Coming off a new $50 million round of renovations, the Tampa Marriott Water Street Hotel towers over most competitors as the premier place to stay near the convention center and Amelie Arena downtown.
Reviewing this hotel was kind of odd for me because I’ve probably walked by it a thousand times, when it had a slightly different name as “Waterside” instead. I spent three years living nearby on Harbour Island, which this high-rise hotel faces over the tops of fancy yachts moored in front of it. This downtown Tampa Marriott is on the Riverwalk, where I would join the other locals and tourists out for a long stroll. The Riverwalk goes on for miles, starting at the new Sparkman Wharf upscale food court at Channelside (where the cruise ships board) and ending up at Armature Works (an even nicer European-style food hall and gathering place) next to Ulele restaurant and brewery.
This Marriott can tick off a lot of other location advantages too. It’s steps from the Tampa Convention Center on one side, the Amalie Arena of Lightning hockey games and big concerts, and across the street from the historic trolley car to Ybor City. It’s within walking distance of a dozen restaurants if you don’t want to eat here.
You should eat here at least once though because one of the main renovation projects recently was to revamp the outdoor terrace area that faces the marina and bay. It’s now known as Anchor and Brine instead of “that place on the patio to take your drink.” Now it has comfortable lounge furniture, some shade if you need it, and a real bar that includes a number of Tampa Bay beers on tap.
There’s also Garrison Tavern on the other side of the building with a sports bar atmosphere and an extensive menu, plus some fun games including Top Golf virtual suites where groups can compete against each other. It also has an outdoor patio area, making it much more inviting than the old closed-off space.
Breakfast is served in a dedicated restaurant space, plus there’s a lobby bar area and a Starbucks coffee shop. You can also order food at the poolside bar, which is the best bet if you have some time to lounge around instead of just work.
The swimming pool complex at the Water Street Marriott is the clear category winner downtown. The pool here is several times larger than any competitor’s offering and it has lots of comfy lounge furniture to enjoy while you sip a drink. It’s on the third level of the building on a big open deck space, with its own staffed bar and even a covered game area with foosball and billiards. You can look out at the pleasure boats and ferry to St. Pete coming in and out and catch a nice sunset at the end of the day.
You can get in a workout near here as well, with an extensive bi-level gym area offering a wide array of machines and weights for a good workout. You can also run on the Riverwalk or rent a city bike and go for a spin down Bayshore Drive. A stand-up paddleboard rental place is next door and there are other items you can take out on the water for rent as well nearby.
While the Tampa Convention Center is a short stroll away, this Marriott also has its own meeting facilities and often hosts smaller gatherings that don’t need such a big exhibition floor. They have a lot of spaces they can set aside for functions and plenty of suites that are big enough for parties as well. After all, this hotel has hosted presidential candidates, rock stars, Super Bowl players, and Stanley Cup hockey winners on a regular basis.
In a city that’s often filled to capacity when big events are going on in town, the Marriott Water Street can absorb more of those crowds than most. It has 727 rooms, ranging from ample 350 square-foot standards with plenty of amenities up to big suites with a huge terrace for taking in the views.
A lot of that big renovation budget has a clear outcome in the public areas, but if you spend a good bit of time in your room you’ll appreciate the less flashy upgrades in those. There are outlets all over the place, for instance, so you’ll never have to look very far for a place to plug in your gadgets, including some USB outlets. There’s an array of lighting to set the right mood or read in bed, a mini fridge, a coffee maker (mine had a capsule espresso machine), and an ample electronic safe. Abstract art is above the padded headboard over a nice mattress with a good selection of pillows. While I would have preferred an ergonomic office chair to the much more stylish one that was in place, this is a small quibble in a room that was comfortable and soothing, with a furnished balcony to look out on the view.
In the bathrooms, nice tile showers have an adjustable regular showerhead that can go up or down and a separate handheld one that can come in handy for families washing the little ones. The mirror above the sink has a nice lighting element that goes all the way around it and you can expect a hair dryer, make-up mirror, and an array of toiletries.
This hotel is about to get two siblings: a narrow high-rise JW Marriott opening right behind it this year and a smaller Marriott Edition in 2021 a few blocks away. Neither will have the sprawling size and Riverwalk location this one does though, so this will remain the best big hotel on the water in downtown Tampa.
Rates at the Tampa Marriott Water Street can vary quite a bit depending on the time of year and what else is going on downtown that week. If you’re coming during a slow July weekend, maybe as low as $189. For the annual Gasparilla Festival? Many times that amount and you should book a year in advance. Check rates direct with Marriott here or online at Hotels.com or Expedia.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted for one night at the property for purposes of review during a visit back to Tampa recently.