I always find that planning a summer vacation to be a bit difficult, if not stressful. This year I wanted to travel to Portland, OR to visit my uncle and cousins, and the hardest part of that was planning the dates. So when my uncle and I finally decided on them, and I was ready to book the flights, imagine my dismay when I saw that the fares for three people had jumped from $1200 to over $2000.
Needless to say, that was too big a jump in price so I told my uncle we weren’t coming out, and we started at square one again, trying to figure out where to go on vacation.
Somehow, someone mentioned Tampa, Florida so I started checking out various packages. I landed on Southwest Airlines site, and they offered a package of air for four, hotel and car rental for around $2100. So Marcy and I picked out dates, submitted them to our jobs, and booked it.
My only fear was the amount of driving that would have to be done once we got to Florida. The hotel we booked was in Clearwater Beach, about 45 minutes from the airport. I had read some online reviews of the Sheraton Sand Key Resort (SSKR) and hoped that I made the right choice.
Let’s skip all the packing and traveling details, ok?
We were afraid that Michelle would get sick on the plane like she has the last couple of times, so we did two things; not eat before the flight, and take Dramamine an hour before takeoff. The Dramamine worked, and she fell asleep on my shoulder while I watched a movie. Getting her up when we arrived was tough, but I managed to do it.
We get the luggage, and head over to the Hertz car rental counter. For those of you who have ever rented a car before, you know the scam they use when classifying the size of a car. To them, a mid-size is a full size, a compact is a mid-size, and a sub-compact is a compact.
When I booked the package, I chose a compact car. When the very nice girl at Hertz told me it was Toyota Yaris, I couldn’t believe it. There was no way our luggage would fit in that thing. So the next upgrade was a Nissan Sentra for an additional $50 plus taxes. She offered a Nissan Maxima for another $100, but that was too big for us. A very nice car, but I really didn’t want to spend the extra $50.
We get to the car, and it only held 3 out of our 4 pieces of luggage. No big deal, since we were going right to the hotel. My only worry was when we checked out in 5 days and had to leave one of the small bags in the car.
I also asked the counter girl for the passenger ejector seat, and the cones of silence options. She just looked at me and kept on typing. Hey, I had to try.
What we did get at no charge was their GPS unit, which features lots of built in things, including returning to this Hertz location. I had brought my own GPS, but kept it packed away.
When we get to the hotel, I was happy that it looked nicer that the on line pictures. By this time, we were hungry and tired. At check in, we made arrangements to get a fridge in the room so we could keep breakfast foods and beverages.
Remember what I said about bathrooms on cruise ships being small? Well, this bathroom wasn’t much bigger. Picture a standard size bathtub, and then double it. That was the size of the bathroom. It had room for the porcelain throne and one person.
So picture Dad and three females trying to get changed at the same time. It was next to impossible. Only one person at a time could use the bathroom, and there was no changing area. Getting ready to go out became a Broadway production with no music or dancing, only drama.
So we get changed and head down to the pool and hot tub to relax and unwind. My back was hurting and the hot tub was just the thing to make it feel better. Ahhhh.
Every day was a new adventure, since we wanted to see as many things as we could in the five days we had. We had breakfast in the room every morning, consisting of complimentary Starbucks coffee, and muffins, cereal and fruit we got at a not so local Publix supermarket.
Here are some of the places we went, in no particular order: the Pier in St. Petersburg, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Sunken Gardens and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Home Of Winter, from the movie “Dolphin Tales”); Johnny Brooklyn’s Pizza, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs. Those are only the highlights, as there were other small things we did, including finding some great spots to eat.
Oh, did I mention the fabulous restaurant and bakery in Tarpon Springs called Hellas? We had a great Greek meal and red velvet cake for a yummy dessert later.
We found a hamburger place called Fresh Mouth in Ybor City, one of the oldest sections of Tampa. This is their only location, and the food was great, as was our server Brandon, who let me take a funny picture of him. I made it a point to tell the manager on the way out not only how we enjoyed the food, but what a great server Brandon was. Fresh Mouth is a great place to eat, if you can.
The kids wanted to visit Busch Gardens, but since Marcy and I don’t go on rides and I knew the girls wouldn’t either, we decided not to do it. It would have cost us over $300 for all us. I truly felt it wasn’t worth the money.
The money we didn’t spend on that was spent on meals, and we had some really good ones. We went to Toucans in Clearwater Beach, Guppys in Indian Beach, Columbia’s and Backwaters across from the hotel, and the Friendly Fisherman at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach. All I can say ism yum!
For anyone that appreciates great customer service, here’s a good story. The girls needed to go up to the room from the pool, but came back down a few minutes later telling me their key cards didn’t work. I had to go talk to the front desk to show ID and get new cards made.
I did and they had to send an escort with me to see ID. Not a problem, it’s just part of their security to make sure I am who I say I am. Dennis tries all our cards, and they don’t work. He goes to the front desk, get new cards and they don’t work. He says he’ll maintenance up to replace the lock.
Ben shows up a few minutes later, tries all sorts of things to get our cards to work, but they don’t. He leaves to get an entire new lock set, and has it replaced in just a few minutes.
Later that day as we’re getting ready to go out for dinner, the message light on the phone is blinking, telling us the front desk has a personal message for us. So we stop by on our way out, and Jerry the front desk manager tells us that he has 4 vouchers for the breakfast buffet as their way of apologizing for the lock problem.
I tell him it was no big deal, and this was certainly unexpected. Jerry says that they want to be in front of the guest, not behind them and this is their way of telling us how they appreciate our business and having to be inconvenienced.
On our last day at the hotel, Marcy and I get up early to walk to the beach and take pictures of the sunrise. Getting up at 7:15 am on vacation is not my idea of sleeping late, but I did want to get the pictures.
We head to the pool and we start talking to David, who’s been at the hotel at least 20 years. He’s telling us how the hotel used to be right on the beach, and showed us a picture from 1975 when it first opened. Holy cow, the seawall was 10 feet away from the beach. Now it’s 450 feet! He said that Clearwater Beach extended the jetty, and over the years the water retreated, and the beach emerged.
I will consider this a successful vacation, having traveled over 300 miles in the Sentra without the need for an ejection seat, though I could have used the cones of silence at times.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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