OWTK Destination Guide – Sarasota, Florida (Gulf Coast) – PART ONE

OWTK Destination Guide – Sarasota, Florida (Gulf Coast) PART ONE
(Part Two coming soon. B
oth sections will be combined in the archive)

*Compiled through two long weekend stays in the Sarasota area (Fall 2005 and early-Summer 2006)

Sarasota is a city located 50 miles to the South of Tampa and is served by both the Tampa and Sarasota-Bradenton Airports. There are many world renowned beaches within minutes of Sarasota, including Seista, Lido, and Longboat Key as well as Anna Marie Island, among others. The city features many excellent dining spots, both upscale and seaside casual, and some great shopping. Traffic in and around the city or to and from the beaches was never heavy at any time of day, weekday or weekend. As anyone familar with typical beach traffic could tell you, that fact alone makes this an attractive destination.

Sarasota is an interesting little town. It can be considered quite progressive when you consider that it is the home of a major Film Festival (the town loves it’s movies, and is helping to produce/finance an upcoming William H. Macy film) and a homegrown organization called Sarasota Originals dedicated to promoting local independent restaurants, and features a Whole Foods market along with several other natural food stores.

Arrival Info

Flying into Tampa: The Tampa airport (TPA) is a low-fare destination from many cities and is served by all the major airlines including Southwest it has been, in our experience, a very comfortable place to fly into and drive away from (the highways are clearly marked and the entrances are just off the airport grounds). The terminals are connected via an elevated train (about a 1 minute journey) to the main airport area, where the baggage claim, ticketing, and ground transportation areas are located. The unexpected suprise of riding a modern, air conditioned train should delight the young train enthusiast in your family. Also interesting, and a useful divsersion for any wait you might face on the way home, is the Manatees Menagerie throught the terminal. Young kids should love running around looking for all the colorful sea cows – including a Bob Marley Manatee complete with guitar and dreadlocks.
The baggage claim wait was never long (no more than a few minutes) and the rental car booths are in the same space so you should not have to lug your bags around too much. There is no traditional Hertz #1 Club Gold service at the Tampa Airport so all those with Hertz reservations must proceed to the counter for assistance and keys (although there is a separate, faster moving, line for #1 Club Gold members).
The drive from Tampa Airport is an easy one, a virtual straight shot due South which takes just about 1 hour. There is a $1 toll to cross over the visually impressive Sunshine Skyway Bridge on the way through St. Petersburg towards Sarasota.

Flying into Sarasota: The Sarasota-Bradenton Airport (SRQ) is smaller than Tampa, served by fewer airlines and offer fewer flights. However, it does offer non-stop flights to and from many major cities including New York, Charlotte, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, and Toronto. Eight of the major car rental companies are on site, including Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise. The Airport is located a mere 10 minutes from the downtown area and is easy to drive away from as you are essentially two turns (a right and then a left) from downtown and if you add one more right hand turn you will be on the beach in under 15 minutes from the time you obtain your rental car.

There are many lodging options in and around the Sarasota area and the Gulf Island Beaches. All of the major chains (Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton) are represented plus there are many low cost motels scattered both on the mainland and the islands. For longer stays, there are vacation rental units along the beaches.

Homewood Suites by Hilton – Fruitville Rd. Sarasota (OWTK – 4 night stay in September 2005)

This is a handsome square-shaped hotel, painted a festive yellow. The lobby is at the front of the building facing the street, while the outdoor swimming pool and some parking spots on the inside of the square. There are several entry points to various locations of the hotel, which means you most likely will be coming and going without passing through the lobby. All Homewoods offer a free breakfast daily and a manager’s reception with an evening dinner/hot snack on weekday evenings. There is a comfortable, semi-private free business center across from the front desk which offers one computer with high speed internet access and other basic business equipment needs such as a printer, copier, etc. Also in the lobby is the Homewood Suite Shop selling newspapers, maps, magazines, personal items, and beverages along with some snack foods.

Rooms – The rooms, as with most all Homewood Suites (and OWTK have stayed at many), were spacious and very clean, wit
h a separate bedroom (our suite had one King Bed) behind double doors from the living room. The room features two televisions and ceiling fans, with one of each in the bedroom and the living room. There is a pull out sofa available for younger kids and cribs can be had from the hotel for smaller children (we would recommend requesting at the time of reservation and again upon check-in). There is a small table with two chairs placed between living room and kitchen. Highchairs are available from the lobby dining area (we kept one in the room for the length of the stay). The kitchen area is very large with full size refridgerator, dishwasher, microwave, stove top, ample cabinet/storage space for dry goods. There is enough space and equipment to go food shopping and prepare some meals back in the room. The bathroom, while enormous with standard tub/shower and toilet, was the primary source of pain during our stay. The toilet has a very thin plastic seat which shifted frequently in use and was quite bothersome. The tub/shower water never got hot and only rarely could have been considered warm. This was a problem not only for us adults, but attempting to bathe our then 18-month-old baby in temparate water was frustrating to say the least. The other slightly agrivating ocurrence during our stay was our neighboor’s difficulty using an acceptable TV volume level. Yes, the walls are paper thin – a potential issue if your child is having trouble sleeping or maintaning a good “inside voice” or if you are trying to put your kids to sleep and Wheel of Fortune is on so loud in the next room that Pat Sajak could be reading the bedtime stories for you one letter at a time.
The king bed was very comfortable and the crib provided in room upon check-in was superb. It was a wooden crib in very good, clean condition and had wheels, which could be locked, making it easy to position in the living room during the evening and the bedroom for mid-day naps. It showed signs of wear, for sure, but had the appearance of a peice of furniture that has been handled gently and cared for. Our daughter’s eyes lit up when she saw that there were Sesame Street/Elmo sheets on her bed and a soft Elmo blanket hanging over the edge. This was a very nice touch, and the sheets and blanket were also in great condition.

Location – On average a 15 minute drive to St. Armand’s Circle and Lido Beach area. There are a large number of traffic lights (on Fruitville) along the way to the Gulf Island Beaches which, as you will soon learn, can seem to stay red forever. It is 10 Minutes or less to downtown Sarasota/Main St. It is worth noting that left hand turns out of the hotel parking lot are difficult to make and lefts are what you will be making your entire stay, as the beaches and downtown are in that direction.

Parking – Spaces are at a premium, and may be an issue when returning to the room after sunset. Parking near your closest entry point may not be possible which could present you with a decent walk with kids, beach gear, etc. in tow.

Free Breakfast – An extended continental with a hot item or two each day is provided free from (generally) 6:30am to 10am. You can expect eggs, french toast, etc. and a different breakfast meat each day in addition to the standards of cereal, yogurt, breads, juices, coffee, tea, and fruit. The hotel will offer one free hot entree item per weekday from, usually, 5-7pm. The food at the evening Manager’s reception will range from Enchiladas to Hot Dogs to Stuffed Shells. A schedule of evening cuisine will be posted on your Suite refridgerator.

Staff/Service – The staff of the Homewood was generally friendly and accomodating. There were no issues to report.

Spring Hill Suites by Marriott – University Parkway Sarasota (OWTK – 3 night stay in June 2006)

A standard Spring Hill Suite building which was within 500 yards of both a Residence Inn and a Courtyard, all Marriott properties, continuing the odd trend of Marriott employing a cluster theory of hotel placement. There is one main entrance to the hotel which will take you into the lobby. There is a free business center, in an open area to the left of the front desk, with two PCs with high speed internet connections and two printers. The business center shares a space with the modest snack shop, offerring cold beverages and some microwavable foods and ice cream in a freezer to satisfy those late night cravings.

Rooms – Much smaller than expected. There was not a separate bedroom, rather, a half-wall dividing the living and sleeping areas. There was very little storage for clothing with no proper bureau in site. There were two small drawers in each nightstand and two under the TV plus a small closet. That was it. Even for a 3 night stay we were living half out of the suitcase, which we kept under the bathroom sink. We felt very squeezed, even for a family of three, in the Suite and would have preferred to be in the Residence Inn across the parking lot. The bathoom was large enough with a tub/shower that produced hot water (unlike the Homewood). The bed was very comfortable and the air conditioner worked well (although the unit is 2 feet from the bed at the same height – so be prepared to bundle up if you want the air on at night as it will be blowing right on you). The crib requested was not in the room when we checked in, however it was brought up to the room immediately. It was a basic Pack-n-Play, not a typical crib, but It was was clean and a white sheet was provided. Due to the size of the room, there was almost no place for the pack-and play to go. We decided to wedge it behind the desk and the wall in the kitchen area since our daughter can now climb out of those types of beds.
The “kitchen” featured a small sink, microwave, and fridge. Everything in the room was designed for a short stay or for folks that did not want to prepare food or store much of anything. Overall, it was a bit of a miniature world.

Location – on average an easy 10 minute drive to downtown, St. Armand’s Circle and Lido Beach area. Situated directly across from the Sarasota Airport on University Pkwy in a shared location with a Marriott Residence Inn, and a stones’ throw from Route 41(Tamiami Trail) which is the main North/South business route to and from Sarasota. A much quicker trip to the beach/downtown area via 41, compared to Fruitville Rd (from the Homewood), as there were half the traffic lights. This strech of 41 is a sort of motel row – some standard in appearance and some a bit on the seedy side (The Mel-o-dee and their posted advertisement of a $8.95 “fish” special comes to mind)

Parking – Plenty of parking. We never had a problem getting a spot right in front of the hotel entrance at any time of day or night.

Free Breakfast – An extended continental with a hot item is provided free from, generally, 6:30am to 10am. I do not believe there is any rotation of the hot item as we had pre-cooked eggs (not scramlbed) and sausage patties each day (this got very old) in addition to the standards of cereal, yogurt, breads, juices, coffee, tea, and fruit. We ate in the breakfast area just once, opting to carry food up to the room on the other two days. The dining area can get very crowded depending on the time of morning you visit. There was a serious issue with replenishment on two of the days we were there as the eggs and sausage trays sat empty for 10 minutes or more as guests waited anxiously. The wait for more items was not reserved only for those wanted a hot meal. The cereal was constantly under supplied as was the bread, muffins
, and fruit. Needless to say, we were quite dissappointed with the breakfast at the Spring Hill. Highchairs were available.

Staff/Service – General manager Alastair Jones was almost always on duty, the only time we did not see him is when the breakfast area was struggling, which led us to believe that he is the glue holding the service aspect of this hotel together. On the day we eat in the breakfast area, he was there refilling the food, cleaning up the counters, etc. Later we spotting him working alongside a housekeeper – checking inventory, supplies, etc. In years of personal and business travel I have never witnessed that in a hotel. He was excellent, friendly, and was referring to us by name (Mr. and Mrs…) the entire stay – a true professional.

PART TWO featuring Restaurants, Attractions, Beaches, additional resources/links and more coming soon…


Out With The Kids


Comments are closed.

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial