Tampa reopens for recreation, fun, and socializing -- within limits

Tampa Bay Area residents are emerging from months wrapped in safer-at-home cocoons, eager to be social butterflies again.
Two of Tampa’s favorite venues -- The Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Bay History Center -- are welcoming visitors, albeit with new rules to accommodate the realities of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The city of Tampa also reopened its parks, beaches, dog parks, and some pools. Everything has its limits. Splashing in pads, climbing jungle gyms, dunking basketballs, and spiking volleyballs won’t be allowed.

But normal -- or whatever normal is amid a coronavirus pandemic -- is making a comeback.

Here are a few options, with expectations that more will come.

The Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium reopened on May 15, at about 13 percent of capacity. Online reservations are required. Entry is free for first responders, law enforcement, firefighters, Tampa General healthcare workers, and their families.
Safety protocols are in place based on a 20-page reopening plan, which was reviewed by Tampa General Hospital, according to a news release.

“Thanks to Tampa General’s infectious disease and infection prevention experts, we have added even more rigorous health and safety safeguards to our operations,” says Roger Germann, President and CEO of the Aquarium.

Safety precautions include:
  • Guests must wear face masks.
  • Hand washing is encouraged.
  • Paper towels will be provided, but not air-blow dryers in bathrooms.
  • Elevator use will be monitored to limit capacity.
  • Additional barriers will reduce potential touchpoints in certain locations.
  • Social distancing among guests and staff and in dining areas will be followed.
  • A “one-way” flow will be followed.
  • The Outdoor Play Space, including the Splash Pad and 4D Theatre, will be closed.
  • An Infection Control Advisory Task Force will be created.
For more information, visit the Aquarium website.

Tampa Bay History Center

The Tampa Bay History Center will reopen June 1, with limited capacity. Some “hands-on” exhibits will not be available.
Safety protocols are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and the American Alliance of Museums, according to a press release.

Timed-entry tickets, which go on sale May 22, must be purchased online. Adult admission tickets will be reduced by $2.

“We understand we’re offering a modified experience,” says C.J. Roberts, the Center’s President and CEO. “To offset that, and to welcome our community back, we’re temporarily reducing our admission fees.”

The Columbia Café, within the center, will reopen May 20 with a streamlined menu and social distancing practices.

Staff at the center and café will wear face masks; guests are not required to wear masks but will be asked to observe social distancing guidelines.
For more information, visit the History Center website

City of Tampa Parks and Recreation

All of Tampa’s parks, including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, reopened effective May 16, but with limitations. Previously, the city opened trails, beaches, and dog parks.

Visitors must follow social distancing guidelines and gather in groups of no more than 10 people.

Not all park amenities are available, including basketball and volleyball courts. Picnic shelters, playgrounds, outdoor exercise equipment, and splash pads also are off-limits.

Available park amenities include kayak and canoe launches, open outdoor space, disc golf course, pickleball, and racquet courts (two people at a time).

Athletic fields require reservations.

The city opened 11 pools, including Bobby Hicks and Cyrus Greene. But only lap swimming will be allowed.

For a complete list of parks, pools, amenities, and rules, visit the City of Tampa's website.   

These outdoor recreation spaces are also open:
  • Kayak and canoe launches
  • Tennis, pickleball, handball, and racquetball courts (maximum 2  people per court)
  • Disc golf courses
  • Walking trails
  • Skate parks
  • Athletic fields (must contact Athletics at (813) 731-9432 to reserve use)
  • Restrooms
And public pools:
  • Bobby Hicks, 4120 W. Mango Ave., 33616
  • Cuscaden, 2900 N. 15th St., 33605
  • Cyrus Greene, 2101 E. Dr. MLK Blvd., 33603
  • Del Rio, 10105 North Boulevard, 33603
  • Interbay, 4321 W. Estrella St., 33629
  • Loretta Ingraham, 1611 N Hubert Ave., 33607
  • Roy Jenkins, 154 Columbia Drive, 33606
  • Sulphur Springs, 701 E. Bird St., 33604
To reserve your lap swim time, it's best to call the pool you would like to use. Appointments can be made for the current day only and will be limited to a maximum 1-hour session. For pool hours and contact information, follow this link.

For more information about outdoor spaces reopening in the Tampa Bay Area, follow these links:

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a freelance writer who lives in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa. She previously covered Tampa neighborhoods for more than 15 years as a reporter for The Tampa Tribune. She grew up in Georgia but headed north to earn a BA degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She backpacked through Europe before attending the University of Iowa's Creative Writers' Workshop for two years. She has a journalism degree from Georgia College. She likes writing, history, and movies.  
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