Sure Bet

Seminole Hard Rock Tampa tempts with bright lights, jackpot dreams and a menu of indulgences.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. So just what kind of fun is being had inside that huge complex you see along Interstate 4 east of Tampa? Here’s a primer:

People come here to gamble and escape. It’s the world’s sixth largest casino, so there’s a whole lot of wagering, drinking and smoking going on, although the poker room, an enclosed slot machine area and a few card tables are smoke-free. The Hard Rock Girls who deal at some tables are advertised as “hotter than the cards.’’ So suffice it to say that this is an adult playground and not intended as a family-friendly destination. The players are a diverse lot, including high-rolling foreign visitors, dressed-to-impress young professionals with dates, buddies out for a good time, and local retirees trying to hit it big.

If you love slots, you’ll be in heaven. There are more than 5,000 slot machines, including a penny slots room with hundreds of them. Looking for a favorite? Touch-screen “slot finders’’ are scattered throughout the casino to help you locate the machines by name, type and denomination. So rest assured that you’ll easily find your way to The Beverly Hillbillies, Stinkin’ Rich, Hummingbird Honey and Wheel of Fortune. Or the newest craze, The Walking Dead, which boasts a surround-sound chair and various zombie-like bonuses that you can feed off of.

E-roulette is a fun alternative to Vegas-style
tables. That’s because the latter is illegal in Florida (although legal on casino ships that cruise at least 3 miles offshore). At Seminole Hard Rock, players sit at consoles surrounding a machine that releases a ball into a real roulette wheel. Play is continuous—much faster than at a traditional table (you have only about 30 seconds to bet here). Everything is virtual, including the “chips’’ that you drag to the electronic board in front of you. E-craps is also available, following much the same principle, except oversized dice bounce inside a plastic dome—an amusing sight. Of course, there are plenty of table games such as blackjack and poker. Early in the day, $5 blackjack tables can be found in the main casino and from noon to 7 p.m. in the Hard Rock Café. And there’s usually always a $10 table, except for Saturday night when the minimum rises to $25.

Come for the day or for a night or two. Free parking is abundant in the complex’s three garages, so it’s quick in/quick out if you want to zip over from Orlando (the drive is just over an hour). Or if you choose to stay and are willing to part with a good amount of your winnings, treat yourself to the luxury king room, which includes a spa tub to rest your muscles from a day of gaming wars. Or play it to the hilt and reserve a Roxy Suite, which features a wet bar, four flat-screen TVs and a limestone tub-for-two. Of course, you can also choose to think outside the room with a relaxing session at the Body Rock Spa or by renting a chickee hut cabana next to the pool.

Stop and smell the Guns n’ Roses. Hard Rock properties are known for their collections of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia and this is no exception. From a suit Buddy Holly wore in 1956 to a guitar Leland Sklar used on Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty’’ tour, the place is chock-full of displays. There are also various artworks depicting legends like B.B. King, Bob Marley, Jim Morrison and Tina Turner. And the framed photo of John Lennon as you step out of the eighth floor elevator is a diminutive gem.

There’s a jackpot of dining options. Seminole Hard Rock features eight places to eat, including the upscale Council Oak Steaks & Seafood. Its extensive menu ranges from dry-aged lamb chops and a variety of prime steaks to Alaskan king crab and South African lobster tails. Another good choice is the buffet at Fresh Harvest, offering numerous stations with samples from various cuisines (including some excellent Southern fried chicken). And there’s the reliable Hard Rock Café, where you can enjoy burgers, blackjack and bands all in one setting.

5223 N. Orient Road, Tampa
(From I-4 West, take Exit 7
onto Hillsborough Road)

If you want to spend some of your winnings (or need a break from a losing streak), there are more fun times nearby:

Tampa Bay Rays The American League baseball team plays at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, a half-hour drive beyond the Seminole Hard Rock. The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball, but their ticket prices are among the cheapest. A lower deck outfield seat will run you $30. But since you won so much money, splurge for a $66.50 seat behind the home dugout.

Busch Gardens Just 15 minutes from the casino, this venerable African-themed park opened in 1959 and is home to more than 12,000 animals and a multitude of rides, including five roller coasters. Most memorable of these are Montu and Kumba, featuring all manner of inversions, vertical loops, zero g-rolls and corkscrews. You’ll not soon forget a journey on either—bet on it.

Beach escape Just across Tampa Bay, there are some magnificent Gulf beaches to choose from. Fort De Soto Park’s three-mile expanse has been rated one of the country’s top beaches for years. Farther north, check out the spacious, pristine sands of Clearwater Beach, or Caladesi Island State Park, which is accessible only by boat or ferry.

Categories: Local Getaways