Pretty in pink, this five-star family resort has everything... even a ghost!
The Don CeSar, or “The Don” as it’s affectionately referred to by locals, is the ultimate family resort for your next Gulf Coast getaway. As you walk through the front doors of the hotel and behold the grand lobby and architectural details, you’ll quickly understand that this is more than simply a hotel; this is an experience. You’re instantly transported to the Roaring 20s and can imagine yourself as a character in The Great Gatsby.
Pampering guests for nearly a century, the hotel has a romantic history. The original builder, Thomas Rowe, fell deeply in love with an opera singer named Lucinda in the 1890s. Their love, however, was forbidden by her parents, and they whisked her away to her native Spain. Through the years, Rowe received one letter from her in which she promised that she would wait for him by the fountain where they once met. Sadly, they never reunited. In 1928, Rowe built The Don as a tribute to her. The grand fountain on the back veranda is an exact replica of the site of their first meeting. Some guests have reported seeing a ghost matching Thomas’ description - signature white suit and Panama hat - walking along the beach with a dark-haired woman. Perhaps you, too, will catch a glimpse of Thomas and his Lucinda during your stay.
Where to stay?
Upon arrival, the hotel presents children with special welcome gifts and offers parents traveling with little ones a child-proofing kit for the room. I found this gesture to be unique and thoughtful, as my one-year-old likes to explore everything.
As my family and I opened the door to our room, we were awestruck. We kept taking in the view from our window and could not imagine a more perfect picture. Although the rooms aren’t large, they are luxurious. Our 5-year-old found the beds quite bouncy. Rooms begin at $249/night. If you need a little more space, step up to a suite or even the two-story penthouse. Suites begin at $359/night.
KidTripster Tip: Submit a request early for a room with an ocean view. You’ll be astounded.
Many hotels are pet-friendly, but The Don treats pets like pampered pooches! Beginning with a welcome letter from the general manager upon check-in, pets are treated to a special room service menu, pet massages, pet beds, and walks from the hotel staff.
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What to do?
The beach is the true gem of this resort. St. Pete Beach is regularly voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it’s easy to see why - sugar white sand and crystal clear water in perfect shades of blue and green. Keep your eyes fixed on the water, and you and your kids are sure to see a pod of frolicking dolphins.
The resort offers a variety of water sports. Your adventurous teenagers can take advantage of WaveRunners, kayaks, and standup paddleboards; rates begin at $25/hour. Beachfront yoga classes are complimentary every morning and every sunset. There also are two heated, oceanfront pools plus outdoor ping pong, billiard, and foosball tables.
KidTripster Tip: When choosing your poolside or beachside chair, let the pool concierges know first. They are more than happy to set you up with towels, an umbrella, and a sunscreen misting.
Without a doubt, The Don is family-friendly. Children (ages 4 to 12) can attend a complimentary half day of Camp Cesar Kids Camp, where they spend a few hours exploring the beach and neighboring gardens, hunting for seashells, building sandcastles, making beach crafts, and enjoying a dive-in movie at the pool. Alternatively, kids can attend the camp for a full day for $50, including lunch.
See the front desk to borrow complimentary items from the Kids' Closet - everything your children may need but you forgot or didn’t have room to pack including toys, books, strollers, baby bathtubs, and much more. Teens are free to use the video game systems, movies, and board games.
Where to eat?
Offering both indoor and outdoor seating, the Sea Porch is a perfect choice for family dining. The children’s menu offers healthy choices. Our son immensely enjoyed his grilled tilapia. Whether it was steak, chicken or seafood, everything here was prepared perfectly. Make your reservation for sunset, and only the view will rival the food.
The hotel also has the Maritana Grille which offers award-winning food sourced from local farms, dairies, and fishing boats. This restaurant is quite upscale, though, and may not be the best choice for those families traveling with small children. However, if you enroll your children in Kids’ Night Out for $50 (including dinner), this would be the perfect spot for that much-needed date night.
Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor was a favorite of our 5-year-old, and we found ourselves here every day of our stay. Its specialties include sundaes, shakes, and banana splits, but you also can grab a quick bite for breakfast and Starbucks for Mom and Dad.
The Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, approximately 30 minutes west of Tampa by car.
For more ideas of what to do with your family while vacationing in St. Pete Beach, click here.
Greg Bailey lives in the Tampa area with his wife and two sons. Born and raised in Michigan, he has happily traded in his winter parka, snow shovel, and gloves for the beach, sunny skies, and gentle breezes of the coast of Florida.
This writer received a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.