CLEARWATER BEACH AND SOOOOO MUCH MORE

Back-to-Nature Experiences Are Not Your Typical Day at the Beach

By Karen Rubin

It is a mystery why Clearwater Beach’s sand is so white and powdery – it just sifts through your toes as soft as talcum powder.

But it is no mystery why Clearwater Beach and nearby Caladesi Island beach – in fact, so many of the beaches fronting the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s West Coast – are consistently ranked among the best beaches in the world, so that the region, from Tarpon Springs in the north to Fort De Soto in the south is dubbed, “Florida’s Beach.”

The beach and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were the two key attractions – for excellent reasons. But Clearwater Beach has upgraded, matured, and organized itself as a center for ecotourism and nature-based attractions, offering plenty to warrant an extended visit.

Winter, a dolphin rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, is introduced to her new prosthetic tail by trainer Abby Stone (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

With a $30 million, half-mile long Beachwalk reclaiming the priceless view and access to the beachfront with wide promenades and playgrounds where parking lots used to be; the opening of The Sandpearl Resort, the first new luxury beachfront hotel in 25 years, the refurbishment of Mandalay Avenue, its main shopping boulevard, and a wonderful selection of classy, contemporary and cosmopolitan restaurants, Clearwater Beach has been transformed.

Clearwater Beach offers anything but a typical day at the beach, but that is a great place to start, to appreciate just how special it is and how the beach is so much more than a place to plant your butt.

Our first morning at The Sandpearl Resort was spent in the company of resident naturalist, Marianne Klingel, who leads a beach walk on Wednesday and Friday mornings, at 9 a.m.

Marianne picks up a moon snail collar (also known as a shark eye collar) that looks, at first, like a piece of yellowed plastic. It is actually an egg case of sand and mucous holding thousands of tiny eggs (looking closely, I think I can see them); a sand dollar, that looks as if it is an Indian handicraft but is actually an animal not a shell, as are sponges. She picks up something called parchment, which is actually a worm casing; a sea whip, a Sun Ray Venus. She finds a cat’s paw and explains how the animal inside manufactures calcium material as it grows to make the shell grow, also. She finds a pen shell, but as she tries to open it, the animal inside snaps it shut. She picks up a “shame-faced crab” – so called because its claws seem to cover its face.

This is a nesting area for sea turtles and she describes how the mother comes in the night to lay as many as 100 eggs then go back to the sea; the babies, who somehow follow nature’s cues, wait for all the eggs in the nest to hatch before they march together back to the sea. Many will be grabbed for food by birds and other predators without the protection of human volunteers. It will be another 10 years before the females who survive that long return to this very same beach to lay their own eggs.

Clearwater Beach is one of the most popular public beaches in the area (and anywhere) because of its family-friendly atmosphere, services, amenities and of course, the exquisite quality of the sand and the glorious Gulf waters, and is the only beach in Pinellas County with year-round lifeguards – for which it has won “Blue Wave” recognition. The beach is enhanced by Pier 60, which has become an activity-center (as well as fishing pier), where there are nightly “sunset” entertainment events, and the Clearwater Beach Recreation Complex and Family Aquatic Center.

Winter’s Tail

Clearwater Beach’s most famous attraction (after the beach), the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, has become a world-class, world-famous facility.

This is largely because of its famous resident, Winter, a young bottlenose dolphin who, on Dec. 10, 2005, at the age of three months, was rescued from a crab trap near Cape Canaveral by CMA’s team. Not expected to live, she was given 24-hour ICU-type care. Within days, her tail fluke fell off due to loss of blood circulation. No dolphin has ever survived without a tail.

The miracle of Winter and why this dolphin has become the most dolphin since Flipper, is a prosthetic tail devised by a consortium of experts from prosthetic technology and marine mammal care including Kevin Carroll, a prosthetist with Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, a global leader in prosthetic technology which is producing many of the devices used by Iraq War veterans.

An osprey with a mackerel, on Honeymoon Island (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

On the day that we visit Winter, she is being fitted for the first time with her third prosthetic (necessitated by her growth, and also continued innovations in the material used in the prosthetic device) to make it more flexible for her to swim, and to be more comfortable to attach and wear.

The innovations being devised for Winter are being applied to humans, as well. And Winter is proving an inspiration to children and veteran soldiers alike, who use prosthetics. Even seeing Winter without the prosthetic – when her tail is just a stump – is inspirational, because you don’t see Winter as handicapped, but capable of doing things that other dolphins can’t, such as sitting on the stump on a perch, so she can be more eye-level with her visitors.

Abby Stone, the head dolphin trainer, methodically introduces Winter to the new prosthetic. Once the prosthetic is on, Winter understands that she has to follow cues in order to re-learn how to swim like a dolphin; when the prosthetic is off (she can’t wear it all the time), she is allowed to swim any way she can, and she has devised a side-to-side swimming motion more like an alligator. To help her learn to swim like a dolphin, she has been paired with a 30-year old dolphin, Panama, who is kind of a mentor.

There is a new film, presented in the Aquarium’s new “mini-Imax” theater (no doubt the extra pizzazz that David Yates, a former producer of the NBC “Ironman” program, brings as CMA’s Chief Executive Officer), which features Winter’s story, and asks the question, “Can a dolphin change a life?” The answer from one young child is, “I will not just survive, I will succeed. Winter gives me hope.” (You can see video of Winter at CMA’s site, www.seeWinter.com).

There is a dolphin “show” – where you get to see behaviors and the physicality of the dolphins, and appreciate these incredible creatures as distant cousins of human kind (daily at noon, 2 and 4 p.m.).

It doesn’t take you long to suspect that the name, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, simply does not do this institution justice. You might expect to see tanks of fish swimming, and there are a few of those, but the main mission – which is so extraordinary to witness – is the rescue, rehabilitation and release the marine mammals who are injured or sick.

In fact, as you tour the facility, you see the surgical operating room, and tanks where sick sea turtles are recovering from their various ailments.

The “Behind the Scenes Tour” at Clearwater Marine Aquarium gives you a more intensive tour of the working animal hospital ($19.95/adult, including admission).

Sea Life Safari Cruises are also available where you join CMA’s marine biologist for a two-hour interactive nature cruise ($28.95/adult, including admission).

Specialized programs enhance the visitor experience, including a 30-minute Dolphin Encounter that brings visitors close to Winter (we got to stroke her) and the other dolphins been rescued and rehabilitated ($85); “Trainer For a Day” where you get to shadow a trainer for about three hours. CMA also oversees the Pineallas sea turtle nesting program, so you can sign up as a volunteer to help delineate and protect the nests.

The Aquarium offers one- and four-day “Marine Life Adventures” where visitors team with marine biologists to study endangered animal and plant species. The adventures are customized for all family members with excursions ranging from snorkeling to behind-the-scenes tours or even beach combing. Research Ventures is where university researchers can work alongside staff biologists and marine mammal trainers.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not to be missed (open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday; 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767, 727-441-1790, www.SeeWinter.com).

Winter, with her new prosthetic tail, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

An excursion on Little Toot, a 40-foot tug out of the Clearwater Marina, is a chance to see dolphins “in the wild” (or at least in the marine equivalent of the suburbs). These dolphins live and play just off the Clearwater Beach shore. The dolphins typically enjoy playing in the boat’s wake, giving passengers an opportunity to see them at close range leaping out of the water in that gloriously graceful pose. The excursion also offers a very pleasant, entertaining and witty narrated tour of Clearwater Beach and Clearwater (you see mansion homes, including Tom Cruise’s, near the headquarters for the Church of Scientology). (Little Toot departs from Slip No. 16, 727-446-5503).

The evening affords an opportunity for a star-gazing beach walk in the company of environmentalist Linda Taylor, and a new way to appreciate the beach. As we walk on the sand and the sky becomes darker and darker, we focus more on sound of the waves hitting the shore, and the feel of our step in the sand, and then the stars that burst out of the darkness. Talking with Linda, feeling perceptively that a conversation has affected your perspective on things changes, I am surprised to find that we have been walking for almost two hours or so. (It’s Our Nature, 888-535-7448, Linda@itsournature.com).

Back to Nature

It is not hard to imagine yourself in a Robinson Crusoe fantasy, as the ferry comes into mangrove-enclosed passage to a place associated with Indians, Spanish explorers, pirates and Prohibition-era whiskey runners.

Less than a half-hour up the road from The Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island offer nearly 1,000 acres that appear much as they did in the 1500s when the Spanish first explored the area. Once a single island (known as Hog Island), a savage hurricane in 1921 cut through, creating Hurricane Pass and forever separating the islands.

Today, the only way to visit Caladesi Island is by boat or ferry. Though the ferry from Honeymoon Island takes only about 15 minutes, it adds to the sense of adventure, and you feel you have traveled to some exotic, remote place, with an unspoiled beauty.

Rated the #1 beach in the United States for 2008 by Dr. Beach (Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University) and a recipient of the Blue Wave Award for environmental beach management, Caladesi Island State Park is one of the few undeveloped barrier islands left in Florida.

Between 1892 and 1934, the only inhabitants were Henry Scharrer, a University of Zurich-trained biologist, and his wife Catherine and their daughter, Myrtle. Henry Scharrer often rescued lost sailors and visitors to their homestead included Robert Lincoln, Carl Sandberg. Their daughter, Myrtle Scharrer Betz, has documented 158 species of birds, gravesites and Indian burial mounds. After Scharrer’s death, in 1934, the island returned to its primitive state. The State of Florida purchased Caladesi Island for a state park for $2.9 million in 1968.

The only way to see the remains of the Scharrer’s homestead is to walk a self-guided nature trail that winds through the island’s interior, through virgin pine flatwood and live oak hammocks.

After a few attempts, we are rewarded with a view of a dolphin riding Little Toot's wake (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Ranger Carl Calhoun who has been on the island for 26 years was responsible for carving a four-mile canoe/kayaking trail through the thick mangrove forest (at points, there is not even enough room to extend the paddle, and you pull yourself along using the branches). The trail then opens into the Gulf, where fish literally leap out of the water in front of my kayak. The kayak trail takes about 2 or 3 hours to complete, and we have a little time to explore the beach (still not sitting) and see why it earned Dr. Beach’s #1 beach ranking this year, before we catch the ferry (the departure is timed to limit your stay on the island to four hours) back to Honeymoon Island, which is another reason the island is always uncrowded.

The ferry departs hourly from nearby Honeymoon Island, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday (every half hour during summer), with a maximum stay of four hours; ($10 for adults, $6 for children 4-12. For ferry information, call 727-734-5263,www.floridastateparks.org/caladesiisland).

We return at our appointed time on the ferry back to Honeymoon Island, where we continue our exploration.

Honeymoon Island

How Hog Island became Honeymoon Island is a delightful story. In 1939, a New York developer, Clinton Washburn, built 50 small palm-thatched bungalows for “newly married couples of high moral character” who would have to be sponsored (Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were purportedly turned down). They would pay $25 for a two-week stay, promoted in the pages of Life Magazine (Washburn knew the editor) During World War II, the cottages were used for R&R for company workers and the island lost its appeal as a honeymoon destination. The community rallied to save the island from massive condominium development (a few were built and remain on the island) and since Honeymoon Island was turned into a state park in 1982, it has become one of the most popular in Florida.

A three-mile hiking trail takes you through different ecosystems (you need to allocate two hours to complete the trail, though you can take a cut-off). It offers 427 upland acres, 816 acres of sea grapes, 5 acres of tidal marsh, 7 acres of marine mollusk and one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in South Florida.

During our brief visit, guided by Park Manager Peter Krulder, we saw ospreys in their nest, an osprey flying across with a mackerel in its claws, and an armadillo (not native) scooting into the brush.

The new Rotary Centennial Nature Center is the best place to start, to get oriented to what you will see. The park boasts several nature trails and bird observation areas.

Visitors can swim, fish, and snorkel in the warm waters of the Gulf or picnic while they enjoy the beautiful scenery. Shelling is particularly good here, because the Gulf currents deposit an incredible variety of seashells on the shore. Showers are available and the park’s concession has a gift shop and snack bar. (open daily, 8 a.m. to dusk, $5/entry fee per car up to 8 people; 727-469-5942www.floridastateparks.org/honeymoonisland).

The short ride back to The Sandpearl Resort, gives us a glimpse of a portion of the 37-mile paved Pinellas Trail, a dedicated trail for biking, in-line skating, jogging and walking that extends from St. Petersburg all the way in the south to Tarpon Springs to the north over what had been the tracks of the first Orange Belt Railroad train in 1888. There are plans to extend the trail to 125 miles! Bike rentals are available. (727-549-6099; www.pinellascounty.org/park/12_Trail.htm).

Sunset at Clearwater Beach (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

I mark this down on my list of “things I must do when I return” along with the longest over-the-water recreational trail in the United States: The “Old” Gandy Bridge spanning Tampa Bay between Tampa and St. Petersburg has undergone a $7 million transformation into a 2.6-mile long recreational park called the Friendship TrailBridge, open for non-motorized activities including biking, walking, running, roller-blading and fishing.

Clearwater Sailing Center

The theme of our visit to Clearwater Beach is to be a participant, not a spectator – and while it is fun motoring along on an excursion boat, there is amazing gratification – and thrill – to being the master of the tiller.

The next morning, we find ourselves at the Clearwater Sailing Center – an amazing community facility run by the Clearwater Community Sailing Association where visitors can join for a day ($10/individual, $25/family), a week, the season, or the year – and have access to the club’s fleet of more than 40 sailboats, catamarans and kayaks. As a member, even for the day, you can rent a 14-foot Hobe Wave catamaran ($35), kayak ($20), Pram ($20), Sunfish, Laser or Bigfish ($25).

Families can take a “learn to sail” program ($75/hour for one person, $35/hour each additional person; four-hour package on Hobie wave catamaran, is $250 first person, $175 for second person). The sailing center offers summertime youth sailing and windsurfing camps for 8 to 16 year olds ($250/week).

Sailing is offered year-round – the water never really gets cold, and the area is fairly protected, making it ideal for neophytes.

(Clearwater Community Sailing Center, 1001 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater, FL 33767, 727-517-7776,www.clearwatercommunitysailing.org).

Practically every water activity imaginable is available in Clearwater Beach and the 26 communities that make up “Florida’s Beach.” These include deep-sea fishing; backwater salt flats fishing (rated as some of the best in Florida); boating and sailing; canoeing and sea kayaking; SCUBA diving (dive shops offer daily trips to numerous wrecks, artificial reefs and freshwater dives to area springs and rivers); wind surfing; shelling; and exploring some of the top-rated beaches in the entire country.

In the afternoon, I explore Sand Key Park, one of the 14 sites throughout Pinellas County that have been officially designated as points on the Great Florida Birding Trail (and a great beach). Here, you are apt to see semipalmated plovers, American oystercatchers, waders and ducks and white ibis.

My brief visit to Sand Key Park gives me a chance to hop the Jolly Trolley, a fun and convenient way to get around the area without a car, paying $1.25 to ride back to The Sandpearl Resort, in time for the Sunsets at Pier 60 festival.

Sunset is justifiably a big deal here, and Clearwater Beach has turned it into a nightly event with its daily festival, Sunsets at Pier 60. Modeled after Key West’s Mallory Square, the “street” festival brings together artisans, crafters, live musical and busker-style entertainment (they actually audition) for two hours before and after sunset. You are very likely to see juggler Dallas and his 15-year old son who is an escape artist (6 to 10 p.m., weather permitting, 727-449-1036).

More to Explore

One of the most appealing aspects of a visit to Clearwater Beach is that you can have this most exquisite beach experience, and within 30 minutes, become immersed in an environment with a rich cultural ambiance.

Sunset is a profound nightly experience on Clearwater Beach (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Just 30 minutes south of Clearwater Beach, St. Petersburg offers an incredible array of cultural experiences – the not-to-be missed Dali Museum (moving to a new location), and a new museum devoted to the master glass artisan, Dale Chihuly, as part of the Arts Center (opening 2010). The fourth largest Holocaust museum in the country, the Florida Holocaust Museum is housed in downtown St. Petersburg. The centerpiece of the museum is a Polish Boxcar used to transport victims to the death camps during World War II. The museum features an art exhibit including an acclaimed outdoor sculpture entitled “Endless Column” (727-820-0100). The Florida International Museum always has fascinating exhibits. On Friday nights, the weekly St. Pete Shuffle puts a hip twist on an old game at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Courts (www.stpete.org).

Save The Pier for the late afternoon, because it is a fabulous attraction as well as evening dining and entertainment place. Notable for its inverted five-story pyramid design, The Pier (which is actually at the end of a half-mile long pier) offers two attractions of particular interest to children (fortunately open until 8 p.m. most nights). Great Explorations The Hands-On Museum lets you touch, move and interact with exhibits that educate and entertain, such as Phenomenal Arts, Explore Galore, Exchange, Think Tank, Touch Tunnel and Body Shop (800 2nd Ave. NE, 3rd Floor, 727-821-8992. There is also a Pier Aquarium. There are also harbor cruises, miniature golf, and places to rent bicycles, boats, inline skates and wave runners, and you can fish off the pier. (The Pier, 727-821-6164, www.stpete-pier.com).

Definitely worthy of exploration: Fort DeSoto Park, on the southern tip of what is called “Florida’s Beach,” also offers an exquisite synthesis of nature and heritage. The largest park within the Pinellas County Park System, it consists of 1,136 acres made up of five interconnected islands. Besides being one of the best beaches anywhere (seven miles), it offers the excitement of climbing the battlements of Fort DeSoto, built as a strategic outpost in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, where it commands a breathtaking view of Tampa Bay and the soaring Skyway. You can see 12-inch mortar battery and visit the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ponce de Leon and Robert E. Lee are among its distinguished visitors. There also is a mile-long nature trail and a 2.25-mile canoe trail, and overnight camping. Fort De Soto Park is also noted as a productive spot for a wide range of saltwater fish.

And, as we discovered, only about 20 minutes north is this charming town of Tarpon Springs, where you will think you have somehow missed a turn and found yourself in Greece as you stroll along Dodecanese Boulevard. The aroma of freshly baked Greek pastries flow from shops and sidewalk cafes. Fishermen, shopkeepers and other businessmen exchange greetings in Greek.

Where To Stay

The Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach is proof that a resort that is ultra luxurious, elegantly designed, can still be green, and that green feels very, very gooood.

Clearwater Beach’s first new beachfront hotel to open in 25 years when it opened its doors in August 2007, the Sandpearl is also the first in the Southeast to be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards. It has just been admitted to the Florida Green Hotel Association.

The interior design is exquisite – sophisticated, classy, with colors, textures and patterns that remind me of the naturalistic influence of Japan and Egypt – yet comfortably casual, capturing the feeling of a beach locale.

Ah, the beach. Sandpearl has a 700-foot expanse of the soft-powder white sand Gulf Coast beach, and a lagoon-style beachfront pool, lushly landscaped, with private cabanas.

The Sandpearl offers 201 standard guest rooms – most with balconies. And 52 one and two-bedroom suites (ideal for families), with kitchen and laundry facilities.

There is 11,000-square feet of spa, fitness center and beach club space. You can get an ocean-side massage, a facial that incorporates extracts of powdered pearls, and a massage that utilizes crushed pearl paste; spa programs include sunrise and sunset rituals (yoga, meditation, tai chi, $15/session), Expression through Dance (a movement ‘art’ class for fun and fitness), Moonlight and Nature Walks, and a variety of fitness programs, including an early morning beach walk.

Caladesi Island's beach, affording incomparable tranquility, has been ranked #1 in the nation (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Dining choices at Sandpearl include. Caretta on the Gulf, its signature restaurant, offering seasonally inspired cuisine reflecting South American, Caribbean and other international influences; The Ceviche and Raw Bar offers a daily selection of fresh local seafood, and a wood-burning oven for rustic dining selections plus a wine room; The Marketplace, a pastry and coffee bar that offers a casual menu; and the poolside Tate Island Grill provides a laid-back setting for casual cuisine.

Rich programming reinforces the sense that Sandpearl is a true resort: special eco-tours that families will enjoy include a Behind-the-Scenes Tour at Clearwater Marine Aquarium ($75 for a family of four); a combination Clearwater Marine Aquarium Tour and Kayak trip ($65/adult, $150 for a family of four); a visit to the Suncoast Sunbird Sanctuary ($10, with half donated to help the birds); and a trip to Honeymoon Island Birding Trail, Beach Shell-n-Swim ($50/adults, $125 for family of 4). Other enrichment programs that are offered include “Marine Discovery,” a private boat tour of Mandalay Channel to observe wildlife; Astronomy Night gives guests the opportunity to use a telescope with an expert Astronomer; and Moonlight Nature Walk in the company of a naturalist lets you learn about nesting sea turtles.

The Sandpearl also offers a supervised children’s activity program, Camp Ridley, for children 5 to 10. Each day has a different theme, like “Nature Day,” and “Around the World Day.”

The new Sandpearl Resort is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts (www.preferredhotels.com. For more information, rates and packages, contact The Sandpearl Resort & Spa, 500 Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767, 727-661-2425, 877-726-3111. www.sandpearl.com.

Sheraton Sand Key

Sheraton Sand Key has its own beach on the Gulf that seems to go on forever – it is 1,100 feet from the water to its wall. The Sheraton offers 390 guest rooms including 15 suites with private balcony, a beachside pool and whirlpool, a fitness center, three lighted tennis courts with on-site pro, water sports including sailboats, kayaks, wave runners and parasailing.

Rusty’s, voted a top Tampa Bay restaurant five years in a row, is a famous fine-dining bistro-style restaurant offering a well-rounded menu with flavors and textures from Florida, Southwest, Caribbean and Asia; Roger Kraft on keyboard, entertains Tuesday through Saturday, 7 to 10 p.m.

Family-friendly features include a 24-hour convenience store, a children’s playground and planned activities from June through August, 37-inch flat screen LCD TV with in-room Nintendo, cable TV and pay-for-view movies, and there is no resort fee. Also, the hotel is next door to the Sand Key Park and Preserve, offering a combined two-miles of walking trails, plus recreational facilities.

(Sheraton Sand Key Resort, 1160 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767-2799, 727-595-1611, 800-325-3535, www.SheartonSandKey.com

Marriott Suites

Also on Sand Key, Marriott Suites Clearwater Beach is the only all-suite resort in Clearwater Beach, and is ideal for families. It offers 220 two-room suites on 10 floors.

In its facilities and programming, The Marriott resort is particularly family-friendly. A daily schedule of activities includes supervised programs situated in “Lisa’s Klubhouse,” from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. for ages 5-12 ($5/hour), Lisa’s Late Night, a supervised evening program offering dinner, movie crafts and games ($20). There are also scheduled arts and crafts activities for 5-12 ($10-15). There also are free activities under the categories “resort fun,” “kids time,” “family fun” and “sports time.”

Kayaking on a four-mile trail, through the mangroves of Caladesi Island (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The pool area is stunning – lushly landscaped, a freeform heated pool with cascading waterfall, a small playground and wading pool, poolside caba�as, and across from the Sand Key Park beach (you can even take a ride on Lisa’s beach buggy to get there.

From the resort’s own waterfront, you can rent kayak, or a Craig cat boat, jetski and go parasailing over Tampa Bay.

Antonio’s salon and day spa specializes in facials, massages, hair and nails (complimentary child care at Lisa’s Klubhouse during spa service for children, 5-12). There is also a fitness center, open 24 hours.

There is live piano entertainment Tuesday through Saturday evening at the Watercolour Lounge.

Watercolour Steakhouse & Grille, the fine-dining restaurant, has an exquisite setting with stunning views over Tampa Bay and offers indoor and outdoor dining., with a well-deserved reputation for fresh seafood and signature steaks .(727-596-1100, www.watercolourgrille.com).

Marriott Suites Clearwater Beach, 1201 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767, 727-596-1100,www.clearwaterbeachmarriottsuites.com.

Hilton Clearwater Beach

Another iconic hotel on Clearwater Beach that has gone through major renovation and upgrading is the family-friendly, 416-room Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort, with 10 acres of sugary white sand beach, which just completed a $26 million renovation.

The Gulf-view swimming pool area – two heated beachside pools and whirlpool and Gulf-front cabanas – serves as centerpiece for an outdoor tropical, lushly landscaped oasis leading down to the expansive beach. A full program of water sports includes parasailing, kayaking, snorkeling, and deep-sea fishing,. There is an on-site fitness room, and complimentary access to full service health club a block away.

It also offers a supervised children’s “Fun Factory” program.

Winter with her new prosthetic tail, has become an inspiration to people visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

New culinary offerings, created as an extension of the open lobby, include a new, all-day restaurant, Reflections, and a gulf-view lounge (Coasters) that transforms from coffee bar early in the day to cocktail and snack spot during the afternoon and evening hours An upscale market, (Clearwater Provision Company), offers food, beverages and sundries for guests to purchase on the spot, or to order in advance of their stay and have stocked in their guestroom refrigerator.

(Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort, 400 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, Fl. 33767, 727-298-1481, 888-353-3222,www.clearwaterbeachresort.com.

Clearwater Beach is just only 30 minutes due west from Tampa International Airport.

The best time to visit Clearwater Beach is October through December (except for the holidays) when there is that optimum combination of low rates and low humidity, but there are also great rates and wonderful weather February through May.

For further information about attractions, packages and events contact the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, 1130 Cleveland Street, Clearwater, FL 33755, 888-425-3279 or 727-461-0011,www.visitclearwaterflorida.com, or email info@clearwaterflorida.org.

See also: Sandpearl Resort Proves Being Green Can Feel G-o-o-d

Thursday, 18 September, 2008

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© 2008 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

This entry was posted in U.S. Travel by Travel Features Syndicate. Bookmark the permalink.

About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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