by Terry Ward
More than just a hotel that attracts theme park-going families to nearby Busch Gardens (roughly two miles away), this Wyndham property, convenient to I-275, I-75 and downtown Tampa, also draws guests doing business at nearby University of South Florida, as well as patients and doctors visiting several hospitals in the immediate area. The USF campus is located right across the street, so during times of university events (football games, graduation, etc.) you’ll see a lot of Bull pride. And for families with a visit to Busch Gardens or Adventure Island water park on their Tampa itinerary, the hotel, which was fully renovated in 2009, makes for a very appealing base camp. While you can walk to the USF campus, Busch Gardens requires a quick drive. And the Wingate’s free shuttle service makes continual runs to both throughout the day, as well as to other locations, including the Museum of Science and Industry.
The hotel has a good range of room configurations, as well as options for connecting rooms, the addition of rollaway beds and rooms with sleeper sofas, so most families will find suitable accommodations here. Inclusions like free Internet, a swimming pool and indoor hot tub, and a hot complimentary breakfast for all guests, put this property a notch above other similar chains in the area. For a convenient and comfortable stay of a few nights, the Wingate by Wyndham certainly ticks all the boxes for your above-par and affordable family stay.
Our Editor Loves
- Rooms with kitchenettes
- Outdoor pool and indoor hot tub
- Free shuttle to Busch Gardens and MOSI
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The hotel underwent a full renovation in 2009, so the 85 rooms and suites here look up to date and have the modern touches you'd expect, such as beds topped with crisp white linens, tiled bathrooms with granite countertops and wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms that hasn't seen too much wear and tear. Spread between four floors, the rooms are kept immaculately clean by housekeeping. All have kitchenette facilities that include a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker.
Standard rooms have either two queen beds or two double beds to accommodate four people, and none of the rooms with two beds have room for a rollaway. There are also rooms with two king beds, again without the option for a rollaway. If you're looking to add a little privacy by separating the parents from the kids, your best bet is the king suite, which has a single king bed and a separate living area that can be entirely closed off by a door and has a sofa that converts to a full-sized bed. The standard king room -- with one king bed -- has a sleeper sofa, too, but the area is not closed off. The king suite can also accommodate up to two rollaway beds (it's $15 per night, per rollaway), so you could potentially sleep up to six people here.
The hotel makes every effort to make connecting rooms happen for guests who request them, and you have a few options for adjoining accommodations. You can connect a room with two queen beds to a handicap accessible room with a king bed and sleeper sofa, and request a rollaway bed for a configuration that sleeps up to nine people (the king room can have a max of two adults, but up to three children). A room with two king beds can also be connected to another identical room, giving you sleeping space for eight people between the two rooms.
All rooms and suites have views of cars rolling down Fowler Avenue or the pool or parking lot. In other words, it's more about space and comfort in this hotel than views -- by a long shot.
Great location, clean room, would stay again. Staff very nice. Had a problem with the TV The staff was quick to fix the situation. Great breakfast. The rooms are kept very clean and you do get a great night sleep after a long day at the theme parks. We had to even check out a day early due to my wife getting injured, and the staff was so accommodating for us they understood and just charged me for the the days that stayed. And gave me no trouble.
I wished I could have stayed longer! It was a personal/ business conference trip before my retreat I wanted to see the area. There was plenty of hotel parking, restaurants, recreational parks, in the area was plentiful!
If you're like most of the families staying at this Wingate, your main prerogative is going to be spending the day at Busch Gardens, getting a good night's rest and most likely waking up and doing it all over again the next morning at Adventure Landing water park or one of Tampa Bay's downtown attractions. And that's a good thing, because the hotel doesn't offer much when it comes to onsite attractions beyond the option to get wet. There's an outdoor pool in a fenced area, and it's very popular with post park-hopping guests during the summer months (open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.). But the pool is not heated during the winter months, when the waters get downright chilly and you'll only find the most daring of guests taking a plunge. The good news is there's an indoor hot tub that's open 24 hours a day and easily accommodates a family of six. It makes for a nice communal soaking spot at the end of the day.
After the pool and hot tub, there aren't any other family activities onsite. But chances are, by the end of a busy day of playing around, you'll be ready for bed after a swim anyway. The hotel does not have DVD machines for guest use, but if your kids like to unwind and watch movies in the evenings, you can order pay-per-view kids' movies on the flat-screen TV's in the rooms. Within a quick drive of the hotel, you'll find many family attractions, including movie theaters, the science center, USF's botanical gardens, and Tampa's main zoo and aquarium.
The hotel's daily hot complimentary breakfast, the only meal offered onsite, is served buffet-style from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in a room off the lobby. Far from the standard free hotel buffet, the Wingate's bountiful version has more than 40 items and includes eggs, sausage, cereal, a waffle maker (the kids will love it!), bagels, oatmeal, fresh fruit, coffee, juices and more. It makes for a hearty and blissfully easy start to the day.
There aren't any restaurants in the hotel's immediate area, but it's about a ten-minute walk to Sweet Bay Plaza, a strip mall with a grocery store, along with fast food and chain restaurant options.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The hotel's free shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. When there are special nighttime events at Busch Gardens (during the holiday season, for example), the shuttle has extended hours.
In addition to Busch Gardens drops, the shuttle can also take you and pick you up from anywhere on the USF campus and to nearby hospitals.
USF's pretty campus has nice green spaces where you can take the children to run around, and is right across the street from the hotel.
There is a washer and dryer on the hotel's third floor for guest use. It costs $1 to wash and $1 dry, and you can buy laundry detergent for $1.
Wireless Internet is free throughout the hotel
Self-parking is free in an outdoor lot.
You can purchase your Busch Gardens tickets directly from the hotel concierge.
There's a small gym that is open 24 hours and is free for guests. It includes a treadmill, a StairMaster and weight machines.
Guests have access to an office center with computers and printers, along with fax and scanning machines.
There are vending machines on each floor that offer sodas and snacks.
The Art of Smart Timing
Since kids are out of school during the summer and this is theme park territory, the hotel and Busch Gardens itself get particularly crowded from mid- to late-June through August. This is also when the weather is at its hottest and stickiest. If that combination sounds unbearable to you, consider yourself warned. February through April, prime spring break time, sees larger crowds here than at other times during the year, and the week of Christmas and New Year's also tends to be busy. Weekends in October also fill up well in advance at the hotel, thanks to Busch Gardens' popular Howl-O-Scream event. Also expect the hotel to fill up during major events at USF such as fall orientation and winter and summer graduations. If you plan to visit at any of those times, booking well in advance is advised.
Here on the gulf coast of Florida, temperatures are warm year round, although the odd winter night will require a light jacket. Summers are hot and sticky, and if you're exploring the boardwalk area through the mangroves at this time, or hanging out by the pool, you'll definitely want to spray on the mosquito repellent.
Count on it taking 20 to 30 minutes to reach the Tampa International Airport, about 15 miles from the hotel. It's far less busy at this airport than at Orlando's airport, about 1.5 hours away, although that's also an option for flying in. Additionally, there's the St. Pete/Clearwater airport, located about 30 minutes from the hotel, which is serviced by budget carriers such as Allegiant.
If you're just planning to visit Busch Gardens during your stay and then return to the airport (though few people are), you won't need a car and can instead taxi it from the airport to the hotel and rely on the hotel's shuttle for reaching the theme park. But if you plan to get out to see the bay area's powder-fine beaches and visit downtown Tampa, or perhaps even Orlando, a car is essential and all of the major car rental companies have desks at Tampa's airport or nearby.
For Mom and Dad
Tampa is a vibrant city with some excellent restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Babysitting services are not offered by the hotel, but if your kids are old enough for a night on their own, it's worth heading to South Tampa, about 15 minutes away, where some great restaurants can be found in a pedestrian-friendly area called Hyde Park, and along Howard Ave. Bern's Steakhouse , a local fixture since 1956, is known as much for the quality of its fine meats and seafood as for the romantic dessert room upstairs, where patrons are invited to indulge in decadent endings inside cozy booths with your selection of music piped in.