Six-year-old Holden Metcalf seemed skeptical as he approached the skating rink in North Straub Park.
"Is that ice?" Holden asked his father, Ken Metcalf.
"It's Florida's version of it. Probably the closest thing you'll get," his dad replied with a tone of mild amusement.
The makeshift skating rink is part of the city's attempt to bring a winter wonderland to children deprived by Florida's balmy weather.
The 1,400-square-foot rink is made of a plastic material coated with silicone that city officials call "Glice." Add Christmas lights and carols and the scene "kind of looks like an old town square, maybe up North," said Sherry McBee, St. Petersburg recreation director.
The rink is made by Ice Rink Engineering and Manufacturing, of Greenville, S.C. The synthetic ice is used frequently in parades and other venues where people need to skate but real ice won't hold up.
"At least 50 percent of the buyers are homeowners and other people who don't have access to ice," said CEO Jimmy Durham.
This is the second year the city has put out the rink. Durham said it will last for 20 years.
The opportunity to let children get their first experience on ice skates drew a camcorder-wielding crowd Thursday night. Kristi Rophael, 31, came out with her 6-year-old daughter, Ramsey.
"It's kind of funny that she's ice skating in shorts," Rophael said. Ice skating is hardly new for Mom, who moved here from Michigan.
While Holden made his way out to skate, his 5-year-old brother, Hayden, seemed reluctant.
"Are you going to make it out there?" his mother, Jenny Metcalf, asked. Eventually Hayden donned a pair of skates and ventured forth.
Their father, who grew up skating, said it was a fun experience but different from real ice skating.
"You can't really dig your feet forward, so you have to move your toe," Ken Metcalf said.
Bah, humbug. It will have to do.
"There will not be a synthetic that will skate on the same quality as refrigerated ice," said Durham, 67, who has been a professional skater.
Steve Seravalli, who works for the city's recreation department and helps coordinate the rink, said the family atmosphere it creates made the experience fulfilling.
"You know, the grandparents come out and the kids get to play. It really becomes a memorable occasion."
Austin Bogues can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8872.