Editor’s Note: The new dRTB series, “Paradise Without a Passport,” offers recommendations for in-state (and just out-of-state) travel destinations ideal for the present moment.
Why does everything I own remind me of a vacation?
I fold a French red bikini and think of sizzling St. Tropez. I’m hanging up an aqua blue strapless dress and am transported back to a romantic St. Martin escape. I keep looking at my lonely, oversized suitcase sitting in the corner and I swear if it had a voice it would be screaming: “Are we outta here yet? It’s summer! What about vacation?” I think I may be a travel-holic.
And then Dina calls. My friend from New York City, still in lockdown and craving the beach. “You are so lucky. I would do anything to be able to escape to your Florida paradise.” She’s right. No passport required to enjoy my go-to slice of paradise. The cure for anything is sand and sea and a stay at the luxurious Resort at Longboat Key Club.
I head south over the Sunshine Skyway bridge. The resort is just south of Anna Maria Island, between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. An hour and a half from home, I drive through the private resort gate, find the reception area and check in. Staff (all in protective masks) offer a warm welcome. Just like the best private clubs in the country, many of the associates have been there for decades. Wonderful to see Resort General Manager Rick Benninghove and find Executive Chef Bob Weil still overseeing all of the culinary offerings. We reminisce about the celebs like Kevin Bacon and William H. Macy who’ve stayed here during the Sarasota Film Festival.
No need to crave the Caribbean or endure the hassle of travel out of the country. This place is magic! The AAA Four-Diamond resort is an Opal Collection destination. The wide sandy beach is blissfully free of crowds from sunrise to sunset. Tropical. Peaceful. Tranquil. The Gulf waters the color of the Caribbean. Bonus: The shops and cafes at St. Armand’s Circle are close by and re-opened.
What is the resort like during the virus? It’s pristine, with extra precautions taken to maintain a safe environment. To limit exposure, no daily housekeeping service is offered, but guests can simply ask for what they need. Food and beverage services are open and a major resort renovation (or transformation they call it) is taking place. The GM is proud to point out major room renovations with a décor he calls “Florida Nautical Beach.”
He continues the tour, saying, “Phase One, including the three beachfront buildings and the pool, is complete, and we are now starting Phase Two of our renovations, which include the golf course and lagoon-view buildings. All of the buildings will be open by Thanksgiving.”
The lobby has been newly renovated, and the new restaurant, Latitudes, has indoor and outdoor seating and plans for a July opening. The restaurant design has an open feeling, with finishes in bluestone, natural teak and stone. “We will have music on the weekends and added seating,” he says. Guests can expect a better view of the Gulf of Mexico from inside and a new bar outside called the Banyan-Poolside.
The renovated suites are extremely spacious and designed for entertaining — think family reunion.
Hot tip: Do as I did and stay in one of the newly renovated deluxe two-bedroom, two-bath suites. At 1,750 square feet with raised ceilings, beach-themed decor and a view of the Gulf, they’re wonderful: oversized living room, private balcony, spacious kitchen, a separate dining area that seats up to eight guests, even a full-sized side-by-side washer and dryer. Under current short-term promotions, the rate is about $1,000 a night.
Looking for golf? Tennis? A spa with an island-inspired sanctuary? Fitness center? Gourmet cuisine? It’s all here. For breakfast, dine outside at Spike and Tees restaurant. Listen to the birds and watch the golfers on Longboat golf course. I feel like I’m back in Bermuda.
Make dinner reservations in advance for the private Portofino Ristorante & Bar located in the Marina Village. (Heads up: there are no signs for the dining room.) The cuisine is spectacular and the atmosphere spotless. Staff and servers are friendly, knowledgeable and masked. The menu offers classic Northern Italian cuisine, fresh seafood, handmade pastas and wood-fired, brick-oven pizzas. There are beautiful harbor views in a trattoria-style atmosphere. We highly recommend the outdoor seating on the Mediterranean terrace. My dish, vitello al limone, was delicious: veal scaloppini, lemon and white wine sauce, herb-roasted potatoes, and seasonal vegetables. My friends raved about their grilled organic salmon and red snapper.
Hot tip: Order dinner on the beach, serving up to eight people, for a special treat.
Want to arrive by boat? The resort offers short-and long term rentals, and the deep-water marina can accommodate vessels up to 150 feet.
And here’s some good news for locals: Special room rates are being offered to Florida residents throughout the summer.