The Karol Hotel of Tampa Bay is one of the newest additions to the region, a contemporary Florida property that works well for business travelers or vacationers with a car.
The nine-story building is located in a central spot near the St. Pete/Clearwater Airport (PIE) and less than 15 minutes to the Tampa airport (TPA) or a beach. The Karol Hotel is a stylish option for business travelers who are going to be meeting clients at one of the many corporate buildings nearby. It’s also a great choice for a night before an early flight out on Allegiant for those driving from elsewhere in the state.
The Karol Hotel was one of the marquis openings for Tampa Bay at the beginning of 2020 and management was looking forward to a big year when the property opened in February of that year. Alas, things didn’t quite work out as planned. Rather than trying to fight the inevitable during the historic travel slump, they closed the doors until November and reopened with a whole new list of precautions and procedures in place.
I visited at the end of February in 2021, as millions of Floridians were getting their vaccinations and new guests were taking advantage of the ample open space. There’s a hip lounge on the top floor with one wall open to the breeze, plus a pool and deck on the ground floor for sitting outside.
The hotel is a dream project from local real estate and restaurant developer Fred Bullard, who named the property after his wife Karol. She was a local celebrity and beauty queen in her younger days, being a TV personality and a Miss Florida. There’s a display of old photos and media appearances that feature her in one section of the lobby.
The rest of the lobby is striking, with artistic contemporary furniture, a window wall allowing in plenty of natural light, a bold central lighting fixture, and white marble floors. At the far end are a clubby lounge with leather furniture for celebrating a closed deal and the main restaurant with large paintings from local artists.
Glass doors lead out to a deck with tables and chairs beside a pond, a pleasant place to work or chat until the Florida heat gets to be too much in the summer. A moderately sized pool is next to it, surrounded by a wall. It’s good for a dip but not for lounging around unless you can snag one of the few lounge chairs there’s room for.
Vantage Rooftop Bar at The Karol Hotel
The big draw at this Tribute Portfolio hotel is the lounge with a view on the top floor. The Vantage Rooftop Bar has an apt name since this building is taller than anything around it and has views out to the water over residential rooftops. This is one of the few hotels in town that actually faces Tampa proper from the other side of the bay, so you can see the skyline from a distance.
There are a few tables outside on the balcony, then others scattered around the island bar. There’s a mix of sofas and cocktail tables (some of them glowing different colors), plus places to sit at the bar.
Beyond the view and the decor, I was impressed with the service here. I combined my pretty Karol Bliss cocktail with a cheese platter that was enhanced with lychee, cherries, grapes, and honey. The chef was delivering plates himself in order to explain what was on them. Wines by the glass and a few local craft beers on tap make the bar selection well-rounded.
I made my way downstairs for dinner at K Club Bistro and sat outside, enjoying a beer from the local Coppertail brewery with a decadent shrimp and grits dinner that was excellent.
The Karol Hotel Rooms
The 123 rooms at The Karol are mostly the same spacious size with either a king bed or two queens. Otherwise, there are four junior suites and a two-bedroom presidential suite. The latter can be a great value since the upgrade premium is around $300.
All are well-appointed with designer furniture on patterned blue carpeting, a padded headboard, leather desk chair, good lighting, and abundant outlets. There’s good storage space in the dresser drawers and quality hangers in the closet.
Amenities are abundant in the Karol Hotel rooms, from Lavazza capsule coffee makers to a TV ready for you to log into Netflix, Showtime, YouTube, or Pandora. The 55-inch TV presents a big showcase whether you choose a streaming service or local cable options.
It’s best to play music on the TV because the clock doesn’t have a music player and mine was just for show: it displayed a time of 27:35 when I checked in. I was clearly late for something. The WiFi was fast and worked well though, which was far more important. I didn’t indulge in the minibar during my one-night stay but it was tempting, with a great selection of liquor, wine, interesting snacks, and sweets.
Large bathrooms are shower-only apart from a few suites, but the showers are quite large and have two nozzles: one overhead, one handheld. Shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel are in refillable bottles in the shower, but there are a few other toiletries in small bottles on the vanity, along with a make-up mirror and hairdryer. The built-in light around all sides of the mirror works well when getting ready.
I slept very well on my pillowtop mattress with duvet and although Ulmerton Road where this hotel is located is a rather busy street, the windows are clearly double-glazed and it was quiet. Blackout curtains ensure a good night’s sleep if you are not getting up early.
With 123 rooms, this is not a huge hotel with sprawling facilities, but there is a basic fitness center on site and you can walk to several other dining options on the same block. Big Storm Brewing is a short cab ride away if you want to sample the local beer scene.
In 2022, the Karol Hotel earned its second consecutive AAA Four Diamond award. It’s one of only seven hotels with that designation in Pinellas County, the homes of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.
Rates generally start around $200 at this Tribute Portfolio by Marriott property and unlike at many hotels on the Pinellas County side of Tampa Bay, there’s no sneaky “resort fee” tacked on. Parking is included. Book direct at the official website or at Hotels.com.
Editor Tim Leffel was a guest of The Karol Hotel for one night for purposes of review.