August, 2010 – St. Pete’s/Clearwater

Welcome to St. Pete's Beach!

Welcome to St. Pete’s Beach!

A few years ago, when I worked at Business Development Manager, I went on a company site inspection with SIS (Strategic Incentive Solutions) to St. Pete’s/Clearwater. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) hosted a top-notch site inspection for the entire SIS staff for a two night, three day inspection that featured 4 fabulous, luxury hotels and several exciting points of interest.

 

Personally, I had a preconceived notion that the area was host to geriatrics and snow-birders. As a child, my family and I used to frequent the area just to the south of St. Pete’s/Clearwater in our motor home quite a bit. But times were different then. Back then, the beaches were pristine stretches of sand with little to no real hotel chains to boast of.

 

As I saw, times have definitely changed. St. Pete’s/Clearwater is now a bustling, extremely upscale destination boasting some of the industry’s top luxury hotels. Facing those same pristine wide beaches are some of the most beautiful hotels I’ve had the pleasure to visit. With soft white sands, gulls and pelicans wheeling overhead, and the warm Gulf Coast surf lapping at my cold Canadian toes, I was blown away.

 

On arrival we were met by Suzanne and Tina, our two escorts from the CVB, who drove us to our host hotel, The Sandpearl. From the moment we exited the rental cars, we were warmly welcomed by Sales Manager, Wendy. After a quick change and freshen up, we were escorted to meet Winter, the dolphin, at the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Just a 10 minute ride from the hotel, we were thrilled to meet the darling of the aquarium, Winter, and her friends. The personal tour presented by guide, John, filled us in on all the small details we might have missed otherwise, with heart-breaking stories of marine wildlife in desperate need of the aquarium’s unique services. This is no tourist “show”, but rather a real, working rescue, rehab, and release facility. After the success of the movie, A Dolphin Tale, Clearwater Marine Aquarium saw a tremendous influx of visitors, and much needed revenue. Although I haven’t been back since the new Aquarium opened in 2011, I definitely want to return to see how they’re doing and the changes they’ve been able to make!

Winter, the dolphin

Winter, the dolphin

 

On our return to The Sandpearl, Wendy guided us proudly around the property and grounds of this incredible hotel. Situated right on the Clearwater Beach, The Sandpearl really showcases everything the St. Pete’s/Clearwater area has become over the years. Her incredible ocean front views, stately elegance and excellent service were balms to the soul during the very humid August days we spent there. Dinner that evening was a special affair in the private wine room, with waiter, Chris, regaling us with information and stories throughout the spectacular meal.

The Sandpearl Hotel

The Sandpearl Hotel

On the agenda the following morning was breakfast at the Don CeSar, otherwise known as “The Pink Palace”. After a fabulous breakfast hosted by an array of “The Don’s” top sales staff, we were treated to a tour of this incredible hotel by Sales Manager, Terry.  Located directly on St. Pete Beach’s, The Don comes with a long history of providing luxury accommodation for her guests – and even hints of ghostly residents who still walk her halls. Her signature pink exterior and Spanish architecture are mirrored inside by luxurious rooms with all the amenities. The grand ballroom was especially awe-inspiring with it’s signature sunken dance area with gleaming parquet hardwood flooring. Almost relegated to the past, Loews Hotel & Resorts invested millions of dollars in bringing this grand dame back to it’s current glory. As we toured her many fabulous meeting rooms and accommodations, again, we were reminded that this was no “old people’s” resort area-this was state-of-the-art luxury at it’s finest!

"The Don"

“The Don”

Next came lunch at The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg. Not just any lunch, this feast for the eyes and palate was a true treat by all, with the head chef introducing each course personally, making the meal a memorable experience.  Nestled on the downtown waterfront, The Vinoy offers the best of both worlds. Although not beach front, this ultra luxurious hotel faces both the intercoastal waterway and bay-side marinas, with stunning day and night time views. It was also the only hotel we toured that boasted it’s own private golf and country club just a short 5 minute ride away. The superior greens and amenities of the club were evident at every turn and it was a pleasure to learn more about this exciting resort. After a return to The Vinoy to continue our tour to showcase her beauty and desirability as a vacation resort and meeting venue, we were thrilled to take a two hour luxury catamaran trip out into the bay, where dolphins frolicked and chased the boat’s wake. Sales Manager, Ally, outdid herself in providing us with a perfect tour, providing many of the small details to make this a truly memorable day.

The Vinoy

The Vinoy

Dinner that evening was a real treat at The Parkshore Grill, where we experienced a fabulous meal of the highest quality. Treated to samples of some of the best cuisine they had to offer, we were again reminded of just how far this often overlooked area has come in the past few years. Upscale and trendy, the Parkshore Grill’s interior is a reflection of good taste and great food.

 The Parkshore Grill

Our final morning in the area was spent touring Clearwater’s Hyatt Regency hotel. Following a fabulous buffet breakfast, we were pleased to visit the many rooms, meeting facilities and unparalleled spa of this very upscale, luxurious hotel. One of my personal favourites of this property was the 20 state-of-the-art, climate controlled cabanas bordering the pool. Much as we would have loved to have stayed to enjoy the amenities the cabanas offered, time and travel plans dictated our day.

The Hyatt Regency

The Hyatt Regency

 

During a quick SIS meeting, we all agreed the inspections had proven to be especially eye-opening and well worth the visit to Florida in the middle of August. Every one of us felt we had come away with a much clearer understanding of the benefits of promoting this upscale, trendy area on the Gulf Coast. Not only does it offer every possible amenity, but it’s geographical advantage of being within the U.S. is a definite plus for those who would rather not have to deal with extensive travel to more distant shores. The shorter travel times, and the familiarity of an American based destination, with all the features and benefits of the most luxurious Carribean venues, are appealing to anyone seeking relaxation, outstanding eateries, beaches, and unrivaled meeting venues offered by this little known secret of the travel industry.

 

If you’ve experienced a destination you’d like to share, please do in the comments section!

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