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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Karol Hotel Gracefully Pays Tribute to its Namesake: Legendary "Miss Florida" and "Weather Girl", Karol Bullard

In 2021 Florida's Saint Pete Beach takes not only the title by TripAdvisor of number one beach in the United States, but is also rated fifth in the world. When you've been a integral part of the Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg culture for over 50 years, you've seen a lot of changes in your city but one thing is for sure: you know what your guests are looking for: service, comfort and experiences. We've stayed at many boutique hotels over the years, some of which have bore witness to absolutely amazing events, like the Southern Hotel in Covington, Louisiana, and The Karol Hotel is another that represents a completely different experience: Sunshine State Nostalgia. But don't be fooled by the salmon-hued velvet lobby furniture, the Karol represents true Florida nostalgia via its namesake.  It doesn't get any more Florida orange than Karol Bullard who, just to name a few, was the Florida Citrus Queen, Miss Florida, and Florida's first female meteorologist!

With its grand reopening in late 2019, only to be closed for several months due to Covid, the Karol Hotel began welcoming guests again in late 2020 to relax in a beautifully-appointed establishment, with personal service and attention to detail that makes for an unforgettable stay.  The Marriot Tribute Portfolio hotel does not spare on the comforts and luxury, with a signature bar & bistro as well as a rooftop bar and a ballroom, in addition to the 123 guest rooms. Hotels in this collection are each boutique-style with their own palette and personality, but closely integrated into their communities and meant to help people connect.

This was an exciting trip for LTD! Not only did we participate in the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, but we could immerse ourselves in part of Florida's history during our stay at the Karol Hotel. This was one of several ventures away following the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a worldwide shutdown of most travel and our experience was all we hoped for!

1. Location

The Karol Hotel is adjacent to a hidden gem in St. Petersburg, Feather Sound, another community achievement of the Bullard Family.  Feather Sound is safe, quiet and isolated but yet located near both the St. Pete and Tampa airports, restaurants, downtown St. Pete and beaches.  Access to all of these locations is simple via nearby interstate 275. That is the beauty of it. For any visit to the Tampa/St. Pete area, it's hard to find a more centralized location to explore all of it. 

Spotlight on St. Petersburg, The Sunshine City and Experience a Hidden Florida Gem

2. Check-in

We were greeted promptly and checked in without difficulty from very accommodating employees wearing masks appropriately. The entire staff is eager to engage you and tell you about the hotel's namesake, Karol Bullard.  They are proud of the hotel and it shows in their enthusiasm. Since it is a Marriott-affiliated property, we were greeted and treated appropriately for our Marriott status. The staff oriented us to the hotel and the surrounding area. Once we were informed about COVID policies, we elected to receive daily room cleaning and received this without any problems whatsoever. A nice touch was that we could request the time of housekeeping service and generally it was performed exactly as we asked during our stay (see below). 

3. Hotel Decor 

A minimalist space is well edited and contains only those pieces that will assist in achieving the maximum décor effect.  Graciously, photos of the Fred and Karol Bullard are scattered around the lobby and hotel, but without self-adulation. The reason? The Hotel wants you to ask the staff for engagement. The Lobby has glimpses of color thrown into the decor and you decide if the pink hues reflect Karol's femininity or old Florida!   

Off of the lobby is the K Club Bar and Bistro where the classic design resembles one of Fred Bullard's favorite places: New York's Polo Bar.

Interested in Florida history?  Check out his novel at Amazon by clicking the photo below.  We make a small commission from links like this, but you won't pay anything extra and we give the proceeds to charity! 

4. Rooms

The decor of the rooms is tasteful, reflecting the Florida lifestyle. It feels like a relaxed home where heavy colors and textures don't work well.  Furniture and decor is neutral and soft with hints of color in the artwork.  The rooms made us think of the beach with the furniture having tones of sand mixed with the artwork representing bright umbrellas!  The furniture is not cheap either, it was produced by Bernhardt and provided modern features like charging stations by the bed and knobless drawers opened by pushing to release the drawer which nice features in hotel rooms. 

The bed was extremely comfortable with outstanding pillows and a pillow top mattress to match the size of the bed. We found the room temperature to be exceptionally comfortable. Robes are provided!

The televisions were exactly what we expect in the 21st century! Streaming or casting services are provided at most luxury establishments now where you can cast your own programs from personal subscriptions like YouTube TV or Netflix, or watch many subscription channels, like HBO or Showtime, on demand from the TV.

In room Lavaza espresso was provided in all rooms. A large in-room safe is available. A small refrigerator is in the room which you could use, but this also contains a makeshift mini bar. The price list is provided in the room.

5. Bathrooms

The bathrooms are one of the positives of the room. Features like around mirror vanity lighting and large counters with sufficient storage space are important to us! As you have heard us say many times, we question the cleanliness of hotel shower curtains, and love to see large walk-in showers with glass doors in our hotel bathrooms (We usually search for this feature when choosing a hotel).  The Karol does not disappoint!  

Toiletries are a private label Karol Collection, that is reminiscent of beach scents. We like seeing large bottles of toiletries in the shower like at the Southern Hotel and Kimpton hotels.


6. Fitness

The hotel has a large modern gym available 24 hours per day with key fob access. The gym is adequately stocked with diverse equipment and complimentary fitbod workouts that go well with their equipment.  

Certainly the area surrounding the hotel is safe for walking, cycling or jogging. By running into Feather Sound, a long route can be had.  There is a nature preserve across Ulmerton Road where birds are abundant.  To run or walk there and then take a turn around the nature trail, would be an adequate distance for many casual walkers or runners (about 3-4 miles). Of course most of Florida are great places to play golf and we recommend a round at the Feather Sound Country Club nearby.  The hotel can help you arrange this.

Other Healthy Activities Nearby:

  • Swim  You can swim at the shore, the hotel, many public pools (seasonal) or at North Shore Aquatic Complex, located on the St. Petersburg waterfront. It's open year round and features a 50 meter pool with diving board, 25 yard training pool with zero depth entry, a play pool with a giant flume slide, splash pad, and accessible zero depth entry.
  • Waterfront Park  Drive to to enjoy St. Pete's Waterfront Park a seven mile stretch preserved downtown waterfront area filled with cyclists, walkers, and runners.
  • Pinellas Trail  The Pinellas Trail is a 37-mile hiking/biking trail, connecting St. Petersburg with Central and North Pinellas County, and is the longest urban linear trail in the Eastern USA.
  • Tennis  Tennis courts abound in all of St. Petersburg, including near the beach and downtown. If you plan to use the tennis courts, complete the required application at least 7 days before you're stay.


7. Dining

Dining, even during the pandemic is where The Karol Hotel shines! Off of the lobby is the K Club Bar and Bistro where the classic design resembles one of Fred Bullard's favorite places: New York's Polo Bar. This upscale bistro with a simple yet sophisticated approach to seasonal ingredients found in the region served in a lively and comfortable setting.  We ate at the Vantage Rooftop bar which has the same menu offered, since the bistro was closed during the pandemic. Even though we opted for dinner at the last minute on a Friday evening, the host was outstanding to find us a table for 7 persons in the corner.  The menu is complete and we enjoyed several things at our table including a charcuterie board, soups, salads and even a filet mignon with chimichurri pesto, arugula salad, smoked tomato vinaigrette, romesco, and rosemary fries.  All of this was started off with a smoked old fashioned, martinis and a some wine during dinner. We were all pleased with our choices, and many of our party stayed for awhile after dinner to enjoy conversation and of course, THE VIEW of Tampa!

When the bistro is open you may elect to eat indoor our outdoor overlooking a lake!


Other restaurants that we recommend nearby:

  • Bascom's Chop House  It's a little known fact that the Bullards own this restaurant too! When the original Bascom came to Florida at the turn of the last century to help Henry Flagler build the Key West Railroad, he brought with him his love for thick cut chops and juicy steaks. During his travels he also discovered the bounties of fresh native Florida seafood. They have brought all of his favorites together in a true American Chop House that pays tribute to Bascom's hearty appetite and a passion for great steaks, chops and fresh seafood.  You won't leave hungry.  RxTIP:  Go for WINE & DINE WEEKENDS when you can get Petite Fillet or hand carved Prime Rib with a side salad & choice potato for only $34 after 4pm Friday, Saturday & Sunday At the same time enjoy 25% off wine bottles priced over $50 after 5pm Friday& Saturday after 4pm on Sunday dine in only
  • Bella Brava One of our favorite dining options, centrally located on Beach Drive this casual Italian restaurant has more than just typical pasta and red sauce.  Less formal than a ristorante, the service is casual and you can get anything from burgers to a wide variety of pastas and antipasti, entrees flatbreads, pizzas and calzones.  The bar is large and crowded.  Dine inside or outside and be sure to make a reservation.
  • Level 11 Rooftop Bar  An external glass elevator carries you up the side of the cylindrical Grand Plaza Hotel, built in 1974, to its gleaming rooftop bar: Level 11. With stunning 360-degree views, at sunset the sofas and tables fill up fast, so arrive early if you want a seat. Artisanal small plates and a wide range of cocktails, like rosemary lavender lemonade and spiced mango margaritas are on the menu.
  • Paciugo's Gelato  Don't be discouraged if the lines are long, because you will enjoy your generous serving of gelatos from this downtown destination.  Make sure if you can't make up your mind that you ask for a split flavor cup!

Things to do

Beach Beach and more Beach. 

The beach calls in St. Pete and the sand is white and waters calm.  The beach can get crowded in season, so we prefer Pass-A-Grille for a drive to the beach if we aren't staying at the Don Cesar.  You can park using a meter or here are some tips if you decide to drive your own car from the hotel rather than Uber.

Parking TIPS:

  • Parking is FREE all along 8th Ave
  • Restaurants in the area offer Free Parking for their customers, unless otherwise stated
  • The North and South Ends for Pass-a-Grille Beach are the easiest sections to find parking. Take advantage of this!

Salvador Dali Museum

If you have limited time and are in downtown St. Pete, you must at least visit The Dalí Museum, the most comprehensive collection of Dalí's paintings outside of Europe.  Kids and adults alike love the Dali Museum! LTD recommends taking children to museums! Given the artist's penchant for eye trickery, this museum offers kids a playful introduction to fine art. Ask for the Surreal Family Guide, which directs kids through the museum and points out interesting facts about the art and the artist.

Tampa Bay Rays

Home of the Rays is Tropicana Field, located only a short drive away.  Frequently in the race for the AL pennant and a modern rival of the Red Sox and Yankees alike, a visit to Tropicana Field can be a great air-condition-filled afternoon of fun and family activities, especially on a rainy day since the "Trop" is a dome. 

Museum of Fine Arts

Designed to reflect the Frick Collection in Manhattan, and with art spanning over 5000 years, this is Florida's only encyclopedic art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg explores human expression across all time periods and cultures.  Look for the temporary exhibitions in the Hazel Hough Wing, wing added in 2008. Among many of there visits, LTD visited the Power of Costume exhibit by LucasFilm about Star Wars' Costumes through the years which was a treat!

Chihuly Collection

The CHIHULY COLLECTION is a stunning, permanent collection of world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s unique artwork at the Morean Arts Center in Downtown St. Pete. This presentation is unique as it is the first installation of Chihuly art in a building designed specifically for that purpose. Designed so that the art and architecture work together to create a visitor experience unlike any other exhibition of Chihuly’s art. The Collection is marked at the entrance by an iconic 20-foot sculpture created especially for the site.

Bottom line:

We recommend the Karol Hotel for any visit to the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area. One of the best features of the hotel though is the centralized location, full of luxury touches at every turn, outshining the lack of luxury hotels in the immediate area.  One of the best features is the rooftop bar, Vantage with fabulous views of the surrounding area, including Tampa. The quality of the food is exceptional and the libations match the quality with options for any taste. It is by far, a stark contrast other hotels we have stayed at in the area for the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, an annual event we have participated and donated to for many years.  The central location allows for exploration of the entire Tampa Bay Area full of meaningful and healthy activities all in one surprising hidden gem.  Take a couple of days to visit this great location and stay at the Karol Hotel! When you do, ask questions about the meaning behind anything that catches your eye but especially ask about the Bullard family, pillars of the community for over 50 years!

1 comment:

  1. The hotel is great for staycation. I love its relax ambiance and chic decors!