It has been about a month now since we took our first family vacation to St. Pete Beach, Florida so I figure I need to get around to writing this post before I start to forget things. My husband and I were just in St. Louis this weekend so I had a little bit of time to get started on this in the car. At the rate I’m going, you can expect the post for St. Louis in another month…maybe! Anyhow, our trip to St. Pete Beach was actually the first family vacation that we have taken as a family of four lasting longer than a weekend.
Why St. Pete Beach? We had narrowed our options to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina or somewhere in Florida along a beach. It just so happened that one day I opened my email and there was a deal from TravelZoo for the Sirata Beach Resort which was priced significantly lower in comparison to some of the other resorts we had been considering. For $109 a night, we were able to book a room with 2 queen beds, daily breakfast for two, and two complimentary beach chairs. The resort fee per night was also discounted to $10 per day plus tax rather than $39 per day plus tax. The resort has been undergoing construction due to renovations and will continue to be until the end of October, 2018 from what I read last.
The thought of construction going on at the hotel made me a little nervous, but the deal advertised that minimal noise could be expected and that one pool and one full-service restaurant would always be available regardless of the time we stayed. I was also attracted to the idea that all of the room renovations were complete and advertised by Sirata as the “newest rooms on St. Pete Beach.” This statement is actually kinda what sold me on booking. So in a nutshell we chose St. Pete Beach because 1) location directly on the beach, 2) price point, and 3) comfort of knowing we’d be staying in a brand new room.
We had to make the decision of whether we were going to fly or drive. A flight would have been approximately 3.5 hours whereas driving straight through with no stops maps out at about 16 hours. Flights are actually really reasonable out of Peoria, Illinois. Just looking today for the month of August there are tickets anywhere between $50 something to $190 not including any taxes or extras. I want to say we could have gotten flights at $60 something (one-way) for when we went; however, we drove. Close your eyeballs, I know what you are thinking. If you want to know how that drive went, check out my post here on Surviving a Road Trip with Toddlers! For the remainder of this post I’m going to outline the places that we experienced as a part of our vacation. Hopefully some of this information is helpful to other families that may be traveling to the same area.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Dothan, Alabama
Okay, I know probably most everyone who reads this has had a Krispy Kreme Doughnut before, but I felt like I had to include this stop nevertheless. Four years ago we used to live just down the street from a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Prior to that I had only had the Krispy Kremes that you get at the store or through a fundraiser. They do not compare to what you can get fresh from an actual store front. Chase wasn’t old enough to eat doughnuts when we lived by one and Jack wasn’t even born yet. Naturally, we felt it our parent duty to give the boys the experience of a Krispy Kreme doughnut, fresh at the store. After driving for 11 hours through the night into the morning, we decided to make a stop in Dothan, Alabama. Pictured below, Chase stares in awe at all the different kinds to choose from…
Let’s be real though, just like with their ice cream, the choice is always chocolate with sprinkles. Happy little faces here! Note: I got the doughnut holes and they do not have the same freshness that the regular doughnuts have, mistake on my end here. The regular ones are warm and melt in your mouth. At this point in the trip I’d also had a strong combination of Sugar Free Redbull, Starbucks Double Espresso, and other coffees along the way. The last thing I needed was something sweet.
I left wishing I had an egg sandwich, but the little doughnut lovers in our life were happy and that was all that mattered :-). Aren’t these hats perfect for kiddos? Another cool thing about eating at an actual Krispy Kreme is you get to watch the doughnuts being made. The boys were entertained watching the doughnuts go through the different machines getting formed into circles and topped with glaze.
You can’t leave the Krispy Kreme in Dothan without getting a picture with Sheriff Sam. I wasn’t really sure what this was all about, but before we got back into our car I had to run inside to throw some trash away. A woman asked me if I knew what I had just taken a picture of with my son …for a minute I was thinking I was about to be told I had done something innappropriate. Well, it turns out Dothan is known as the “Peanut Capital of the World” and she wanted me to “spread the word” -so here I am! I did a quick Google search and quickly found out that there are anywhere between 30 to over 60 of these throughout Dothan, referred to as “Peanuts Around Town” and “Peanut Parade,” Emily Wood wrote for Deep South Magazine that “Artist Wes Hardin provided the skills that created this unique law enforcer, placed in honor of Sam C. Searcy.” You can even find maps for download to go on a scavenger hunt for all of the peanuts. Who woulda known?
Now we can proudly say that we have been to the area where about 1/2 of the peanuts produced in the U.S. are made per the Alabama Peanut Producer’s Association. Woot, woot!
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay in Tampa Bay, Florida
This is the hotel that we landed at in Tampa Bay, Florida after driving for approximately 19 hours with a few stops (like Krispy Kreme along the way). We made the reservation the day of after tracking where we could stop that wasn’t going to have rain (we wanted to find a place where we could swim outside if possible). We almost stopped in Tallahassee, Florida to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton but opted not to only because it was going to be pouring there. If we ever stay In Tallahassee in the future this is the hotel I will book though -rooftop pool, Starbucks, and fun decor. That being said, I would stay at the Grandy Hyatt Tampa Bay again in a heartbeat. The drive up to the hotel is lined with palm trees and a large fountain that light up at night, immediately you feel like you are on vacation. I took Jack for a walk by the fountain at night and he loved watching the water fountain change colors. After checking-in, we popped up to our room for about 15 minutes to get changed for the pool. Our room was the perfect size, crisp and clean, and had Starbucks and Tazo tea in the room -bonus points. We didn’t make use of the 1823 Kitchen & Bar but we passed through it on our way out to the pool and it looked nice. The hotel offers multiple other options for dining including a couple with beautiful views -just take a peak here. When we go to the pool the temperature was a little warm, but other than that it was perfect for us. They had noodles for kids (and adults) and a pool bar. After a long day we grabbed a couple of adult beverages and the bartender was sweet to offer our kiddos frozen virgin daiquiris, with our permission of course.
Someone looks a little tired here after his swim…adding this to my pile of favorite pictures, those blue eyes get me every darn time. I have to be careful when I say that out loud because Chase insists he has green eyes (his favorite color).
The hotel is landscaped beautifully. The pool area had a nice setup with electronic fire pits for at night and music was always playing. This was the path from the pool to an area where you can look out over the Bay. Only bad thing about this was the mosquitoes were terrible but there were signs warning about this inside. The hotel offered free bug spray, but we neglected to grab any.
Pretty sure Jack is scratching bug bites right now -we stayed here about a minute tops before we realized we were going to get eaten alive if we stayed any longer without bug spray.
Such a pretty view though, right?! Minus yet another picture with my raccoon eyes…nobody bothered to tell me my mascara had went crazy while we were in the pool. Living with this and posting the picture anyway, the cutie pie in this picture with the water make up for it!
I was hoping to grab a late dinner at one of the places with a Bay view…but we were exhausted having not slept at all the night before. That called for pizza delivery to the hotel. I’m surprised that we didn’t fall asleep before it came, we were all pretty close!
Westshore Pizza in Tampa, Florida
We ordered from Westshore Pizza, which is a New York style pizza place. The chain seems pretty popular in the area with multiple locations. We went with it to try something different as there aren’t any locations around our hometown. Pretty simple night in, just a pepperoni pizza and some chicken wings. Then we slept hard after telling a few bedtime secrets.
We got up and headed to St. Pete Beach the next day in no hurry as our check-in wasn’t until later at our next hotel. That being said, we didn’t even see 1/2 of what the Grand Hyatt had to offer but we would definitely return. It looked like they held a lot of events there too.
Horse and Jockey in South Pasadena ,Florida
We drove into St. Pete Beach and tried to check-in at the Sirata Beach Resort early which didn’t quite work out. We were, however, given access to the pool and were told we’d get a text when a room was ready. Hoping to have a room to change in soon, we decided to go grab lunch nearby. We drove around until we found something that looked promising and wound up at the Horse and Jockey, it looked like your standard sports bar joint from the outside with a British spin. We walked in, were greeted with a friendly face and a cheering crowd -and quickly realized there was a soccer game on TV that people must have specifically came to the bar for. Ben ordered a burger, the boys mac and cheese, and I ordered an omelette. Our food was about what you would expect from a bar, especially the omelette. We heard that they had just started serving breakfast within the last week to accommodate the early games on TV. This may have been part of the reason it took our food forever to come out. My omelette came out first -and that took at least 30 minutes. Not wanting to be rude, I held off on eating mine for awhile but it got to the point that mine was going to get cold if I didn’t eat -so I went ahead, giving Jack bites along the way. Everyone else’s food finally came out and it was fine. Our server was very friendly when he got our drinks, but then he kind of disappeared and didn’t acknowledge how long we had to wait. I think we were there for about 2 hours and had expected it to be a 1 hour stop.
I spent a good many years serving -and know that at one point or another I served tables that had to wait to darn long -so I get it and can empathize. I’m not going to complain too much, but just giving an honest review. I do want to point out that a younger gentleman stopped by our table multiple times right when I was starting to think “ok, was our order even put in?” -he introduced himself as the owner’s son and asked how long we had been waiting, apologizing the whole time. He was sweating and I could tell that he was running around trying to do the best that he absolutely could -more importantly that he cared, wanting to make sure our table was happy. He saved our experience here and insisted on giving the boys free dessert to take home. Overall, I’ve got to think they are doing something right. It was a sports bar full of people that looked to be regulars from around town and not just a tourist stop. When we left people were dancing and singing happily in response to whoever won the game -can you tell I know ZIP about soccer?!
Sirata Beach Resort
After leaving Horse and Jockey we still hadn’t received a text to check-in early which was a bummer -it would’ve been much more convenient to have a room to “re-group” in with the kids prior to making our way to the beach/pool area but we worked it out regardless. We headed to the beach where the boys saw the ocean for the first time. I snapped a ton of pictures and videos of this and will treasure these for years and years to come. Growing up I fell in love with the ocean on our family vacations. Being able to experience its beauty with my own little family is something that I had looked forward to for a long time -and continue to look forward to doing again and again in the future. The sand in your toes, the slow rolling waves, the sunsets, just the sound…are all things that we don’t get to experience on a day to day basis in Central Illinois. I often wonder if the ocean would lose its “awe factor” if we lived closer to one…you hear that happens, that people take it for granted…for some reason I feel like I wouldn’t.
After taking in our initial ocean views, we made our way back towards the hotel and found a place to sit while the boys played in the sand with their beach toys.
The boys loved playing in the sand and for a short time they argued over who got to swing in the hammock pictured below. Of course, it made no sense to them to utilize the sister hammock directly across from this one to give them each their own space…I also got a kick out of watching 2 older women trying to get on and off these, it was obvious they had been indulging in a few adult beverages prior. Seagulls kept landing on the top of these wood posts and both boys would “rawr” at them trying to scare them away.
Hotel check-in finally came around 4 as advertised -the boys were wiped out from all the sun and caught a ride back to the car. While Ben was unpacking our bags, they squealed with delight over the little lizards running back and forth in the grass next to our parking space.
Our hotel room was what I expected -for the most part. We had a room with a door entrance leading directly outside whereas there were other rooms with door entrances within the main building. The main building area was cleaner than the outdoor area (to be expected), but I would have preferred one of the indoor rooms -not a huge deal. Our bedroom area looked just like the pictures online of the newly renovated rooms, isn’t the “Play More” text a nice touch? I thought this was super cute. The floors looked brand new as did our small vanity area. I didn’t feel that the bathroom looked newly renovated, there was rust all along the ceiling which made me feel a little dirty but I pick my battles I suppose. On the topic of bathrooms, the bathroom outside by the pool (women’s, I can’t speak for the men’s) was disgusting the day I went into it. It brought me back to a night or two spent at Kam’s back in college…anyone who went to UIUC will know what I’m talking about. *However, I found a single family bathroom inside which was spotless -I used that the rest of our stay. Setting these couple of things that didn’t meet my standards for cleanliness aside, I was satisfied with the accommodations. I’ve got to note that I definitely have a messy house more than a clean house, but it is my own mess which makes it a little more bearable. We had nice beds, a good pool setup, and we were seconds to the beach which is what really mattered on this vacation. Our boys have really turned into swimmers this summer and the pool is where they wanted to be all of the time. There was one afternoon where it started to rain and the pool cleared out. There wasn’t any lightening or thunder so we took advantage of the extra space as you can see in the video below!
Rum Runners Bar & Grille
You can see part of Rum Runners Bar & Grille in the background of the above video. The day we got here there was a guy playing live music to the left -one of my favorite things in life and the place was hoppin’ with people. They had a long menu of tropical drinks posted on the wall and of course it just so happened that I ordered the one that came in a huge Malibu bucket -oops. It seemed like a lot of juice so I was okay!
One night we sat and had dinner here with the friendliest couple -they were from another area of Florida and said they were just getting away for the weekend. They were older than us and adored our kids. After further conversation, we learned that he had lost his daughter a few years ago on this date in a freak car accident. We also learned that she had lost twins minutes after giving birth to them. They kept expressing how much they just loved to be around “life” and how you can’t take anything for granted. It was one of those moments where things were really put into perspective for us. -Like who gives a damn if the hotel bathroom is dirty? Or if it takes my food an hour to come out? I’ll take that any day over what this couple had endured. Yet here they were, living and celebrating life with such grace, despite their hardships. I think we both left dinner that night feeling a little different than what we had before.
So yes – Rum Runners Bar & Grille was a winner. There are plenty of other options in the area to grab drinks and snacks at a “regular” price to have handy at the beach. You can rack your bill up quickly at the Grille if you aren’t paying attention. We did a combo of Rum Runners Bar & Grille, things we had already brought with us, and then utilized a store across the street during the day. Pictured below is part of what Rum Runners Bar & Grille looks like on the other side of the pool. There is beach seating, you’ll see one of the hammocks that I referenced earlier, and then you are staring right at the ocean. Jack would get to this spot every day and either say “me so tired” or “me so hot” …or a combination of the two over and over again. I would then carry him the rest of the way to our spot, I couldn’t resist him in his Hawaiian shirt.
Yep, Chase has one too. Both of their favorite colors. These were the complimentary beach chairs that we got -it was extra for the umbrellas, but worth it for the kids. As you might assume, you needed to get out there early for front row seating.
This was the other onsite restaurant that we visited at Sirata Beach Resort hotel. Compass Grille serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We came here on the first morning that we woke up at the hotel and used our 2 breakfast vouchers that came with our TravelZoo deal. The restaurant was clean and we were taken care of right away. They had a nicely laid out breakfast buffet with the likes of eggs, french toast, bacon, oatmeal, assorted pastries, bread, fruit, etc. For anyone that knows me, breakfast is easily my favorite meal of the day and I’d be perfectly content eating breakfast food for my lunch and dinner meals on any given day. It filled us up, but we didn’t return again. Picture after breakfast before a morning swim, say cheese!
And more swimming, the boys favorite place!
And the beach..my favorite place!
Snack Shack at the Postcard Inn on the Beach
We stopped by this little joint on our last day at St. Pete Beach for lunch. A friend recommended the breakfast at the Boathouse Kitchen & Bar which is also on the Postcard Inn hotel property. We didn’t make it for breakfast -but if we ever go back I’d like to check it out -it is adorable inside! This was within walking distance from our hotel, but I didn’t suggest that to my group…if you look below it is a good thing I didn’t…happy, happy faces here!!! But hey, I’m still soaking in the ocean view behind them.
These guys cheered up when they got to climb up and down the huge chairs in front of the Snack Shack after lunch. Perfect picture opportunity. Chase is also slowly starting to become my designated picture taker for Ben and I. We have some hilarious live photos that he took of us on the beach, but those aren’t going to make the blog post.
Pictured below…believe it or not these two are in timeout after multiple episodes at and on the way home from the Snack Shack at the Postcard Inn on the Beach. While in said timeout they made a fort and forget they were even in trouble…
Level 11 Rooftop Lounge
Okay, this was easily one of my favorite parts of the trip! Our neighbors had recommended Spinners Rooftop Revolving Bistro and Lounge, which is a restaurant that revolves on top of the Grand Plaza Hotel (located next door to the Sirata Beach Resort). On our last night at the beach we decided last minute to try it out, but there was a loooong wait. We asked if we were allowed to go up to the next floor to Level 11 Rooftop Lounge and were told yes. I wasn’t really sure if the vibe was suited for toddlers and when we came off of the elevator I was a little worried -no kids in sight…but then I saw the view and I did not care.
After about 5 minutes we lucked out and a table of 2 left, Ben snagged the table and then the boys just sat in our laps.
Breathtakingly beautiful, the boys even enjoyed the view. Also – I did see a few other kids after we sat down, though they were quite a bit older. We decided to just grab a small bite to eat and 1 drink, then grab a full meal somewhere else where the boys would like the food…like a peanut butter sandwich. Level 11 Rooftop Lounge is an Artisan Bistro Bar open from 3PM to 1AM serving smaller plates along with yummy drinks -great choices for adults, maybe not for small picky eaters. We ordered the Sky Sliders described as “pulled pork roasted in chipotle, raspberries & roasted garlic with BBQ sauce, applewood bacon and white cheddar mac ‘n cheese on Hawaiian rolls.” For me, that is a lot of meat on 1 sandwich…plus the mac ‘n cheese…let me tell you, it was delicious and the best thing I ate the whole vacation! I’m not sure how I missed their Dessert Flight consisting of “Vanilla bean crème brûlée, Kahlua espresso crème brûlée & Chocolate key lime mousse” …oh. my. gosh! Had I read that when I was there…you know I would have ordered it.
Chase’s picture taking skills again. I can only ask strangers to take pictures of us as a whole group so many times…we need a selfie stick. Ben (“Santa”) actually got me one for Christmas as a stocking stuffer a couple of years ago…for $1 at Walmart…it didn’t work…
Bottom line, if you go to St. Pete Beach -make it a point to go to Level 11 Rooftop Lounge. The view, the music, the food, being with my favorite people -it was a perfect last night.
…and then this happened…yep, McDonald’s for the win. This picture cracks me up, late night eating at its best!
The following morning we got up early to head to Disney for 1 day. Looking forward to sharing that experience when I get around to it! We stayed on property for the most part while at St. Pete Beach, but if we ever return a day trip to Treasure Island and Ana Maria Island will be on the itinerary as these were both recommended by friends. I also want to note that the Sirata Beach Resort was recommended by multiple people before we left Illinois and one of my good friends actually stayed there the week after we did and had an amazing experience with some girlfriends from what I hear. We also heard from the couple that we had dinner with that Tradewinds was a nice place to stay…we could see the different water activities available there from our hotel. Also worth mentioning is the Don Cesar -get your fancy pants on for this one. It was the first hotel that we saw when we got to St. Pete Beach and it is immaculate (also recommended by a friend back home). I’ve left lots of details out so feel free to comment with any questions that you may have about St. Pete Beach or the Sirata Beach Resort and I’ll be happy to respond based off of my experience -which overall was very positive!
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