April 8, 2016

Another really long post. This time about Vilano Beach, a gem + highlights of our lodging in St. Augustine and Key West {from the perspective of dog people}

I am still working on pictures I took while down in Florida but I thought I'd pop in today to give Vilano Beach a little shout out because this place just rounded out our road trip in the most special feel-good kind of way. 

This by the way is from our perspective and our travel needs and wants -- mainly going with our senior dog who also has medical issues {cancer and kidney disease}. His comfort was our top priority but we also had some things we were looking for in terms of vibe and atmosphere.

Both Yangkyu and I gravitate toward quieter side of things but still enjoy a bustling crowd that isn't loud and obnoxious. We're not that terribly picky but we do prefer cleanliness and friendly people. We like good food and attractions and when it's pet friendly we like that even more. 

But not all pet friendly places are equal, I have learned.

Some places will have a filthy dog bowl and say they are dog friendly but won't accommodate your dog whatsoever. Other places, the first thing they will do is go over pet safety and offer a water bowl should your dog get thirsty and let you know that dogs are allowed on all grounds of their property.

I don't know.. but the latter sounds more logical to me when calling a place dog friendly. Or maybe that's just me. {shrugs}


Anyway. Moving on. 

We stayed in St. Augustine, Fl. on our way down to Key West and also going back home.

On our way down, we stayed at the prettiest little inn called St. George Inn. It was right in the historic district and we were in walking distance to all the cute shops, restaurants and attractions. 

St. George Inn has a beautiful courtyard with a fountain and a seating area where you can quietly enjoy your breakfast {we had the most wonderful encounter there with an elderly woman and her Sheltie}.

And while the St. George Inn was wonderful and beautiful in every way possible, staying there with Piri was a little bit inconvenient. 

I was hoping to get one of their rooms that had a balcony overlooking the old district but we got a very small room which we had to get to by climbing three sets of stairs. I had asked before unloading our car if their inn's hallways were wide and spacious enough for Piri's carriage to go through and they said yes but we weren't told that we needed to fold it and bring it up three flights of stairs. And Piri is old and so we were carrying him up and down every time we were out and about. The girl {and everyone else too} who worked there though were very pleasant and accommodating, even carrying most of our things, which made me feel so bad but thankful that she was lending a helpful hand {I saw her do this with all their clients, even those with luggages that looked super heavy}. 

And I understand that when you travel with your dog, you may be limited to which rooms you will get. But our room felt just a bit too small. We only stayed a night so it wasn't terribly inconvenient but after driving 11 hours to get there we were hoping that our lodging would be a bit more comfortable. 

But St. George Inn is highly recommended if you are traveling as a couple, with friends, family or dogs who can get up and down stairs with ease {although if you do go with your dog you may be limited to which rooms you will get}. Their other rooms are bigger and more spacious and you are really at the heart of Old City where the night life isn't obnoxious and boisterous but fun and hip enough to be still enjoyed. The St. George Inn also charges a one time dog fee of $50. 

While we were in Key West, we stayed at the Sheraton Suites Key West. Yangkyu was pretty disappointed with the place {he said it just didn't compare to other Sheraton Suites we stayed at -- like the one in Maui - probably location also has a lot to do with it}.

I don't think I have too much of an opinion of it although it was nice to be in a spacious room, but again just getting from our room to their garden area where dogs can relieve themselves to our car was just a pain to get to. We were put in a room where it was just furthest from the elevator and the stairs. Check-in staff also told us that there would be luggage trolleys at the elevator but they weren't there and so during check-in and check-out we were lugging all our things to and from our room to our car.

Just like St. George's Inn though, this might be a good mid to high-range place to stay at in Key West if you don't have a dog. Or a senior dog to be more exact {it is also a little further away from the attractions and Mallory Square and Duval Street -- The Westin and Hyatt are closer to these areas but much pricier}. The Sheraton does not charge a dog fee, but do charge daily parking fee of $10. 

The staff wasn't so friendly either -- but by the end of our trip I wasn't all that surprised since a handful of service workers we met at Key West were rude or off putting. 

Finally, this might just be a dumb move on my part but the second night when Piri wasn't feeling too well, I watched him fall asleep in his bed and I ended up falling asleep half on his bed and half on their carpeted floors. I woke up in the middle of the night and I had bug bites all over my legs. It was pretty disgusting and gave me the creeps. {The bites still itch...}


And so finally Vilano Beach in St. Augustine where we stayed the night on our way back home.

Both of us had absolutely no expectations of Vilano Beach or the place we were staying, the Vilano Beach Garden Inn. By the end of our Key West experience we were just eager to get home. 

We arrived around sundown and driving through this beach neighborhood, we immediately fell in love. It was quiet, almost like an old soul sleepy beach town feel to it. There was a nice mix of old {mom and pop style businesses and restaurants, sixties motel signs} with new {newly renovated places and grocery store and restaurants}.  

Yangkyu checked us in at the St. Augustine Beach House {sister hotel to the Vilano Beach Garden Inn, which is only a couple blocks away and right next to Vilano Beach} and he came back with a smile that hung from ear to ear and he said, "Jane, this place is definitely dog friendly." 

Eve, who works at the inn, welcomed Yangkyu and said "you guys made it!" I don't know, but little details like this put me in a really great mood. It's so simple but has a tremendous impact. They remembered us. They remembered that we were driving in from Key West. It felt nice to know that they remembered their guests. 

The first thing they showed Yangkyu during check in was a sheet inside their welcome packet explaining everything dog -- pet amenities, pet safety, information about dogs and beach access, address and phone number to pet day care and pet emergency and a list of pet friendly restaurants {including one that actually allows dogs inside}. Wow. I mean wow. Is this for real? 

And this may seem a little weird to point out, but the guy who was helping Yangkyu received a call and put the person on hold and finished helping Yangkyu before getting back on the line. This actually stood out for me because of all the times service workers in Key West made us wait and ignored us or made us wait and finally began to help but but then made us wait more to help others who came after us.

Coming off of experiences like this {which also happened actually on the morning we were leaving Key West}, it just made the first few moments in Vilano Beach so great. The charm didn't wear off either. Everywhere we went there were friendly people. I just couldn't get over it. People smiling saying welcome, how are you, have a nice day, thank you or sorry about that, or just being very accommodating and trying to be helpful. I wasn't sure if we were really mistreated in Key West and I was just re-joining regular society and normal levels of friendliness or if all the travel reporters neglected to look at St. Augustine as one of the friendliest cities in the U.S. 

Dogs are by the way allowed on Vilano Beach and in the water {on all beaches in St. Augustine actually} as long as they are on a leash. You're even allowed to park your car right on Vilano Beach during certain times of the year {$8 for non-residents}. In Key West, dogs are not allowed on any of the beaches, but there is a dog beach that is really small and dirty. 

As for our room at the Vilano Beach Garden Inn -- it was ok but I do have to say that it isn't the kind of style I prefer. I am kind of a snob when it comes to floors and bathrooms. The inn is newly renovated and it isn't at all bad {if you google images of the Vilano Beach Garden Inn they look quiet nice, especially the bigger rooms, which have nice sized bathrooms}.

Our room did smell a little {it reminded me of a Korean hair salon and so we had to buy Glade plug-ins -- we didn't notice the smell after a few hours even when we were in and out}, the floors reminded me of my old high school and the bathroom was small and felt like the old bathroom I had while I was living in a {very old} apartment in Los Angeles. Some corners of the room looked a little dingy but overall the room was clean. 

I didn't have any issues sleeping there although I am not sure if I would be able to stay more than a night in our specific room, unless I had flip flops this time {Funny.  I know. But I just felt like I needed flip flops to walk around comfortably there and not my Pons}. I am not sure if that room is specifically for people traveling with dogs or if other bigger rooms are also available. 

All in all, staying at the Vilano Beach Garden Inn would just depends on personality -- I know some folks who wouldn't like it at all and others who would love every bit. I am slightly in the middle leaning more towards it was a great place. The staff friendliness and it being so dog-friendly definitely won me over {they even have a big fenced in dog run}.

Before we got to Vilano Beach we were planning on leaving at the crack of dawn to get home as soon as we can. We ended up checking out at the latest possible time and hanging out at the beach and leaving around noon. We just couldn't pass up on the chance to stay in this town a bit longer. We wished we had more time there -- we wished we stayed longer in St. Augustine where the vibe was more of our match. But we are definitely thankful for what we did get to experience in old city and in Vilano Beach and all the great people who made it so welcoming to stay there. 


**Pictures are of the Vilano Beach Garden Inn

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