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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was grinning, thrilled to stand outside in the heart of downtown under a bright blue winter sky and help open the luxurious new JW Marriott Tampa Water Street. Goodbye, 2020, and Hello, 2021. The new hotel is an inspiration, opening just in time to welcome fans as the designated Super Bowl host hotel. 

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor at the soft opening of the hotel in December, 2020. (All images courtesy JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, except where otherwise indicated.)

How proud the associates are to show off their new property, marking the 100th JW Marriott to open in more than 25 countries. The hotel lifts the spirits: spacious and grand and gleaming, as if anything could be possible again. 

The hotel’s soaring atrium lobby.

A very small, “Covid-aware” gathering of tourism officials, locals and members of the Marriott hotel family witnessed the end-of-December ribbon cutting and soft opening. This is the first new building to open within the $3 billion-plus mixed-use district between the Channel and central business districts. It’s just steps to Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. 

Christopher Adkins, director of sales and marketing, says the new 27-story, 519-room hotel will dramatically expand Tampa Bay’s offerings to high-end travelers. (You may remember Adkins from the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Pete.)

“The caliber of accommodations is over the top,” he says, citing the variety of “spectacular luxury suites with amazing views of the city.” 

A guest room in the new hotel.

That’s for sure. The spacious atrium lobby is enormous, and the JW suites scream opulence. How about a 1,190-square-foot room with private balcony and 270-degree city views? Or the 2,230-square-foot Presidential Suite, which has its own terrace? 

The first six floors are where the amenities are, he explains — the  restaurants Driftlight and Six, fitness center and the JW Spa. The third-floor Sky Box, perfect for intimate gatherings from events to board meetings, overhangs the lobby in dramatic fashion. Guest rooms are located on floors 7 to 26.

Another view of the atrium. (Photo: David Warner)

Dining in style

Joseph Pankrath is the hotel’s humble executive chef. When I ask about his background, he instead raves about how he discovered his Russian-born pastry chef Natashia, formerly of the Tampa Yacht Club. He’s not humble about the service, though: “We are expecting to wow VIPs and celebrities and will cater a private party in your suite or create a reception with our luxury brand wines, spirits and champagnes.”

Located on the main floor of the hotel, Driftlight (a name inspired by Tampa’s lighted bridges) is a casual restaurant offering regional farm- and ocean-to-table cuisine served in an open and airy atmosphere. I love the sunny bright yellow chairs; they all but scream, “Welcome to Florida!”


Six is located, of course, on the sixth floor. Described as a modern American bistro, it adjoins the rooftop pool and overlooks the bayfront. As we dine outside in the sun, listening to live music and overlooking the Tampa skyline, we can’t believe it’s winter. I see snacks on the menu like a jumbo shrimp cocktail, read about a yummy Fig & Goat pizza, and end up ordering a healthy blackened Grouper sandwich (hold the bread and fries, please) served with a salad. 

The rooftop pool.

[Editor’s Note: A subsequent evening meal in the outdoor dining area of Six was also a pleasure: beautifully prepared day boat scallops in a smoked bacon cassoulet, tasty housemade tagliatelle with braised beef cheek and seasonal mushrooms, and, in a Florida-centric touch, Cedar Key clam chowder, which, though tasting more of potato and bacon than clams, was a perfect starter on a coolish December night. While the indoor area of Six we passed through is surprisingly plain considering the head-turning flair of the lobby and other public spaces, the covered outdoor lounge — with its wide-angle view of the Hillsborough River, the convention center and the Marriott across Water Street — make for a sweet destination for drinks and dinner (or just for drinks, like the JW, with, synchronistically, Johnnie Walker Black).]

Spa treatment

JW Marriott spas are known around the world as havens, designed to help guests focus on feeling whole — present in mind, nourished in body, and revitalized in spirit. They’ve done it again in Tampa.

The luxurious spa lounge.

I have personally been waiting for this caliber of spa for years now. Richard Trinidad, director of The Spa by JW®, shows off the luxurious spa lounge, 10 treatment suites and retail boutique. I love the juices and vegan snacks, but it’s the small, private outdoor mineral pool that grabs my attention: I envision J.Lo or The Weeknd, lounging around with pals during Super Bowl week.

“We will close the spa for celebrities and high-end VIPs and offer customized experiences with a private suite for entertaining,” Trinidad explains. I spy two private couples’ suites with couches for the most romantic getaway options. Locals will love this: We can purchase a day pass for $55, check in for a service and use the pool and fitness center and Spa.

Service first

We have been missing luxury service like this in Tampa Bay. Translation: The hotel staff, from attentive valet and dining room servers to helpful concierge, all seem to anticipate your needs. JW team members don’t just verbally give directions or simply point out where to go; they literally walk me to my destination. Smiling, courteous, professional. That’s JW Marriott training. Upon my departure, my car was already waiting in valet. Magic! 

The JW Marriott Tampa, 510 Water St., 813-221-4950, The hotel had its soft opening on Dec. 21, and will hold a grand opening in March.

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