Day four – we finally arrive at Sarasota around 3:30PM or so. Finding the Ritz was relatively easy. We drove up to the front…and after a few minutes we were greeted by a Valet attendant. This hotel is valet only. A bellman came out to help me unpack, and we went in to check in. Check-in was relatively painless. We did not get upgraded this time, and we really didn’t get the high floor I requested, though I really cannot complain as this is exactly what I reserved. One cannot expect an upgrade every single time they book a hotel, and for me, an upgrade is always a rare exception. We had a particularly friendly attendant, who took the time to show us around the hotel and explain some secret things, plus give us good advice on the local area and happenings. I ended up with a decent AAA rate, which seems to be better than the current rate.
After we settled in, the teens immediately wanted to go to the beach. The way it works at the Ritz Sarasota is that the hotel is situated on a marina on Sarasota Bay. The beach is a good 10-15 minutes away, accessible by free shuttle or your own ride. In between the Ritz and the beach is St. Armand’s Circle, a circular array of shopping boutiques and restaurants. The shuttle to the beach club leaves every hour at the top of the hour, and returns at the bottom of the hour. The Beach Club is a private Ritz Carlton club, shared by a Ritz condo complex and accessible also to Ritz Beach Club members. It features a locker room, changing area and shower complex, where members or guests of the Ritz can change into appropriate beach attire.
The teens jumped on the next shuttle out and were on their way. We took the time to unpack and explored a bit, then we were also on the next bus to the beach. More on the beach club later. The room was small, but about 100 sq ft. larger than the Hyatt room. The basic layout is a bathroom to your right when you enter, a coffee area to your left, double beds facing South and a sliding glass door to a balcony overlooking the marina, or the bay of you strain your neck diagonally. This is what they call “water view” as opposed to the city view which overlooks Sarasota’s main street district. The room was not that bad, but as our friendly attendant told us, a request for upgrade to “club level” would have gotten us a slightly larger room, hors d’ourves all day, free continental breakfast and free evening cocktails. Who knew. Anyway, the club level was closed the week were there. The hotel itself is laid out like this – you enter the lobby and you have a registration desk and a concierge desk. As you pass through, you have an alcove outside, a restaurant (Vernona) to the right and the Cad’A’Zan bar to the left. Outside is the pool, and one floor down is the Ritz game room for the kids, and other private areas, such as a hammock area.
Back to the beach club. I did not bring my camera to the beach club, so I can’t share pics of that. But it is a really nice facility…there is a men’s side and a women’s side for changing, showering and lockers. The men’s side was heavy with naked men running about, which was creepy to me, but not to them. Either way, I changed and got ready for the beach. There is an infinity pool or a boardwalk to a semi-private portion of beach. Chairs, umbrellas and ice water are all freely available. There is also a bar near the beach, which we enjoyed. You can also order drinks or food on the beach, and prices are not that bad, really.
The gulf in this area has really clear water, and we enjoyed a swim in the surf. The tranquil waves made for good floating, and we found a lot of common-type shells. After enjoying the beach for some two hours, we took the bus back to the hotel. A stop by the concierge yielded two independent recommendations for Crab & Fin restaurant, so we made reservations. (What a mistake, see my TripAdvisor.com review of that place!) About the time we wanted to leave for dinner, we noticed the beautiful gulf sunset…
We got the car and headed to St. Armand’s, sans the teens. They wanted to stay in and share a burger from the burger bar. Fine with us…After dinner, we went to Kilwins, the local chocolatier and ice cream shack. It was OK…mostly corn syrup though. Finding real ice cream is tough these days. After dinner, we were tired, so we crashed. The teens were on some sort of Giggling, YouTube, Chatting and Texting binge and obsession, so they went off and did their own thing. Whatever!
The next morning, the teens were groggy and did not want to wake at 7:30AM like us, so we ditched them and went to St. Armand’s Circle. We walked the whole thing, every store and shop. We had breakfast at the Blue Dolphin Cafe, a local diner type place, which was not too bad…certainly better than the $75 breakfast in the hotel! The teens finally woke around 10AM…and they decided to go to the beach club via shuttle. We continued shopping, and then went to Main Street and did some antiquing. Along the way, we stopped at a local bar and had a cold beer, then continued on. Main Street to Palm is a really nice area with a lot of things to do. Clearly, one needs to stay in Sarasota for a week or more to do everything of interest. For example, we did not get a chance to see the Ringling museums, the mansions, the Jungle Gardens or the botanical gardens. We also did not have sufficient time to enjoy the beach. But the time we did have was well-spent, and no one can accuse us of being lazy, sleeping too late or missing out on the action the town has to offer.
Later that evening, we made it back to the hotel (no time or energy for the beach) and got ready for dinner. This time, we insisted on the teens going with us. It took me no time to shower and get dressed, so I walked outside as the women did that thing that women do…
We had a decent dinner at Caragiulo’s Italian eatery on Main Street or thereabouts. I wrote a review of it on TripAdvisor.com. Not a bad place. After dinner, we again retreated to the hotel. The teens got absorbed in watching SpongeBob and we went to the Ca Da’Zan bar. At the bar, we each ordered the signature chocolate martini. The martini was good…but I craved more. Up on the shelf were four bottles of Porto…10 year, 20, 30 and 40 year Fladgate. Guess which one I chose…yep…the 40 year. At $15 a glass, it was some sublime stuff. We enjoyed the bar, then sat as the jazz band of the evening played. We met some folks at the bar and had a good chat.
Overall, the day of arrival and the next day in Sarasota was a lot of fun. On the final day, we did the Blue Dolphin again and went straight to the beach. I swam in the gulf and M stayed at the pool. The surf was rougher that day, so it was not as pleasant getting sacked by 4 foot waves…but I really had fun. After a morning of basking in the sun, we headed back…packed and did a final checkout at 1:30PM. After that, we headed back home, reluctant to leave this garden spot. Now I have truly seen how the other half (not my half) live, LOL.
We stopped by Ellenton on the way back and did the premier outlet mall there…nice place, but we were all too tired to really do anything. So we headed back, and that was that!