Resort hotel to call Gulf off Suncoast home
MARK DOUGLASCLEARWATER - In another life, the floating Fisherman's Paradise resort functioned as a work barge for building natural-gas pipelines.
Published: March 24, 2012
Published: March 24, 2012
But if its owners have their way, this repurposed work boat anchored in international waters 15 miles west of Clearwater will soon start piping a lot of money onshore from well-heeled fishermen and their spouses who are looking for a getaway they can agree on.
"We want to cater to everybody out here," said Ryan Nelson, who is overseeing the renovations.
The 385-foot-long vessel is five stories high, 85 feet wide and sports a helipad on its top deck. The resort's six-passenger Sikorsky helicopter will shuttle overnight guests back and forth to land.
If flying in doesn't suit your taste, Nelson said, the resort maintains a fleet of eight shuttle boats. If you want to bring your own yacht to the party, you can tie off at the onboard marina — as long as your boat is no longer that 60 feet and the beam doesn't exceed 25 feet.
Its marketing director, Christopher Longree, said Fisherman's Paradise isn't targeting "hard core old salts." Instead, it aims for an upscale clientele who wants "a good launching pad" for a weekend of fishing, fun and a cruise to nowhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We want to be close to where the fishing and diving spots are," Longree said. "It provides a level of comfort that's been lacking in the past."
The resort requires membership, but the cost is nominal — and free if you join before April. Longree said membership will simplify such things as safety briefings and make it easier to kick off troublesome guests who become unruly. "It's as simple as filling out a membership form."
This luxury "floatel" features 14 main cabins for $250 per person per night, four VIP suites for a rate that's to be determined, and two expansive executive suites that stretch all the way from the port side to starboard.
For a limited time, Longree said, the resort is offering a $350 introductory package that covers two nights and three days including meals and a boat shuttle to and from shore.
Longree said he's even hoping to hook a little Republican National Convention business when August rolls around. "We've done a little bit of communication in the background but it's not public yet," Longree said.
The resort drips with luxury accommodations. A dark paneled grand salon is appointed with overstuffed leather couches, a 2,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and a bar. The 900-bottle wine cellar is just a few steps away and so is the dining room.
There are several amenities aboard for landlubber spouses who would sooner stick a harpoon in their eye than bait a hook with ripe squid.
There's a two-story gym, a sauna, massage rooms and pedicure chairs. If that gets boring, why not relax around the "wet" bar at the outdoor pool, take in a movie in the theater or dine on seafood prepared in the gourmet galley. Get the picture?
The Fisherman's Paradise resort is no chum bucket, but there is a catch — and it's not the fish.
It's not open yet, despite planning and preparations that have been under way for 21/2 years on this Bolivian-flagged barge.
Longree said luxury renovations dragged on because all the remodeling was done at sea with workers and materials that had to be shuttled from shore.
Stormy weather was a factor at times. In December, the resort dragged anchor, but now there's a 15-ton Danforth buried in the sand and 12 tons of chain to hold it in place.
If a hurricane comes along a tug will pull the resort to a suitable destination "away from the hurricane," Longree said.
Longree said the Fisherman's Paradise resort is already booked for its opening weekend April 1, but managers are taking reservations for following weekends. If business is booming, workers will turn the vacant third deck into a sports bar and add more VIP suites.
He said there are no current plans for an offshore casino and that rumors of less savory avenues of adult recreation that take advantage of the resort's locale in international waters are completely unfounded.
Longree hopes to establish a core group of 25 fishing captains and 25 dive masters who will cater to resort members at a bargain rate.
"We want special pricing for our members," he said. For divers there's the additional bonus of an onboard filling station for scuba tanks.
Brian Grindey, owner of Mac's Dive Shop, says the representatives he sent to a shipboard meeting were impressed, and so is he.
"It's sitting out there in the middle of the ocean and it's got a beautiful view and a gym," Grindey said. "I think the sooner they get it open the better it will be for the area."
Grindey said there hasn't been a new attraction for recreational divers in local Gulf waters since the artificial reef program in the 1980s. "Hopefully, it will draw people here," he said.
Not everyone who makes their living from marine tourism is so optimistic. Capt. Maxie Foster owns the charter vessels Gulfstream, Gulfstream II and The Wizard. Foster said he's been running charters out of Clearwater Beach since 1973, when mom and pop motels dominated the landscape.
Foster regards Fisherman's Resort as an enigma.
"We haven't heard much about it at all," he said. "It's kind of like a secret thing. All we know is they're supposed to take people out there for fishing."
For more information go to fishermansparadise.com.