I think this is about the right time to start the 17th year of the Clearwater Update. Fortunately the weather is cooperating right now as we are supposed to have about a week and a half of high 70’s and mid 80’s temperature It seems a good time because the weather has broken and it is in the mid 70’s to low 80’s most of the recent days. It helps to get me in the mood. Those who are thinking about coming to spring training, it’s past time to look into booking a hotel room. If you have been here before I think you should understand that this beach has grown enormously in popularity the past 5, or 6 years. Unfortunately (for me), Clearwater Beach has been discovered by the rest of the country. Several travel magazines and websites have been calling us the best beach in the United States and the tourist trade has picked up enormously. This has led to a marked increase in traffic, difficulty getting tables at the better restaurants and more significantly difficulty getting rooms. However, the past few years there has been several new huge, high rise hotels built on Clearwater Beach.
Invariably someone asks about hotels and I usually make some version of this report each spring. This way, anyone that wants the information can get it before they make their plans. If this is your first trip, there are two ways to look at lodging in Clearwater. There are a ton of places to stay, but during certain seasons and times, they do fill up. Unfortunately, for our purposes, Spring Training happens at the same time as Spring Break. If you are planning to come down, you really need to get started on it.
At this point, I have to throw in a disclaimer. I have only stayed in one hotel in the Tampa Bay area and am far from an expert on the subject. Most of what I know has come from word of mouth. A full range of hotels are available at whatever price you choose to pay. You will get pretty much what you pay for. There are some high dollar places that can rent for about $600 a night and some mom and pop establishments that can go for a lot less, but keep in mind this is the busiest time of the year and the prices will reflect that. They change depending on the season. Unfortunately, Spring Training and Spring Break are the busiest times.
I think you have to decide whether you want the beach experience along with the baseball, or don’t need the beach every day and can live on the main land where there are many other great attractions. The hotels on the beach will, on the whole, be more expensive and harder to book. The traffic to and from the beach should be a consideration. On the other hand, if the beach isn’t necessary every day, you can stay in town and be closer to the ball park much more reasonably.
If I were doing it and could afford it, I would stay on the beach because you can catch a shuttle called the Jolly Trolly to the ball park. It won’t be any quicker, but you won’t be driving and won’t have to pay for parking. Some of the hotels provide transportation. Ask them about it. The causeway from Downtown Clearwater to the beach can get backed up and be bumper to bumper the whole 3-4 miles and parking is always difficult on the beach. Although recently they added a new parking garage that has helped some, but parking is not cheap. The city charges $3.00 an hour in their meters. One guy said it could take him as long as 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to his place back on the beach. That is normally about a 20 minute drive.
If you want to stay within walking distance of the ball park (and save the hassle and cost of parking), there are several along route 19. The three nearest to the park and easiest to get to the ballpark, are on the even (west) side of 19. They are LaQuinta, Magnuson, and the Hampton Inn. They are within 3 blocks of the park in the 21000 block of US19. A word of caution, walking across 19 can be very dangerous, especially with children. It has one of the highest accident rates in Florida. If you are walking to the ball park from one of the hotels, it is best to cross Drew Street at the corner of Drew and Coachman Road. There will be cops there directing traffic.
If you want high end, the beach offers the Sand Pearl and its new sister hotel the Opal Pearl. There is a relatively new Hyatt, Pier 60 and Hilton along with a host of others. The Hilton has recently been remodeled. There are many Mom and Pop smaller places and most of them are pretty good and on lower end of the cost scale. In these cases, you pays your money and takes your chances. If you want to stay on the beach, get an early start on the reservations. I suggest you google up a map on Clearwater Beach and look for hotels. They will all be listed(Does anybody use a phonebook anymore?). Good luck with it.
If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to try and answer them.