by Terry Ward
Clearwater Beach has long appealed to vacationing families for its miles of sugar-sand beaches, frequent dolphin sightings, laid-back attitude and old school vacation appeal. You’re a tad removed from the action of downtown Clearwater and the main beach at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, a Starwood property, located on a mostly residential barrier island that’s a mile away from downtown Clearwater Beach, which you can access by walking about a mile across the causeway or by taking advantage of the city’s inexpensive trolley transport.
It’s precisely the somewhat-removed-from-it-all appeal that makes so many of the hotel’s guests return here year after year. And while the Sheraton handles about as much convention business as general tourism clientele, the beachy vibe of the property ensures the tropical vacation feeling prevails.
The hotel fronts 13 acres of wide sweeping beach that’s perfect for long strolls and playing games in the powdery sand. A kiosk rents out water sports equipment so you can just as easily spend your time exploring by jetski as you can relaxing under a cabana in the sand.
There’s a heated pool and hot tub fronting the ocean. Adjacent to the hotel is scenic Sand Key Park where you can bring the kids to burn some energy on the playground or for a wildlife walk around the salt marsh to spot birds.
All of the hotel’s 395 rooms have balconies overlooking the water or resort property. And the Sheraton is popular as a pre or post-cruise vacation spot for families with cruises planned out of the Port of Tampa.
If you know you want to vacation in Clearwater but you want to be a bit removed from high season’s elbow-to-elbow crowds along the main beaches, the Sheraton Sand Key Resort is particularly appealing.
To learn more about Sheraton, please visit Sheraton.
Our Editor Loves
- Quiet location on Sand Key
- Huge beach and gulf-front setting
- Trolley service into town
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Parks
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Sheraton's 395 rooms are spread between eight floors, with the hotel's top ninth floor reserved for the fitness center and Sheraton Club Lounge for preferred Starwood guests. All of the rooms here have balconies or, in the case of those on the first floor, walk-out patios, and most are fairly spacious at 336 square feet.
The lowest category of rooms, price wise, are the traditional rooms on the first floor, which have two queen beds and patios that open near the pool deck. These rooms tend to be louder (note that the pool and hot tub are open till 11 p.m.) and have less privacy than rooms on higher floors. Coffeemakers and complimentary bottled water are standard in all rooms, but you'll have to pay $5 per day to have a mini fridge in your room (if it's to be used for storing baby formula or medications, however, the hotel will waive the fee). The Sheraton's signature Sweet Sleeper beds are billowy affairs with luxury linens that are very comfortable, and you can request a rollaway in rooms with two queen beds.
Deluxe rooms have king beds and are on the higher floors, and are therefore quieter and more private. You can request that a room with two queen beds be connected to a room with a king bed, and if you add a rollaway, the space can accommodate a total of six people between the two rooms.
The Studio Suites, on the hotel's eighth floor, are a good bet for accommodating six people, too, with a king bed, two queens and a sleeper sofa all part of an open floor plan (read: rooms are not closed off from each other) that surrounds a living room area with a table for four people.
None of the rooms at the resort have kitchenette facilities or even microwaves, so cooking in is not an option at this hotel. Guestroom bathrooms are quite small, with tub-in-shower configurations and a toilet in one room, and the vanity/sink out in the corridor.
Light wood furnishings, tan carpets and colorful ocean-themed artwork are standard decor throughout all guestrooms.
Our room was clean in most respects, except we it wasn’t vacuumed. Found a penny on the carpet and a hairpin in different locations. The offerings at the pool for lunch were not that good. Tried pizza....don’t bother...it was like cardboard with flavorless cheese. Salad was remade boxed, my husband’s sandwich was soggy. The hot tub was boiling....crazy hot. Pool area great. Beachfront property but 35 dollars if you want a chair after the long walk down to the beach. It would have been nice to have more than one restaurant. But overall a decent place.
I asked & received a room that overlooked the beach - quite lovely to wake up to seeing the ocean. Had it not been so hot & humid, I would have enjoyed sitting on my balcony. The staff is friendly & the hotel clean & comfortable.
For most families staying at the Sheraton, days start early on the hotel's huge 13-acre beach, where the Gulf of Mexico is usually as blue and crystalline as the Caribbean Sea and equally inviting for a dip. Count on about a 10-minute walk from your hotel room down to the water's edge across a beach that stretches about a football-field-and-a-half away from the hotel property.
If you have small children, aging people in your party or otherwise, could just use some assistance getting down to the water, the hotel has a beach buggy that offers complimentary runs across the sand.
Noodles, floats and other toys are available on the pool deck and are free for guests to use, and there's an independent kiosk operating from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. down on the beach, where you can rent two beach chairs in private cabanas for $16.05 for a half-day or $26.75 for a full day. The kiosk also rents out jet skis for $69.55 for a half-hour or $117.70 for a full hour, and banana boat rides are also available. Sand volleyball courts on the beach are free for guests to use and you can borrow volleyballs for free from the activities center on the pool deck.
The Sheraton's beachfront pool is surrounded by lounge chairs with umbrellas overlooking the sand. It has a maximum depth of 8 feet and is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. There's a smaller kid's pool right next to it, as well as a jetted 12-person hot tub. Swimming diapers are required for children who are not potty trained and the hotel is happy to provide them for you free of charge.
During the peak season at the hotel, from late-February through April, the staff organizes fun poolside activities for kids from about 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. that might include scavenger hunts, water battles and diving for toys in the pool. There is no lifeguard surveillance on either the beach or at the pool, so be sure to keep an eye on your little ones at all times.
The hotel also has three outdoor tennis courts overlooking the beach that are open from sunrise to sunset. They are free for guests to use and you'll also be provided with racquets and balls for free. Just be sure to call 24 hours ahead of time to reserve your court.
In addition to all the on-property fun, there's a great free-access county park located right next to the Sheraton. Sand Key Park has a playground with slides and swings as well as picnic shelters, grills and a salt marsh where you can grab a seat on one of the benches to watch incredible birdlife that might include species like roseate spoonbills, anhingas, heron and great horned owls. For getting from the resort to town, it's a breeze to hop the county's Jolley Trolley system, with a stop just in front of the hotel, for the one-mile journey into town (walking is also an option, along a sidewalk across the causeway). The trolley runs from about 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. (later on weekend nights) and costs $4.50 for an all-day pass or $2 per trip. The trolley is free for kids under 5. Using the trolley is also a smart way to avoid paying for parking around Clearwater Beach, which can be quite expensive.
Since none of the rooms are outfitted for cooking, you'll be doing most of your dining at the Sheraton's four onsite restaurants. Start your mornings at Rusty's Bistro, open from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. with a great breakfast buffet that has lots of kid-pleasers like cereals, pancakes, bacon and eggs. Kids 5 and under eat for free and it's $5.95 for kids ages 6 to 12 and $14.95 for adults. An a la carte menu is also available.
For lunch, snag a table on the outdoor patio at Island Grille (open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily) for healthy dishes like salmon salads and turkey burgers and items such as mac and cheese, grilled cheese and pizzas for the kids for around $5. The Poolside CafÃ©, overlooking the beach and next to the pool with outdoor tables, is even more casual, with items like chicken salad, pizza, hot dogs and chicken tenders on the menu. And Rusty's opens back up again for dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. nightly, with chicken tenders, pasta and the like on the menu for kids and Caribbean-style seafood and a much-loved prime rib buffet for adults for $22.95 (there's a seafood buffet for $27.95 offered on weekends).
And just off the lobby is the hotel's sports bar-style option, Mainstay Tavern, open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and 12:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday. The a la carte menu includes things like Cuban Paninis, kobe beef burgers and salads, and there's a pool table and six large flat screen TV's playing whatever game has everyone currently talking.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Three of the hotel's floors have washer and dryer services that are available to guests and cost about $2 per load, with detergent available for purchase from a convenience store in the hotel's lobby. Same-day dry cleaning service is also available.
Open 24 hours, a small convenience store off the lobby has essentials you may have forgotten at home, such as medicines and sunscreen, as well as sandwiches, salads, fruit drinks and snacks, in addition to the usual beachy souvenirs. And there's another small boutique selling resort wear.
Wireless Internet is free in the hotel's public areas and business center, but costs $9.95 per day for in-room access or $25.95 for three days.
Self-parking is free for guests.
Babysitting services with trusted local sitters can be arranged through the hotel's concierge.
The hotel's 1,400-square-foot gym, a bright space on the ninth floor with views of the Gulf of Mexico, is free for guests 16 and older to use and open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. There are treadmills, cross-trainer bikes, ellipticals and more, plus complimentary disposable headphones are available for iPod connections.
The hotel's small spa offers treatments, such as traditional Swedish massages, hot stone massages and aromatherapy, as well as facials, and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Art of Smart Timing
Large business conventions and weddings are commonly held here, but business tends to be strictly family-centric from late-February through April, during the height of Spring Break travel, and throughout the summer, too, when lots of Florida families visit. Weekday stays from May to November are when you're likely to score the lowest room rates.
Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, temperatures are warm year-round, although the odd winter night will see you needing a light jacket. Summers are hot and sticky, and if you're hanging out by the pool or on the beach at sunset, you may want to spray on the mosquito repellent.
The Tampa International Airport is about 45 minutes from the resort and St. Pete/Clearwater's airport is closer, at about 20 minutes away. A Super Shuttle runs services from both airports to Sand Key and Clearwater and it's advised to book ahead of time to secure a space.
You could easily make due without a rental car here, taking advantage of the inexpensive Jolley Trolley to get around, but if you want to have a car to explore farther afield, you'll find all of the major rental companies on hand at both airports.
For Mom and Dad
If you can sneak away from the kids, start the evening with a fun and fruity sunset cocktail at the resort's poolside bar called Slo Joe's Turtle Bar (there are live steel drum bands on the weekends from 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.). A couples' massage at the hotel's spa always makes for a relaxing break, too. And if you can get off of the resort'sproperty for dinner, it's worth splurging on the excellent sushi and seafood at Caretta on the Gulf, at the nearby Sandpearl Resort, in a particularly romantic oceanfront setting.