It’s a strange time to travel. Everyone is walking around with a face diaper, erhm, a face mask on and eyeing each other in anger or suspicion.
We were supposed to be cruising around Northern Europe right about now. But of course, 2020 (or China) had to be a bitch and ruin our plans.
Ruin a lot of people’s plans.
Actually, ruined a lot of people’s lives, let’s be honest.
We had booked this cruise last year. And I really thought, I was CONVINCED, in April that we would be able to go on our cruise by September because COME ON, this nightmare can’t last that long, right? RIGHT??
*SIGH* We had planned on flying to Amsterdam, driving to Rotterdam, catching the boat and cruising to Germany, Southampton, and France. We would have been gone nearly two weeks and I was looking forward to being gone for two weeks.
I was GUTTED when MSC canceled our cruise. Since the cruise line canceled, we opted to apply that money to another cruise with a $500 bonus (which means for us, specialty dinners on board which cost extra and something we would not pay for normally). It sucks. And I’m trying not to be selfish and bitter about it, but I am feeling selfish and bitter. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to take this cruise next year, but with the way things are going, who knows.
So plan B. We wanted to do something. One, because we wanted to get away and have SOME sort of vacation, however selfish and trite that sounds considering a lot of people don’t even have jobs right now. But two, we wanted to prove to ourselves, and the world, that we were NOT going to allow COVID to run our lives. Not entirely. We’re already being forced to wear masks everywhere and not participate in certain activities anymore. I can’t take any more restrictions!!
We wanted to get away, but where?
My employer, at first, published travel restrictions – if you take a cruise, go to New York or leave the country, you’ll have to be tested for COVID when you return and self quarantine for 14 days when you get back. Which was a bummer because my first thought was Bermuda. We LOVE Bermuda and if you’ve never been, I highly recommend you go, if you get the chance. You will never find a more beautiful beach. Soft pink sands. It’s just gorgeous. But with my employer’s travel restrictions, we knew that was out of the question because one, there is no way in hell I’m getting tested for COVID. Ever. And two, who has the time to be off work for two straight weeks, and/or the paid time off to use for two straight weeks? (Again, I’m sorry if this sounds selfish to all of you that have been out of work – first world problems, I realize. But we all have problems that are uniquely our own).
So Bermuda was out.
We would have to pick something in the states, other than New York.
Kevin and I started talking about when the kids were younger and we would go to the Florida beaches every year. Then we discovered cruising and haven’t been back to the Florida beaches since. I started doing a little research and we decided on a short three-day stay in Clearwater Florida.
We opted not to stay a whole week for two reasons:
- Kevin really couldn’t be away from his work for a whole week
- The beach is great, but it gets a little boring after about three days.
We ended up staying at the Royal North Beach.
I wrote this next bit when we were actually in Florida.
Travel day –
I wasn’t very hungry before leaving for the airport so I ate half a doughnut and two pieces of toast, primarily because I wanted to coat my stomach before taking an Excedrin. I always take an Excedrin on travel days as it helps prevent travel/dehydration headaches and I tend to get a bit stressed on travel days. (Traveling is stressful, don’t deny it). I don’t like to drink a lot on travel days because then I have to pee all day, hence, dehydration issues.
Besides, I would eat lunch, it would be fine. (Famous last words)
We got to the airport about 10:00 AM. We bought some coffee, put it in our thermos’s and waited for our plane to arrive, which was a few minutes late. If it had been any later, our whole day would have looked very different.
We got to Dallas just in time to make a mad dash to our next gate, which was boarding as we walked up. We didn’t have time to buy lunch or even water before we boarded the plane. We could have bought something, we technically had time as it was a full plane, however, the food lines were long and looking back, I’m glad we didn’t, because an airline person came on board as we were waiting to take off making note of empty seats and bringing standby people on. The plane was packed. So, if we hadn’t been in our seats they might have given our seats away. That would have sucked.
Which, side note, we absolutely did not social distance. However, it was mandatory that everyone wear a face mask – they wouldn’t allow you to fly, and they would bane you from future flights if you didn’t wear a face mask. Still – it was weird and uncomfortable to be that close to strangers as we have gotten used to NOT being around strangers.
So. We’re on the flight to Tampa, waiting to take off and neither one of us has eaten much since breakfast. No time for food. We were both fine, honestly. I’m used to fasting and Kevin seemed like he was fine. The no water thing though, that was what I missed the most. And the airlines are not serving any food or drinks during flights right now so … all we had was the coffee in our thermos.
But, shame on us for not having snacks. We’re seasoned travelers and we know better. But we just thought, meh, we don’t really eat snacks when we’re traveling and it’s just extra weight. Of course, the first time we DON’T take snacks is the time we NEED snacks.
Live and learn.
We noticed, as we’re taxiing in at Dallas and Tampa, that there are FLEETS of airplanes grounded on the sidelines. Kevin counted 37 American Airline planes grounded in Dallas. It was sad to see so many airplanes not being used. And that explains why they were packing us in like sardines on the flight out of Dallas – the airlines can’t afford to fly planes that are half full.
We get into Tampa around 6:30 PM. The manager of our hotel, (we stayed at the North Beach hotel in Clearwater), had called Kevin right as we were boarding our flight out of our hometown and told him, due to COVID, the office was closing. Kevin told him that was okay because we weren’t going to check in until around 8:00 PM anyway.
The manager then text us shortly after we landed in Tampa and gave us the key code to room 201 so that we could bypass the office and get into our room. We would then check in with him at 9:00 the next morning.
That took some pressure off us to hurry up and check in as again, we were pretty hungry when we landed in Tampa and we didn’t know if we would have time to get anything to eat before everything closed.
We navigated to the rental car desk, got our car and drove toward our hotel.
(Side note about the rental car. It’s a dark blue 2020 Chevy Malibu and I hate it. The headrests are too high up and every time the car jerks, my head would slam back into the headrests and the clip in my hair would loosen and dig into my scalp. Also, it has an “auto-start” feature. So every time we came to a stop light, the car would shut off! At first, it freaked me out, but it would easily start back up once Kevin pressed on the accelerator. I guess it’s suppose to save on gas, which I’m sure it does, and act more like a hybrid, but wouldn’t continuously shutting down and starting back up wear out the starter quicker? What do I know about cars. Anyway, that was a weird and scary experience, we thought we got a lemon at first. Kevin likes it; it freaks me out. I don’t care for that feature, at all).
We stopped at McDonald’s, grabbed a quick quarter pounder, then found a grocery store and picked up groceries for breakfast and lunch. (Our hotel room came with a kitchenette). We finally got to our hotel about 8:30 PM. It was Saturday night and there was a TON of traffic and lots of people walking around. We had to drive through downtown Clearwater to get to the north side of town to get to our hotel and it reminded me a bit of New Orleans – just the party atmosphere, the closeness of the shops, the number of people walking around.
Once we arrived at North Beach Hotel, we walked through the gate, walked up to our room, (which is a corner room), put in the passcode and voila, we were in!
I was a little worried when we arrived because there were some party goers in the pool and they were loud, but it quiet down about 11 and we both slept pretty good. I took some pictures of our hotel room.
Day One – Sunday
It’s raining. Tropical Storm Sally is blowing through – we’re on the western part of the storm, and though it’s not storming, it’s a steady rain. We are literally across the street from the beach but the weather is preventing us from truly enjoying it. Kevin went out this morning to check in and grab some coffees (we didn’t realize the kitchenette didn’t already have coffee or we would have bought some when we went grocery shopping last night). He said that he walked across the street to see the beach and nearly stepped in dog poop. People are so annoying and consideration is a lost art.
He said there were a few people on the beach and a couple was walking out with beach towels – they weren’t going to let a little water RAIN on their parade. (See what I did there?)
Since it was raining, and was due to rain all day, we stayed at our room for the morning and worked on our laptops.
It as a really relaxing day. Our hotel room was set up more like an apartment and it was very comfortable. After lunch, Kevin drove us up and down the coast. We didn’t have any plans, we just wanted to familiarize ourselves with the area and determine if this was somewhere we wanted to come back to on a yearly basis. Just long enough to separate ourselves from “real” life, recharge, regroup. We had to stop at a gas station and pay $1.50 for air (FOR AIR) to fill up a low tire. (It’s a rental … don’t they check that sort of stuff??) and then we stopped at Sand Key Park. We plopped on ball-caps and walked down the beach in a light rain. More of a sprinkle, really. But it was SO NICE. Very few people out. The temperature was pleasant.
I could be bummed that the weather was not cooperating, but what good would that do? The fact is, we’re not home, we’re staying in a very comfortable hotel room/apartment, right across the street from the beach (even though we can’t see the beach from our windows) and it’s quiet and soothing. Royal North Beach hotel is right on the outskirts of a residential area so it feels a bit like we’re part of the locals. We’re away from the mega hotels and it’s just … cozy. Did I mention it’s quiet??
After walking on the beach for a bit, we got back into our (lousy) car and located Pier 60, which was what we wanted to visit tomorrow and then went back to our room, watched Back to the Future two and three, ordered Domino’s pizza and just vegged out.
This is the kind of vacation we wanted. We didn’t want to have to be anywhere at a certain time. We didn’t want to have to get up at the asscrack of dawn, hurry and get ready, hurry out the door, to participate in an activity. (Like an excursion on a cruise). This place is awesome but the only thing to really do is the beach which again, is what we wanted. We just wanted a nice, relaxing, chill, do-what-we-want-when-we-want kind of vacation.
I am hoping for some sunshine at some point while we’re here.
I’m really glad we didn’t book the whole week because honestly, three days is about all we can handle – a whole week might have been a bit too much for both of us.
Day Two – Monday
Still rainy. Tropical storm Sally was determined to stick around. In fact, the Weather Channel made a lot of comments about how slow moving she was. We got off lucky though, it could have been pouring the entire time we were there. It did rain quite a bit, but there were periods of time when it either stopped entirely or just sprinkled. We took advantage of this to walk down to Pier 60. It was a little over a mile to get to the area. We got sprinkled on but it was actually nice and cool, until we left the coastline and started walking between buildings, then it got to be hot and humid. By the time we got back to the room I was dripping sweat. I get so annoyed with myself whenever we go any place tropical – I just can’t handle the humidity. It’s like it triggers my body and I just start perspiring like crazy.
We did stop to get some ice cream and it was nice to eat ice cream while looking at the ocean. Another check on the trip list.
When we got back to the hotel, it was still only sprinkling and was actually lightening up a bit so we donned our swim wear and headed to the beach. We spent a very relaxing two hours on the beach. You wouldn’t think sand is hard until you don’t have chairs and are forced to sit on the sand for a few hours. Kevin napped and I just sort of zoned out on the waves. It was so relaxing to just sit and veg out. I didn’t have to be anywhere, I didn’t have to worry about … anything. I was totally relaxed. It did sprinkle on us but again, it was nice. It was cloudy so we didn’t have to worry about being too hot.
Kevin and I walked the beach for a bit and he hunted Abalone shells – he wants to use them in a “project” though he doesn’t know what he wants to do yet.
We ordered pizza Sunday night and we made it last for three meals. So, we had pizza for dinner Monday night, too. Again, not exciting but very relaxing.
I’m quite sick of pizza.
Day Three – Tuesday
Another rainy day. Disappointing because once again, I was hoping for at least one sunny day but alas, Sally just wouldn’t move on and bother someone else. So. We slept in, had a relaxing morning at the hotel and then it started clearing up. We finished off our pizza (honestly, I can’t even stomach thinking about having any more pizza at this point – I’m so pizza’d out). We ended up spending the majority of the afternoon on the beach again. I tried to read but it sprinkled so I worried about that affecting my Kindle. Kevin went walking for Abalone again and when he got back to me he said he found a place where we could rent chairs and an umbrella. So I packed up our stuff and walked down to the pier (about a mile), rented chairs and we wanted an umbrella, but they were so slow that I think the guy thought he was doing us a favor by “upgrading” us to a cabana, though I wish he hadn’t. It stifled the air and we would have preferred an umbrella. But it was nice to actually have chairs to sit on and we enjoyed a solid two and half hours on the chairs before the skies started darkening again and we walked back to “our” section of the beach.
We got cleaned up but it was 5:00 PM by this time and I really didn’t want to put on a full face of makeup that late in the day so we Googled nearby taco places, found Taco Bus, went on to their website and ordered dinner.
We went and picked it up. It was a cool restaurant. It was made to look like you were ordering from a food truck from inside the building. Kevin got beef tacos, I got a chicken bowl and we got some rice, beans and chips/salsa. It only came to $21.00 but we had so much food we couldn’t finish it. It was delicious though.
We spent the remainder of the night watching “Storage Wars” and “Deadliest Catch.” We only watch those shows whenever we go on vacation because we’re too cheap to pay for cable. Actually, neither of us like watching much TV so it just doesn’t make sense to pay for something we’ll never use.
And that brings us to now and my final thoughts.
The hotel: We stayed at the Royal North Beach hotel and we really liked it overall. It was convenient, cheap, and more of an apartment than a hotel room. We had a full kitchen, complete with a kitchen. We bought groceries and were able to eat breakfast and lunch without having to stress where we were going to eat everyday. And of course, we bought enough pizza to last three meals. We saved a ton on food this trip.
I REALLY liked how housekeeping left us completely alone. They never came in to make our bed and we didn’t have to stress about getting out so they could do their thing. When we needed fresh towels, we put the dirty ones in a small clothes basket and put it outside our room. Housekeeping would then exchange fresh towels, a trash bag and toilet paper. So we never, not once, saw anyone from housekeeping. That may not be for everyone, but I LOVED IT and think more hotels need to implement something similar. It just took a lot of stress of being out of the room so they could do their thing.
I also really liked how we didn’t have a room key. We had an electronic keypad that we input a code for and that’s how we got in/out. So again, we didn’t have to stress about making sure we had a room key with us whenever we left the room and we didn’t have to worry about accidentally locking ourselves out of our room.
The only thing I really didn’t like about the room was that the floors were FILTHY. The whole apartment had tile floors, which was good, but they were so gritty and nasty that I had to literally wash my feet before getting into bed at night and/or wear flip flops to prevent having to wash my feet. I get that it’s probably really hard to keep the floors clean because of everyone tracking sand into the room, but this wasn’t just grit from the previous occupants, it was clear the floors haven’t been mopped in quite some time. I think I was especially sensitive to that because I have a thing about clean floors anyway.
But other than that, we really enjoyed staying there and would stay there again. There are four hotel complexes in a row near our North Beach hotel and I think we are going to try and stay at Hotel Cabana next time as we have decided that we are definitely going to stay in Clearwater again. We really enjoyed the area and how our hotel was just on the outskirts of the “busy” area so it was super quiet and we sort of felt like a native of the area given we were so close to residents.
We really want to find a place we can go to for a few days to enjoy the beach every year and Clearwater is definitely a contender.
It was really nice to see Kevin relax for a change. He’s the kind of person who NEVER relaxes, he’s always doing something. He’s one of the most productive people I know (I always joke that I married the female version of Heather, my doctor’s PA as she’s one of the most productive people I know of the female sort). He napped and was FORCED to do nothing but relax. In turn, that relaxed me. In fact, Kevin brought a little PS2 game console thing and he has spent a good portion of this trip just playing that. (And when we return home, he won’t touch it again until next vacation).
We had to air up our right front tire on our rental car several times. We came out one morning and it was 14 pounds of air! That was super annoying but I suppose that’s a risk you take when you rent a car. So, the low tire was always on our minds whenever we used it to go anywhere. (Which was only twice, the first day when we drove up and down the coast and when we drove to Taco Bus for food).
Now, we’re currently sitting in the Tampa airport waiting for our flight to Dallas to board. We have about a three-hour layover in Dallas so hopefully we don’t have to stress about getting off the flight and running to our gate in Dallas. But you never know how it will go, I suppose.
We’re being smart about this this go around and we bought water to put in our thermos’s, which was another smart thing to bring along with us, too.
I think we spent the perfect amount of time at the beach though Kevin says he wouldn’t have minded staying another few days. He really responds to the beach and feels like he could easily live on the beach. He used to CRAVE the beach when we were first married and the kids were younger but then we got hooked on cruising and we just sort of forgot about going to the beach. Now, because of COVID and who knows when the cruising industry will be up and running again, we’re back at it again. I have a feeling that this trip has re-awakened Kevin’s passion for the beach.
They are getting ready to call our flight so it’s time to wrap this up. I already miss it.
So that was our trip. It was short, sweet and wet. Again, the weather could have been so much worse so I feel like we were lucky to just get some sprinkles now and again. And the cloudy weather actually made the beach more comfortable than it would be if it was sunny the whole time.
We have so many frequent flyer miles built up that we’re talking about taking another small vacation in the spring. Maybe. It really all depends on what happens after the Election and this COVID nightmare.
But for now. It was fun to get away and thumb our nose a bit at the pandemic disaster.