Lowry Park Zoo – Tampa, Fl

The summer is over (although you wouldn’t know it in Florida), and the theme parks saw a slight drop in visitors as school went back into session for most of the country.  Unfortunately that never lasts too long and now the holiday season is quickly approaching.  Just before Halloween we took a drive out-of-town down I-4 to Tampa and checked out a place we had been interested in visiting for a while, the Lowry Park Tampa Zoo.

The zoo is a bit outside of the downtown area of Tampa, but not hard to get to.  A nice perk was that they offered free parking which is something becoming more and more rare around the Orlando area lately.

After buying our tickets and entering inside the park splits into a few different pathways.  They all connect with each other eventually in a main central area of the park where you can also find a pretty big carousel.  We let the kids decide where to go and we were off towards Africa.

Just before the path that led towards Africa was the first penny machine we came across.  This machine was not level on the group so as we turned the handle to press the pennies the entire machine kind of rocked back and forth a bit.  I wasn’t worried about it falling over, but the rocking did make it a little difficult to use.

All of the designs have Lowry Tampa Zoo on them along with a variety of zoo animals.  This set had an Manatee, Ray, Tiger and a wild Dog.  After using the machine we headed towards the Africa Tunnel.  This was an interesting park of the park where you actually walk under a roadway, through a tunnel to the next set of exhibits.  We found out afterwards this is due to the Safari rides they offer where you can get a little closer to some of the animals.  The wait time was more than we wanted to incur on this hot autumn Florida day so we just kept walking.

My girls were intrigued by the large tortoise we found along the way.  They had just been fed some lettuce leaves and he was going to town on them.  The zoo had a nice little cut out of the fence with a piece of plexiglass that made it easier for the younger / shorter visitors to get a nice look.

The rest of the afternoon we visited with some elephants and giraffes.

There were also some rhinos enjoying the shaded area of their exhibit and a few zebras were found nearby.  Eventually we headed back towards the Africa Tunnel but stopped near the Savanna Oasis for some lunch.

After our lunch we found the second penny machine just across the pathway.

This second set of designs included some of the animals we had visited with earlier which my kids always get a kick out of.  The set included an Elephant, Giraffe, Cheetah, and Rhino.  We headed back through the tunnel towards the carousel.  Our daughters always request a ride on the carousel so we took a break for one ride which eventually turned into two rides.  The next area we headed into was the local Florida wildlife which included some birds and alligators of course.  There was also a touch tank with some sting rays inside that had a large crowd.  This is always something that seems to get a lot of attention.  Unfortunately a few of the areas here were also under construction and made for some long periods of walking with nothing much to see.

By this time we had spent a good part of the day at the zoo, and the blazing sun was starting to take its toll on us as it usually does.  The kids were getting a little cranky and my wife and I were about ready for a nap ourselves.  The pathway we were on eventually came out by a set of restrooms near the exit of the park.  This was also where we found the third and final penny machine available at that time.

This machine was in much better working condition and rolled the pennies nicely.  The set had images of an Orangutan, Koala bear, Parrot and a Tiger.  We made one last stop in the gift shop for some souvenirs.  Our kids picked out new plush toys which I’m pretty sure we already had from another park but it makes them happy.  I also found a penny booklet for the zoo that I just had to have.

It was a bit of a slow walk back to our car due to everyone being pretty tired.  They fell asleep almost immediately after I started driving home.  This zoo was a lot of fun, but we are suckers for these types of places and love seeing the animals.  I’ll be curious to see how this place looks next year after they have finished with those exhibits that were under construction on this visit.  Plus of course I have to keep tabs on these penny machines.  You never know when new designs will appear.

Glazer Children’s Museum – Tampa, Fl

The day had finally come, our last day of vacation.  My wife and would be heading back to work, and our kids back to school and their daily routine.  We checked out of our hotel in Fort Myers and jumped back on Highway 75 north towards Tampa.  There was no real rush home, and we all had such a good time that we asked the kids if they wanted to visit one last place.  Their options were either the Tampa Zoo or the Glazer Children’s Museum.

To my surprise they picks the Children’s museum, but at this time of year it was probably the best option since it was entirely indoors and air-conditioned.  It’s located right downtown near the bay, not too far from the Florida Aquarium he had visited last year.  There is a big parking garage right beside the museum and it was free when we visited, but this may change depending on the day you visit.

I say this all the time, but I knew this place had a pressed penny machine (actually the zoo had a couple of machines but we will visit that place another day).  To my surprise the penny machine was actually just inside the main doors.  I always enjoy a good hunt for penny machines, but every so often it’s nice to have it served up on a platter and then I can leisurely enjoy the rest of the museum.

This was a standard 4 design hand crank model.  The cabinet was nicely designed for the museum and was in good working condition.  Also there is no admission needed to use this machine.  You may have to pay for parking though as I’m not sure of how that works on weekends.

The sets of pennies from this machine included designs of 1914 Pilot Tony Jannus, R M & V Alphabet blocks, a Veterinarian, and a Fire Truck from the Fire House.  With the pennies pressed and stowed away, we bought our museum tickets and headed in.

The first floor didn’t have much.  Other than the ticket area, there were a set of restrooms, a Subway restaurant, a birthday party room and then the largest area had a big water exhibit.  This thing had a lot of “science” involved but it’s another of those famous things that kids don’t realize they are actually learning.  It was setup like a canal and docks system with toy boats the kids could float around.  There were pulleys and levers, and buoyancy tests and even a weather machine that simulated rain.  All in all this was a nice detailed area for the kids to play (and learn).

Eventually we made our way upstairs which is where things really got fun.  This was setup like a main street and there was a Global Cafe with fake food items from all over the world kids could pretend to cool and serve.  There was also a mock theater that they could dress up, and then put on a play.  This area even had a sound board that could trigger sound effects during the performance.

The middle section of this area had a large Lego wall that you could design things up against the wall.  It seems that each day there is a different challenge posted.  On this day it was to display your name in Lego.  Next was a farmhouse, that had a garden out front with vegetables to be planted and harvested.  Inside the farmhouse the walls were covered in clear plexiglass so you could see the support beams, insulation and wiring that makes up a house.  The second floor also had a hands on exhibit where you could try to wire up a door bell by connecting different pieces of wire together.

Our kids favorite was the grocery store.  This place had little shopping carts or baskets you could use.  They also had different shopping lists to go through the store and collect all the items on the list. Then there was a check out and bagging area.  They also had a deli area where they could take orders for submarine sandwiches unfortunately made out of plastic.

The back area of the second floor had a mock veterinary clinic, a hospital emergency room, a pizza restaurant and a fire house.  The fire house even had a fire pole they could slide down onto a padded mat.

We spend a good part of the day here, actually much longer than we had anticipated.  Our girls had such a good time we actually made a trip back a couple of weeks after this visit.  For anyone that has driving I-4 from Tampa to Orlando you know that if you aren’t on the road early the hour-long drive could take a lot longer. With that in mind we dragged the kids out of the museum as usual, got in the car and made the final leg of our trip back home.  It’s always sad to end your vacation, but I always made sure to take lots of pictures and video so we could watch and remember all the things we did on this years trip.  Plus I have a lot of pennies to catalogue, and document.  I’ll take a few days off before I start trying to figure out what we will do next year for vacation.  For me planning is always part of the fun.

The Florida Aquarium – Tampa, FL

Over the last few months as we have continued to get used to our new surroundings in Central Florida but we haven’t wondered too far from home.  Most of this is due to us still getting used to our immediate area near home, and to be honest this still seems like an extended vacation.  But we have started to feel settled in our new life and this past weekend decided to go for a bit of a drive.

Living near Orlando there are a lot of tourist which causes big crowds at theme parks, and traffic on all the roads.  Shortly after we moved to Florida we had asked some neighbors where locals went to get break from the vacationers and we were told “Its Florida there are tourists everywhere”.  Knowing that pretty much wherever we went would probably be busy we decided to head about an hour south to Tampa.

As we cruised into town on the highway we were pleasantly surprised to see not much going on.  There was very little traffic and even a lack of people just walking around.  We weren’t complaining but it did seem kind of like we had ended up in a Zombie world where the city had been left behind.  I think we just lucked out by picking a Sunday with no football game going on plus we made sure to head out pretty early in the morning in case there was any traffic.

There were a few attractions we were thinking about trying, but our daughters had final say and wanted to visit the Florida Aquarium.

The aquarium is located right along the bay which gives a nice backdrop to the building.   We have finished a lot of aquariums over the years, but I’m always amazed how each one has some unique exhibits we haven’t seen before.  One area has us walking among some overhanging trees making you feel like you were in the wetlands looking into a pond at some local fish and other aquatic life.

Some of the exhibits are the same everywhere you go, like a Stingray viewing area, and of course a touch tank for the kids.

There are sections where the aquarium completely surrounds you as you walk by, and of course there has to be a shark tank.  When you first enter the aquarium you head upstairs to start your tour, and wind around through the second floor and eventually end up back on the first floor. This makes sure you don’t miss any of the exhibits which is always nice.  We had an aquarium in New Jersey that was all over the place and each time we left felt like we had missed some area.

Back one the main floor there is a food court and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating to have your lunch.  Outside towards the bay is a playground with some fun little water attractions for the kids to play in.  No additional cost is charged for this area, but usually ends up where you have to drag your kids away kicking and screaming.

Back inside the aquarium near the escalators to the second floor is  where the restrooms are located.  Across from those for some popular reason is where the penny machine is located.  Before visiting here I saw seen online that there were supposed to be four separate machines, but those all seemed to have been removed and replaced with just this one.

All eight of the designs from this machine have the Aquarium logo on them, and have images of different animals you can find during your visit.  One thing to note about this machine is that it supplies the pennies.  Now that is not unique with these machines, but lately they have been supplying penny sized tokens.  This machine actually supplied pennies, but of course this can be an issue for collectors that like to use specific coins for their pressings.  As you can see from the picture above there is a wide range of pennies I was given.  Some cleaner than others, some pre-1982 and others not.  The selection is completely random so make sure you cross your fingers for a good set.

The aquarium was a nice little trip, but I found it much smaller than I had thought.  It took maybe about an hour and a half to go through everything and that was make sure to take our time at each exhibit.  There are some other places in Tampa to check out like the zoo, children’s museum and science center.  I’m sure we will be making another trip back before too long and I’m sure there will be some more penny presses along the way.