Couples Getaway in St. Petersburg, FL

Old Jan 8th, 2020, 07:12 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 73
Couples Getaway in St. Petersburg, FL

Reporting back from a last-minute trip to Florida before welcoming baby #2. Planning this trip was quite hectic since we traveled during Christmas/New Year’s week -- we usually try to avoid this busy time, but it was the only week the grandparents could watch our kiddo. So we made it work, and we’re glad we did -- we loved St. Pete!

Here is a recap with some recommendations:

Day 1 (Friday 12/27)
We caught a late-morning JetBlue flight from JFK to Tampa (cheaper than flying to St. Pete directly and not much further away). I have had great experiences with JetBlue and this was no exception. The flight took less than 3 hours, and we were soon in an Uber headed for the Dali Museum (about 30 minutes from the airport).

The Dali Museum was a super-convenient first stop on the trip due to the free lockers for luggage storage just outside. In addition to regular lockers, they provided jumbo lockers (one was big enough for two carry-ons, two personal items, and our winter coats). After dropping off our luggage, we ate a delicious al fresco lunch at the museum’s Cafe Gala, which offers a huge variety of Spanish-themed small plates. We then walked around the small-but-adorable garden and headed inside.

Museum audiotours can be hit or miss, so I’m happy to report that the free audiotour at the Dali Museum was fascinating and perfectly timed. In addition to the usual audio, 10 of the most important works featured Augmented Reality overviews, which were an audiovisual feast and truly enhanced our visit. The collection is thoughtfully arranged to highlight the evolution of Dali’s style: you get to see his work long before he discovered the surrealist approach he is most famous for. We spent about 3 hours at the museum in all and could have stayed longer if it weren’t closing time!

After the museum closed we caught another Uber to the Grand Plaza Hotel in St. Pete’s beach, our home base for the next 4 nights. It was dinnertime, and we opted for Level 11, the hotel’s rooftop outdoor bar, which serves small plates starting in the afternoon and late into the evening. There’s also a DJ on weekends. The cocktails here were interesting, and the food was just fine, not great. Spinner’s, the hotel’s sitdown restaurant, is known for great views but the menu was really uninspiring so we think Level 11 was the right choice.

We opted for an early night after our long day...or at least, we tried to. The Grand Plaza is a round tower, which makes for some “interesting” room layouts. We knew the hotel was on the older side and didn’t have high expectations, but our room was still a bit of a disappointment. There were no curtains and twice as many windows as a standard room. Moreover, we had a partial ocean view, which resulted in the “street” side letting in a lot of light from the other hotel rooms’ balcony lights and neon signs from the local Beach Mart. Thus, the room didn’t get dark all night and it was nearly impossible to sleep.

Day 2
Up early thanks to the lack of curtains, we headed to the front desk to beg for a room change. Luckily, they were able to move us into a different room; this one had the standard number of windows and didn’t face the bright lights coming from other resorts. We then creatively blacked out the windows by hanging a large blanket, stacking our jackets and suitcases, and even buying some discounted wrapping paper from CVS and strategically taping it to the windows. It was a great couples’ bonding activity and by the end, we’d achieved near-total darkness

]For breakfast, we checked out the highly recommended Frog Pond. They serve traditional American food for breakfast and lunch. Portions were huge, but food quality was again not too inspiring (maybe living in big cities has ruined our taste buds!)

We spent some time relaxing on the beach, had lunch (Bongo’s Beach Bar & Grill at the hotel), and then headed to the Don Cesar hotel, where we’d booked a couples massage and dinner. It was a pleasant 30-ish minute walk along the beach, and before long, we were at the iconic “Pink Palace” - definitely St. Pete’s fanciest beachfront hotel.
The spa was pretty nice - the only odd thing was that they required an attendant to escort you between floors and there wasn’t really a indoor area to sit and relax. Other than that, the facilities were great (or so my husband tells me - being pregnant, I had to pass up the jacuzzi, steam room, etc).

After our massage, we relaxed together on the open-air rooftop deck. It started to drizzle a bit so we returned to the locker rooms to change for dinner. We had booked a table at the Don Cesar’s formal restaurant Maritana Grille. Food and service were truly excellent and we even got a special chocolate-violet dessert on the house to celebrate my pregnancy. This was the first (and probably the last) time that being pregnant was a perk and not a restriction on this trip, so I really, really appreciated this touch.

Since winter sunsets come early, it was too dark to go to the beach or do anything outdoors after dinner, so we went to the movies to see Bombshell. On the way back, we got caught in a late-night downpour, but this was the only real rain of the entire weekend, so I wasn’t complaining.

Day 3
After a much better night’s sleep in our new room, we were ready to check out the city of St. Petersburg. We’d gotten a brief but captivating glimpse at the Dali Museum, but today would be our day to really explore.

But first - breakfast. We tried a new spot, Cafe Soleil, which was absolutely delicious. It’s this random spot in a strip mall down the street from our hotel, but the food was just divine. We kept coming back every day after that! We got breakfast to go and ate on our balcony overlooking the water - absolute heaven!

Next, we took an Uber to the Sunken Gardens, a small but cute landscaped park with tropical plants as well as some animals (flamingos, parrots, giant tortoise, etc). There is a children’s museum right next door, so we saw a number of families taking advantage of the proximity to visit both sights. Since we didn’t have our kid with us, we opted out of the museum and instead walked down to Central Avenue.

Despite the midday heat, we really enjoyed the walk, passing a number of cute shops and themed murals, which we had fun posing with. We got some fresh-squeezed juices at Clean Juice to stay hydrated, which were yummy.

Central Avenue immediately appealed to us with its lively, hipster vibe -- tons of cute independent stores and restaurants, colors and great design everywhere, and people out on the streets enjoying the sun and the scene. After a quick lunch, we visited the Chihuly Collection, St. Pete’s other major art draw. This is not a museum per se - more like a showroom with several galleries. It took us just over half an hour to see everything. But it is certainly worth the time and the admission price -- Chihuly’s glass masterpieces are amazing.

Once we finished ogling the glass art, the front desk staff helpfully pointed us to the glass studio across the street, where we could see an actual glassblowing demonstration. I was only vaguely familiar with how glass is made and really enjoyed the 20-minute demo. In fact, we liked it so much that we signed up to make a glass object of our own the next day. At $85 for a half-hour guided personal glassmaking experience, it was a bit of a splurge but worth it.

We had just a bit of time to check out the Morean Art Center, which is affiliated with the Chihuly Collection. They had a holiday art show going on and we found a few cool souvenirs to bring home, including a painting from a local artist for #2’s nursery! Then, we took a dessert break at Swah-Rey (highly recommend!)

Our planned entertainment for the night was the Enchant Christmas extravaganza at the baseball stadium. We walked there, enjoying a beautiful sunset along the way, and spent an hour or so exploring the Christmas light maze, grabbing rice bowls at the food stalls, and browsing the holiday market.

Day 4
On Monday, we spent most of the day on our balcony and at the beach, indulging in take-out breakfast AND lunch from Cafe Soleil (yes, it was that good). The weather was sunny and we enjoyed resting up from our busy day exploring the city.

In the late afternoon, we headed back into town for our glassblowing class. The experience was quite special, though much hotter than I anticipated (being pregnant, I had to take frequent breaks to step away from the furnace). We made a twisty paperweight-type thing which is probably the most unique souvenir I’ve ever brought home. We also bought a couple (much-nicer-looking) glass pieces in the gift shop. We were able to ship all 3 pieces home for just $20, which I think is an excellent deal.

After finishing with the glass, we strolled down the street to eat at Tropez - amazing decor and inventive menu with lots of small plates that give you the chance to mix and match flavors. They also get bonus points for making me a delicious mocktail and for having a $20 4-course offering if you come in before 6.

After dinner, we went to see a movie again - kind of pedestrian activity for a vacation, but it’s sooo hard for us to get out and see movies at home due to the need for childcare, so we took advantage of our temporary freedom to cross some movies off our list. We found a great movie theater with reclining seats and a good food selection: the Cobb Tyrone Cinema.

Day 5
We checked out of our hotel and got a lift to our car rental agency. I really wanted to see the Ringling mansion in Sarasota so we rented a car for just a few hours (~$45) to make the drive there and back.

Less than an hour after setting out, we were parking at the Ringling and making our way through the landscaped grounds. Our first stop was the Circus Museum - part of it was closed for renovations, but I felt like we still got to see all the good stuff -- a huge model of a circus in action as well as interactive exhibits tracing the history of the circus and different kinds of acts. The museum seemed to be a hit with kids of all ages but I 100% loved it despite being kid-free.

The biggest takeaway from our visit was discovering that the circus was an immense logistical production, picking up and moving thousands of people from town to town every single day in an immaculately choreographed process. I’d never thought about what went on out of the audience’s view - from the gigantic cooking tent to the process of transporting supplies via ~150 railcars and a huge group of pack horses.

After the Circus Museum, we took a tour of the gorgeous Ringling mansion, which was designed like a Venetian palazzo....and, having been to Venice, I can certainly vouch that it looked the part. It was a feast for the eyes inside and out.

Once our tour was finished, we were ready for a different kind of feast, so we walked back to the complex’s sit-down restaurant, which we loved. I got a burrata and tomato salad served on a Himalayan salt-block

We still hadn’t toured any of the Ringling art museums, which feature everything from European to Asian to contemporary art. Alas, we were tired and it was time to head back to St. Pete for our New Year’s Eve celebration.

We dropped off the rental car and checked in at the Vinoy hotel downtown, conveniently within walking distance of the night’s festivities. We planned to get an early dinner, check out First Night St. Pete (an annual extravaganza of performances and events all around downtown), and then go to a party.

Our dinner, at the highly-rated restaurant The Mill, was incredible...we got overexcited and ordered way too much. Another shoutout for amazing mocktails here - too many places offer a dozen inventive cocktails but can’t come up with anything more creative than a virgin mojito for the non-drinkers among us - not these guys!

After dinner we were too tired to enjoy the First Night festivities so we retired to our hotel room until 9 (I had a bit of a cold and also pregnancy has a way of sapping all of one’s energy!) Soon, it was time for our big New Year’s Eve entertainment - a party at the Museum of Fine Arts. This event was a major bust, if I’m going to be honest. We imagined lounging in comfy chairs and listening to music after touring the galleries...but most of the galleries were closed, there was a dire shortage of tables/chairs, and the music was earsplitting, louder than a club.

We left pretty early and met the new year in the hotel room, a bit disappointed. But not to worry… the next day would take us to Miami for more adventures (separate trip report coming soon!)

A Few Photos!

The beach (view from our hotel balcony)



St. Petersburg sunset


A stroll through the Sunken Gardens


The Ringling mansion
isemida is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2020, 07:25 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thank you for this report on St. Pete, which I visited for the first time last year (although stayed in downtown Tampa) and Tampa & St. Pete I thought made for a terrifically enjoyable getaway, more than I had expected. Like you, I thought the Dali Museum was excellent and appreciated a special exhibit on comparing the styles of Magritte and Dali at the time. Glad you made it to Don Cesar—I saw the hotel but didn’t eat there so I appreciated your words on that. Loved the vibe in that whole Pass-a-Grille area.

Again, great job on the report!

Happy travels! Daniel
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jan 8th, 2020, 09:37 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Originally Posted by isemida View Post
But first - breakfast. We tried a new spot, Cafe Soleil, which was absolutely delicious. It’s this random spot in a strip mall down the street from our hotel, but the food was just divine. We kept coming back every day after that! We got breakfast to go and ate on our balcony overlooking the water - absolute heaven!
I completely agree! Often on work trips, I drive over just for breakfast or lunch there. It's wonderful and I pretend I'm in Paris.

"We then creatively blacked out the windows by hanging a large blanket, stacking our jackets and suitcases, and even buying some discounted wrapping paper from CVS and strategically taping it to the windows. It was a great couples’ bonding activity and by the end, we’d achieved near-total darkness"

This made me laugh!

Sounds like a great trip! Thanks for reporting back with such great details! Congrats on the new wee one!

starrs is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2020, 07:12 AM
  #4  
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Join Date: Jun 2009
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Originally Posted by Daniel_Williams View Post
Thank you for this report on St. Pete, which I visited for the first time last year (although stayed in downtown Tampa) and Tampa & St. Pete I thought made for a terrifically enjoyable getaway, more than I had expected. Like you, I thought the Dali Museum was excellent and appreciated a special exhibit on comparing the styles of Magritte and Dali at the time. Glad you made it to Don Cesar—I saw the hotel but didn’t eat there so I appreciated your words on that. Loved the vibe in that whole Pass-a-Grille area.

Again, great job on the report!

Happy travels! Daniel
Thank you! We didn't have time to see Tampa on this trip at all, we were just talking about how we should have left a day or two to explore there since it's so close. Will have to see it next time.
isemida is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2020, 07:16 AM
  #5  
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Originally Posted by starrs View Post
I completely agree! Often on work trips, I drive over just for breakfast or lunch there. It's wonderful and I pretend I'm in Paris.

"We then creatively blacked out the windows by hanging a large blanket, stacking our jackets and suitcases, and even buying some discounted wrapping paper from CVS and strategically taping it to the windows. It was a great couples’ bonding activity and by the end, we’d achieved near-total darkness"

This made me laugh!

Sounds like a great trip! Thanks for reporting back with such great details! Congrats on the new wee one!
Thanks so much! We seem to encounter misadventures on every trip, so we have been trying this new approach of seeing the funny side and trying creative problem-solving instead of getting too sad. And at the very least it makes for fun stories to share later.
isemida is offline  
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