by Terry Ward
Most families who check in at this Holiday Inn have their sights set on spending a few theme park days at Busch Gardens or Adventure Island water park. And the hotel’s shuttle, which brings you five minutes away to Busch Gardens and is on call for most of the day, is perfect for avoiding the theme park’s parking. The four-story hotel is situated on a typically non-scenic stretch of Florida highway, lined with strip malls, chain restaurants (Olive Garden is right next door) and big box stores. But the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Tampa, USF, Bush Gardens, which was built in 2008, is far and away one of the nicer hotels in the area for spending a night before and after visiting Busch Gardens.
There’s a small heated pool surrounded by a fence off the back of the property, and it makes for a convenient place to exercise the kids a little more before they crash for the night. And in the morning, the free continental breakfast buffet makes it easy to feed everyone, start your day on the right foot and get out the door to Busch Gardens or Adventure Landing. Parking is free, Internet is free and the hotel’s friendly staff is apt to throw in extras here and there, like bottled water or a surprise ice cream sandwich for kids. The 123 rooms and 15 suites are your classic, carpeted, standard hotel rooms, with the main bells and whistles being the comfy pillow-topped beds, clad with white linens and granite counters in the bathrooms.
For a short stay, the hotel works perfectly as a comfortable, convenient and clean place to base you and your family while hitting the theme parks and other downtown Tampa attractions.
For more information, read about Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- Mini-fridges and microwaves
- Heated outdoor swimming pool
- Free shuttle to and from Busch Gardens
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The hotel's rooms and suites are spread throughout a four-story building, with a suitable option for families of most any size. Room dÃ©cor is fairly basic -- dark wood furniture, light colored walls, and bedding and mattresses with pillow tops for great comfort. And all rooms have coffeemakers, mini-fridges and microwaves, in addition to closets, hairdryers and a desk area with electrical outlets at the ready, and a phone from which you can call local numbers for free. Flat-screen, 32-inch TV's are standard in all rooms. Complimentary cribs and connecting rooms and rollaway bed ($15 per night) are available.
Standard rooms have either one king bed and two queen beds. Up to five people can be accommodated in a room with two queen beds and a rollaway.
For accommodating larger groups, opt for two connecting rooms (there are two on each floor), which link two rooms with two queen beds to each other, and have the option to add a rollaway to each to accommodate a total of ten people between them (these connecting rooms cannot be confirmed until the morning of your arrival, so call then to request).
Some of the rooms with two queen beds have the option of an oversized tub with jets, situated out in the open portion of the room. But the rest of the rooms follow the hotel's standard bathroom layout with granite counter tops, tile floors and shower-in-tub configurations throughout.
There is room for six people to sleep in a suite, which has two queen beds and a queen sofa bed, all within a single free-flowing room (there's no separation for the area with the sofa bed, other than a minimal dividing wall that offers little privacy). Rollaway beds are not allowed in suites.
Not sure what the problem is with Holiday Inn Express in the US but they seem to have a cleanliness problem. We stayed in a HIE in Cleveland this year which had dried urine all over the toilet. This one also had a problem with urine. In the bathroom, all round the toilet floor was dried urine. The toilet was covered in hair and urine.
The floors in general were not great, bits of lint and sock fluff could easily be spotted from previous guests.
The TV constantly said "no signal". The hotel is in an undesirable location. Overall it was ok but this chain of hotels seems to be consistently dirty. It was about a 20 walk to Busch Gardens and lobby staff were friendly.
by John P
Ms. Audrey at the front desk was cheerful, helpful and efficient. Room was clean, modern and comfortable. Breakfast was excellent. Downside—in-room coffee maker turned on but did not brew coffee. Some outlets on lamps did not work—including the one that was supposed to be charging my phone. All-in-all—good value, comfortable stay.
If, like most families visiting this Holiday Inn, you've come for Busch Gardens, chances are you won't be spending too much of your time at the hotel. The only real family activity to partake in here is swimming in the outdoor pool set within a fenced-in deck at the rear of the property. The pool is heated during the winter months and reaches a depth of 5 feet, but there's no lifeguard on duty so be sure to keep an eye on your kids (it's open from sunrise to 10 p.m.).
The hotel does not offer DVD machines, but if your kids like to watch movies to relax in the evenings, you can order pay-per-view kids' movies through the cable system to view on the flat-screen TV in the rooms.
Within about a 15-minute drive of the hotel, you'll find many family attractions, including movie theaters and Tampa's main zoo and aquarium.
The hotel's daily complimentary breakfast, the only meal offered at the hotel, is served buffet-style in a bright room off the lobby from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. The spread is fairly basic and includes fruit, cereals, donuts, hot chocolate and a self-serve pancake station. Occasionally (usually on the weekends), you'll find hot offerings, too, such as omelets, sausages and the like.
Nearby Dining Options
A Red Lobster and Olive Garden are a quick stroll from the hotel (right next door), and are great for easy and inexpensive family meals, and countless other fast food restaurant chains are also nearby.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
There is a washer and dryer on the third floor for guests to use. It costs $1 to wash and $1 dry, and you can buy laundry detergent for $2.
A small convenience store off the lobby (called the "Sweet Shop") has things like ice cream bars, chips and sodas.
Wireless Internet is free throughout the hotel. Self-parking is free in an outdoor lot.
Busch Gardens Tickets
You can purchase your Busch Gardens tickets directly from the hotel concierge, and discounts are often offered.
The hotel has a small gym, free for guests to use, with treadmills, bikes and weights.
Onsite parking is free.
Check-in is at 3 p.m. and check-out is at noon.
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, see 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. 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 see you needing 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 International Airport, located about 30 minutes from the hotel and 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.
The hotel shuttle operates on an on-call basis to and from Busch Gardens during the park's open hours. But the driver is off duty between 1 and 4 p.m., so if you plan to come back or head out during those hours, you'll have to take your own car or a taxi.
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 Avenue. 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, where you indulge in decadent endings inside cozy booths, with your selection of music piped in.