By Kathy L. Collins

The yearly tradition of outdoor ice skating has returned to downtown Tampa. This year, organizers have added a twist to the much beloved event by including the new Winter Village Shops. All of the excitement takes place right along the river in Tampa’s beautiful Curtis Hixon Park, located at 600 N. Ashley Dr. in Tampa.

A temporary ice skating rink has been erected along the river. The new Winter Shops are made up of more than 20 rotating holiday market boutiques. The boutiques are set up in PODS storage containers. Vendors will be selling holiday decorations, clothing, toys, jewelry and much more.

In addition to the shops and ice skating, visitors can enjoy holiday treats at the snack bar which sells roasted chestnuts, snowflake lollipops, chocolate bark and candied nuts. You can try a terrific holiday menu at the Sono Café by Mise en Place. They offer sandwiches, soups and festive sweets along with beer, wine and holiday inspired beverages.

The ice skating rink is open now through Christmas day. You can rent skates and have 90 minutes of fun on the ice for just $12. The rink’s hours are Monday through Thursday 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. When Hillsborough County Schools are out, the hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Winter Village Shops are open Thursday to Sunday through Saturday, December 24. They are also closed on Thanksgiving. The hours for the Winter Village Shops are 4 to 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and 12 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There is no fee to enter the Winter Village and dogs are welcome.

When I visited on Sunday, it was a glorious Florida day. This is a great concept located in a wonderful park alongside the Hillsborough River. Get out there and visit it for yourself. You will instantly get into the holiday spirit if you do.

For more information, and to get a list of the shops and when they will be there, please visit www.wintervillagetampa.com.