TAMPA — The white tent sits between rows of palm trees at Waterfront Park. Inside, silver snowflakes dangle from the peaked ceiling, and glittery reindeer give off the illusion of winter. The temperature drops.
"An outdoor ice skating rink in Florida?" said Jennifer Edmister, a Brandon mother. "We were curious."
Edmister and her family warmed up the ice Friday at the opening of Tampa's first outdoor skating rink.
The rink will stay open through the holiday season, defying the warm weather and offering a taste of chillier climates.
For some visitors, the outdoor rink will test their talents on ice for the first time. For others, it's a chance to redeem Northern roots or relive years of better coordination.
"It's going to be painful," said rink visitor Dawn Barton, "Painful fun."
Her ice-skating experience dates back too far to count for anything, said Barton, 32, of Carrollwood.
It had been years since Michael Paramore, 14, had stepped onto the ice, too, but the Tampa teen was far more optimistic.
"I'll get it back," said Paramore, who used to play hockey. "At first you're a little rocky, but you'll get it back."
On Friday, many stopped to scope out the sight, shading themselves from the sun.
The rink took two weeks to set up, said venue manager J.R. Malone. Under the slick surface are layers of sand, thick plastic and tubes of coolant solution. The ice stays frozen because of the coolant, which circulates around the rink and through a 200-ton chiller set to 5 degrees.
Measuring 44 by 100 feet, the rink can hold up to 160 skaters, Malone said.
"It's as close to a Rockefeller Center as we can get," he said.
Ice Rink Events set up the rink for free, according to Linda Carlo, spokeswoman for the city's parks and recreation department, and Friends of Tampa Recreation will pay for the electricity bill.
"We hope to make it an annual event," Carlo said.
The novelty of ice-skating attracted Jennifer Edmister's family, whose two young boys had been clamoring to skate after going to two Tampa Bay Lightning games.
"Ice skating!" 4-year-old Nolan sang, running to the rink entrance to press a sneakered toe to the ice.
As his parents laced up his skates, he inspected the blades and repeated the mantra that started his excitement: "Let's go, Lightning, let's go!"
"I like ice skating," Nolan said to his mom.
"You've never been," Edmister reminded him.
"I already like it!" he said.
When the skates were on, Nolan tottered out onto the ice. In the beginning, it was tough going — Nolan kept one hand pressed to the rink wall and the other on his dad.
Halfway around, Nolan sat down to play with ice shavings.
By the end of the lap, Nolan was grinning and boasting, "I was skating faster than Daddy!"
And even though his jeans were damp from the ice, he denied ever falling.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.