Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
One couple’s tips for a spring warm-up on a reasonable budget.
Courtesy DoubleTree Beach Resort
Among the amenities at the DoubleTree Beach Resort by Hilton on North Redington Beach is the Copper Cove tiki bar, which overlooks both the pool and the beach.
NONA NELSON | The Roanoke Times
NONA NELSON | The Roanoke Times
Sunday, June 16, 2013
After what felt like the longest winter we could recall since moving to Roanoke, my husband and I needed a little sunshine. With limited time to get away and a desire to keep our travel budget in a reasonable range, we decided to head to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a long weekend getaway.
Allegiant Air flies direct to St. Petersburg on Thursdays and Sundays, and that was a good fit for our schedule. Booking a flight with the low-fare carrier is an adventure in itself.
Travelers can save a service charge by booking online, and there is a discount for each segment if you use a debit card instead of a credit card. While the tickets are less expensive compared to other airlines, we watched the cost of our airfare escalate with each click of the mouse.
Depending on when you want to travel, fares to St. Petersburg range from as low as $54.99 to as high as $149.99. But that fare gets you only a random seat on the plane. Choosing a seat costs extra — from $15 for a window or aisle seat at the front of the plane to $9 for any seat in the last row.
If you are a skilled packer and can get all your swimsuits and shorts into one small duffle that will fit under the seat, you can avoid baggage fees. Keep in mind that purses, cameras and computers will also have to squeeze into that single bag because each traveler is only allowed one personal item at no charge.
If your 25-pound-or-less carry-on luggage requires space in the overhead bin, that will cost from $10 to $40 if booked at the time you make your reservation and $50 to $75 if you wait to pay at the gate.
This was an expensive surprise to a young couple with a baby who arrived at the gate with a carseat, stroller, diaper bag, backpack and a boogie board. To ensure that your luggage will indeed have space in an overhead bin, you can pay an extra $10 per ticket for priority boarding.
If you choose to check a bag weighing 40 pounds or less, that costs $15 to $35 per bag with your reservation and from $50 to $75 at the terminal.
Our total cost was just over $400 for two adults traveling round-trip with two checked bags. Because it’s a direct flight from Roanoke to St. Petersburg, both easily manageable airports, we considered this a good deal.
Hotel was good choice
There is no interstate that will take a unfamiliar traveller swiftly from the airport to the beach, so we were glad we packed our GPS for the winding drive through rush hour traffic to our hotel.
There are hundreds of hotels to pick from along the beaches in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, and with a little online investigation, accommodations can be found at many price points.
We stayed at the DoubleTree Beach Resort by Hilton on North Redington Beach. The hotel came highly recommended by friends and we were not disappointed. Besides the warm chocolate chip cookies that were handed to us when we checked in, we found celebratory balloons in our fourth-floor, waterfront room with a note congratulating us on our anniversary.
Our anniversary was more than a month away and we have no idea what prompted the gesture, but it was sweet and we appreciated it.
Our room was spacious and immaculate, the two hallmarks of comfortable accommodations. We had a balcony with two chairs that overlooked the pool and had an amazing view of the beach and the Gulf.
The hotel’s amenities included a restaurant, Mangos, where we dined for all but one meal during our stay; the Copper Cove tiki bar, which overlooked both the pool and the beach; and free high-speed wireless Internet access.
The hotel staff was among the most friendly and efficient that we’ve encountered, and that includes our past stays at the Homestead and the Greenbrier.
Rows of paired chaise lounge “cabanas” — owned and operated by a separate vendor — line the beach area in front of the hotel. The cabanas can be rented by the day for $25 plus tax and charged to the guest’s hotel bill. As the sun moves across the sky, the vendor will stop by and adjust the umbrella accordingly for maximum shade.
Food costs manageable
Eating at the hotel’s restaurant can be a bit pricey: appetizers, salads and sandwiches range from $9 to $18; entrees range from $17 to $27. Breakfast can be ordered from the menu ($4 to $11) or you can opt for the buffet for $16, which includes coffee, juice and hot and cold food selections.
We found all the food to be fresh and the quality on par with the price. With a little planning, we could have easily lowered our food costs by making use of the coffee maker and the dorm-sized refrigerator in our room.
Rates at the DoubleTree Beach Resort vary depending on size of the room and if you prefer a ocean or inside view. Prices range from $115 to $399 per night, depending on season, with rates being on the high end of that scale for holidays and special events. Hilton sends emails to its Honors program members with packages or special discounts available for the hotel chains in its brand.
The rate we paid, booked several weeks in advance of our stay, was $219 per night plus taxes for a weekend stay and an ocean view. Considering the level of service and the comfort and convenience of our accommodations, we were pleased with our choice.
We traveled in early May when the weather can be a bit unpredictable in Central Florida, but we were fortunate to enjoy blue skies, warm temperatures and cool ocean breezes for most of our stay. We were also impressed with the beach’s condition; we walked miles along the shore until our feet were blistered and encountered virtually no debris other than the organic kind that the ocean deposits (seaweed and shells).
While we were perfectly content to just be beach bums on our weekend getaway, Tampa and St. Petersburg have several attractions for family-oriented fun, including Busch Gardens, John’s Pass Village, Tropicana Field, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, The Dali Museum and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
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