Boys & bikes on the Courtney Campbell

November 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Sunday afternoon the boys and I loaded the bikes into the back of my car (not an easy task, we really need a bike rack)…

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and headed out past the St. Pete/Clearwater airport…

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to the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

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A new pedestrian trail (actually mixed-use) running parallel to the Courtney Campbell opened on the Hillsborough side of Old Tampa Bay on August 30th and we had been waiting for the perfect day to check it out. We started out at the center and decided to head west over the hump first.

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We really couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. It was in the mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky.

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The $14 million dollar project is supposed to be completed on the Pinellas County side next year and then it will be a 9 mile scenic path all the way across the bay.

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The hump across the boat underpass is no joke on a bike!

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From the apex you can see downtown Tampa, downtown St. Pete, and downtown Clearwater.

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Of course, the best part is riding down the overpass.

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There were lots of people out on the trail but it was not crowded at all. There was plenty of room for cyclists to safely pass pedestrians. It was great not having to worry about cars.

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The view the entire ride was stunning. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful location.

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We stopped near the Tampa side for a water break.

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Of course the boys wanted to climb on the rocks but I warned them ten times to be careful. Those rocks looked very jagged!

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Finally we got back on our bikes to head back to the hump.

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We couldn’t resist taking in the views at the apex one more time.

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And then we got to zoom downhill again.

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We went a short ways in the eastward direction…

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before turning around to head back to the car.

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I didn’t take my GPS with me, but I’d say we probably biked 4 or 5 miles. It was a great way to spend what was possibly the most beautiful afternoon of the year. We’ll be back!

Cya.

Yelp’s Zoo Boo at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo

October 6, 2013 at 7:01 pm

(Disclaimer: Chad and I attended this event as part of Yelp Tampa Bay’s Elite Squad. I was not compensated for this post. The best blog about this event will win two annual passes to the zoo, and if I win I hope they will let me give them away to a reader. So if you read this and liked it, or were influenced by it regarding Zoo Boo, then please leave a comment! I’d love to give away two annual passes to a reader with young kids. Update – I didn’t win. It’s ok, because my friend Nichole won! Read Nichole’s great blog post about Zoo Boo here.)

Last night Chad and I got a babysitter and headed out on a date night.

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We were headed to one of my favorite local attractions…Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

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It was crowded, as locals know that Lowry Park’s Zoo Boo every October is a great destination for family fun. The zoo after dark is not something that you get to experience every day.

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We were there for a Yelp Tampa Bay Elite Event, Yelp’s Zoo Boo, so like the VIP’s that we are, we bypassed the large crowd and headed to the Yelp table set up at the entrance.

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Zoo Boo opened at 7 p.m., but the Yelp event started at 6:30, so we got in before the masses!

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After getting our VIP bracelets (keys to the kingdom), we headed through the middle of the zoo to the Safari Africa section which was closed to the public for the evening. So VIP.

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The Yelp event was being held in Reilly’s Reserve. During the zoo’s peak visitation periods, this is a full-service, family seated dining restaurant featuring a fantastic view overlooking the elephant, giraffe and zebra habitats. Last night it was just full of Yelp Elites.

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The room was fabulously decorated for Halloween and they had some beautiful tables laid out for us.

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Can you see a giraffe through the window?

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The zoo’s chef prepared all kinds of seasonal goodies for us.

The dessert table featured cinnamon/apple and pumpkin whoopie pies.

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The savory options included fried pumpkin raviolis with chai dipping sauce…

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creamy tomato bisque with grilled cheese croutons…

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and fall shepherd’s pie.

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Chad tried a little of everything and thought it all was tasty. I am still sticking with my NSNG (no sugar, no grains) diet, so I tried the tomato bisque (without the crouton) and it was really delicious. I also tried just the meat from the shepherd’s pie which was well-seasoned. I wasn’t purely virtuous, however. A Yelp Elite event would not be complete without an open bar.

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The beer selection was kind of spooky.

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I was irresistibly drawn to this pretty lady:

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Ahhh. It was like a bottle full of carbs.

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I only had one. I’m such a good girl.

The marketing manager for the zoo, Jason Davis, spoke to us about the awesomeness that is Zoo Boo.

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Zoo Boo has won many awards for its haunted houses and family friendly attractions. The event is geared towards children of all ages and strives to be more fun than scary. There are no ghouls hidden in the bushes waiting to jump out and scare you. Not everybody (especially young children) likes to be scared, so all of the haunted houses are rated on a scale of skulls. One skull is the least scary, and 7 skulls is the most. Whether or not you want a scary experience is totally up to you.

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo Boo doesn’t try to compete with some of the other “big guys” in the Halloween amusement park arena. Lowry Park is a non-profit charitable organization. They aim for family-friendly, rated PG, budget-friendly fun. And they deliver.

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After we left Reilly’s Reserve, we headed back through Africa to the carousel at the center of the zoo. The pathways were lined with Halloween decorations.

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Most of the attractions for very young children at Zoo Boo are concentrated in Wallaroo Station.

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Here you can find the rides for all the younger kids, like the Flying “Boo”nanas, the Batty Bumper Boats, the Pumpkin Patch Express, and the Roller Ghoster. Most of the animals in the zoo are tucked into bed at night, but you can see bats in the Flying Fox Bat House, touch the stingrays at Stingray Bay, and these guys always want you to buy them some chow:

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Also in Wallaroo Station you can find the “1-skull” rated haunted house, Little Beasties Bungalow.

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It is full of dazzling lights and many friendly and spooktacular scenes, all appropriate for young children.

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This was the creepiest part of Little Beasties Bungalow:

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Ahhhhhhhhhhck!! An eyeball tree!!!!!!

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I went through this without Chad, and when I showed him this picture he said he was glad…he has a recurring nightmare somehow involving eyeballs and he did not like this at all.

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Next we headed back by the carousel Scary Go Round…

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towards the entrance to the zoo where there were three more haunted houses. The first one we wanted to try was brand new this year, French Quarter Phantoms 3D.

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I had heard its Mardi Gras theme was very spooky and psychedelic. It had a “3-skull” rating. Our VIP bracelets let us take the Boo Pass Express Lane, although we had to walk around a shrouded figure each time.

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My pictures do not do any of this justice. I tried to take some with flash and some without flash, but in most cases we were walking through almost complete darkness with black lights, or flashing lights, or colored lights. If a photo looks brightly lit it is only because I used a flash on that one. This dead young lady was very spooky in the dark with a black light and a glowing face. She slowly turned her face towards you as you passed. Spoooooky.

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They handed us 3-D glasses as we proceeded.

With flash:

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Without flash.

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These 3-D glasses were AHHHHMAZING!!! I can’t really emphasize this enough. They were awesome. The day-glo paint in conjunction with the glasses made you feel like you were walking through an undulating, vast world.

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That skull was in motion and looked incredible with the glasses. I can’t even describe it. One of the coolest illusions was the little pink/red faces of the jester dolls below, which really seemed alive.

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We loved this haunted house and (spoiler) it was my favorite out of all of them.

Next we went through the Wake the Dead haunted house, rated 6 skulls.

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Although this house did not have the “scariest” rating, I thought it was the scariest. There were many live-action characters, which I think are the most creepy.

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Remember, we were walking by all of these things in almost utter darkness, or very dim light. When my camera flash would go off we’d catch these scary images. As we walked on we heard a golem screech, “Take myyyyy picture!” So I did.

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The animatronics were truly amazing. This guy was the most terrifying creatures in the park:

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Imagine that thing lurching around, hovering over you, 20 feet tall. The audio was excellent and the whole overall effect was pretty powerful.

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Next up was Pharaoh’s Tomb of Revenge, 6 skulls.

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All of these creatures I photographed were moving and reaching out to you as you passed by. Oh, and remember it was dark with black lights or dim/colored lighting.

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Another 20-foot monster:

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This guy was also enormous:

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Whew. We survived and headed over towards the Spooky Fun Fair along the spookily lit paths.

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Ahhh, without the kids there was no one to beg us to play games! But when our boys were little they would have loved all these activities:

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Our next haunted house was Fright Theater 3D: Trapped in Time, 3 skulls.

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They gave us the 3D glasses right away this time, and this was another shimmery, brightly colored world. This moon looked so realistic, but my picture is sad:

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The next picture was the most dazzling room in real life. Picture a huge undulating brain and crazy colored skulls moving around you. It is so hard to describe, but was fantastic.

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Chad said it was like the mother brain of Super Metroid. Whatever that means.

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With a flash:

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Without a flash:

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With 3D glasses: AWESOME.

Both of the 3D houses were our favorites. Highly recommend.

Next up was Tangled Terror, 7 skulls. This should have been the scariest, with the highest rating.

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In almost total darkness we walked through this foliage…

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along very natural paths. It was pitch dark. We could tell that we were walking through trees and branches and vines, but we really could not see much of anything.

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Animatronics popped up and blew strong blasts of cold air on us.

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I caught this skull blowing (in the dark)!

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Still in the dark…

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With flash and without flash:

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Ahhhhhhhhh!!!

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We did it! We survived all six haunted houses. We still thought Wake the Dead was the scariest, but really none of them were that bad. I appreciate the ratings though, as Mack (at 9) is not a big fan of haunted houses. I definitely think that he would have been fine in all of the ones rated 3 skulls or less. We enjoyed all of them!

We avoided visiting the “Flume of Fear” because we had heard that you would DEFINITELY get soaked (it’s the log ride). But I feel like we got pretty much the full Zoo Boo experience.

One our way out of the park we stopped by the gift shop, of course.

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Chad thought these t-shirts were funny:

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but we ended up just getting a little souvenir for the boys (creepy eyeballs…fitting from Zoo Boo).

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Thanks for a fun night Yelp Tampa Bay and Lowry Park Zoo!

According to the Lowry Park Zoo website:

Come creep around Zoo Boo at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo — the largest family Halloween event in Tampa Bay. It’s a ghoulish good time for all. Don’t miss the thrills, chills and family frights with attractions ranging in “scare factor” including haunted houses and trails, Zoo-wide seasonal displays and lights, music, specialty gift shop, night rides and more. Hours are 7-11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7-10 p.m. on other select nights. Adults(ages 12 and up) $18; Children (ages 3-11) $14; Ages 2 and under are free. A Zoo Boo Express Pass is an additional $18 for anyone ages 3 and up.

Follow Zoo Boo on Facebook.

Click here to find answers to all of your questions about Zoo Boo.

And like I always say, you should be Yelping. Yelp events are fantastic, and anyone can get in on the fun. Just start Yelping!

Cya!