverse kitchens offered tastes of curried swordfish, mussels fra diablo, barbecue spareribs, sushi and fried chicken, with more enticing choices than room in my belly.

We were, coincidentally, seated next to frequent daycationers from Bradenton, who declined to give their names. She comes for the gambling; he comes for the food. That tells you something.

Deal the cards

Never underestimate the value of a membership card at any casino resort, even if you don't gamble. Signing up for the Seminole Player's Club card is free, saving money in food and amenities starting at the Gold beginner's level.

Currently the hotel offers 2,000 bonus points online to new and existing cardholders. Go to www.seminolehardrocktampa.com/sign-up to fill out a form, and a coupon will be e-mailed back. Print and deliver the coupon to a Player's Club attendant, who will add the points to your account.

Two thousand points carries an automatic value of $5, which can be applied to the cost of practically anything except gambling.

Simply showing the card knocks $5 off lunch at Fresh Harvest buffet — from $20 to $15 — while the Green Room's daily steak-and-eggs breakfast gets discounted to $5.99. Use that online bonus as payment and you're practically eating free (plus tax and tip).

If your daycation involves a concert at nearby Ford Amphitheatre, Player's Club membership allows rides on Hard Rock's shuttle buses for $5, leaving traffic jams and dented fenders to others. The hotel's bars are kickin' after-show party spots, too.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

. FAST FACTS

If you go

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is at 5223 N Orient Road in Tampa. Visit the Web site (www.seminolehardrocktampa.com) for rates and reservations for the Body Rock Spa (rates range from $30 for a chin wax to $175 for an 80-minute Hot Rocker massage) and poolside chickees. If you're into an overnight visit, standard room rates typically range from $229 to $399 (plus taxes), with occasional online discounts. Call (813) 627-7625.

Play at Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino without gambling 03/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 7:05am]
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