4. Clearwater Beach: Crowds, Pirates, F-Bombs, Oh My!
Well, here is the last installment dedicated to the time my parents visited us here in US during March of this year. We took them to Wyndham Garden Clearwater for three nights.
The stay was covered completely via points from the sign-up bonus that came with Wyndham co-branded credit card, including resort fees of $25 per room/per night.
Here is where I deliver the bad news. This hotel is no longer a part of Wyndham chain, so unfortunately, you can’t book it via hotel points. It’s now called DreamView Hotel and Resort.
But there are still ways you can reduce the cost, which I will cover at the end of the post. I recommend this place to families with small children and anyone who likes a low-key, no-frills vacation at the beach. Here is why:
Looks a little bit like Caribbean, doesn’t it? The beach is private and they provide covered lounges for guests to enjoy.
The water is crystal clear and the waves are gentle. There is a bar on the beach where you can order all kinds of drinks and food items, so it makes it convenient for parents.
The reviews on TripAdvisor were somewhat mixed, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I was pleasantly surprised by just how nice this place was. The kids had a blast swimming and playing in the sand, especially since there were many other families with young children. My parents got in the ocean right away. The water was a bit cold in March, but since they live in Eastern Europe, they are quite used to it.
There was an older guy on the beach who flew from New Jersey for Spring Break. He seemed nice. We started talking and suddenly he went into a rant filled with F-bombs, mostly saying how ridiculous it is that other hotel guests are not swimming. He then gave my mom (who was in the water) thumbs up, and she returned the favor.
People were staring at us because he was super loud and obnoxious, and I didn’t know how to get away from him. My kids were playing in the sand, so I couldn’t just walk away.
Aside from that incident, our stay was very pleasant. The hotel was fairly quiet since it’s located away from hustle and bustle of the main Clearwater beach area. I would say at least half of the guests were families with young children.
The rooms were pretty basic, but very clean and spacious. The queen beds were comfortable. I liked the fact that there was no carpet, a huge plus for a beachfront hotel. Comforters were a bit gaudy for my taste, but I didn’t come here to look at bedding.
Our rooms faced the parking lot, but if you stay here, I recommend you get an oceanview unit if you can possibly afford it. It wasn’t a deal breaker for us since we weren’t in the room a whole lot, but it would have been nice to watch the sunset from your own private balcony.
There are tons of restaurants right across the street, and most are reasonably priced. There is even a Subway where you can feed your family on a budget. I was super excited to discover IHOP next door.
My husband and I went there for breakfast all three mornings, while my parents kept the kids. We ordered some items to go and brought them back to the room to feed the rest of the clan.
It was such a nice treat to eat breakfast in peace! Parents, who can relate?
The hotel also had a nice heated pool which my kids couldn’t get enough of. They’ve never met a pool they didn’t like.
Captain Memo’s cruise and other activities
Clearwater area has a lot to do. There are many activities to choose from, which can be overwhelming. If your family is on a tight budget, here are my two quick picks:
Since we have already visited Clearwater Aquarium few years ago, we decided on Captain Memo’s cruise as our only activity in the area. What a blast! The ship is built to look like a pirate’s ship you would see in a movie. My son actually got scared and started crying. We had to convince him that it’s not real in order for him to get on board.
We all liked it very much, and I absolutely recommend it if you have young kids. The crew actually keeps children entertained, so the parents can relax and enjoy the cruise.
They give them (the kids) water guns and let them search for treasure, aka cheap coins. The pirates were a little too jolly which probably had something to do with the bar on board. Did I mention that some alcoholic drinks are included in the fare?
The cruise is definitely worth the splurge, and you might even see dolphins and other sea life. Plus, it will give you a chance to see the area from a different perspective.
In fact, if you are debating between Clearwater Aquarium and this activity because you can only afford one, I would go with the latter unless your kids are huge fans of the movie Dolphin’s Tale.
How you can visit Clearwater area with the help of miles and points
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the hotel we stayed at is no longer available via hotel points. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least consider it under the right circumstances.
Going during spring is probably out of the question because the rates are very high. I checked March dates, and rooms go for $323 per night, plus tax and resort fee of $25. No thanks! It’s nice, but not that nice.
If you go at the beginning of August (low season), the rates are $186, plus tax and resort fee. Still high, but if you have Citi Prestige, you’ll get the fourth night free. Honestly, that’s still too expensive IMO, so I recommend you book a condo on VRBO or Airbnb (my referral link, you’ll get $30 towards your first rental).
There are many chain hotels in the area. One of the best bargains on points is Sheraton Sand Key Resort It costs 10,000 SPG points per night, and you get every 5th night free. The rooms can fit up to five: two adults and three kids if you use a rollaway. I haven’t actually stayed here, but we did see the hotel from the water while taking our pirate cruise. It looked very nice, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my family to this resort.
You may also consider staying at Hyatt Regency Clearwater beach. It costs 20,000 Hyatt points which you can transfer 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards via cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus. My family just stayed at this place few weeks ago, and I will have a trip report on it at some point.
I have mixed feelings on this resort and personally would not use 20,000 UR points per night to vacation here. However, it could be worth it to burn two certificates that come via sign-up bonus from Chase Hyatt Signature Visa. Stay tuned for more.
As far as which airport to fly to, you have two choices. You can fly to Tampa International airport, served by all major airlines, including Southwest. This will probably be your best bet. A reminder: right now the offer on all Southwest co-branded credit cards is increased to 50,000 points.
If you are looking to sign up for Chase Southwest Premier card ($99 annual fee, not waived), I have a personal referral link that will give me 5,000 points per approval. You can find links for other versions in this Flyertalk thread. Be aware that this offer might now be subject to Chase 5/24 rule.
If you live near a city served by AllegiantAir, you can fly to Clearwater airport, which is a bit closer. Fares are usually reasonable, and you may find that this is a better route compared to burning miles or Rapid Rewards points.
You can use Ultimate Rewards points to book your tickets and get 1.25 cents apiece in airfare value. The same goes for Citi Thank You Premier card. With Prestige you will get 1.33 cents per point.
Personally, I would avoid renting a car and just take a taxi or Uber because traffic is horrendous in this area, especially during Spring Break and holidays. Once you get settled in your hotel, you can get around via Clearwater Jolley Trolley which is relatively cheap and fun for kids. I recommend riding it at least once even if you opt for a rental car. Of course, it does depend on where you plan on staying.
All in all, I do recommend this area if you are looking for a fun beach vacation with lots of activities. My parents and kids absolutely loved it! My husband? He hates crowds, so this isn’t his cup of tea.
Readers, who is planning on visiting this area?
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.