Over the course of our stay at the Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, my opinion evolved from hate to love. Actually, those words are too strong. More accurately, my opinion evolved from dislike to like a lot. Here’s the story…
Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club Basic Info
- Location: Anna Maria Island, Florida.
- Hotel chain: Marriott
- Point price: 50K per night standard. Category 6 hotel (50K standard, 40K off-peak, 60K peak). Book 5 nights for the price of 4. Note: I booked when the price was still 35K points per night.
- Platinum Elite perks: Welcome gift of 1,000 points or a single $10 food and beverage credit for your stay. Free continental breakfast daily for 2 guests or $8 per person towards other breakfast items.
- Resort fee: None (but the beach club charges for chairs, umbrellas, kayak rentals, etc.)
- Closest airport: Sarasota-Bradenton airport is 30 to 40 minutes away. Tampa airport is between 1 to 2 hours away depending upon traffic.
Starting off negative
On the flight to Tampa Florida, I used the Marriott app to contact the hotel via the app’s chat feature. Nick has had good luck a few times in the past requesting upgrades via the app. And my request was simple. All of the rooms at this resort are laid out the same: two bedrooms, two baths, living room and kitchen. So, the only upgrade I wanted was to a water view. I saw that there were plenty of water view rooms for sale for the duration of the stay so I figured that my upgrade was a lock given my Titanium Elite status. I was wrong.
They told me that due to the small size of their hotel they didn’t offer elite upgrades. I was pissed when I read this message. We were booked for 5 nights and I didn’t want to spend that time looking out at a parking lot as was our fate at the Westin Grand Cayman. My initial inclination was to fire back that this policy is against Marriott Bonvoy’s terms & conditions unless they’re explicitly listed as an exception (they’re not). But one of the nice things about using chat instead of a phone call is that it gave me time to think about my response. My family and I were about to spend 5 nights at this small hotel. Did I really want to start it off with a fight? Nope. Instead I wrote back that my family would be very disappointed and could they ask the manager if they could make an exception?
The hotel then offered to let me pay half price for an upgrade. Instead of $100 per night for a Water View or $150 per night for a View Room (also with water view, but with much bigger balcony), I would pay $50 or $75 per night. Rather than risk ruining the stay, I took the deal and chose the $75 per night bigger balcony. We were traveling with another family, so I figured that the large balcony would be great for group meals.
The next negative was when we arrived. The island side view from the resort is butt-ugly with run-down mini strip malls, a a gas station, etc. And the marina view, while pretty, is narrow. I expected a sweeping view of the bay but from most angles you see only the tiny marina.
The final negative was upon check in when we were told that the elite free continental breakfast for two consisted of only a pastry, croissant, fruit and the choice of either juice or coffee. Ugh. Alternatively we could use the breakfast vouchers for $8 off (each) towards anything on the breakfast menu. At most resorts I’ve been to recently breakfast prices start at around $15, so I didn’t think much of this deal. More on this later.
A great stay despite the rough start
The hotel staff, rooms, and the island itself exceeded expectations.
Everyone we interacted with at the hotel was friendly and helpful. And, given that this really is a tiny resort (37 suites total), there aren’t that many people who work there. Over the course of the stay, we interacted with the same people over and over. From that perspective, it felt much more like a small boutique hotel or even a large B&B rather than a faceless chain hotel. It’s hard to describe how big of a difference this makes, but it really does. Here’s just one example: the front desk agent (and there is only one at any given time) was telling us about her favorite spots on the island. She noticed that two island locals were standing nearby (the restaurant waiter and the bartender) and called them over to ask whether they agreed with her recommendations. They mostly did, but they added additional suggestions that she didn’t know about. The experience felt more like being hosted by friends than a regular hotel stay.
The suites were better than expected. We knew going in that the suites were like apartments with two bedrooms, two baths, and a living room and kitchen. But, in person, the suites were bigger than we had imagined and more attractively appointed. We appreciated the fact that the kitchen had everything we needed for preparing meals. Other positives included a full sized washer & dryer, and robes and slippers.
The beach was awesome. The resort isn’t on the beach, but they have a “beach club” at a sister property where you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the day ($10 each). They’ll drive you there for free in a golf cart or you can walk there yourself in about 15 minutes. We didn’t get much value from the beach club so we preferred to walk just 5 minutes straight across the island to the nearest beach. And the beach was terrific with perfect sand, few people, and multiple dolphin sightings. It was worth walking down the beach to the crowded Manatee Public Beach where the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe offers extraordinary blackened fish tacos and wraps.
The resort itself is tiny. It has one pool (which is wonderfully heated), one restaurant, and a few games: ping pong, cornhole, giant checkers, and giant Jenga.
The hotel restaurant was good. Breakfast turned out to be a decent elite perk after all. Each morning we made coffee in our kitchen and then called down to order breakfast to pick up to take back to our room. I loved their bagel & lox sandwich, so I ordered it each morning. Since the bagel & lox cost only $9, the $8 credit I got as an Titanium elite member was almost enough to cover the full cost. Plus, they loaded it high enough that I was able to share with my son each day. In that way, we got three almost free breakfasts each day. I paid more in tips than in food charges.
Each afternoon from 3 to 6pm the hotel restaurant offers $5 happy hour drinks and lite bites. We did this once and tried both the wings and the pork slider. Both were excellent.
Nearby food options were very good too. Practically right outside the door of the hotel is a restaurant called “Eat Here”. The name turned out to be good advice. I ordered fish (which was very good), but a friend raved about the beef fillet tacos, so I’d want to try those next time. And just a block away is Vinny’s Italian kitchen where you can pick up pre-made italian dishes. And Scott’s Deli was awesome for lunch.
The island, overall, was really nice. They’ve done a great job of keeping away big buildings and chain stores. And a free trolley runs up and down the island. The result is an island that seems trapped in the 1970s, but in a laid back very good way. I wish the island had dedicated bike paths, but that’s about my only complaint.
Hard to get to and from Tampa
Anna Maria island is about 50 miles from Tampa. We flew into and out of the Tampa airport. When we arrived in Tampa on Sunday evening, it took us about an 1 hour 20 to get to the hotel. When we returned to the airport on Friday afternoon, the drive took at least two full hours. If you can fly into the Sarasota-Bradenton airport instead, you’ll save a ton of time.
On a rainy day we had thought about visiting the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, but we were dissuaded by the length of the drive. If you want to do stuff in St. Petersburg or Tampa, this resort and island might not be the best option for you.
Would I stay again?
I would happily stay on Anna Maria island again. No question. And I’d happily stay at the Waterline Marina Resort again. But, the award price has gone up from 35K Marriott points per night when I booked my stay to 50K points per night now. If I were to stay on the island again, I’d look for vacation rentals right on the beach. Even though I really enjoyed the hotel, I think I’d enjoy staying directly on the beach even more.