by Terry Ward
For an old-fashioned Florida beach vacation that ticks all the boxes with beautiful sunsets, wide beaches for playing in sugar-soft sand and even the chance to see resident wildlife, such as dolphins and wading birds, Clearwater Beach makes for a pretty idyllic destination. And while the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key is removed by a few miles from the main beach area here, the property’s bayfront location on a mostly-residential island may better suit your needs than being in the heart of the action.
This all-suite property occupies a sprawling 10-story building, which fronts the Clearwater Bay. All 220 suites have sweeping water views and balconies from which to soak in the scenery. You can choose from suites with a king bed or two double beds, with room for up to six people. And while kitchenette facilities in the suites are limited to a microwave and mini fridge, you can still manage to cook up basic meals if you want a break from the hotel’s restaurants and dining out.
There’s no direct beach access from the Marriott, but it’s about a five-minute walk to pretty Sand Key Park, with its wide swath of white sand fronting the gulf. And in addition to the stellar views from the hotel’s suites, the biggest selling point for families vacationing here is the Marriott’s excellent free-form lagoon style pool that cascades with multiple waterfalls and is landscaped with faux rocks and foliage that brings out the adventurous spirit in your little travelers. Your kids could easily spend all day splashing in the pool and shooting hoops in the aquatic basketball net here, but it’s good to know the beach is just a short stroll from the hotel, too, for shelling walks and the chance to scope passing pods of dolphins.
Another perk at the hotel is Lisa’s Klubhouse, the Marriott’s kids center, which has all manner of crafts and games and is named after the hotel’s mascot, Lisa, a blue and gold macaw who greets guests in the lobby.
This hotel was converted from a Radisson into a Marriott in 2005, and while the restaurants and lobby have been renovated, the room decor itself feels somewhat dated. But that’s more than compensated for by the welcoming staff and easy access to the pool and beach, playtime at the nearby park and easy access to downtown Clearwater, via the inexpensive trolley that stops right in front of the hotel and makes pickups every half hour.
Our Editor Loves
- Lagoon pool with rock waterfalls
- Five-minute walk to nearby beach
- Suite-layout with living room and kitchenette
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
From the exterior, the 10-story Marriott looks more like a condominium complex than a standard hotel. And that's telling because inside, all 220 nearly identical guestrooms are actually suites with living areas and sleeping areas separated by the bathroom and shower, and with direct access to sweeping gulf views via a private balcony.
All of the suites have exterior entrances from an open-air corridor that bring you right into the living room part of the suite, which is outfitted with a double-size sleeper sofa, a wet bar with a mini fridge and microwave and an LCD high-definition TV. From the living room, you proceed through a corridor where the bathroom area is located -- a typical shower-in-tub configuration that's by no means large but amply serves its purpose.
And off this short corridor on the far side of the suite is the bedroom, which you can request with either a king bed or two double beds (king bed options are less plentiful, so be sure to request that upon booking if it's important to you).
All bedrooms have high-definition LCD TV's with plug-in panels to connect your devices, desk space for working and sliding glass doors (they require some strength to open) that open onto small balconies with two chairs and sweeping views of the bay. It's pretty idyllic to sit here most anytime of day to watch the boats bobbing in the harbor and observe the changing light in the sky.
While the resort's lobby and signature restaurant, Watercolour Grillhouse, are very modern and contemporary in design and decor (they've both been renovated), the guestrooms are starting to look slightly rough around the edges through the somewhat kitsch wall hangings (think seaside scenes and big floral motifs), wood furniture that shows signs of aging and carpeting in an orange-red color or green. The bedding and towels are all updated, however, and you can expect luxury linens and maximum comfort there. Rooms are kept very clean by housekeeping, so as long as you don't come expecting a sleek design setting, you should be satisfied.
Double bed suites accommodate the most people, with room for six to sleep. And if your family is larger, you can request connecting units in the form of suites with two double beds that connect to other doubles or king bed suites that connect to doubles (connecting rooms are based on availability, of course).
Note that while the kitchenettes in all suites do have coffee/tea facilities, microwaves and mini fridges, cooking utensils and cutlery are not stocked for your arrival. If you need plates or silverware, just buzz down to room service and they will happily deliver what you need to the room. Pots and pans are not provided. Wi-Fi is available for a fee.
For the most quiet rooms and those with the best views, request to stay on one of the hotel's higher floors. The corner suites, while not larger than the others, are particularly quiet and offer the most privacy.
Great place! Great Service and staff! Food poolside so good! Great location. Out of the busy area but close enough to get to everything. They have shuttle and there is a trolly to take you places. Rooms were clean. Shower my 17 year old says is the best shower she has ever had in any hotel. Went for softball tourney 20 min away from fields. Family place. Can’t wait to go back. Maid service A++. Clean place no matter where you went in the hotel.
Nothing like staying next to the beach, but the best thing about this place is the people. from the cleaning staff to the people at the front desk; you feel the southern Hospitality.The room are a little smaller than the pictures would suggest and but they have alot of TLC at this place.
Families spend most of their time at the hotel, splashing in the big free-form lagoon pool that's heated to 85 degrees in the cooler months and kept otherwise balmy by the Florida sun outside of that period. The pool's highlight is multiple cascading waterfalls and rock formations that kids have a blast frolicking beneath. The main pool is surrounded by comfortable, blue lounge chairs and plenty of umbrellas for shade. You can also consider renting one of the roomy cabanas for the day.
Just next to the main pool is a smaller pool for kids and a hot tub that can get quite crowded during the peak season. Kids who aren't potty trained are required to wear swim diapers, and if you forget them, they're available for purchase in a shop next to the lobby.
One of the biggest delights for families here (parents, rejoice!) is Lisa's Klubhouse, a kids camp based in a room full of arts and crafts and toys; it's open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for kids ages 5 to 12. There's a tiny playground with a slide and swings near the clubhouse, too. Daily activities might include tye-dying T-shirts, making ceramics, scavenger hunts and pool games. The cost is $5 per child, per hour. It makes for a great way to get a break from the kids and let them enjoy their own supervised playtime for a few hours during the day. And the club also sometimes organizes nighttime events, in particular during the high season of late-February through April.
Clearwater Bay and Beach
If you want to explore the bay in the hotel's backyard, the Marriott's dock is a launching point for Jet Ski rentals, though you don't have ocean access from here. And you can't visit Clearwater without spending time at one of the area's beautiful beaches. Sand Key Park, right across the street from the hotel, is the closest and best area beach. It's just a five-minute walk from the hotel, but the Marriott also offers a free golf cart service to bring you to the beach, too, if you can't manage the walk with the kids and all the accessories you need to bring with you.
A kiosk on the beach that's not affiliated with the nearby hotels operates from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and rents out two beach chairs in private cabanas for half or full day costs. The kiosk also rents out Jet Skis and banana boat rides.
If you take the Marriott's golf cart shuttle down to the beach, it's worth asking the driver if there are any chairs or umbrellas left behind from past guests -- if there are, he or she will be happy to round them up for you to use as loaners for the day.
Sand Key Park also has a good playground for kids, plus picnic shelters and grills, and a wetlands area where you can stroll to spot birds, such as herons and roseate spoonbills.
Start your day with the hotel's excellent buffet breakfast (continental or full buffet options) at Watercolour Grillhouse, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. The daily continental breakfast here is at cost for adults and has an ample spread of cold foods like cereals, deli meats, croissants, fruit and donuts, as well as oatmeal. The hot buffet is an additional cost for adults and includes all of the previously mentioned options, as well as comfort foods, such as pancakes, bacon and eggs, sausage and potatoes. Kids under 12 can eat from the buffet for a discounted rate. A la carte options are also available, but the best bang for the buck is far and away the buffet.
Watercolour is also open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 2 p.m. on weekends with salads, steaks, seafood and burgers on the main menu and a kids menu is available. It includes chicken tenders or fish served with fresh fruit, mac and cheese with carrot sticks, fish and chips, hot dogs or kid-sized sirloin steaks served with corn on the cob. There are a few tables outside here, but it's mostly indoor dining in fairly upscale surrounds that welcome families with high chairs and crayons, too.
And for dinner with the gang, you can also choose between the casual poolside vibe at Kokomos or opt for something fancier at Watercolour Grillhouse, both open daily until 10 p.m. (Watercolour serves dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Kokomos is open continuously from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.).
Kokomos Bar & Grille
For a more casual lunch, you can opt to eat at Kokomos Bar & Grille (open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily). It's located poolside with outdoor dining only and has a similarly straightforward and inexpensive kids menu like Watercolour, with good salads, fish sandwiches and cocktails for parents.
Pizza Hut Express
Another option for lunch or dinner is to order room service from the onsite Pizza Hut Express, open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Personal pan pizzas will be delivered to your room, and you can always take them down to the pool area to enjoy lunch under your umbrella or in a cabana.
Bistro on the Bay
For grab-and-go snacks, like banana bread, pastries, croissants, donuts and cupcakes, the Bistro on the Bay is a quick and convenient little shop specializing in baked goods and freshly brewed Starbucks coffee.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
It's hard to miss Lisa, the hotel's macaw mascot, at check-in. Her perch is right near the reception area and guests love to interact with her -- keep an eye for wandering fingers as she's been known to nip!
When it's time for some quiet time back in your suite and a book won't do the trick for the kids, you can always resort to renting a video game console from reception to keep them entertained. DVD players, however, are not available in the rooms or for rent, so be sure to bring your own if your kids will miss it.
There's an ATM machine located near the reception area.
The shop sells pool toys like buckets and floats, sunscreen, medications and grab-and-go snacks like chips, fruit, muffins, donuts and more.
Wi-Fi is free in the lobby and public areas, but is at a cost per day for access in the guestrooms. If you're a Marriott Rewards member, be sure to mention it at the front desk and the Internet fee will be waived.
Self-parking is free for guests in a lighted, outdoor parking lot, and there is a cost for valet.
Laundry facilities, including washers and dryers, are located in a separate building by the pool and cost $1 per run of each (payable with quarters). You can buy detergent in the bistro.
The hotel's fitness center is outside by the pool in a separate building and accessible 24 hours a day with your key card. It's not huge but there are treadmills, free weights and other machines that make it easy to get a workout in.
The Art of Smart Timing
Large business conventions and weddings are commonly held at this resort, but the resort is family-centric from late-February through April, during the height of spring break travel, and throughout the summer, too, when lots of Florida families visit. Weekday stays from May to November are when you're likely to score the lowest room rates.
Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, temperatures are warm year-round, although the odd winter night will see you needing a light jacket. Summers are hot and sticky, and if you're hanging out by the pool during the summer months or on the beach at sunset, you may want to spray on the mosquito repellent. If there's a big convention occupying the hotel, count on an overcrowded swimming pool -- particularly later in the day when everyone's done schmoozing.
The Marriott can arrange town car transportation for guests traveling between the hotel and Tampa's International Airport, about 45 minutes away. Rates to the St. Pete/Clearwater airport, about 20 minutes away, are slightly cheaper. Super Shuttle, a cheaper option, depending on how many are in your party, also runs shuttle services from both airports to Sand Key and Clearwater. Book ahead to secure seats.
You could easily make do without a rental car at the Marriott, taking advantage of the Jolley Trolley to get around town on a budget and avoiding Clearwater Beach's omnipresent parking meters. But if you want to have a car to explore farther afield, you'll find all of the major rental companies on hand at both airports.
For Mom and Dad
If you can sneak away from the kids, start the evening with a fun and fruity sunset cocktail at the Sheraton Sand Key's poolside bar, (there are live steel drum bands on the weekends from 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.), which is a short stroll from the Marriott. A massage at Antonio's Day Spa always makes for a relaxing break, too. And if your kids are old enough to look after themselves (babysitting services are not offered at this hotel) and you can get off the resort's property for dinner, it's worth splurging on the excellent sushi and seafood at Caretta on the Gulf, situated in a particularly romantic setting at nearby Sandpearl Resort.