I am embarrassed to say I attended UT for two semesters and didn’t manage to get to this museum until after I’d left their enrollment. Plant Hall, the former Tampa Bay Hotel, is an amazing building and its iconic minarets frequently featured in photos of the Tampa skyline. The museum itself is housed in just part of this huge structure. The rest of the structure has been converted into offices and administrative space for the university, though many architectural and decorative details remain and I recommend taking an unobtrusive stroll through the rest of the building before you leave.
The museum itself showcases a wealth of furniture, objects and photographs from the Tampa Bay Hotel’s brief but golden heyday. I am a gizmo geek so I adored the little audiowands provided – speakers at one end and a keypad to “dial up” the audiotour stops. I thought the design and layout of the audiotour stops was very well thought out. The audiowands feature flat speakers that you simply hold to your ear and if the surrounding room was a bit noisy, it could be hard to hear. But no problem since the audiotour was broken into very reasonable soundbites, with some rooms having 3-4 separate bits of narration. This made it easy to relisten to just the bit you missed or wanted to hear again.
I really appreciated the breadth of information provided. Lots of details not only about hotels but about the kinds of people that visited, what train travel was like in those days, major events that happened at the hotel and a lot of information I didn’t know about the importance of Tampa and the hotel as a pre-Cuba staging grounds for the Spanish-American War. My mom and I dallied for a solid hour and a half and enjoyed this museum greatly. Good value for $10 and a must-do for anyone interested in Tampa local history or details of the Gilded Age.