St. Petersburg's Crown Jewel Resort

By: Kara Franker

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The storied history of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg began in 1923 with a little wager between friends. It all started with a bet over whether famed golfer Walter Hagen could drive a golf ball off of the face of a crystal watch owned by wealthy businessman, Aymer Vinoy Laughner. 

Did the watch survive? Indeed it did, without so much as a scrape. And the rest is history. 

The businessman purchased the land where the golf ball landed for $170,000 and set out to build a premier resort, the first of its kind on Florida's west coast.  

From the moment it opened in 1925, the Vinoy has attracted its fair share of celebrity clientele. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, to George Clooney and Brad Pitt have stayed in this glamourous hotel. Today it's the resort-of-choice for many of the major league baseball teams when they come to town to play the Tampa Bay Rays. 

I embarked on the grand tour with resident historian and hotel marketing director, Chris Adkins, as well as Cailin O'neil, travel blogger and creator of the popular site called Travel Yourself.

We took a behind-the-scenes peek at the renovation of Marchand's Dining Room. It was spectacular to see original frescos from the former Pompeii Dining room. Located between the clerestory windows, the frescos feature vertical designs of leafy vines and vases that were painstakingly restored. 

Tour St. Petersburg's Crown Jewel Resort

There are many delicious dining options on the property. Take your pick from casual lunch fare at Alfresco to fine-dining at Fred's Steakhouse (open exclusively to resort guests and Vinoy Club members). Make sure you enjoy Aymer's Promenade Punch on the resort's expansive waterfront veranda. 

The Mediterranean-revival building overlooks Tampa Bay and a marina that plays home to a few fancy yachts. Down the street, you'll find a number of cozy cafes and seaside restaurants in charming downtown St. Petersburg. Two must-see attractions in the neighborhood include the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Art Center.

Speaking of Chihuly, the centerpiece of the lobby is a gorgeous glass piece with whimsical golf balls in the middle, paying homage to the Vinoy's history. You absolutely must venture into the Grand Ballroom to check out the Chihuly-designed chandelier, with its cone-like shape made from silver and amber glass pieces. It's truly a show-stopper. 

The sparkling pool fronts the bay, where you can sit and enjoy what so many of us love the most about Florida -- the warm temperatures year round. If one of those infamous afternoon showers passes through, head over to the spa and enjoy a little R&R. 

You'll definitely want to take advantage of all the amenities, including the fitness facilities, tennis courts and the 18-hole golf course. The resort’s private golf club is located on Snell Island, just a few minutes from the resort, on a 14-acre site on Tampa Bay. 

The Vinoy is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been an integral part of St. Petersburg's growing cultural scene. Whether you're looking for a vacation destination for the whole family or a romantic getaway, the hotel has something for everyone.

If You Go: The Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club is located at 501 5th Avenue NE in St. Petersburg, Fla. To book your stay call (727) 894-1000 or visit the resort online

Want more travel tips from VISIT FLORIDA's Entertainment & Luxury Insider? Connect with Kara Franker on Twitter and Facebook



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