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How to Choose Great Locally Owned Accommodations When You Travel


Over the years, I've stayed in many hotels. Some were awesome, some were so-so, and some had me worried that I wouldn't see the next sunrise.

One thing that I have learned along the way is that some of my favorite stays have been at locally owned and independently operated places: each is different, and your stay is more likely to leave an impression.

After all, how often do you think back and say, "Wow, those two nights in the Orlando area Hampton Inn were super stellar and unique"? Probably never since every Hampton Inn I've ever seen looked exactly the same.

If you're looking to break out of the mold of chain hotels, you're in luck, as there are some fantastic local places to call home while you're on the road. From 4-room bed and breakfasts to independent luxury resorts to someone's extra apartment on AirBnB, there's a huge range in what can be called "locally owned accommodations."

But how do you separate the delightful ones from the duds?

Thankfully, in this technological day and age, there are plenty of ways to research some independent lodging options. Here are great ways to choose a safe, clean, and memorable locally owned hotel:

6 Creative Ways to Preserve Your Travel Memories

6 Creative Ways to Preserve Your Travel Memories | CosmosMariners.com


You go, you have a blast, you take a ton of pictures.

Then, you come home. You might be proactive, downloading the pictures to your computer, printing them out, and carefully arraigning them in photo albums that you bought specifically for that purpose.

But more likely, those poor vacation pictures are still stuck on your computer (or your phone, or maybe even the camera!).

Don't leave them there: you need some exciting ways to preserve those travel memories. Everybody loves a new project, and the fun ideas below will allow you to relive the best parts of that amazing experience while getting all crafty at the same time.

Road Trip Stop #2: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

The morning we were scheduled to move from the Coconut Inn in Pass-a-Grille to our second stop of the Florida Superior Small Lodging road trip, we battled through pouring rain to pack the car. Thoroughly soaked, Landon and I were glad of the 30 minute drive up to Indian Rocks Beach, where Cay Pointe Villas awaited us. 

Just as the rain was starting to let up, we arrived in Indian Rocks Beach to find our next place to try out. Would Cay Pointe Villas be the ray of sunshine we needed on such a dreary day?

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com


To make a long story short, it was everything we could have wanted and more! Read on to find out more about this great beachfront property and the people who made our stay so special.

History
Back in the late '60s and early '70s, developers began to purchase some of the area's old beach homes, knock them down, and use the space for large condo buildings. When a developer approached Lynn Timberlake's parents, they refused to sell their family's beach house.

The developer told the Timberlakes that he'd already bought the property to the left of the home, and that he was also going to buy the property to the right of the house, essential sandwiching their home in between two large condo buildings.

The developer ended up messing with the wrong family, as the Timberlakes outbid the developer on the property to the right of their home. With this extra space, the family decided to try and preserve a bit of this beautiful stretch of beach; in 1972, they opened Cay Pointe Villas.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com
Cay Pointe Villas is to the left, and the Timberlakes' original home is the grey one to the right.


The original owners' daughter, Lynn, now runs the place, along with her two resident managers, Carol and Bill. The three of them make a stay here feel more like you're visiting a favorite family member instead of staying at a vacation property.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com


Location
Indian Rocks Beach is a much quieter part of the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area--Gulf Boulevard narrows to two lanes, and the buildings don't reach the skyscraper proportions that they do further north.

Tucked among the personal homes, smaller condo properties, and locally-owned restaurants is this gem of a getaway: Cay Pointe Villas.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

Even though Indian Rocks Beach is quieter than Clearwater or St. Pete Beach, you're still minutes away from Frenchy's Rockaway Grill, Fort De Soto, and grocery stores.

Room
It's not fair to call what we stayed in a room--it was a complete apartment! In fact, the three bedroom, one bath apartment was close in size to our first townhouse. We loved the full kitchen and used it to cook throughout our stay.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com


The three bedrooms were all nicely sized: there was a queen in the master bedroom, and a twin (with trundle) in each of the other two rooms.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

The bathroom was quite large, and I could've easily shared it with Landon, Britton, and another family member or two during a longer stay.

There were plenty of comfy chairs in the living room and a flat screen TV, which we didn't watch much since the beach was right there!

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com


And the best part of all? The wide porch that overlooks the ocean. There's a table in the kitchen, but we couldn't resist eating inside when there was outside dining space available. We ate every meal out there, relaxed after coming in from the beach, and looked at the stars--all from the comfort of our private porch.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com


Service
When I went into the resident managers' office to check in, Carol and Bill not only greeted me to Cay Pointe, but also ushered me in for a quick tour of their apartment. Carol brought cold bottled water for my daughter while we were out on the beach, and let us borrow her sunscreen and snorkeling goggles. When Bill was in the apartment next to us, he come out onto the porch and chatted with us while we were sitting on our own porch.

When we left, Carol sent us off with hugs and well wishes. I'd come back to the property just for the hospitality that she, Bill, and the owner, Lynn, showed us.

From the moment we arrived to the minute we drove off, the team at Cay Pointe made us feel as if we were family or long lost friends who'd stopped by for a visit. They run it as a home, not as a hotel, and that makes a huge difference to the feel of the place. I don't know when I've stayed in a property where I felt so welcomed!

Amenities
When the ocean is just outside your door, you don't need many other amenities! While the beach access and view is definitely the major draw here at Cay Pointe Villas, Lynn and her team have done everything they can to make your stay as nice as possible.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

There are beach toys available for the little ones, several of which Britton gladly tested out while we were there. Carol, one of the resident managers, sweeps the beach in front of the property every morning, so you don't have to worry about seaweed or trash when you're laying out your blanket. The office also has sun hats, children's books, and paperbacks that guests are welcome to borrow.

Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

On the back porch, there are plenty of chairs on which to relax, read, or work (if you have to do such a blasphemous thing here!). Because the property is on a quiet, protected part of the beach, you might see some of the resident curly-tailed lizards or a beautiful heron, both of which frequent the patio area.
Your Beach Home away from Home: Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida |  CosmosMariners.com

Final Thoughts
Without a doubt, I would return here. While we were enjoying our time at Cay Pointe, Landon and I kept saying things like, "Wouldn't it be nice to bring our parents here?" or "Can you imagine having a family vacation here?" This was Landon's favorite property of the three we stayed in, and he's still talking about going back again, nearly two weeks later.

It really is the perfect spot for several families to all rent--and that's a popular way to rent the properties, Lynn told me.

If you don't have a beachfront home, Cay Pointe Villas is as close as you can get without buying a property yourself. Join the family on your next vacation, and tell Carol, Bill, and Lynn that I sent you!

What would you like about this property? Do you prefer to vacation with immediate family, extended family or friends?
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Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

It doesn’t look like anything special as you drive past, just a painted brick storefront on an otherwise nondescript street. 

But if you turn into the parking lot and venture into the building, you’ll realize that you’ve found something that’s anything but ordinary. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


Haslam’s Bookstore, located on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the Southeast’s largest independent bookstore. I’d found a brochure for it while we were out and about elsewhere in the area and immediately put Landon on high alert that we would be making a visit during our time on the Gulf Coast. 

He’s not quite the bookworm that I am, so it helps my cause if I give him some time to adjust to the possibility of wandering around a bookstore for more than five minutes. 

After a good breakfast the next morning (so we’d all be in tip-top shape for our book looking), we piled in the car and headed into St. Petersburg. Landon, who really is a great husband, commandeered our toddler so I could have free reign of the bookstore exploration. 

At exactly 10:02 AM (yes, we were totally those people who came in right as they opened), we barged through the doors, ready to riffle through some pages and find a new treasure. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
So many books, so little time.


Well, one of the three of us was. I’ll let you guess which. (Hint: It was the former college lit professor amongst us.)

The lovely smells of old books, paper, excitement, and the promise of new things met me at the door—as did two of the sales associates. When one of them saw Britton, he said, “Come meet Beowulf!” 

Despite what you might think, he wasn’t trying to make a new fan of Old English literature, but rather introducing my daughter to the store’s resident cat. Britton, who loves all animals to a ridiculous degree, glommed onto the front desk in an attempt to make best friends with Beowulf. 

The store assistant made Britton’s day (and perhaps her entire year) when he let her feed Beowulf not one, but three cat treats. I’m not sure who was happier—my kid or the cat. 

Because of that warm welcome, we spent most of the rest of our trip like this:
Landon: Hey, Britton, do you want to read this book?
Britton: No. Pet Kitty!
Me: Hey, Britton, let’s read this book. 
Britton: No! PET KITTY! PET KITTY! (dissolves into overwrought, obviously fake crying)
Me: Britton, do you want to go to the car?
(Fake crying continues in earnest.)
Me: Okay, no more kitty if we go to the car.
(She immediately quits crying.)
Britton: Pet kitty. PLEASE.

In between our visits to Beowulf, we managed to do nearly a complete circuit of the rambling store. If you’re looking for something in print, there’s a high likelihood that it is among Haslam’s 300,000 volumes that are kept in-store. I heard customers ask the sales associates for everything from a romance novel to a local history book to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, all of which were promptly delivered to the customer. 

Since I knew I was on borrowed time with both Britton and Landon accompanying me, I focused my time in the Florida section (since I’m a sucker for local history and ghost stories). If you’re looking for information on anything related to the culture, history, or architecture of the Gulf (or the rest of the state), that aisle is where you need to be. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com



And, if Haslam's couldn't get any more awesome in my book, I found out that it's rumored to be haunted. 

By none other than that wild and crazy '60s literary icon, Jack Kerouac. 

Kerouac, who headed to St. Petersburg after he wrote The Dharma Bums and On the Road, used to come into the bookstore and rearrange the displays so that his were front and center. Naturally, the Haslams didn't enjoy their bookshelves being handled in such a manner and would kick Kerouac out of the bookstore. He'd come back in a day or two and the whole thing would start over again. 

It was your classic love-hate relationship, only with more books than these things usually have. 

When Kerouac's liver finally failed him at 47, rumors began to crop up around the bookstore than Kerouac was having the last laugh. Customers and sales associates would feel a hand on their shoulders--but no one would be there. Books fall off of shelves when there aren't people nearby. 

Whether you believe in ghosts (or not) or whether you love books (or not), Haslam's is a St. Petersburg institution and is well worth a visit. If the huge book selection doesn't win you over, Beowulf will!

What's your favorite independent bookstore?
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Island Eats: Where to Dine on St. Simons Island, Georgia

When I was at St. Simons Island, it wasn't all exploring the King and Prince Resort and flying around the island on a historic plane.

I had to sample the local fare, too! (I know. It's a tough life I lead. Someone's got to do it!)

Island Eats: Where to Eat on St. Simons Island, Georgia | CosmosMariners.com

Over my few days in the area, I discovered some amazing restaurants, their owners, and their chefs. One thing that I loved about St. Simons Island was how much the locals support their own. I love to shop, stay, and eat locally on my stays, and St. Simons Island had plenty of opportunities for me to do just that.

If you've worked up an appetite playing on the beach or shopping, here are a few great places to dine on St. Simons Island.

Road Trip Stop #1: The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

After our side trip to a water park in Orlando, our Superior Small Lodging road trip began in earnest. With a toddler happy in the backseat with a pack of stickers and some paper, Landon and I headed west on I-4 Sunday morning.
The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Britton was ROCKIN' those glasses (even if she couldn't figure out how to put them on correctly)! 


I started to get really excited as we headed down the final bridge and the pink Don CeSar hotel guided us into the Pass-a-Grille area. Just a few more minutes, and we were turning onto 11th Avenue in search of the Coconut Inn.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


Awaiting us at the other end of the street was this adorable little inn with palm trees and tropical flowers flanking it. But would our stay at the Coconut Inn live up to its first impression?

History

During the 1920s, this area of St. Petersburg began to attract the rich and famous through gigantic hotels like the Viceroy, the Don CeSar, and the Belleair Biltmore. The blue-green waters and white sand beaches of the Gulf didn't just attract the wealthy, and cute inns like the Coconut Inn popped up as an alternative to the uber expensive see-and-be-seen resorts along the Gulf.

The Coconut Inn's original building remains central to the property, though the inn has made some excellent improvements in recent years. Landon and I both found that the overwhelming charm of the place came from the intersection of the inn's classic style and modern upgrades. For the last several years, the current owners have run the Coconut Inn, as well as the two other Pass-a-Grille properties, Sabal Palms Inn and the Havana Inn.

Location

Situated on the Gulf end of 11th Avenue, the Coconut Inn is planted in a pretty amazing spot within in Pass-a-Grille. I loved that it was surrounded by residences, not other hotels.

To get to the beach, all we had to do was walk right across Gulf Way. That's it!

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I love going to the beach, but I hate lugging all of our towels, chairs, and snacks while simultaneously trying to keep Britton from charging into the ocean. We didn't have to worry about that at Coconut Inn since it took us all of 15 seconds to get to the beach.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
Less time walking, more time for  family beach selfies


If we headed out of the Coconut Inn and turned left onto Gulf Boulevard, the restaurants and shops of the historic district were only a block away.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


We couldn't have asked for a better location with our toddler in tow. Those little legs can only walk so far!

Room
For our two night stay, we were placed in one of the upper rooms in the main building. It was an efficiency apartment with a full kitchen, a king bed, and two chairs that converted into twin beds.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


The bathroom had the usual amenities: hair dryer, plenty of towels, shower, etc. If you like a bath instead of a shower, I'd recommend getting a different room. Technically, there was a tiny, tiny bathtub/ shower combo in the bathroom, but only people the size of my 23-month-old would be able to get in the tub comfortably. When used as a shower, it was perfectly roomy.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Having the full kitchen with a stove, oven, microwave, and refrigerator was a great way to cook a few meals instead of eating out all of the time. The room also had plenty of pots, pans, silverware, and dishes so all you have to bring is your food. (If you want to get some great chicken, seafood, or skewers to cook, try Shaver's Land and Sea Market just down the road from the Coconut Inn. I think we went there three times in five days to get stuff to cook!)

Service

Eddie, the manager, greeted me with a big smile when I walked into office. He had to run off to help another couple checking in, but quickly returned to walk me through the registration process. Then, he walked us to our room.

Let me repeat. He walked us to our room! I cannot tell you the last time that happened--and I've stayed at many hotels of all different sizes. Eddie showed us around our little apartment, gave us his cell phone number for after-hours emergencies, and made sure we knew where to go for dinner.

Amenities

For a smaller place (about 12 rooms), the Coconut Inn has a surprising number of fun amenities. There's a pool in the courtyard--it's not the biggest, but it has jets and color changing fountains, both of which went over extremely well with my toddler. There are also floats and noodles to use.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

In the back of the property, there's a gorgeous outdoor kitchen, an additional gas grill, swings, and sitting areas. We wanted to grill out one night, but didn't get the chance.

Hotel guests can also use any of the beach chairs or bicycles on the property--there's no need to sign them in or out, as everything's done on the honor system.

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Finally, if you're looking to add a bit of adventure into your beach vacay, there are kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals available just down the street at the Sabal Palms Inn, the Coconut Inn's sister property.

Final Thoughts

The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

We loved our time at The Coconut Inn and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Pass-a-Grille area. The Coconut Inn is clean, safe, and comfortable, all elements that the Superior Small Lodging Association promises of its properties. The location couldn't be beat, and the size of the inn made our stay feel cozy and welcoming. The Coconut Inn is the type of property you always hope to find when you plan to stay locally!

The Full Itinerary

Road Trip Stop #1: The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille
Road Trip Stop #3: Plaza Beach Hotel, St. Pete Beach

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of the above links, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. 

Booking.com
Have you visited Pass-a-Grille? What's your favorite part of the St. Pete Beach area? What do you look for when you're staying in locally owned inns?

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Since we were headed to Florida for the Superior Small Lodging Blogger Road Trip (#sslbloggerroadtrip), Landon and I decided to get a head start on our visit to the Sunshine State and leave two dates earlier than we needed.

The reasoning?

We wanted to cram in a trip to one of the Disney water parks before we arrived at our first FSSLA stop in Pass-a-Grille on Sunday. 

So, last Friday, I picked up Landon from work and we made the 7+ hour drive down to Orlando. I'd found us a cheap place to stay for two nights, and we rolled into the hotel around midnight on Saturday. All of us headed immediately to bed so we could be fresh and ready for a fun day at Blizzard Beach later that day. 

From the moment that she woke up, Britton, my almost-two-year-old, kept chirping, "Water park? Water park!" 

That should have been our first indication that she was about to have the most epic time EVER.

Blizzard Beach didn't open until 10 AM, so we had several leisurely hours in which to get ready (because when you travel with a toddler, you get up early enough to catch the first round of breakfast with the retirement crowd). 

As soon as we arrived onsite, Britton immediately found a castle to admire at the nearby Winter Summerland putt-putt golf course. After she went to Disney World with my parents the week before last (while I was on St. Simons Island), she's been on the lookout for castles.

It's Disney World, after all. You have to take a picture with a castle. It's a rule.

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com


We took a picture, bought our tickets, and starting lathering up with sunscreens. It's worth mentioning that we each got $5 off the regular admission ticket price since the end of April is considered off-season. Ten bucks total might not seem like much, but I'll take what I can get at Disney World. (Britton was free since she was under 3.)

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Landon and I weren't sure what she was going to think about the water park since the most water she's ever experienced were a few tidal pools at the beach last year and our garden tub at home. We headed to Tike's Peak to test out her reaction, and we were very prepared to sit in the shallow splash pool all day if she hated the slides. 

We shouldn't have worried since it was love at first splash for Britton. Landon went with her on the open slide, and this was the face we got:

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com
That's pure glee there, folks. Landon, on the other hand, looks a bit concerned with life.
Clearly, she wasn't having ANY fun!

Things only got more fun from there on out as she tested out the other slides in Tike's Peak.

Her first time on the tube slide:


And then that time when she decided that going down another slide the regular way was boring:


By the end of the day, she even jumped on Teamboat Springs (one of the regular rides), took a turn on the lazy river--in her own tube, no less--and tried to swim in the big wave pool (I use the term "swim" loosely as it was mostly me trying not to let her drown as she told me, "No hands, Mama! NO HANDS! BABY SWIM!").

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com
Happiness is a toddler in a swim tube.
The park stayed open until 5 PM, but the three of us only made it until 3. I'm not sure who was more exhausted at the end of it, Britton or us grown-ups!



Tips for visiting a Disney water park with a toddler: 
Don't worry about getting there early. The park doesn't open until the stroke of 10, and, unlike the other non-water Disney parks, there's no fun show to start the day. You'll just wait out in the hot sun without any tree cover if you get there early. Plan to arrive around 10:10 or 10:15. You'll still be able to breeze into the park and grab a few chairs.

Grab a life vest if your child can't swim. Blizzard Beach provides free life vests in a variety of sizes for kids who aren't confident in the water. Look for the racks around the park--people are constantly bringing them back throughout the day, so if you don't get one in the morning, just keep an eye out.

Prepare to get to know Tike's Peak very, very well. Britton liked the park, but she LOVED Tike's Peak, the children's area. There are three longer slides, four short slides, and a large splash pool with a waterfall. As an added bonus, Tike's Peak is very close to the Lotta Watta Lodge (the main food area), lockers, and the lazy rivers. 

Slowly introduce the slides. Not every kid loves the water like Britton, and your child may need to build up a little confidence before hopping on one of the bigger slides within Tike's Peak. Try splashing in the main kiddie pool or watching the other kids come down the slides as a way to ease him or her into the fun. Plus, there are very, very short slides (two to three feet long) at the top of Tike's Peak if your little one wants to sample the fun before committing to the longer kiddie slides.

Doing Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park with a Toddler | CosmosMariners.com

Try out a few of the other rides in the park if you have an adventurous little one. You could happily spend the entire day in Tike's Peak with your toddler. However, if your child is comfortable in the water, see if he or she would like going into Melt-Away Bay, the park's big wave pool. You can also ride the Chairlift (for kids over 32" tall) for a fun perspective on the entire park.  Cross Country Creek, the park's lazy river, allows the smaller kiddie tubes, so you can go 'round the river together. For very adventurous ones, take the entire family on Teamboat Springs, but be prepared to help your toddler hold onto the straps.

Have you ever tried a Disney water park with your toddler? Do your kids love or hate water parks?
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