A VISIT to Tampa's quirkiest attraction really is nothing but child's play, writes JON LOCKETT
Based on the American city's bustling waterfront, the Glazer Children's Museum (GCM) features exhibits to inspire young and old.
And the fun starts before you even walk through the door as next to the museum are two interactive "spray grounds". They feature video games combined with a water park. But it's inside the museum where the fun - and the learning - really kicks off.
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Toddlers can play inside a tugboat, climb on board a miniature fire truck, dance on a big screen or even play on the beach.
Brave little ones can climb a unique indoor jungle gym which would leave many adults weak at the knees.
In Water's Journey, the kids pretend to be drops of water on a 35ft-tall play structure.
They get to manipulate water to learn about physics and the water cycle.
Animals In the Art Smart section, kids engage directly with art pieces. Budding artists can play with face-paint, try building kaleidoscopes or write with light.
And that's exactly what makes the GCM great. My five-year-old Jack was having so much fun he didn't realise he was learning!
For more traditional family fun Tampa is, of course, home to the world-famous Busch Gardens.
Opened in 1959, the park is still rightly proud of its African theme.
The Gardens are one of America's largest zoological institutions, with 335 acres and more than 2,700 animals.
High adrenaline attractions include the Rhino Rally, the Congo River Rapids, Tanganyika Tidal Wave and Stanley Falls.
But the highlight for our family was getting up close to some of nature's most amazing animals on the Serengeti Safari.
It was here we got the chance to hand-feed giraffe from the safety of our truck. It was an experience that involved a lot of lettuce and a lot more tongue! Another little gem is the non-profit-making Lowry Park Zoo. It was recently voted No 1 Family Friendly Zoo in the US by Child Magazine.
It features a huge collection of Florida species including Key Deer, American Alligator, Flamingos, Florida Panther and American Crocodile.
Other attractions well worth looking at are the newly-opened LegoLand, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and the amazing Florida Aquarium.
We stayed B&B at the nearby Clarion Busch Gardens Hotel and although the rooms are pretty basic it's perfectly located for all of Tampa's top attractions.
Rooms start from just £50 a night but it has an outdoor heated pool which wouldn't look out of place in a fivestar hotel.
The hotel doesn't have its own restaurant.
But you are never more than 100 metres from somewhere to eat in Tampa. From the iHOP pancake restaurants which are scattered along Florida's highways to bistros such as Red Lobster, Tampa really is a food lover's paradise.
We visited the legendary Skipper's Smokehouse and Oyster Bar, renowned for its crab and crocodile fritters.
Giant Hidden inside a corrugated compound this looks like the kind of place Mad Max would pop into for lunch.
Now celebrating more than 30 smokin' years, this venerable Tampa Bay landmark was purchased by three US Air Force buddies in 1980.
In the years since, Skipper's has grown from a small smokehouse takeaway to a full-service restaurant.
The architecture is a mixture of hillbilly and Key West styles, with overturned boats and wobbly wooden walkways.
But don't let the ramshackle outside put you off - the food is first class and, be warned, the giant portions are off the scale.
I went for the beer-boiled shrimp at £5, devilled crab for £2 and giant onion rings at £2.50.
This restaurant is also a much loved purveyor of live music. In the evening, top bands from across the globe turn up to perform.
The night we were there, Beausoleil were due to star on their outdoor stage. For a more formal setting I would recommend the Dempsey's Steak House on Saddlebrook Way.
Guests get to choose from a menu packed with prime beef cuts with prices starting from £15 for a main course.
Beaches After days of trawling around the many parks, shopping malls and museums, Clearwater Beach is the perfect place to get away from it all.
Situated just 30 minutes' drive from central Tampa, Clearwater's pure white beaches are a sun worshipper's dream.
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A day's break by the sea here actually feels like you're enjoying a holiday within a holiday.
COSMOS offers Florida holidays from five UK airports. A seven-night stay at the three-diamond rated Clarion Busch Gardens in Tampa, room only, costs from £969 per person based on two sharing.
Price includes return BA flights, seven nights' accommodation and Alamo car hire based on a departure from Gatwick on September 17.
The same holiday for a 14-night stay costs from £1,115 based on a September 5 departure from Gatwick.
A range of discounted Florida holidays in September and October are also available with Cosmos, staying in four-diamond rated private villas with pools close to the Disney area of Orlando.
A seven-night stay in a three-bedroom villa departing Gatwick on September 8 costs from £553 pp based on a family of four including return Monarch flights, seven nights selfcatering and car hire.
To book call Cosmos on 0844 573 4261 or visit cosmos.co.uk/florida
A three-day pass for Busch Gardens Tampa starts from £87 pp. The Serengeti Safari tour costs from £24 pp.
To book visit seaworldparks.co.uk
Glazer Children's museum costs £9.50 for adults and £6 for children.
A one-day pass at Lowry Park Zoo costs £15 for adults and £12 for children. For Skipper's Smokehouse and Oyster Bar see skipperssmokehouse.com. For Dempsey's click on saddlebrookresort.com