If you grew up thinking the beach was all about big surf and exhausting yourself jumping waves and swimming against the tide, then you’re like me: you’d never think of Florida’s West Coast for a vacation.
And what a mistake that would be.
Here are the things I adored (and I’m not alone; my whole family agreed):
1) Wading waist deep into the Gulf of Mexico, hat and sunglasses on, and just floating in the 87 degree water all day. There is absolutely nothing more relaxing.
2) It was a mere one minute walk from our room to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico (maybe three minutes, tops, from the far end of the property).
3) When we got thirsty we walked to the nearest pool, ordered a drink and waded in waist deep, drink in hand and lolled around there for a while. (Disclosure: the hotel doesn’t really want guests bringing drinks into the pool, but they were kind enough not to scold us, because, you know, vacation)
4) Five pools: One for adults (where we waded into the water with cocktails in hand), a family pool that was shallow and great for kids, a deeper pool great for real swimming and perfect for families with older kids, and a kiddie pool for babies and toddlers.
5) White sugar sand beaches, just like the post cards and best travel photos.
6) No early morning dash to reserve a good pool chair or beach cabana. The resort asks guests not to ‘reserve’ pool or beach seating by dropping belongings on them, and no one does. It’s not necessary, because there are way more chairs than guests. Especially if you include the beach cabanas, which are ample and FREE to guests; you just call the activities center and they reserve one for you.
7) A resort fee that actually gets you something. Lots of free activities are available so while you’re relaxing in the pool sipping a pina colada, you can send the kids to slide on the 30-foot-tall inflated slide on the beach, to paddle around the resort’s waterway in paddle boats, for a game of beach volley ball or mini golf. If you really want to wear them out, though, a pass to the resort’s Splash Island ($16 for registered guests, $25 for non-guests) will do the trick; an hour climbing the inflated jungle gym, sliding on the inflated slide and jumping on the floating trampoline will grace your dear little ones into sheer exhaustion. The resort fee also covers self parking, wifi, tennis court time, beach cabana reservations fitness classes, and beach games like bocce ball.
8) More for kids to do than you can think of: “Dive-in” movies shown in the swimming pool at night (I LOVED this and wanted to go, but was overruled when the kids saw the movie was one they’ve outgrown); adults are invited to pull up a chair and a cocktail while the kids splash around and watch; there is a kids activity center, fishing lessons, a daily Poolside Invasion of crazy games, competitions and prizes, a bungee trampoline and more. More than you can possibly do on a vacation.
9) Plenty for grownups to do, too. Besides the adult pool, there is a Tiki bar where you can order drinks and food, an ocean front grill, a bar in the main lobby (think: elegant drink before dinner), fine dining at the Palm Court Italian Grill, and for after dinner entertainment, the Sharktooth Tavern, which has music nightly and on Mondays, a hilarious Karaoke stand (am I still red-faced…?).
10) $20 million renovation, anyone? The property and rooms are lovely, tropically accented and our room had flat screen TVs (which we hardly used) granite sink tops and plush, comfy beds, all of it gorgeous enough to make you feel guilty about your kids dumping their sandy swimsuits and wet towels on the bathroom floor. But luxurious enough to make you feel a great sense of ‘ahhhhh’ when you first open the door.
You can DRIVE there (we did!). Or fly into Tampa and rent a car. But no international flights, no customs, no passports, no currency exchange, no language barriers, no nasty surprises. And, if you have your car, you have the freedom to tool around St. Pete Beach, which we did, or you can just stay on the TradeWinds property the whole time, which is great, too.
What to Know for Next Time
Next time, I’d probably opt for a ground floor room; there are only a few of them but wow, how great to walk out the door and right to the beach, or to sit out on your patio with coffee in the morning. And if you have toddlers, there’s nothing better than a patio where you can sit with a bottle of wine, dinner from room service and a baby monitor.
With two teenagers, I’d also probably opt for adjoining rooms rather than a suite (as spoiled as that sounds). The suite we stayed in was lovely, though a bit tight for four of us. It did have a kitchenette, but with so many restaurant options and a Starbucks in the lobby, we didn’t use it.
Exploring the Area: Great Sunsets and Great Food
And next time, I definitely want to find time to explore more of St. Pete Beach. A couple of evenings we got back into the Tahoe and drove around, exploring.
The first night we ended up at the PCI Bar and Grill for dinner. After drooling over its very modern-casual menu, we all ordered barbecue (and it was very good).
Another night headed down to Pass-a-Grille, a seaside town at the south end of St. Pete Beach that is rich in charm, good food and spectacular sunsets. We had dinner at The Hurricane, a fixture on the beach for both family dining and roof-top cocktailing; the restaurant is famous for its fresh-caught grouper, but as we were told, get it while you can: grouper has been over fished and can be hard to get local and fresh. The food was good, but the beach side location is killer. After dinner we walked across the street and sat on the boardwalk to watch the sun set. As we sat and waited for the big
event, the boardwalk and beach filled with locals, tourists, dog walkers and bike riders, all pausing in their evening to see the sun spectacularly dip below the horizon and leave a pink and orange sky in its wake.
And with the setting sun that ended the day, so ended my vacation. The next morning we would pack up and head for home, but truly, I can’t wait to—and will—return.
Disclosure: We were a guest of TradeWinds for one night for an hour at Splash Island; we benefitted from a media rate for the rest of our stay; opinions and photographs are my own.