Sister properties in Clearwater, Florida offer complementary spins on an adult vacation.
By Mike Dojc
Sometimes you want the best of both worlds, a full-service resort that offers every amenity under the sun AND an exclusive boutique inn loaded with charm, sophistication, and history. Break a Clearwater, Florida vacation into back-to-back stays at nearby sister properties and you don’t have to choose between the two splendid experiences.
I teed up a recent winter escape at Sandpearl Resort, a silver LEED-certified Opal Collection stunner, home of the sole AAA Four Diamond restaurant on the beach and a geothermal heated lagoon style pool to splash around in.
How’s the beach? Walk past a pair massive sand dunes just behind the pool area and find a perch on this expansive swath of Gulf-Fronting coastline. There are plenty of spots to lay out and curl the alabaster sand, so fine you could practically bake with it, beneath your toes while your peruse a paperback or just sit back, sip a mojito, and watch the seabirds fly. If you’re lucky ducky you may spy a rehabilitated loggerhead turtle being returned to his habitat—the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (more on it below) has been known to release rescues behind the Sandpearl.
Join the bump, set, spike action at one of the trio of beach volleyball courts or hop on a wave runner, pull back on the throttle and feel the wind in your hair as you ride into the inviting jade blue waters.
It’s all about the surf and turf at hopping in-house hotspot Caretta’s on the Gulf where there’s a raw bar, beverages bar, and one of the best views in Clearwater on a deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Set the mood with a signature Sandpearl Elixir, a vodka and ginger drink with Veuve Clicquot champagne and elderflower liquor. You can’t go wrong starting dinner off on a high note with the restaurant’s Seafood Plateau, a smorgasbord of Blue Point oysters, wild American shrimp, poached Maine lobster tail, Dutch Harbor king crab legs, and green-lipped mussels. Don’t be afraid to dine full-on surf and surf if the black grouper and/or king salmon entrees are calling your name.
Sandpearl Resort Spa
Decades of spa appointments have taught me that when there’s a dedicated elevator to whisk patrons up to a palace of soothing, relaxation and skin detoxing, you’ve come to top-notch place. Sandpearl keeps the elevator to paradise streak alive. The signature body renewal treatment offers the revitalization trifecta. It’s an 80-minute treatment kicking off with a full body exfoliation, followed by the application of body serum, oil, and cream, and then caps off the pampering session with a restorative massage. A sucker for elongated foot rubs and hand acupressure, I opted for 50-minutes of reflexology and left the treatment room walking on air.
Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail who starred in Dolphin Tales (1 and 2) is the marquee attraction at this splash pad for marine rehabilitation and release that also functions as an aquatic mammal hospital. While you can spend hours making eyes at the clownfish, seahorses, stingrays and otters, the glassed-in animal operating room is something you don’t see at most aquariums. Yahtzee the turtle (pictured) was admitted wrapped in fishing line, missing his front left flipper and presenting fibropapillomas. On my visit I peered into the surgical suite to watch doctors administer anesthesia and begin an operation to remove the cauliflower shaped tumors.
Everything Old is New Again
In 1897, railroad tycoon Henry Plant stood on a bluff, a mere gap wedge away from an artesian well bubbling fresh water from the intra-coastal and knew this was the spot, in the wilds of West Florida, to build the Belleview (which would later become the Belleview Biltmore in 1919 when John McEntee Bowman purchased it). Over the next century the hotel and it’s pair of Donald Ross-designed golf courses would become a playground for heads of state, the sons and daughters of America’s gilded families, and A-listers like Babe Ruth, Arnold Palmer, Mr. Rogers and Bob Dylan.
The hotel shuttered in 2009 but now after an eight-year hiatus and extensive restoration work, including porting the building 300 feet on robo-dollies, JMC Communities has restored the grand hotel lobby and the rooms above it. Belleview Inn is back open as a 35-room boutique.
Sip on a coffee or tea at Maisie’s, the hotel café is named after the wife of Morton Plant, Henry’s son who ran the hotel from 1899 until he passed in 1918. Maisie once spied a double strand natural south sea pearl necklace while sauntering about New York (you can see a replica in the hotel’s history room), extremely valuable in the day. Morton did not have the one million in cash to buy the necklace and make his young bride happy. So instead of succumbing to sticker shock he instead swapped the deed to his Fifth Ave manse. Those midtown digs would become and still remain Cartier’s HQ. As for the necklace, it fetched $150,000 at auction after Masie’s death in 1956.
Have the concierge hook you up with a bicycle to take for a spin around the neighborhood. The grounds around the periphery of the golf course are gorgeous but it’s worth riding a couple miles to get to William Dean Chocolates, the chocolatier’s exquisite bonbons and macaroons were featured in the first couple Hunger Games movies.
– Photos by Mike Dojc
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.