by Terry Ward
Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Franklin D. Roosevelt are just a few of the famous folks who’ve found their way to St. Pete Beach’s most storied hotel over the decades. The Don CeSar dates back to 1928, when migrant Thomas Rowe opened the hotel that eventually became known as the Pink Palace, on what would ultimately grow into one of Florida’s great family-friendly gulf coast beach towns. All kinds of things have happened at the hotel over the years, and the property even operated as an army hospital for a while during the 1940s, before it spiraled into a state of disrepair.
But the holidaying heydays have been firmly back in place here since 1973, when The Don received a restoration to the tune of $7.5 million. In 2003, the Loews Hotel group took over the property and introduced more renovations to bring it squarely into the luxury realm, including a complete multi-million-dollar upgrade to guestrooms in 2012. The pink, turreted, Mediterranean-style exterior still conjures Old Florida and something decidedly fantastical, but inside, the luxuries are all modern throughout the 277 guestrooms and suites, the upscale lounges and meeting facilities, the three restaurants, the two oceanfront pools and the world-class spa.
As of 2017, The Don CeSar is under the ownership of Pivot Hotels, which aims to establish the hotel as its own brand and share its amazing story with the families who visit.
It’s an address for a family vacation that really feels like a true getaway, thanks to the luxurious amenities that cradle adults in creature comforts, while providing a fun schedule of free activities for kids and families throughout the day. Parents can enjoy a stroll on the sugar sand beach and some time relaxing poolside, while the kids are kept entertained in the hotel’s Camp Cesar (half-day sessions from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. are included in your resort fee). There are free exercise activities and poolside family games staggered throughout the mornings and afternoons. And if you tire of the resort’s three restaurants, there are plenty more to discover in surrounding St. Pete Beach and the cute gulf front community of Pass-A-Grille nearby.
What really sets this property apart from others on St. Pete Beach is the level of service repeat guests have come to expect, in addition to the overall atmosphere. While other St. Pete Beach resorts can feel positively overrun with children, the vibe at the Pink Palace feels more balanced, thanks to the upscale amenities and downright comfort factor of the pool areas and beautiful beach. Families are greeted just as enthusiastically as couples at the resort’s restaurants, and a pool attendant is always passing by your lounge chair to take your drink order or dish out a smoothie sample with their compliments. If you like your beach vacations in a big resort environment that somehow seems to take on more of a boutique feel, The Don just might be the one you’ve been looking for all along.
Our Editor Loves
- Two pools and an oceanfront location
- Old-fashioned ice cream parlor onsite
- Complimentary half-day kids camp with resort fee
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
Kids (particularly those in the "princess phase") get all excited about the castle appeal of this hotel. You'll spot the rosy glow of the Pink Palace on the horizon long before you get here. And for as excited as the little ones get about the exterior of the place, parents really appreciate the streamlined rooms, plush beds topped with crisp white linens, and the modern appeal of the ocean-inspired dÃƒÆ'Ã†'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©cor that incorporates lots of cheery aquamarines, greens and whites. All 277 rooms and suites are housed inside the main building. And the only bummer is that not many of the rooms come with balconies, due to the old construction of the building. Rooms overlook either the pool area, beach, pinks walls of surrounding buildings or, to the rear, the surrounding neighborhoods and Intracoastal Waterway.
The smallest rooms here, called Superior Guestrooms, are 200 square feet and have either a king bed or two doubles, which can suit a family of four with a bit of a squeeze. There's no room for rollaways in these rooms, however. Deluxe and Superior Luxury guestrooms are slightly larger (250 square feet), but have the same two doubles or one king bed configuration, and are also mostly suitable for families of no larger than four, provided you request two doubles instead of a king. The next category up is the Grand guestrooms, which have the same setup, but better views, overlooking the ocean. Some of the Grand guestrooms have balconies (be sure to request in advance), which give the feeling of more room to spread out.
Things start getting roomier when you upgrade to the suites, with 400 square feet of living space. Deluxe Junior Suites have king beds that open into a parlor living space, with an additional pull out queen sofa sleeper. There's also room for a rollaway in these suites, which means you can accommodate a family of five. Luxury Junior Suites are the same size, but give you the option of two double beds or one king bed, opening to the queen-size sofa bed. Add in a rollaway and you could potentially accommodate a family of seven in here, as long as you don't mind a squeeze. Grand Junior Suites have king beds and a queen pullout sofa with the benefit of a private balcony overlooking the Gulf.
And to step up the space factor to 600 square feet, opt for the one-bedroom suites, which have the bedroom (with your choice of a king or double bed) separated from the living space, with its queen sleeper sofa and balcony access. These suites also have the bonus of a wetbar area for preparing snacks.
And at the top of the food chain for families looking to splurge, there's the hotel's 1,300-square-foot penthouse, reached by exclusive elevator key access. A duplex suite, which feels more like a town home than a hotel room, has three bedrooms (two upstairs, one downstairs), 3.5 baths and a living room with an entertainment system that's kitted out with surround sound. A separate dining room area and a full kitchen (stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave and sink) makes it easy to prepare and serve meals. There's an outdoor terrace that takes in views of the Intracoastal Waterway, too. With the addition of a rollaway bed, you can accommodate a family of seven in the penthouse.
All rooms and suites have a coffee machine in the closet, but you'll need to request a mini-fridge or microwave ahead of time or when you check in if you need it (the penthouse is the only suite with kitchen/kitchenette facilities). Bathrooms are mostly a tub-in-shower configuration, and a nice touch are the extendable drying lines over the tubs, where you can hang wet bathing suits and rash guards to drip dry at the end of the day. Amenities available on request include DVDs, mini-fridges, rollaways, pack and plays and cribs. The hotel can also provide child-proof kits for families with kids under age 4.
The rooms are small but housekeeping is exceptional. The location is wonderful as is the white sand beach. I enjoy the beach yoga with Elizabeth tremendously. Donald at the hair salon is excellent. He knows what he is doing and you come out with a smile. The pools are great but filled with children and if you have children that is a plus. If you don't, not so much. Sea Porch, stay away. The service is awful even if you just order soup and salad. Be prepared to wait over 40 minutes for the salad. Wait staff blamed the kitchen. Go, enjoy, soak up the sun on the amazing beach.
We enjoyed our stay at the Don Cesar. The pool and beach area wasn’t over crowded, the guys working the beach area were great. Especially Jukobi, he helped us get situated and wasn’t worried about a tip bc we had no change. Great guy and has really good customer skills. We looked forward to our next visit.
St. Pete Beach's Caribbean-clear, shallow and blissfully balmy waters make the ocean a focus of any family vacation here. But there are just so many things to take advantage of on property at the Don Cesar that many families spend more time around the pool than they do just steps away on the actual beach. The resort's two pools face the ocean and sit right next to each other. And while both are open to children and families, the shallower one (which maxes out at four feet) tends to draw more family crowds than the adjacent pool that plunges to seven feet deep. Daily free poolside activities for kids are held at 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and usually include games like water balloon tosses, potato sack races, limbo or duck splashes (with prizes given out at the end for all participants). There are plenty of plush lounge chairs and umbrella-shaded areas around both pools, and a particularly nice touch is a sunscreen station where you can slather the kids with SPF and take advantage of complimentary insect repellant if you need it, too. Other free poolside and beachside amenities include foosball, corn hole, table tennis and ladder ball, and there are also hula-hoops, tubes and noodles free for guests to use.
Pool attendants circulate several times throughout the day with complimentary smoothie samples or chilled fruit treats. Lounge chairs are free for all guests at the pool, but you'll have to pay for them down on the beach ($10 per day), where you can also rent umbrellas ($15 per day), beach sand chairs ($8 per day), luxury beach beds ($100 per day) and cabanas ($30 per day). Dive-in movies, screened weekly on an inflatable screen by the pool, are a great reason to gather everyone outside in the evening for some family entertainment (if rain is a factor, the show is moved inside to a ballroom).
Many families don't realize that complimentary morning sessions (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) or afternoon sessions (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) at the resort's kid's camp, Camp Cesar, are included in the resort fee and open to kids ages 4 to 12. If you want to enroll your child in a full day of camp, it costs $40, and you have the option to tack on lunch from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. for an additional $20. The camp's home base is a small room just off the pool area, where the children can play dance and sports games on the Wii or do arts and crafts like sand art and finger painting. But much of the camp fun plays out around the resort, with the children taking part in scavenger hunts, visiting the rooftop for an aerial view of the beach, heading to Uncle Andy's for some ice cream, swimming in the pool or building sandcastles on the beach (swimming in the ocean is not permitted at the kid's camp). The camp also runs a Kid's Night Out on Friday and Saturday nights (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) for $50 per child, which includes dinner, dessert and other recreational activities.
If the beach is your family's scene, a rental kiosk rents standup paddleboards, kayaks and waverunners by the half hour and hour, and there's a beach volleyball court available to guests, too. It's impossible to miss the hotel's big sandplay area on the beach, lined with scores of colorful buckets and centered on a big wooden boat kids love clambering over between building castles in the sand. Between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. daily, you can rent paddleboards, and kayaks for free from the beach kiosk. Be aware that stingrays are often present in St. Pete's waters and their barbs pack a serious punch -- heed local warnings and make sure you and your kids shuffle your feet (the stingray shuffle!) as you move through the water.
There are three main restaurants at the hotel -- Sea Porch Cafe, Beachcomber Bar & Grill and Maritana Grille -- but chances are you'll only be dining with the entire family at the first two, since Maritana is a rather fancy white linen affair that specializes in local Gulf of Mexico seafood with gourmet preparations.
Sea Porch has all day dining and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's a great place for a meal any of those times, with covered outdoor seating and lots of tables inside, too (opt for outside on a balmy Florida evening to enjoy live guitar music with your meal). Breakfast items for kids include blueberry pancakes with fresh whipped cream for $6, scrambled eggs with hash browns and sausage or bacon for $5, and silver dollar pancakes for $5. Lunch and dinner at Sea Porch are the resort's best kid's meal bargain. For just $6 a pop, they can choose from huge portions of kid's pizza, mini-burgers with fries, grilled cheese with fries, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and fries, cheese quesadillas, and grilled hot dogs with fries. Healthier items include grilled chicken with corn on the cob and turkey club pinwheels with fruit. Be sure to request a kid's menu for everyone, as there's a coupon in the corner good for a free kid's ice cream cone at Uncle Andy's, the adorable old-fashioned ice cream parlor on the hotel's grand floor. It has some really great flavors (cotton candy!) and a rainbow of candy toppings displayed in vintage jars.
For lunch and early dinners, many families opt to eat at the Beachcomber Bar & Grill, with lots of umbrella-shaded tables set in an area between the two pools (you can see the ocean from some of the tables). Kids meals here cost $7 a pop for chicken fingers, grilled cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers or Uncrustables PB&J sandwiches (all served with fries, a house salad or fresh fruit).
The hotel's fine dining restaurant, Maritana, is located just off the lobby. Even if you pass on dining here, do bring the kids to the outside of the restaurant (in the lobby) to admire the moray eel and lionfish in the large fish tanks. Kids meals at Maritana include things like spaghetti and meatballs and chicken fingers, but be aware that it has white linens and a rather romantic vibe.
Room service is available 24 hours a day at the hotel, and you can also order meals for delivery to the beach. Children are always greeted with colored pencils and a coloring page at the hotel's restaurants, and you can request high chairs or booster chairs. There are many good family restaurants in surrounding St. Pete Beach and nearby Pass-A-Grille beach, too, including MadFish in St. Pete Beach and Sea Critters Cafe, Gennaro's Ristorante Italiano and The Hurricane in Pass-A-Grille.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
A $25-per-day resort fee includes resort-wide wireless Internet, half-day kid's camp access, unlimited local phone calls, daily newspaper service and more. The hotel only offers dry cleaning services, but there's a coin laundry facility down the street. There are also ATM machines at the hotel in case you run out of cash, though you can charge everything to your room card while you're here. And there's a business center on the third floor with computers (first 15 minutes are free) and printers.
Self-parking costs $10 per day and valet parking costs $23 per day, with unlimited in-and-out privileges.
Several gift shops on the hotel's ground floor sell things like goggles, sunscreen, flip-flops and other beach items you may have forgotten at home. There are also a few small but well-edited boutiques onsite, with high-end swimsuits and resort wear for adults.
Two pets per room are allowed in special pet-friendly rooms for a fee of $45 per night.
Guests have free access to a "Kid's Closet," stocked with things like Fisher-Price toys, books, car seats, night lights, potty training seats, baby blankets and miniature DVD players with kid's movies and shows.
There's a good gym open 24 hours with all the top cardio and weight equipment, and personal trainers are available on request for a fee. Water aerobics classes, yoga, body toning and other exercise classes are offered several times daily, and are free for guests.
The hotel's spa, Oceana, offers day passes for $25 that get you access to the whirlpool, steam room and rooftop garden, and the fee can be applied toward things like massages and facials if you opt for a service.
The hotel offers babysitting services with two hours advance notice. There's a four-hour minimum, and it's $14 per hour for one child, plus a $10 sitter travel fee. Additional children cost $1 per hour, per child, and there's a $2 per hour surcharge on bank holiday weekends (think Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.) or for babysitting services that start after 9 p.m. A $4 per hour surcharge is imposed for babysitting services requested on major holidays.
The Art of Smart Timing
St. Pete is a popular destination throughout the year. Don't expect a lull when school returns to session in September or before the holiday season starts; the hotel receives steady business from the Tampa Bay area and other Florida residents taking advantage of staycations. Weekends get particularly crowded at the Pink Palace, since the hotel's beach club has many local members who come out to enjoy the pool, gym and spa. Expect the largest crowds in March and April, when spring break is in full effect and the resort, beach and town are completely packed.
Surprisingly, the holiday season in late November and December tends to be the quieter time of year here. This is a great time to visit, especially because the winter holidays are celebrated in grand style, with appearances from Santa. The Easter Bunny also makes appearances in the spring, and themed activities are offered for the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
The hotel is located about 30 minutes from Tampa International Airport, and it's about the same distance to the St. Pete/Clearwater airport. Expect to pay about $85 for a taxi from either airport. The return trip from the hotel to the airport is cheaper, at around $55. All of the major car rental companies are available at both airports, and if you want to explore the greater area and visit places like Fort De Soto Park, you may want to consider renting a car during your stay. If you're visiting for a short stay and you plan to stick mainly around the hotel, however, you'll be fine without one.
For Mom and Dad
Take advantage of the Kid's Night Out program, or the hotel's babysitting service, to enjoy a quiet dinner for two at the resort's fine dining restaurant, Maritana, which gets consistent accolades for being among the top seafood restaurants in the country. Try cobia if it's on the menu, a delicious fish from local waters.
After dinner, retreat to the lounge off the lobby to relax with live jazz music and an after dinner drink, or head down to the beach for a moonlit stroll. If you feel like venturing off the property for a bit, it's a quick taxi ride to downtown St. Pete, which has some excellent restaurants and a delightful pedestrian area, lined with banyan trees, that is just perfect for strolling. Good dinner options there include Cassis, with French bistro-style fare, or Ceviche, an atmospheric tapas bar that has an excellent sangria prepared tableside. A must for dessert is Paciugo, a cute little gelato cafÃƒÆ'Ã†'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© with a nice outdoor patio, where you can sit for some people-watching before heading back to the hotel.