SPIN CYCLE: SOLAR VORTEX
Adventure Island water park, across the street from Busch Gardens in Tampa, will debut its newest attraction this weekend: Solar Vortex, touted as “America’s first dual tailspin water slide.” The ride will feature two tailspins, big bowls that will shoot riders into one side, bank around a sharp turn and shoot them out the other side at 20 miles per hour. “The high speed generated by the tailspin feature really amps up the ride journey,” said Brandon Thom, Adventure Island’s new vice president. It will also have a wild-looking section with a color-changing tunnel of lights and patterns called an “aqualuscent” section. Instead of a typical dark, enclosed tunnel, designs in the fiberglass play with the sunlight to create different shapes and patterns like a disco fun house. Riders have to be at least 42 inches tall and will ride in the raft in parties of two or four. Adventure Island Pass Members will get to preview the new ride on Friday when the park opens for the season. The ride will open to the public on Saturday. 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. $50.99 at adventureisland.com. Busch Gardens still has a deal for a free Adventure Island Fun Card with the purchase of a $109 Busch Gardens Fun Card, good for unlimited admission through Dec. 31. 10001 McKinley Drive, Tampa. buschgardens.com.
HOT WHEELS: GRAND PRIX
The IndyCar season will kick off this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race, held annually since 2005, has become one of the favorites on the IndyCar calendar and drew fans from at least 49 states in 2018 to watch the action along the waterfront streets of downtown St. Petersburg. The event roars to life with qualifying races starting at 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday and culminates with Sunday’s IndyCar season-opening race at 3:30 p.m. But first, Friday brings the eighth annual 5K run on the Firestone Grand Prix track. Online registration is open for $35 and up for runners and walkers at gpstpete.com/5k. Friday will also have a free Grand Prix Movie in the Park, showing the 2013 DreamWorks animated film Turbo, about a garden snail who dreams of becoming the fastest snail in the world. The movie starts at 7:30 p.m. in North Straub Park, 400 Bayshore Drive NE. For racegoers, city parking garages will charge $10 all day on Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday. From 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. all three race days there is a free shuttle service from Tropicana Field. Parking at the Trop is $10 by credit card only. For more parking and public transportation options, see stpete.org/grand_prix. $25-$145. 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday. The racetrack area is next to Albert Whitted Airport and First Street SE, St. Petersburg. gpstpete.com.
GO GREEN: ST. PATRICK’S DAY WEEKEND
The holiday is Tuesday, but for St. Patrick’s Day weekend you can get an early start with block parties in downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa, a “river of green" at Curtis Hixon Park on Saturday and the annual Rough Riders St. Patrick’s Day Night Parade, always held the Saturday before the holiday in Ybor City. For more than 40 years, Tampa’s krewe of the Rough Riders has paid homage to the Teddy Roosevelt regiment by hosting the annual parade. The Rough Riders played an instrumental role in the Spanish-American War when they sailed from Tampa to liberate Cuba from Spain. So look for their float, with krewe members dressed as Teddy’s regiment, to lead a parade filled with krewes and bands from across Florida, tossing tons of green beads as floats and marching units pass by. Avoid parking by taking the trolley to the parade. The parade steps off at 8 p.m. Saturday at E Seventh Avenue and N 14th Street in Tampa. Free, $30 bleacher seating available. tamparoughriders.org. And Tampa will once again dye the Hillsborough River a deep shade of kelly green at the River O’Green Festival at Curtis Hixon Park on Saturday. The festival includes Irish food and green beer, and it’s free admission from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. These are just two of the bigger events. See tampabay.com/things-to-do for a full list of parties and festivals to mark St. Patrick’s Day.