I first stepped foot in Clearwater's clear waters way back in 2003, when the Metcalfs were lucky enough to spend the second week of our holiday in the resort after losing our Walt Disney World virginity. Back then it was a cool beach place, and over a decade on it is even cooler. Although naturally, the same adjective can't be used to describe the temperature.
All these long-standing industry points of difference are not even so much as hinted at on the Gallery page of the establishment's website. Consequently, the oldest trick in the hospitality rule book is at play: exceeding expectations. Yes the housekeeper's handwriting isn't the best and yes the pen and paper are incredibly basic, but at least they are still there. Clearwater Beach Hotel knows it can never compete directly with its plush competitors due to their building's structure, i.e. no Olympic sized pools or fancy Spas, but at least they are doing something, rather than nothing. The Front Desk even had unlimited free (branded) postcards to share where you are staying with friends and family back home.
Our 2014 hotel was located exactly opposite our 2003 abode. Only now, the Ramada of 03 had become the Holiday Inn of 2K14. Times change, things change hands, however the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) was still standing.
|The choice is yours: strawberry, blueberry, butter pecan or old fashioned|
Three soft drinks were served to our table, all with mini paper toppers on the straws. Condoms for cold ones or protectors from pathogens ? This is not just a state-wide phenomenon, but a nationwide one, that has been gaining ground internationally. "Your drink has not been sipped by another human being" is the subliminal message, so clearly a hygiene and aesthetic Touch, which I have to admit, I rather like. Existing resources are being used by means of the hallmark of Little Touches: both logic and simplicity colliding.
|Humble beginnings: straws awaiting a creative twist "pinch"|
Anna Maria Island Accommodations provided our home for the next 14 nights: Tiki Time, a near-beach self-catering bungalow. AMI Accommodations are a prime example of a business that takes hold of its brand identity with both hands and exploits it in the most sincere manner. Flip-flop logo which has led to flip-flop keyring and flip-flop stationery, in a flip-flop stamped bag.
|Essentials: keys, pen and sticky notes, popcorn, coffee and washing powder|
Nonetheless, the attention to detail was not restricted to the welcome pack. Venturing into my room, it was clear that for this trip I was going to become a little princess, given the pink accents I was met with. My travel companions found themselves in a safari themed room, reminiscent of how the rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge are decked out. Disney's AK Lodge formed part of my university internship, but the nitty-gritty of that's for another post !
A three-pronged attention to detail attack was used in the laundry area: pastel coloured sign, net curtain ties with similar outbursts, before being presented with a stack of towels drawn from the same palette. The bathroom featured a Little Touch that is practical personified: a sign advising that make-up should be removed with the black washcloth provided. AMIA is clearly OCD about ATD.
Less slip, sliding and gliding
Special mention goes to Hurricane Hank's with their delicious Fish Tacos and new kid on the restaurant block, Bradenton Beach's Fire and Stone, the second venture for the business after a Cortez village first. Fire and Stone attained a wise bill point of difference : paper bill on a silver plate, restrained by a small stone.Plus, the reappearance of the paper straw topper was to be found both there and at Anna Maria Island's Harry's Grill.
|Guess who's back, back again. Toppers back, tell a friend.|
|My main course, salmon, followed up by the sweet treat of Key Lime Pie.|
Also on the scene, polynesian pineapple cake (bottom left) and apple fruit crisp (bottom right).
I have to admit, Tampa airport really pleasantly surprised me. Its outbound terminal is a genuine triumph for the design of public spaces. Little Touches here were a little techie, as both the stool tables and the tub seat joiners had both traditional power outlets and USB sockets.
Onboard to Washington and it appeared that our plane had been sponsored by McDonald's, given the presence of what appeared to be one of the fast-food behemoth's Happy Meal carry handles on the wings of the plane. Touching down at the capital, my longest journey by foot in an airport was brightened by a wall of colour. A wall of glass blocks, with coloured lighting tubes behind, achieves a great effect. We have the same glass blocks separating our living and dining room, only without the snazzy lighting backers.
|Singing an indoor rainbow: red and yellow and pink and green...|
Washington Dulles did have the complimentary power outlets too, albeit in a less slick form than Tampa airport's "juice boosters." Yet at least passengers still had the opportunity, rather than being met with charging nonentity. Once again, a case of algo es mejor que nada.
Florida's Gulf Coast is as packed with quirkiness as it ever was. Long overshadowed by the action packed Orlando, I urge you to give it a go, whether doing a week at the "parks" first, before a week of beach larks, or spending the Alpha to Omega of your 'hols on Florida's wonderful west. The attention to detail you'll find ranges from understated to overstated, but that is the fun of this carefree, caring part of our world.
I invite all our loyal readers to tell us your take on this latest Touches on Tour entry. Please comment below, Tweet us @LTportal or say hello by any other means of your choosing.
Written by Tom Metcalf