Clearwater grows up
When I was a child, family vacations consisted of a week in Florida during the summer. There were no spring breaks, and long weekends were few and far between.
When I was about 9 years old, we went where everyone else in our Nashville social set went in Florida: Daytona Beach. The place fell from favor years ago, and is now a collection of questionable motels, bars and racecars. Not exactly family-friendly.
My father loved to fish. After a couple of trips on the east coast of the state, he told us we were going to the west coast of Florida for our next vacation. We were heading to a place we had never heard of, but his friends said the fishing was fantastic. My sister and I grumbled, but Mother told us we mustn't be selfish.
And that's how we wound up in Clearwater. The motel was okay (it had no pool) but it was across the street from the beach. We grumbled some more, but Daddy loved the fishing, and he promised we would stay in a beachfront motel the next year. Mind you, I said "motel." There were no hotels, let alone resorts, and fancy digs were non-existent.
It was therefore with a great deal of curiosity that I recently accepted an invitation to visit the "new Clearwater" with a group of travel writers. Viva la difference! Huge resorts line the Gulf of Mexico waterfront, and the wide beach is as white as powder. It is simply beautiful.
We were ensconced in the fantastic Sandpearl Resort, a huge property at the edge of the beach. The 253-room resort has a spa, pools, grassy areas, and a large lobby that is breathtakingly furnished with tasteful and comfortable furniture.
The first night we had dinner in the top-of-the line dining room, Caretta on the Gulf at Sandpearl Resort. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and the resort's marketing director welcomed us. Our hosts were Gerri Raymond and Anita Treiser from the local Chamber of Commerce. It was a lovely evening.
First thing after breakfast the next morning, we were off to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for a behind-the-scenes tour. We also met the star of the facility, Winter, the dolphin without a tail. Although this little dolphin has no tail, her tale will touch your heart.
The marine aquarium is a hospital for injured sea creatures that have been rescued and treated, with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild.
The afternoon was devoted to a ride on Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise. We all dressed up like pirates and plied the waters of the Gulf looking for possible bounty on other unsuspecting watercraft. We found none, but declared it so much fun, it was worth the trip anyway.
On Thursday we took a ferry to Caladesi Island State Park and went on a wildlife trail excursion led by one of the park rangers. On the other side of the island is the best beach I have ever seen. It is rated one of the best beaches in North America and I've never seen anything quite like it.
The book Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise - The Story of Caladesi Island was written by the first woman who lived on the island. It is a fascinating story about a life most of us would consider too adventurous. It was written by Myrtle Scharrer Betz and will soon be available in book stores.
The evening was spent in a private suite at the top of a baseball stadium where the Philadelphia Phillies hold their spring training. The local Clearwater team was playing, and much to my surprise, I enjoyed the game as much as anything else. I had forgotten I like baseball!
The next morning after breakfast we headed for the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. I was very impressed with the center. Most cities have sailing facilities, but they are almost always private clubs.
Downtown Clearwater is clean, pristine and welcoming. We noticed a block of tall pinkish buildings. Our hosts told us it was the home of Scientology. They told us John Travolta had a house in Clearwater and almost everyone seemed to know him.
I can't imagine any child would feel about Clearwater the way my sister and I felt about the place so many years ago. It is a varied and beautiful city and I guarantee your entire family will have a wonderful time.
Mildred Moss is Columbus Parent Magazine's travel writer.