If you know me, you know that I’m a proud Floridian, and that for some reason I dislike the Tampa Bay area, yet find myself there too often. Perhaps it's because I’m a Florida Panthers fan and had to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning be lauded in the playoffs by locals, but during my time back home amid COVID-19, I once again found myself in the greater Tampa Bay area for a family getaway.
This trip was originally scheduled to occur the weekend prior and then hurricane Isaias decided to give Florida a bit of a scare that week, thus we postponed for the following weekend and I once again extended my stay in Florida. As a family we highly prefer the beaches of the Gulf Coast as they tend to have warmer waters, white sand, and stunning wildlife from sea turtles and dolphins, to manatees and sand dollars - we saw it all on our short escapade.
When I originally booked this property, what really drew me in was not only its location near the stunning Fort De Soto State Park, once voted one of America’s most beautiful beaches, but also the fact that it was cheaper than most in the area and brand new having opened in January. Unclear to most travelers, but true of most Residence Inns, this property was franchised and had outside management, which ended up being crucial with all the turns the trip took.
I booked this hotel directly on the Marriott website and had originally reserved a Bay View 2 Queen Studio Room for $195/night totaling to $430 with resort fees and taxes. However, due to circumstances you’ll read about in the next section, we ended up paying $100/night and with taxes and fees totalling $226 for both nights of our stay. I earned 1,000 Bonvoy Points and since I paid with my Chase Sapphire Preserve, which earns double points on travel, I also earned 550 Ultimate Rewards Points for my stay.
We ended up having to rebook this trip due to hurricane Isaias making a dash at the Florida coast the week we were supposed to go. I had the pleasure of talking to the property owner, and as a fellow Floridian she totally understood our worry with driving and traveling during a storm. She very kindly offered to waive all fees to rebook or cancel the day prior to the stay as we awaited to see the storm's path. To be safe we rebooked and she happily changed our days for a week ahead with no extra fees.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
Finally the weekend arrived and after a surprisingly quick three and a half hour drive from the South Florida coast, we arrived at the Residence Inn Tierra Verde, which sits on a small barrier island before Fort De Soto and requires a small toll to enter - be aware of that anytime you travel the Florida Gulf Coast. The lobby was very well appointed and spacious, with plenty of sunlight and water views as well as coastal furniture and beechwood tones. On the ground were creative sand footprint social distancing decals - to promote standing 6 feet apart; the check-in desks had tall acrylic panels and all the staff were wearing masks; however, the same cannot be said about other guests even though it is required.
Check-in was a breeze and the front desk manager was nothing but a delight, we got our room keys and headed up, but upon entering we were facing… the parking lot. As you recall, we had booked a bay view. I went down to the front desk and asked if it had been an error where we ended up or to see what happened. They explained that it must have been an error with the system and our reservation was not showing the bay view, and that unfortunately, they had no more rooms facing that direction and were fully booked for the weekend. After some back and forth - mainly concerning the rate difference between a bay and parking lot view room - she offered to take off $95 off per night, leaving me at the discounted rate above. It was quite the discount and I was beyond happy with the resolution!
Guestroom / Suite
A nice touch I appreciated upon arrival was that all of the rooms that were cleaned had a seal on the door claiming so - it felt like a nice touch during these times of COVID. Upon entering the room I was pleased to see that it was very spacious. We were greeted by a fully equipped kitchenette with a stove, microwave, dishwasher and all of the kitchenware needed to cook, so the room was off to a good start. Just beyond the kitchen area, you reach the dining space that has a table with 4 chairs. The living space just behind it featured a large pleather pull out couch, ottoman and large tv with easy connectivity to streaming platforms - a convenient option to erase all website data at check-out was a welcome surprise.
Next to both of those areas was the sleeping space that had two queen beds with an end table in between and conveniently placed outlets on all sides. Right next to the beds you could find the door to the room’s balcony, offering plenty of light into the sleeping space with fantastic black out curtains.
At the opposite end there was a dressing area near the closet, which also had a hair dryer and large mirror, just before the large and bright restroom. Stocked with Paul Mitchell and Tea Tree products, the bathroom was very comfortable. And, although the large format amenities may be concerning for some guests amidst a pandemic, we appreciate their environmental contribution.
The room as a whole was very “aesthetic” with deep blues, dark wood and light brown leather made up most of the finishes and made a very cohesive and, dare I say, quite luxurious room. Leaps above most Residence Inns I’ve seen or stayed at. The room did claim to be fully sanitized, but being the Latino family we are, we brought our own bleach and alcohol to wipe down the whole room, as well as our own pillowcases. Starting with the kitchen while wearing gloves we gave the room a thorough cleaning and inspection. I did find some dried sauce stains on the counters, and the shower was actually pretty dirty with both hair and shoe prints inside, a bit disappointing and hard to miss. Thus, we are very happy we brought our own cleaning supplies, if perhaps cleaning the whole room isn’t your ideal vacation, I would still recommend wiping down high traffic touchpoints: light switches, handles, curtain handles/pulls, plugs, etc.
Amenities & Features
The hotel had a plethora of features compared to the typical Residence Inn, and again perhaps because it is new, or because they chose higher end materials, the hotel felt more luxurious than its other select service competitors.
The gym on the first level faced the water and manatees could occasionally be seen - I’ve never been more tempted to work out in my life, though I will report I did not. However, it was equipped with plenty of machines and weights for any type of work out, but towels were removed due to COVID and you were encouraged to bring your own from the room; in addition, sanitizing towelettes were available to wipe down equipment. The hotel also featured two well sized pools on the marina below, I swam in one and had a great time as it was empty!
Perhaps my favorite feature was the rooftop bar, I’ll get more into the food and drinks in the next section, but in a relatively low-lying area, a bar on the 7th floor offered endless views: from St. Pete beach to the massive Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the sunset here was unforgettable.
We did also call down for pillows and towels a few times, delivery was prompt even at later hours when we discovered we needed more. They were placed in large garbage bags and left at the door for you to provide a touch free service.
Food & Beverage
During our stay we tried both on property dining options - one being the free breakfast and the other the restaurant next door which works closely with the hotel. Breakfast was very limited, due to the fact that everything had to be served in individual containers: breads, yogurt and cheese were the 3 options - I’m not lying. Honestly it was included, and while not particularly mind-blowing, it sustained us until lunch. I will, however, commend the breakfast attendant as she turned away anyone not wearing a mask, kept wiping everything down between guests, and only allowed 5 at a time in the food area.
We had dinner at the rooftop, which features a tapas menu, and some margaritas the first night, but we ran into another hiccup in the hotel’s systems. Our drinks came fast and were strong, for $8 each they were a great value. We also got some poke, creamy cod croquettes and chips, with prices ranging from $12 to $15. After around an hour after we placed the order a much later add-on item arrived, prompting us to wonder where’s the rest? After spending another 30 min with the staff figuring it out, I asked to just cancel the order. Then I was told the food and beverage manager was in the kitchen himself making it. A few minutes later it arrived and the manager apologized profusely that the system somehow deleted the order - he comped our whole meal which was a great resolution. Most of the staff was nothing but pleasant and apologized for the inconvenience, and while the food was tasty, I wouldn’t depend on it for a whole meal, perhaps keep it as a snack with the drinks.
We also tried the adjacent restaurant and found the prices to be fair for a relatively tourist restaurant, but the offering was quite expansive and very tasty! I would recommend it as it’s a super easy walk to the pool and a nice pick-up option on property.
Local tip: I HIGHLY recommend nearby Italian restaurant Nelo’s, incredible homemade Italian
The hotel had a high occupancy the whole weekend; however, it wasn’t hard to get your own space and you never saw that many people around. Shockingly enough the majority of people I saw without a mask, and being relatively careless, were groups of 65+ travelers! The hotel took plenty of precautions with COVID and sanitizer was flowing on every column they could find it seemed. The staff was always masked and reserved their distance, and the hotel did offer everything on your phone; however, due to our room issue we did have to visit the front desk.
While staff followed guidelines, not all guests will so it is a point to remember when choosing to travel right now. Elevators are a pinch point as well, and while there were plenty of advertisements asking for social distance on them, I chose the stairs, much like Jeremy on his review. I now prefer lower floor rooms as well due to this. While the breakfast was very limited and cut down to only a few cold items, I didn’t mind and the fact that they were still offering it was refreshing. Getting out and leaving home felt great, and I felt like me again. I would say that with the right precautions it is worth taking a trip, but I highly recommend researching COVID guidelines and restrictions in the area you are visiting prior to traveling, or to consider a staycation instead like so many have. I also called all of our activities prior to check their precautions and cancelled some due to lack thereof where we felt uncomfortable.
Had we not experienced cleanliness issues with our room, I’d happily recommend this hotel, as even with the service hiccups we experienced, the staff were very attentive, kind and really tried to make things right. The rooms are well appointed and very spacious, and the price is fantastic for the area where much lower quality properties go for a similar if not higher rates. It is not beachside, but only a 5 minute drive to multiple beaches including the Fort De Soto park who’s white sand lagoon filled beach is something right out of a magazine.
Traveling during COVID and staying at a hotel was a big decision, but I’m glad we drove and brought our own supplies to clean the room further to get some peace of mind. We quarantined prior to our trip and were able to maintain plenty of social distance on the large beaches of the Gulf. General consensus from the family was that we can’t wait to visit the area again and stay at the same hotel as we fell in love with the scenery.
Local tip: While kayaking around manatees and seeing horseshoe crabs and sea turtles in the wild is an exhilarating experience, please check the state guidelines on how to act around the real locals of this area, please observe plenty of distance between you and them and never try to touch or disturb them and their habitat.