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St. Augustine’s Inn on Charlotte

February 6, 2011 by · Comments Off on St. Augustine’s Inn on Charlotte 

Inn on Charlotte, St. Augustine, Florida

Hotel Review: Inn on Charlotte, a Bed and Breakfast in St. Augustine, Florida

No smoking, no pets, no kids: may sound a little harsh off the tongue, but when you connect those words with lodging, you quickly envision a quiet, clean retreat– perfect for a romantic getaway.  And that’s what you get at the elegant  Inn on Charlotte in St. Augustine, Florida.

But, why stay at this Bed and Breakfast?  Location, location, my dear. The property rests off  narrow brick-lined Charlotte Street which runs with one-way traffic and limited entrance. Plus the Inn offers free reserved parking spaces, a real plus in this part of the city. Stash the car as you won’t need to drive until it’s time to leave. All of St. Augustine’s best sites, shops and restaurants are within walking distance.

Rodney Holeman took over the 1918 Inn in September, 2010 and he is meticulous, something you can appreciate when you are the guest.  Spotless bathrooms- with new tile and fixtures, crisp linens and not a speck of dust anywhere.

The main floor boasts a warm, welcoming sitting area which leads into the dining room set with eight tables for two. No community table, so you don’t have to chat to others, unless you want to. (A lot of folks have told me they prefer separate seating.) The hall refrigerator stays stocked and complimentary wine is served from 5 to 6:00 PM, usually enjoyed on the front porch.

Find five bedrooms upstairs, plus one on the main floor,  each tastefully different and two open to the front balcony.  The rooms are freshly painted and charmingly decorated with style and pizazz.  No cast off antiques, they are adorned with high-end sturdy furniture featuring classic lines and comfort. Lovely.

Guest Room at the Inn on Charlotte

Two additional guest rooms are tucked away in the rear, separate from the main house, making them true escapes. The bungalow on the ground floor includes a  private patio and both upstairs and downstairs rooms boast a small fireplace and wall-mounted flat-screen TV.

But, visitors don’t go to St. Augustine to watch television. America’s oldest city bursts with Spanish architecture and history. Here, streets names speak the influence: Avienda Menendez , Cordova Street and Castillo Drive. The city’s treasured fort, Castillo de San Marco, reigns as a National Park landmark and must see.

Cathedral Place bordering the city park lies just two short blocks from the Inn and overflows with numerous ethnic restaurants. Athena, with great Greek cuisine and Bistro de Leon with fabulous French fare are two of my favorites. Cross the green and visit A-1A AleWorks or O.C. Whites, two popular pub type restaurants.

Guests in the parlor, Inn on Charlotte

Turn in the opposite direction and you’re a stone’s throw from Cuna Street, which leads to the pedestrian only shopping area.  Meander just beyond Cuna Street and you’re standing at the corner of Castillo Drive- perfect for a drop-in at the new Pirate and Treasure Museum and, of course, the1672  historic Fort abutting  the Matanzas Bay.

Consider a romantic retreat for Valentine’s Day or longer stay taking in Anastasia Beach or nearby Ponte Vedra Beach. The Inn on Charlotte puts you right in the heart of your desires.

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Inn On Charlotte Bed and Breakfast

52 Charlotte Street

St. Augustine, Florida  32084

Phone: 904-829-3819

Email: innkeeper@innoncharlotte.com

Front Porch, Inn on Charlotte

Lazing on Longboat Key, Florida

January 24, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Sandpiper Inn, Longboat Key, Florida

Hotel Review:  The Sandpiper Inn

I recently found a sleepy Florida isle snoozing between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay; one that rarely makes national news with the exception of 9/11/2001. President Bush was on island when the tragedy broke. Another story slipped onto the pages of  USA Today naming the Mar Vista Restaurant as a top ten place to meet a millionaire husband. No surprise really, the average price of the 75+ private island homes stands at $827,000.

Longboat Key rests in Southwest Florida, 20 minutes from Sarasota, surrounded by Caribbean blue water, miles of unspoiled beaches and yes, upscale lifestyle. But, fortunately you don’t have to be a millionaire to visit. I arrived at the Sandpiper Inn and found a throw back to days of Old Florida vacationing. The lodgings offer 11 ground-floor studios, one and two bedrooms, with  fully equipped kitchens and individual patios; all rooms are non-smoking. The Sandpiper snuggles a barbeque area amidst tropical gardens, yet sits close enough to the shoreline for ocean waves to be heard all night.

At daybreak, I merely stepped outside my room and started a beach walk. I huffed along  as ribbons of  lilac slipped into dawn and sand pressed between my toes. I exercised alone with my thoughts, a few shore birds and a blue heron. Late sleepers, I guess; no one appeared during the hour.

Empty Beach

Had I turned in the opposite direction toward the main thoroughfare, I could have fallen in the entrance to Euphemia Haye. The famed restaurant holds such a superior reputation that people drive 60 miles from Tampa for dinner. Being curious, I popped in their intimate upstairs bar one evening; found a cozy room with a masterful mixologist, comfortable seating, and seductive, live jazz. First class, indeed.

Harry’s Restaurant lies further down the street, a tasty laid-back spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner or Harry’s gourmet take out (See previous post: I’m Just Wild About Harry.) Steps away stands the Backyard Bike Shop, providing rental bikes by the hour, day or week. Cycling remains the easiest way to get around the ten-mile long haven. Bike lanes are available on both sides of newly repaved main drive, which runs straight down the Key.

The Sandpiper Inn is not a B & B, they have an even better arrangement with the nearby Blue Dolphin Cafe. Guests receive a $25 voucher to spend on breakfast which is available any time of the day. Everything served at this locals hangout is prepared on premises by Culinary Institute graduates. The muffins alone are worth the trip.

Close-up of a Mote Marine Laboratory Seahorse

One of barrier island’s highlights is The Mote Marine Laboratory, a non-profit institution dedicated to marine research and conservation. Workers actively involved themselves with rescue and rehabilitation of animals during the recent Gulf disaster.

Shawn Garner ranks among the country’s top seahorse scientists and raises the species for other aquariums, zoos and science institutions.  He explained, “Only when you learn about seahorses can you fully comprehend their beauty and uniqueness and why we need to protect them.”

Mote also farms sturgeon for the marketplace and fine restaurants. Historically, the fish prized for its caviar was depleted in the wild. Mote developed the ability to clean and re-use water efficiently while raising the seafood.

Mar Vista Pier

The renown Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant was built in 1912 with rusticated concrete blocks made onsite. The original house section is considered one of the twelve oldest surviving structures on Longboat Key. Guests arrive by car or boat, tying-up at the pier. They dine at water’s edge outdoor tables below gnarly old Buttonwood trees or on a covered deck. The bayside pier glows in the evening with gorgeous underwater lights. Seafood and steamer pots containing Snow crab, Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels, and Maine lobster tails are the house specialty. Must say, my margarita rated top-shelf honors.

Underwater Lighting- Mar Vista Pier

Sarasota considers herself the cultural capital of Florida and little Longboat Key has its own Center for the Arts. Here, residents and tourists find classes and concerts plus a lecture series in conjunction with the Historical Society.

Tom Aposporos , President of the Chamber of Commerce had reason to beam about a recent award. He said, “In 2010, Conde Nast Traveler magazine readers ranked Longboat Key number two for best island destinations in North American.” Okay, that’s a mouthful but just think, the isle beat out Vancouver Island in Canada, Key West and Nantucket. In case you are wondering, Kiawah Island, SC took the top spot.

Longboat Key Beach at Sandpiper Inn

By the time I left the Key, I was more than satiated from irresistible restaurant offerings. I eased into total relaxation; found getting around easy and the sea air intoxicating. LBK is an ideal place to kick off your shoes and savor the sunshine. More adventurous can kayak through canals and mangroves, bike in safety, tennis, golf or fish. Little wonder most guests stay a week and snowbirds return year after year. I can’t wait to go back myself, and I’m a Floridian.

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If you go:

Sandpiper Inn, 5451 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, FL  34228

941 383 2552

Sandpiper Inn guests enjoy the sunset from their patio


Longboat Key on Dwellable

Best Hotel for Sea World Orlando

February 6, 2009 by · Comments Off on Best Hotel for Sea World Orlando 

Renaissance Orlando Resort

Renaissance Orlando Resort

The Renaissance Orlando Resort at Sea World couldn’t be more convenient. The hotel sits just across the street from Sea World’s parking lot.  No need to drive, a nice feature.

The atrium lobby becomes a kid’s fantasy: a waterfall and goldfish pond; oversize high definition flat screens feature undersea footage of Neptune’s garden; a huge open area, an indoor field of sorts, great for hide and seek or tossing a football. And glass-sided elevators allow spying on the way up or down.

Children find a complimentary Shamu bath toy in their room. (Amazing how these 99 cent items become cherished belongings.) Mimi’s favorite thing–the sheets.  They were smooth as fine cashmere, perhaps 600 thread-count, enveloping with the feel of luxury.  Lots of pillows, too. Oh yes, a Starbuck’s in the lobby with free WiFi to keep Poppa Jay happy.

Tradewind’s Restaurant sets out an extravagant breakfast buffet, enough to feed a whole team of  NFL lineman, but is pricey.  Then again, it kept us so full, we skipped lunch.

Sure, Orlando offers many less expensive lodging options, some even serve free breakfast.  The Renaissance , however, flaunts location, location, location.  And that’s a worthwhile perk at the end of a long day in the park- no hassling with busy Orlando traffic.

When I was a younger parent, I would have stayed farther away, some place that was merely safe and clean.  Being a grandparent is better. Either way, kids usually love any hotel. What’s important–holding the child’s hand, watching them smile and enjoying the day.

If you get lucky, very lucky, that little person will look in your direction and say, “Mimi, I love you.”

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