Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Plant Museum

Henry Plant Museum

Tampa Bay is host to many lovely holiday displays. Tampa’s Henry B. Plant museum’s Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll takes advantage of this grand dame Tampa Hotel to transport visitors to a Victorian Christmas celebration.  This display is a great place to photograph as once you have photographed all the lovely trees and decorations inside, you can photograph the equally lovely hotel exterior.

I set aside the better part of an afternoon and early evening to photograph the interior and exterior shots.  The twinkling holiday lights and the blue hour opportunities are simply magnificent all year round, but extended holiday hours make for some great opportunities.

But there are some challenges here.  I arrived in late afternoon, knowing full well that the rooms are lit in a fashion similar to the late 19th century, in other words, dark.  I came prepared with a tripod.  Turns out the museum prohibits tripods.  Not surprisingly, flash photography is also not allowed.

“Edison lights” cast a lovely glow

Edison Lights
Edison Lights

but not necessarily for photography. About twelve rooms,  decorated in lovely Victorian detail, show off the lovely museum collection with lovely holiday ornaments.

I saw a few people photographing with phones. It seems unlikely that will work well.  I set my camera ISO  variously at 640 and 1200, I tried to find rooms with windows, to get a bit of  additional light. Despite that, I needed to do a lot of post processing…simple stuff really. I used the Apple software program Photo to lighten most of these photos and improved the black balance. I also reduced the noise.

If you are photographing during the holiday celebration, I think it is best to set your ISO at around 640 for most of the shots rather than at 1200, to control for noise. Christmas trees are inherently “noisy”, as it is.  I took all these with my  Olympus Zuiko 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens.

I think the best shots were those  taken up close, where noise was less of an issue.  These glass ornaments are all quite lovely:

Trees decorated all of the rooms. Each room had a theme. Some fun ones included Sherlock Holmes and Poinsettia.

My favorite, though was “Welcome to Florida”, where a tiny train travels around a tall tree, covered in oranges and Florida memorabilia. It is apropos for Henry Plant, who founded a railroad.

Feathers and a full-size nutcracker make for interesting  photos.

I took a break after a couple of hours of shooting and returned sans camera to enjoy walking around as the sun set outside.  Once back outside, after the sunset, I retrieved my tripod and set my ISO to 1600. The night view of the hotel is free and I never tire of photographing this grand dame of a building, no matter what the season.

Plant Museum at Night
The Plant Museum in all Its Glory

Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry

Checking in!
CCross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete
Cross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete

Some experts suggest that the future of public transport in the Tampa Bay region lies with the use of our waterways.  With that in mind, a few communities have ferry demonstration programs.  The Cross-Bay Ferry  began to travel between St. Pete and Tampa as a six month pilot project that will end this month.

Since the pilot was ending on April 30, I figured it might be the time to try this out. I visited the website last week to check out the schedule.  The first thing that struck me was that this really isn’t a commuter ferry.  On weekdays, the first ferry out of St. Pete is at noon and the last ferry out of Tampa is 5:30 PM.  I guess for folks lucky enough to work four hours per day, this might work! But for someone working eight hours per day, not so much. For retirees, tourists, and some late rising students, though this is probably about right. We saw one person who actually looked like a commuter. Nearly everyone we talked to was, like us, a local…curious about the service.

I had read that the ferry was lightly used during the week, so I didn’t buy my tickets online.  Turns out that was almost a mistake.  We left home early, at 10:45, and arrived around 11:15, to get the noon ferry. Tickets were initially plentiful, but by 11:30, all the tickets for the returning 5:30 PM ferry had been sold. Parking was free for ferry riders and ferry tickets were $5 per person.

We boarded the boat 15 minutes before launch.  My daughter, Caity and I sat up on the upper deck…seemingly less popular than the air-conditioned lower deck near the bar.  The ride was uneventful, and took 55 minutes. The seas were calm. Many photo ops along the way.  I rediscovered a filter on my camera that makes for interesting water shots. Most interesting is the Port of Tampa.

From the Ferry
On the Ferry
Kicking back

Once we arrived in Tampa, we had numerous options to enjoy ourselves.  We decided to take the streetcar to Ybor City.  I hadn’t been there for a while.  We could also have headed up the Riverwalk on the west side of downtown.  Strangely many of the bus options downtown don’t run this time of the day, so getting to Waterworks Park at the end of the Riverwalk, north of downtown Tampa, would have been a long walk.  We had decided against bringing our bikes as we didn’t want to worry about them. We had also decided against the Pirate Water Taxi  as being too expensive ($18 per person). It did look like a neat idea if one were spending a whole day visiting central Tampa.

streetcar
Catching the streetcar
Water taxi
Water taxi

The streetcar trip to Ybor City took 20 minutes.  Lunch was at Hamburger Mary’s where I blew up my diet for the day with a bean burger and an awesome side of sweet potato fries.  Coffee afterwards was at a neat place called the Blind Tiger…great coffee. Ybor City is quiet on a Friday afternoon, and I think most of the folks we saw walking around had come over on the ferry with us.

The trip back was at 5:30 and we were tired by then.  I took more photos on the way back.  The light is good that time of the day.  For those who had missed out on tickets home, folks were selling unused tickets near the kiosk.  We arrived back at about 6:30 and were home for dinner by 7:30.

on the streetcar
Caity on the streetcar

Hopefully, the service continues as I think most of the people using the service seemed to enjoy it.  Would I use the ferry rather than drive into Tampa?  Probably not, as it we live too far from St. Pete and this adds at least an hour each way to the trip into Tampa.  If someone decided to develop a service from our side of Tampa Bay to Tampa, I would definitely consider it.  The problem though is likely to be cost.  The initial cost was to be $10 per person. At that price, I might have been hesitant…particularly if parking wasn’t free. Apparently, private sector support has allowed the price reduction…so it isn’t clear whether this will be affordable.  But for tourists staying near the waterfront, this is a great way to see the other side of the Bay.

Ferry
The End of the Day