The Sheraton Sand Key resort hotel is just over a long bridge stretching over the Causeway from Clearwater Beach on Florida’s Gulf coast.
I arrive at the resort on the aptly named Jolly Trolley which I take from right outside the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and deposits me right at the resort hotel’s door (I meet a whole bunch of other people on the trolley who also are staying at the Sheraton and we chat up where we have been that day). The trolley service is very frequent, and Clearwater Beach is only about 10 or 15 minutes ride, so it is easy to go back and forth to go to restaurants or shops, and of course, the fantastic Pier 60, a happening place all its own, where there are events staged (they were rebuilding the playground when I was there).
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium (www.SeeWinter.com) as much as the pristine white sand the texture of talcum powder, are responsible for the throngs of visitors who flock to Clearwater Beach year-round. But Clearwater Beach is actually part of a long string of sand keys stretching down to St. Petersburg Beach that altogether make for an incredibly rich destination.
In fact, it is remarkable how enjoyable a stay you can have without a car, just hopping trolleys and public buses everywhere (you can purchase unlimited travel tickets for the day or multi-day which are very inexpensive and offer children’s and senior discounts; and if you want to bike, there are bike rental places along the Pineallas Trail). The experience is that much enriched by chatting up with other visitors who hail from all over the country and the world, as well as local residents.
The Sheraton commands a lovely setting, the first major property over the causeway from Clearwater Beach, just next door to Sand Key County Park. It is most enjoyable to walk through this small public park and nature preserve. Wthin the span of just a couple of city blocks length, I find an amazing assortment of beautiful birds –Great Blue heron, egret, stork, night heron. Walking along the sprawling beach, I come upon wave surfers.
The beaches along this stretch are unquestionably among the finest in the world. Clearwater Beach was named the Best City Beach on the Gulf of Mexico by Dr. Stephen Leatherman (“Dr. Beach”), a Florida International University professor who has been ranking America’s beaches for well over a decade. USATODAY.com readers have ranked Clearwater Beach in the Top 10 List of Best Beaches from Maine to Hawaii. Conde Nast Traveler has also recognized Clearwater Beach as the Best City Beach on the Gulf of Mexico, and the Travel Channel has declared Clearwater Beach the Best Activity Beach in the United States.
Clearwater has been designated a Blue Wave Beach. This certification program, overseen by the Clean Beaches Council , promotes beaches which are managed to protect their natural assets. This designation assists the public in identifying the nation’s cleanest and safest beaches. Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island (fantastic for kayaking amid mangroves) and Sand Key Park have also received the Blue Wave designation.
Clearwater Beach is undergoing a dramatic renaissance, the most significant improvement to Clearwater’s tourism economy in decades. Beach Walk, the City’s $30 million infrastructure contribution, dramatically compliments the beach’s landscape – and the visitor experience – by adding green space and public areas with more amenities as well as improving pedestrian access. One new resort is completed and another is under construction. More are in the planning stages.
Nearby Caladesi Island is currently reining as the #1 Best Beach in the United States, ranked so primarily for its water quality, rustic charm, clean beaches, on-site amenities and its emphasis on wildlife. Pinellas County is the only Florida destination which can say it has two #1 Best Beaches; Ft. DeSoto Park (on the southern tip, near St. Pete Beach) was ranked the #1 Best Beach in 2005.
Superb Beachfront Setting
Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway, the Sheraton Sand Key is set on some of the most beautiful, expansive stretch of powder white sand beach at Sand Key. It is an ideal conference and events resort hotel designed to meet the needs of groups and gatherings while providing every amenity and convenience for family members who may not be participating in the functions (and no resort fee). The Sheraton has a fantastic, lushly landscaped pool, kiddie pool and hot tub complex, as well as poolside Turtle Bar, right on the beach, a sprawling beachfront, 3 hard-surface tennis courts, beach volleyball and playground. Water sports include sail boats, kayaks, wave runners. There are children’s activities programs offered June through August. The 9th floor fitness center commands some of the best views of the resort and offers massages and facials.
Dining options include Rusty’s Bistro, its fine dining venue serving breakfast and dinner (the Tampa Bay Times voted it a Top 30 in Tampa Bay, and for the fifth consecutive year, Chef John Harris and his team were awarded a Florida Trend 2015 Golden Spoon Award, which recognizes the state’s top 100 restaurants). There is also the Mainstay Tavern serving lunch and dinner, a very comfortable room that has the feel more like a living room or lounge; the Island Grille is great for a casual lunch; and there is the Blue Water Provisions 24 hour convenience store (comes in handy). A short walk from the hotel is a small shopping center with a lovely restaurant, Colombia, plus Dunkin Donuts, a general store and some other shops, and I really appreciated the clever cross-walk system that makes it safe to cross the busy road, even at night.
The Sheraton offers 390 spacious guest accommodations, including 15 suites with private balconies or patios; 90% of the guestrooms offer water views. Room amenities include 42” flat screen LCD TV, in-room Nintendo, pay-per-view movies and HD Cable TV; in-room safes, coffee pot, hair dryer and ironing board; property-wide Internet access, wired and wireless, and refrigerator.
A year ago, having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, the Sheraton Sand Key Resort completed a multi-million dollar, multi-year top to bottom renovation. Russ Kimball, General Manager and his designer of nearly 30 years, Bettie Bragg of Niles Bolton in Atlanta, conceptualized a near-total makeover bringing contemporary design elements to virtually every aspect of a guest’s experience.
Guests are welcomed into the hotel at personalized registration stations. From floor to ceiling, the hotel common areas have a brighter, more expansive feeling. Lounge areas are both functional and inviting adding to the relaxed resort atmosphere.
All 390 rooms were updated with fresh designs, new furniture, themed carpet, drapes and artwork along with enhanced guests amenities, and new Sheraton Sweet Sleeper™ beds.
The highly honored Rusty’s Bistro was given a new look with a wine-wall, while many elements have been upgraded to reflect the award-wining eclectic dining options.
The Sand Key Room, a multi-flexible meeting venue was totally revamped along with key elements in the expansive ballrooms. Beach access, special pavilion tents and expansive poolside entertaining options continue to make this a true destination meeting environment with many options.
No Car, No Problem
With an unusually strong wind (while the Northeast/Atlantic was battered by historic blizzard, so we couldn’t complain), and since I had already spent a delightful day at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the concierge suggested hopping the trolley bus to John’s Pass, a quaint fishing village that now offers some 150 shops (some quite fine), eateries (some with music), fishing and watercrafts.
No car, no problem.
You can use the various bus lines to explore the many different beaches and villages, and mix-up your experiences. You can travel north (best is by bike, on the Pinellas Trail), to Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Docks, a Greek fishing village that was settled originally by sponge divers and now makes you feel as you have traveled thousands of miles across the sea. Go south, and you are in St. Pete Beach, the charming fishing village of Pass-a-Grille Beach, Ft. DeSoto and St. Petersburg, with the most fabulous collection of art, history and cultural attractions.
You can ride the Suncoast Beach Trolley all day long for $5, (Downtown Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Sand Key Park, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Madeira Beach where John’s Pass is, Treasure Island, going as far south as St. Pete Beach); other trolley lines go up to North Country (Clearwater, Dunedin and Caledesi Island, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, running Friday, Sat. and Sunday, 727-445-1200).
It is really an amazing service – at the various bus stops, you can access online links to find out exactly when the next bus will be coming along. And the drivers are most helpful, giving directions and guiding you to the right stop. It also offers a lovely sightseeing experience.
The Sheraton is also across the street from the Clearwater Sailing Club and visitors can join to take advantage of sailing experiences. Golf, fishing and boat rentals are also just minutes away.
Busch Gardens is a 45 minutes drive, and Orlando theme parks are 90 minutes drive.
International airports easily accessible: Tampa (TPA-25 miles) Orlando (MCO-110 miles) St. Pete–Clearwater (PIE-13 miles). The resort offers complimentary parking.
Sheraton Sand Key Resort, 1160 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767, 800-456-7263 or 727-595-1611, www.sheratonsandkey.com. Visit the site for special packages.
For more visitor information, contact the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, clearwaterflorida.org, Clearwater Beach Visitor Information Center, 727-442-3604, or Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater, 877-352-3224, 727-464-7200, www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.
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