SANDPEARL RESORT, CLEARWATER BEACH, PROVES BEING GREEN CAN FEEL G-O-O-O-D

Clearwater Beach’s first new hotel to open in 25 years aims for LEED certification

By Karen Rubin

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

The lush setting - and eco-friendly - pool and beach at The Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

You realize you have never felt what it is like to swim in a pool without chlorine, the water purified instead through an ozone process. The water feels lighter, softer, you don’t get that stinging chemical in your eyes, or get that sour metallic taste.

Or what it is like to sleep on sheets that don’t have that musky smell of chemical additives like softener and bleach because they are washed with another ozone process that cleans with cold water.

Sandpearl Resort – Clearwater Beach’s first new beachfront hotel to open in 25 years when it opened its doors in August 2007 – 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.

And the greater beauty is that guests experience how you can be green without giving up “quality lifestyle” – a message that they can take back to their homes and hometowns.

Elegant but comfortable, the interior decoration at The Sandpearl manifests nature imagery and themes (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Education is a big part of the mission of LEED-certification, and we take advantage of the regularly scheduled LEED “back of the house” tour with Brian Grant, director of engineering (free, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m.)

What goes through my mind is how accessible such “sustainable” systems are – things that can be installed in homes (certainly new-builts), in businesses and in government buildings – and I imagine how people will leave this tour and become an engine for change.

But for most, the first impression is how awesomely beautiful, how gracious the service, how comfortable it is to be at the Sandpearl.

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, which you see immediately through the wall of windows in the lobby.

Sandpearl Resort's naturalist Marianne Klingel leads a morning beach walk (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

There is an open, airy, and light feeling throughout the hotel, and in the 201 standard guest rooms – most with balconies.

We are in one of the 52 one and two-bedroom suites, located on the top two floors of the resort. Our one-bedroom works out great for our family – spacious, with kitchen and laundry facilities, and a fold-out sofa bed in the living room.

There is 11,000-square feet of spa, fitness center and beach club space, and here, there is a novel approach: the Spa at Sandpearl has no boundaries. Instead, the “spa” program is integrated into day-to-day resort life – influencing the restaurant menu, guest-room amenities, and programming. You can get an ocean-side massage, a facial that incorporates extracts of powdered pearls, and a massage that utilizes crushed pearl paste and a variety of water therapies and touch therapies, spa programs like 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.

The dining choices at Sandpearl are wonderful. Caretta on the Gulf, its signature restaurant, offers seasonally inspired cuisine reflecting South American, Caribbean and other international influences. Perched two levels above the beach, with indoor and outdoor seating, it offers views of brilliant sunsets, and also serves as a casual place to enjoy breakfast and lunch.

The Ceviche and Raw Bar offers a daily selection of fresh local seafood, and a wood-burning oven for rustic dining selections. A wine room provides an intimate space for special events and tastings and offers an extensive collection of wines from around the world.

Holding a moon snail collar in her hand: Sandpearl's naturalist Marianne Klingel leads a morning beach walk (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The Marketplace is a pastry and coffee bar that offers a casual menu.

The poolside Tate Island Grill provides a laid-back setting for casual cuisine. At dusk, the pool deck transforms into a beachside lounge, with tropical music, and at night, you can linger around a beachside fire pit.

Dominating the lobby – and the second thing you see after gazing to the pool and beach – are two large murals by local artist Christopher M. Still, commissioned by Sandpearl. “Return to Picnic Island” and “Beneath the Waves” evoke the nostalgia of two families that return year after year to Picnic Island (as Clearwater Beach was called by early visitors), a feeling that is infused throughout the Sandpearl. All the symbols of the murals are authentic – gleaned from research into the Scharrer family and the shells, marine and bird life to be found on the beach – and are even life-sized (for the underwater scenes, the artist took waterproof paper and sat under water). There is a theme of return, and continuity from past to future generations. The Sandpearl is very much a place that you would enjoy coming back to, year after year, and is forging the traditions that accompanied resorts of bygone times.

The Sandpearl is successfully continuing traditions and starting new ones. For example, it has nightly sunset celebration, with a chosen guest ringing the dinner bell saved from the former Clearwater Beach Resort (which occupied the site before the Sandpearl). The first guest to ring the bell was the actual boy depicted in the painting. There are also campfire storytelling and sing-alongs and treasure hunts. Each day, there is a schedule of programs and recreational activities.

Enjoy the festive beach environment at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

Indeed, rich programming reinforces the sense that Sandpearl is a true resort.

Some of the 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 enables guests to use a telescope with an expert astronomer; and Moonlight Nature Walk in the company of a naturalist gives you insight into 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 Sandpearl Resort is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts (www.preferredhotels.com).

Tasty tropical drinks and succulent seafood with a water view are joys of dining at Jimmy's (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

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.

Wining & Dining

Island Way Grill presents a stunning, contemporary and sophisticated ambiance – clean lines, lush plantings, gorgeous glass objects, the raging wood fire. The menu is Asian fusion, with an influence of Caribbean and Floridian food. So you have Thai high Mussels and Lollipop Conch fritters, Vietnamese King Crab rolls, and scallops seared in a wok with galangal, black vinegar and sweet citrus sauce; entrees like Macademia Nut crusted Mahi Mahi, wok-fried whole yellowtail snapper, Szechwan Pepper crusted tuna. The steaks, though, are amazing – prime beef, aged in a temperature-controlled aging room, grilled over an open pit fire. A 20-ounce Korean BBQ T-bone marinated in a concoction which includes (and this is the secret ingredient) Cola Cola and kiwi provides a memorable feast ($22.95). A 32-ounce porterhouse, at $30.95, is an absolute bargain.

The desserts are to die for (those who can’t decide can take the chef’s dessert sampler of crème brulee, molten lava chocolate cake and key lime pie, $7.95). But for me, the marvel was a red raspberry sorbet that tasted as if the sweetest, purest fruit had been infused with ice (20 Island Way, 727-461-6617, www.islandwaygrill.com).

Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant has been a Clearwater Beach landmark and family owned since 1948. The atmosphere is casual and the menu is a combination of new and traditional dishes, with the emphasis on “homemade.” We go with the Fresh Florida Black Grouper, which is cooked to perfection. Another traditional favorite is Back-To-the-Farm Chicken, prepared from a “secret” family recipe.

Tasty tropical drinks and succulent seafood with a water view are joys of dining at Jimmy's (© 2008 Karen Rubin).

The real surprise here is the Beachcomber’s award-winning wine list – 600 different selections from a 20,000-bottle inventory! We learn that Bob Heilman has his own vineyard, FoxyRock, in Oregon. We sample Bob & Sheri’s 2005 Estate Pino Noir. (His other establishment, Bobbie’s Bistro, on the marina, is even more wine-oriented and does tastings). (447 Mandalay Avenue, 727.442.4144,www.heilmansbeachcomber.com).

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill, a beachside restaurant and bar overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, has the perfect atmosphere for families (and is around the corner from the Sandpearl Resort). It is colorful and fun, and serves many styles of seafood, steaks, burgers, with a few Mexican, Jamaican and Floribbean items for good measure. Popular items include Cajun Grouper Sandwich (grilled with Cajun spices), Rockaway deviled crab cakes, Oysters Rockaway, she-crab soup, and coconut shrimp. The music starts up at 7:30 p.m., adding to the beach-party feeling. Frenchy’s actually has four locations (7 Rockaway Street, 727-446-4844,www.frenchysonline.com).

We had seen the distinctive yellow umbrellas of Jimmy’s Fish House and Iguana Bar from Little Toot on our Dolphin Encounter, and now, we are dining al fresca with a prime view of the Bay, Little Toot and other boats and the occasional dolphin. One of the few places where you can dine on the water, this is another festive, “happening” place, and one of the best places for families to enjoy sunset dining. There is live entertainment nightly from 7 p.m., and weekends from 2-6 p.m., as well. It offers steaks, pasta, sandwiches, and seafood and is known for the crispy fried shrimp, served in a Thai peanut sauce over a crispy noodles ($9.95) and clam chowder – as thick as stew with clams, potatoes, vegetables, dill flavor (Jimmy’s Fish House and Iguana Bar, 521 S. Gulfview Blvd, 727-446-9720).

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: Clearwater Beach and Soooo Much More

Monday, 11 August, 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.

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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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