Growing up in the middle of the orange groves northwest of Tampa, I was always intrigued by a seemingly magical place, hidden behind lush landscaping – an oasis in the middle of, well, nothing. Turns out there was some magic going on behind those Saddlebrook gates – at the time, tennis star Pete Sampras was training there – & I’d finally get the chance to experience it for myself many years later.
B’s parents started snowbirding to Zephyrhills, FL last year & this was the first Christmas we were to spend down south with them. The closest hotel? Saddlebrook, located in nearby Wesley Chapel. It’s as if my childhood dreams were coming true!
Saddlebrook Resort & Spa immediately makes a great first impression: palm trees everywhere, beautifully manicured lawns & peaceful surroundings. I was surprised to learn that the resort has about 530 rooms – it felt so intimate & comfortable while we were there. Rooms are broken up into small two-story buildings of five or six rooms each, clustered around an interior courtyard. This layout creates a small community feel. Our room, a deluxe guest room with an incredibly comfortable king sized bed, was a pretty standard hotel room, but with a stunning view of one of the resort’s Arnold Palmer designed golf courses. The bathroom was a bit dated (the vanity was oddly low) but the water was hot & the towels were fluffy, so I can’t complain too much.
We quickly learned from other guests that we were in the minority – we were there purely to relax. Most people who come to Saddlebook are there to work: intensive tennis & golf clinics occupy their days, with early morning wake up calls & many hours of training. Regardless of whether you’re there for training or relaxing, the resort has many amenities, including a sports bar with dozens of TVs & a killer chocolate cake, an award winning steakhouse & a beautiful breakfast buffet. We were also impressed with the number of activities going on at the resort during our stay (despite the fact that it was the weekend after Christmas). At check-in, we were given a booklet detailing things happening, many complimentary, throughout the day.
The crown jewel is Saddlebrook’s giant, half-million gallon pool (one of three at the resort). Our biggest regret during our time there is that we didn’t get a chance to take a dip, but we definitely enjoyed the hot tub in the evening. There’s also an adults-only pool tucked behind the steakhouse, which we found by accident one evening, & a pool near the fitness center.
What I love most about Saddlebrook is that it’s a family owned, independent property, which is rare for a resort its size. It was the vision of Tom Dempsey, the CEO of Penton Publishing, who was in search for a great resort to hold business meetings & conferences. He purchased Saddlebrook’s 440 acres in 1979, then a failed golf residential project, & turned it into the resort it is today. It still functions as a popular meeting resort, as well as their world class golf & tennis training.
Our stay only lasted three nights, but I’m happy to report that they’ll be the first of many nights, as there’s no where else I’d consider staying when visiting the nearby snowbirds.
Know if you go…
– Even though Saddlebrook, on a map, looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s actually only about 30 minutes (45 with Tampa traffic) from Tampa International Airport. It’s easy to find & a straight shot up the highway. Once you get off the highway, there’s a Publix (obviously you’re stopping for subs, right?) & a few restaurants just a few minutes drive to the resort.
– We found the valet to be quick most mornings, as long as we called for our car before we left our room. One morning, they were particularly busy with an event & weren’t able to bring our car around in advance, but it only took a few minutes once we arrived. It’s one of the most well staffed, professional valet operations I’ve seen at a hotel in quite a while. (And as someone who once had their rental car given away to the wrong person by a careless hotel valet, I feel like I’m pickier than most).
– There are really only two breakfast options at the resort: a buffet (which was very good & expansive, but priced as you would expect) & a coffee shop with muffins & pastry. If neither of those work for you, all of the suites have mini-kitchens, allowing you to prepare breakfast in your room.
– There’s a spa on-site, which we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to visit. But it looked lovely & the prices were very reasonable. You can be sure we’ll be making time for a massage next year!
– One of my biggest luxury hotel pet peeves is paying for wifi. Luckily, standard wifi is complimentary at Saddlebrook. You can pay to upgrade to high speed, but I had no issues checking email, posting on social media & surfing the web with the standard version.
– Saddlebrook also tackles one of my other big hotel pet peeves: in-room coffee. I’m pleased to report that the little Keurig in our room fulfilled all my caffeine needs.
Note: Our room at Saddlebrook was provided complimentary, but, of course, all opinions are my own. And we will be staying there (on our dime) every time we head to see the inlaws in Florida in the future!