For Christmas, bay area takes its pick of sun and ice

TAMPA — Christmas landed in shorts Sunday, wearing flip-flops, with the top down on the convertible and carrying a tube of SPF-45.

It got hot, as high as 82 degrees, everywhere except at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. There, inside a white tent, the winter-deprived found a way to remember December.

"This is as close as we're getting to snow," said Olga Roseblade, who put on ice skates at Tampa's Downtown on Ice on Christmas night with her husband, three daughters ages 3 to 6 and a neighbor's child.

"We're trying to make a new tradition by coming here," Roseblade said. Her family just moved here from Los Angeles. "It's the first time I've ever tried ice skating with the kids outside."

The rink opened at 4 p.m., and within an hour, at least 100 people had checked out skates. Hundreds more were expected.

Manager Jeff Wasilewski said heat and humidity always tax the cooling system, but 200 tons of refrigerant keep the 40-by-85-foot rink from melting into slush, as do tent walls that stay down until after dark.

Grandparents watched from the rails. There were tentative steps from little girls and elegant strokes from pros.

A little conflicted, a few came in shorts, others in down vests.

Sophie Lemus, 5, wore a knitted bunny hat to stay warm and held her mother's hand.

"She said the best things about Christmas were presents and ice skating," said her mom, Stephenie Lemus, 38, a St. Petersburg native who lives in Vero Beach.

Maybe so, but across the bay, others had a different opinion about the ingredients of a great Christmas.

The parking lots at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County were crowded with the sun-splashed cars of beachgoers.

Connie Temte, 63, of Riverview moved to Florida in April and was enjoying her first Christmas in the Sunshine State as she picnicked with a friend. As a Michigan native who also has lived in Washington state, the sunny, warm skies seemed utterly otherworldly to her.

She spied dolphins while walking the pier, a sight Michigan residents might see only during Flipper reruns.

"How fun is that?" Temte said. "I feel blessed. I just love it here. Bing Crosby should have sung a song about Florida."

Michelle Taylor and Thomas Gonzalez, both 20, of Seymour, Tenn., walked hand in hand near the water. Taylor was in a bikini and Gonzalez was shirtless. Both agreed their attire would prove hazardous if worn on a Volunteer State Christmas.

"It'd be freezing and cold and raining," said Taylor.

"It'd be nasty," Gonzalez said. "This is the best Christmas ever. We're loving it."

Tom and Elizabeth Alison of St. Petersburg were visiting the beach with visiting North Carolina relatives. Sawyer, a small dog belonging to their grandchildren, strained at the leash, perhaps intent on a bit of surfing or splashing out at the dog beach.

The dog might have reminded Tom Alison of something. "We should have brought our bathing suits out," he said.

Back at the cool tent in Tampa, there was no talk of swimsuits.

Kisa Adderley, 34, said the beaches could wait. She skated with a family of 10, including in-laws.

"The beaches aren't going anywhere," she said.

As for the heat, Venezuela-born Humberto Garzaro thinks Tampa gets plenty cold. And he appreciates that his 8-year-old son, a Tampa Bay Lightning fan, can practice skating so close to home.

"We don't have snow," he said, "but this is like our Rockefeller Center."

Tourist Ricky Hebb, 21, is more accustomed to Maine weather.

In his town of Saco, snow fell Sunday and temperatures toppled to the 20s.

He fled the cold this week for a cruise out of Florida with fiance, Demitria Kerr.

But Hebb, a lifelong hockey player, knew there was something he had to do before soaking up the sun.

Get on the ice.

It was, after all, Christmas.

Staff photographer Daniel Wallace contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@sptimes.com.

For Christmas, bay area takes its pick of sun and ice 12/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 26, 2011 7:32am]

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