Sorry for the lack of blogging the past couple of weeks, but hopefully this post will make up for it! I got to go somewhere really cool for work a week ago... to Florida's Gulf Coast! I have traveled to the Caribbean on cruises and tropical parts of Mexico too. But Clearwater Beach, Florida was by far the most gorgeous and nicest beach I've ever been to! I feel so lucky!
To be honest, when I first heard that one of the places I'd be going for work was near Tampa, I wasn't as excited as I should have been. I went on probably the grossest creepiest Carnival cruise ever out of Tampa in High School and never gave Tampa a 2nd thought as a place I'd ever return to.
Thank goodness for this work trip, because I truly believe I have found the most gorgeous beach in the world... seriously! But first... let me talk about the hotel.
I do the conference logistics for my job and this location and hotel had been chosen by my predecessor long before I was even a candidate for the position. I had heard that this best practices conference was a nice one, but I have done hundreds, actually, probably around a thousand conferences at this point in my career. And to be honest, a hotel is a hotel to me. I'm a self-admitted hotel snob and not usually all that impressed in the properties I've done events for in the past... even the 'fancy' ones.
That was... until this trip...
The location for this conference is the Sandpearl Resort and Spa in Clearwater Beach, Florida. The drive was absolutely gorgeous from the airport to the resort, and when I entered the lobby, I knew I was in for an amazing experience.
Does the Sandpearl's lobby not look just like the inside of a Tommy Bahama store? And sure enough, there was a Tommy Bahama clothing store IN the hotel's lobby! Truth!
All of the photos in this post are from IG. Sorry for the crappy quality. I had my camera, but the photos I took were for the conference, no leisure time to snap photos for this girl.
The windows to the right of the above lobby photo overlooked a gorgeous infinity pool that overlooked the resort's pool and beyond that, the turquoise water of the Gulf of Mexico. Gorgeous!
The staff at the Sandpearl were AMAZING. I truly cannot say enough wonderful things about each and every person that I met at the hotel. And (HS friends will love this!) I discovered that a girl at the front desk and I went to the same high school in Charlotte, NC (Small world!) AND I graduated with her sister!!! (Tabatha Fincher, you guys! what in the world?!!? right?) We did the Dub-C hand sign (not a gang sign, promise!) and it was awesome.
At the front desk they offered me a choice of campaign or a mimosa at check-in. I enjoyed a mimosa as the bellman assisted me to my room.
A downside of traveling alone is no one to take photos of me... so lots of selfies and foot-shots on this trip :)
I was prepared to go straight to work as soon as I arrived at the resort stuffing registration packets, and locating the many boxes that had already been shipped to the hotel earlier that week. The bellman convinced me that I HAD to go to the beach. That it had been rainy, cold weather all week and that I absolutely MUST go to the beach for a few minutes before getting to work.
I was just about to leave my room for a quick stroll down to the beach and I heard a knock on the door. I answered and received a welcome amenity from the contact I had been working with at the hotel! She's so sweet!
I blanked out my last name, she didn't address it to "Ms. Leah" hahah.
I had a quick snack and headed down to the beach!
I snapped this photo because the weather was just perfect! I was so glad I gave myself a little 10 minute break to run down to the beach. I would have been miserable if I had to look at the beach from a far.
The water was SO WARM! Apparently the Gulf Coast stays pretty warm year round. It felt to good to kick off my sandals after a day of travel for a quick splash in the water.
But as soon as I stepped in the water, I jumped right out, and went straight to work. Fortunately the room where my conference boxes were had this gorgeous view overlooking the beach.
On the Gulf Coast a unique thing is that the sun sets over the water, because it is the west coast of Florida. I was determined to see the sun set over the water, as that is one of my favorite things ever.
I had my work laptop and mi-fi card with me and was constantly replying to e-mails of coworkers and participants who had questions for me. I wasn't sure how my schedule would be during the conference and thought this might be my only time to see the sun set over the water.
I also knew it was already 7:30pm and I needed dinner! So after I got all the packets stuffed for registration and nametags added, I grabbed my laptop and headed to Tate Island Grill, outside by the beach.
I had a blackened grouper sandwich and replied to emails. Just as the sun was about to set... the sky got cloudy and there was just a mess of brightness but no real sunset :(
After dinner I returned to my 'war room' and worked. And worked and worked. I love all the details of getting conferences ready. I was working until after 11pm that evening. But I was able to return to my room confident that everything was ready for the next day, the first day of the conference.
The Sandpearl is not only gorgeous and has a wonderfully friendly staff, but they think of all the little details. My turn-down service had a little quote, delicious shell chocolates, and the 2nd page was the next day's weather!
As I mentioned, the sun sets over the Gulf Coast, but it rises over the Bay on the other side of the resort. I had a Bay View room and got to see the sun rise over Mandalay Bay (like the resort in Vegas!) from my window.
One of my downfalls is that while I am amazing at customer service, and making sure everyone I'm around is taken care of, I don't always take the best care of myself. Mainly, I forget to eat. I love to eat (clearly), but when I'm working I just put it off or forget. I wanted to be 100% at this conference and I knew this meant I had to wake up early enough to get breakfast before my early-morning pre-con (pre conference meeting. with the hotel staff, AV, decorator, etc).
At first I thought it was a conference attendee, as I had on my polo with company logo. The lady said she had ordered coffee for her friends and mis-counted and had an extra hazelnut latte that had not been touched and asked if I wanted it. How sweet of her was that? I gladly accepted and took it as a sign of the wonderful things to come. I got myself a bagel and cream cheese as well, but I was just floored by the generosity of a stranger.
My premonition of wonderful things to come was right... the Sandpearl staff was absolutely wonderful and so helpful for my event! The local decorating company we used, Cheers, was fabulous! I normally do not share photos from work, however I was so blown away by the pirate decor for our welcome reception that evening, I just have to share a quick photo with you!
I posted the below photo on IG of the macaroons at the welcome reception. BF's mom commented that the hotel read my mind, she knows I love French macaroons :) But... one of the best parts of planning events is that you are able to customize the menus.
We were already going with a French pastry station and I just had them swap out cream puffs for the macaroons. The participants LOVED them as well. Many remarked had seen macaroons before, but never had tried them. I think I've introduced a whole new group to the awesomeness of French macaroons :)
See the sand in the background? The sand is so bright white in Clearwater Beach that they call it 'sugar sand.' How awesome is that? It's just the brightest, whitest, finest sand.
I'm just so thrilled with this conference, I have to share something else super awesome.
As a networking activity we did a cupcake decorating contest. I worked with Kristen of Little Law's Prints for the most absolutely perfect cupcake toppers, ballots and sign. (I blocked out my company's name). AND as a fellow blogger, she offered me 10% off, YES! The cupcake trophies for the winners were also so awesome! I cannot get over how great this whole activity turned out.
A really special thing we got to do was go see Winter from the movie Dolphin's Tale. It's a very sad movie, but the people at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (sea life rehabilitation center) said that it was played up for the movie and not as sad/depressing.
Here's sweet Winter. She only wears her prosthetic fin for a little while each day for physical therapy. And the gel she uses is called WintersGel and used for kids and others with prosthetic limbs. It's truly amazing how this dolphin's misfortune has in turn helped and inspired so many others. And Winter's doing great now! She swims and is so happy.
We also got to see a dolphin show, and pet sting rays. It was really special.
On the last day of the conference I was able to spend a couple quick minutes at the beach and of course had to take another selfie.
I wanted to experience everything the Sandpearl had to offer, so I jumped in a hammock.
I laid on a beach chair!
And I made the commitment to absolutely come back! The resort was truly special and amazing and I want to bring BF and Gav for a real vacation when I'm off the clock.
Have you ever been to the Gulf Coast of Florida?
Do you want to take a guess at what famous guests have stayed at the Sandpearl Resort?
(Hint: Obv. the cast of Dolphin's Tale. But what other movie was filmed near Tampa...
Yup it's 'Magic'!!!)