By Blake Corlew, TMS Junior
Photo by Boone Clemmons
Can I just be honest? When we arrived and were checking into our hotel, I was a tiny bit disappointed that we did not have a Gulf view. I am a beach girl, I grew up on the coast of NC and being near the water is my happy place. I long to not just be near water, but to see it as well! However, the very first day I realized what a blessing it was to have this view! Not only were we looking at water, the bay, but with each weather change and passing day, we were graced with a front row seat to the artwork of the sky. That very afternoon that we arrived, a storm was clearing. As we moved around our hotel room getting situated, we ventured out on the balcony to get a lay of the land, so to speak. But the sky is what beckoned us. There, like a neon sign, was the most amazingly vivid double rainbow I’ve ever seen! That afternoon set the stage for the rest of the trip. Every day, whether it was a storm rolling in or a spectacular sunrise or a breathtaking sunset, we got to see them up-close and personal. Reminding us to look for the blessings in all circumstances. Those spectacular sunsets are waiting for you, no matter what your budget is.
Let me back up for a moment, I actually traveled to Clearwater Beach close to thirty years ago. The name of the hotel is now lost in the fog of my way too busy mom-brain, but it was a grand hotel on the beach – evoking images of Frank Sinatra and the brat pack. I was nervous – no, to be honest, I was terrified – to be on this big adventure at nineteen and being alone and I guess it showed. I remember passing the restaurant with its perfectly laid black and white marble floor to get to huge doors that led outside. As I timidly peeked out those doors to see who was out there, I was practically swept off my feet by a virtual welcome wagon of elderly patrons. They invited me right into their group as if I was a long lost grandchild- and simply would not take no for an answer. We spent the entire weekend together, playing games, talking, sharing meals and our lives. Little did they know, what an important role they played in launching my love of travel. It blossomed right there under their warm gaze and friendly ways. It has been close to 30 years since I visited that Clearwater Beach and I was utterly shocked to see all of the changes. It was literally unrecognizable.
Even though the quaintness and charm of old Hollywood have long since disappeared, what has replaced it is a vibrant community filled with interesting people from all over the world and every walk of life! My beloved beautiful white sand beach is still there and is now lined with friendly, open-air restaurants, every water sport one could ever dream of, a huge assortment of hotels to fit every budget, and boating excursions to suit every possible interest. That same white-sand beach where we laughed and got to know each other so long ago is still there and it is not just maintained, but perfectly fussed over – even more than I remembered. I watched it being groomed and raked on one of my early morning strolls, which just shows me the commitment Clearwater has to keeping the beach clean and pristine. That view makes you feel as if you have left your cares behind and traveled to some extravagant, exotic destination… yet you are right there in Clearwater where this respite is affordable and easily accessible!
What was new this time were the dolphins. We were absolutely mesmerized by the abundance of graceful and playful dolphins. I’ve never seen so many dolphins in the wild! So dolphins and Clearwater have become synonymous… always and forever connected in my mind. With Clearwater Marine Aquarium hosting Winter and Hope, that would seem obvious. However, on every boat ride we took – even the ones where we were not searching for dolphins – we saw them. Some were quietly lurking, on the perimeter of the boat, just watching. Others were completely ignoring us, and busily diving for their lunch… showing us just enough of their beauty to make us want to chase after them! Still others seemed to be playful and friendly… jumping and swimming close as if to invite you in for a race. We even were able to enjoy watching them from the Bistro on the 6th floor of the Hampton Inn. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to rekindle this long-dormant love affair with your beach. We can’t wait to return!
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