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resort report n st petersburg/clearwater

resort report n st petersburg/clearwater

hourly ferry service costing $14 for adults and $7 for children. Caladesi and Fort De Soto Park’s beach have both been named in the annual America’s Top 10 Beaches list produced by coastal expert Dr Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr Beach.

Youngsters will love meeting Winter the dolphin, star of last year’s film Dolphin Tale, at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (www.seewinter.com), along with rays, sea turtles n Sail on a pirate cruise and otters. There are more face to face encounters with marine life on the 90-minute Sea Life Safari nature cruise (www.sealifesafaricruise.com) from Clearwater Beach Marina. And for a swashbuckling adventure, Captain Memo’s Original Pirate Cruise (www.captainmemo.com) includes treasure hunts, storytelling and water-gun battles. Back on dry land, Clearwater’s Pier 60 is a popular destination with its giant inflatable slides and each night there’s a fantastic atmosphere at the free family-friendly sunset celebration (www.sunsetsatpier60.com) with street entertainers and colourful craft stalls. Great Explorations: The Children’s Museum (www.greatexplorations.org) is packed with fun-filled experiences including a giant tree house and robot-making workshop, while science comes to life through more than 450 engaging hands-on exhibits at MOSI (www.mosi.org), the largest science centre in the southeastern United States with a planetarium, ropes course and Florida’s only IMAX Dome theatre.

Clearwater

revival

n St Pete's Don CeSar – the pink palace

T

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on the beach The 35 miles of white sands are a playground for sun worshippers and water sports enthusiasts alike. Lively Clearwater beach, with its playground, free surf wheelchairs for the disabled and plenty of nearby restaurants, has something for everyone. This year, St Pete Beach, one of the few surfing spots along the Gulf of Mexico, was voted TripAdvisor’s top American beach and number five in the world. Nature lovers should head for Indian Shores, where sand grasses and sea grapes grow on the dunes and the free-admission Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary (www.seabirdsanctuary.com) is the world’s largest bird hospital. Idyllic outlying barrier islands include Honeymoon, reached by a causeway, and Caladesi, accessible by an

Summer 2012

n Waterfront dining in Tampae

Summer 2012

Visit Florida

Visit Florida

Visit Florida

he thrill of Orlando’s theme parks is the main attraction for many of the 1.3 million UK visitors that flock to Florida annually. Yet there’s much more than Mickey Mouse in one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. Just 90 minutes away from cartoon characters and white-knuckle rides, a very different corner of Florida is waiting to be explored. The neighbouring resorts of St Petersburg and Clearwater overlooking the Gulf of Mexico offer wonderful beaches for those in search of rest and relaxation and a surprisingly-diverse range of attractions that are the perfect antidote to the busy theme parks. On the doorstep to the east is Tampa, one of the main airline gateways. Home to top sports teams, festivals and cultural charms, it’s another reason for visitors to warm to the west coast of Florida.

St Petersburg/Clearwater has plenty of interest for culture vultures. The flagship Dali Museum (www.thedali.org), with its striking architectural features, houses America’s largest collection of the n Dali Museum Spanish artist’s work. Meanwhile, art from around the world is showcased at the Museum of Fine Arts (www.fine-arts.org), including paintings by Monet, Renoir and Cezanne. Uncover fascinating local history at Fort De Soto Park (www.fortdesoto.com), with its Quartermaster Museum and last surviving cannons dating back to the 1898 Spanish-American War. Largo’s open-air Heritage Village (www.pinellascounty.org/heritage) provides a glimpse into the past with a collection of restored buildings, including a school, church and homes, and car enthusiasts will want to make tracks to Tampa Bay Automobile Museum (www.tbauto.org), with its fine vintage cars and a replica of the world’s first selfpropelled vehicle.

tlm n the travel & leisure magazine www.tlm-magazine.co.uk

Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater

culture

For those wanting to escape the high-octane thrill rides and razzmatazz of Orlando’s theme parks, Gulf of Mexico twin resorts St Petersburg and Clearwater will help recharge your batteries whether you want to kick back on some of America’s best beaches or soak up some culture. Jeannine Williamson highlights some options n Caladesi Island’s white sand beach

Visit St. Petersburg+Clearwater

family fun

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resort report n st petersburg/clearwater

speciality of the area is grouper – succulent white fish, most commonly grilled, blackened or fried. Try it beachside in a sandwich at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (http://frenchysonline.com) or head to the Salt Rock Grill (www.saltrockgrill.com) overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway at Indian Shores for the best in all seafood as well as wood-fired steaks. Elsewhere, Latin and Spanish influences abound and nowhere more so than at the Columbia restaurants (www.columbiarestaurant.com) – family owned and operated for over 100 years – with their old-world charm and award-winning Spanish/Cuban cuisine. Located at the Pier in St Petersburg and on the Intracoastal Waterway in Sand Key, Clearwater Beach. The original location is in Ybor City, Tampa.

n St Petersburg Pier

“Caladesi and Fort De Soto Park’s beach have both been named in the annual America’s Top 10 Beaches list”

shopping There’s nothing like a little retail therapy to help you unwind, and Florida’s Gulf Coast has shopping options to suit everyone from ardent shopaholics to window shoppers; there are many craft shops if you want to take back local art or a memento of your visit. Serious shoppers are spoilt for choice, with something like a dozen shopping malls in the area. They include Westfield Countryside Mall in Clearwater (www.westfield.com/countryside) plus several in and around Tampa, among them Westfield Citrus Park (www.westfield.com/citruspark), International Plaza and Bay Street (www.shopinternationalplaza.com), which combines a covered mall with an open-air village of restaurants and boutiques, WestShore Plaza (www.westshoreplaza.com) and discount shopping in the 130 outlet stores at Ellenton Premium Outlets (www.premiumoutlets.com). And if it’s curios or something arty you are looking for, downtown St Petersburg has a collection of boutique shops and galleries to browse while Dunedin offers fashion, jewellery, antique and speciality stores as well as art galleries.

Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater

nightlife and dining

n Downtown St Petersburg

Clearwater’s nightlife scene offers everything from outdoor patio bars to New York-style nightclubs while St Petersburg has appeal for the younger, trendier crowd with options from tapas bars to upscale wine bars and lounges and nightclubs. Chic venue Vintage Ultra Lounge (http://vintageultralounge.com) in downtown St Petersburg is a combination of nightclub, lounge, bar and concert venue, with the best DJs and local live bands while the newly-reopened V Tampa Bay (http://thevtampabay.com) in Clearwater offers themed disco nights alongside the best of today’s music scene. A variety of restaurants for all tastes can be found, and, unsurprisingly, great seafood is top of the list. The

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n A paddler's paradise

You don’t need to travel far to explore St Petersburg and Clearwater’s 26 enchanting neighbourhood communities, all located within Pinellas County. A wee corner of Scotland, albeit much sunnier, five miles north of Clearwater is the quaint town of Dunedin, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh; it is packed with small galleries, pubs and attractive individual shops. Home to the largest number of Greek settlers outside Greece, riverside Tarpon Springs is lined with sponge diving boats and baklava shops and has a Byzantinestyle cathedral. Historic Largo boasts traditional Florida shops while pretty Gulfport, on St Petersburg/Clearwater’s southern tip, has a vibrant art and crafts community. For outdoor enthusiasts, all these destinations, and more, can be reached on the Pinellas Trail, a tranquil 40-mile cycle and walking path. Alternatively, for a more adventurous outing in a completely natural setting you can paddle your own canoe or go on a guided expedition with Canoe Escape (www.canoeescape.com) along the Hillsborough River, which winds its way through to Tampa Bay. Excursions last from two hours to a full day, and you can expect to see a host of wildlife, including ibis, herons, egrets and alligators – just 15 miles from downtown Tampa! Tampa has plenty of other attractions to keep visitors happy on full-day or half-day outings. Busch Gardens (http://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa) combines thrill rides – the newest one being Cheetah Hunt – and shows with animals at attractions such as Edge of Africa and experiences including Serengeti Safari. There are more animals at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo (www.lowryparkzoo.com) and marine creatures galore at the Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org) with exhibits including a coral reef, wetlands and a beach. The aquarium operates dolphin-spotting cruises into Tampa Bay. Spanish-flavoured heritage is on offer in Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighbourhood. Several of Florida’s crystal clear inland springs are also an easy day trip away. Among them are Weeki

Summer 2012

Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater

Visit Florida

days out


resort report n st petersburg/clearwater

st petersburg/clearwater facts when to go n Watching over bathers

Visit Florida

Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater

n Jumping for joy

This part of Florida’s Gulf Coast holds the Guinness World Record for the longest run of consecutive sunny days – 768 – and enjoys an annual average of 361 days of sunshine. With temperatures reaching 32°C in July and August and hovering around 15°C in winter, it’s a year-round destination.

getting there Wachi Springs State Park (http://weekiwachee.com), with a “mermaid show”, boat tours, swimming, snorkelling and diving, and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where you can see manatees.

British Airways (www.ba.com) flies direct to Tampa from Gatwick. BA and Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) fly direct from Gatwick to Orlando and Virgin also flies non-stop from Manchester and Glasgow. St Petersburg/Clearwater is 25 miles and around a 30-minute drive from Tampa and 107 miles from Orlando, a journey time of about 90 minutes.

sporting chance

getting around There is an airport to hotel shuttle service and, for visitors who don’t want to hire a car, it’s easy to get around on local transport including the Suncoast Beach Trolley and St Petersburg Trolley that stop at all the main attractions. Airport car hire, pre-bookable through Alamo, Budget, Hertz, Dollar and other companies, is best for those who want to explore further afield and the interstate highway 1-275 connects St Petersburg/Clearwater with the 1-75 running the length of Florida’s west coast. n Sand Key Visit St. Petersburg+Clearwater

There’s plenty of opportunity to catch a slice of the sporting action as this corner of Florida is home to three national teams that are all in the major US leagues. American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (www.buccaneers.com), or “Bucs” as they are known, play their home games at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, where a pirate ship “fires” cannons when they score a touchdown. The Tampa Bay Rays (http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com) baseball team play at Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, unique as being the world’s only professional sports venue with a tank of rays that fans can touch and feed. If a player hits a home run into the 10,000 gallon tank, the club donates $5,000 to charity. Completing the trio is the ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning (http://lightning.nhl.com) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Visitors will find it easy to buy tickets for all three venues, although if the Rays are playing high-profile teams such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, they should be booked well in advance. Away from spectator sports, there are excellent golf facilities with more than 40 courses ranging from rolling hills to waterside views. Among the historic clubs are the scenic Belleview Biltmore (www.belleviewbiltmoregolf.com) and Dunedin (www.dunedingolfclub.com), both designed by Scotsman Donald Ross, who laid the foundations of American golfing. Innisbrook (www.innisbrookgolfresort.com) boasts four championship courses and a school and hosts the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship.

Park beach

prices Eating out is cheaper than the UK with many fixed-price “all you can eat” buffets that are great for families. You can pick up a take-away burger for a couple of dollars and pay around $10-15 for a sitdown burger meal and drink. Main courses cost $20 upwards in gourmet restaurants.

tour operators Holidays are offered by companies including British Airways Holidays (www.britishairways.com/holidays), Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk), Cosmos (www.cosmos.co.uk), Travel City Direct (www.travelcitydirect.com), Thomson Holidays (www.thomson.co.uk) and Jetsave (www.jetsave.com).

tourist information Visit Florida: www.visitflorida.com Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater: www.visitstpeteclearwater.com

stay Accommodation ranges from self-catering apartments and cosy B&Bs to luxurious resort-style properties. One of the most historic properties is the landmark Don CeSar Beach Resort (www.loewshotels.com) that opened in 1928 a few miles west of St Petersburg; it is dubbed the “pink palace”. Ideal for families is Clearwater’s Sandpearl Resort (www.sandpearl.com), where the Camp Ridley children’s activity programme is themed around Florida’s animals and ecosystems.

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Pier Hotel (www.thepierhotel.com), dating back to 1921, is an atmospheric boutique property and St Petersburg’s oldest continuously-operating hotel. A good choice for a romantic escape for couples is Hotel Isis (www.isisbeachhotel.com), in a quiet beachside spot midway between St Petersburg’s and Clearwater’s beaches. Rooms are only a few steps from the sand, where there are hammocks and beachside tables for sunset dining.

Freelance travel writer Jeannine Williamson first discovered the “other side” of Florida when she completed the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando and then moved down a gear to relax by the Gulf Coast.

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