When lesbian couple, Kerry and Ethel Cook, decided to take their two kids, Carley (8) and Jason (5), on a long weekend vacation, they considered several options. They knew their destination needed to include the beach; swimming, playing in the sand, finding shells, and jumping in waves were a must on the to-do list. They also required that there were kid-friendly bars nearby for mommy and mommy detox time. And of course, the hotel they chose had to be LGBTQ-friendly so their family felt safe and at home away from home.

When the couple was presented an opportunity to visit the famous Bilmar Beach Resort on Treasure Island, it took them two seconds to say “yes!” Planes tickets were booked, the rental car was reserved, bags were packed, and a short while later, they arrived at the Tampa International Airport filled with anticipation for a fun and relaxing weekend ahead.

The Cooks, who reside in the Philadelphia suburbs, make it a goal to get to the beach every summer, usually to a local beach in New Jersey, or to Kerry’s father’s place in Rehoboth, DE. And when possible, they splurge on something more exotic, like a cruise to a tropical island.

The couple has been to Florida in the past, but they usually wind up on the East Coast in the Miami area, or Orlando for a fun-filled Disney vacation. “We’ve never been to the Tampa area as a family,” said Kerry. “And we’ve never been to Treasure Island.”

The Hotel Experience

Treasure Island and the surrounding coastline are filled with sandy white beaches, crystal blue waters, food, fun, and a list of never-ending things to do. The Cooks were delighted by their options. “We couldn’t believe how large the seashells were!” exclaimed Kerry. “We spent hours with the kids collecting shells on the beach. It was a ton of fun for us and the kids.”

Bilmar Beach Resort
The Cooks collect shells on the beach outside of the Bilmar Beach Resort on Treasure. They were amazed by the size of the shells. (Image by Ethel and Kerry Cook)

As for the hotel, the Bilmar Beach Resort on Treasure Island is known for their family-friendly atmosphere, top-notch service, high-quality amenities, and breath-taking beach location, and their reputation held true for the Cooks.

From check-in to check-out, Kerry and Ethel loved every moment of their stay. “The check-in process was great! It was very easy and they were super nice to us and the kids. The front desk staff even gave a gift to the little ones – a beach ball and a water bottle.”

When asked about the beds, Kerry raved about the pillows. “We slept well after playing on the beach all day.”

As a mother with little kids, Ethel is always on the lookout for a hotel in close proximity to grocery stores and pharmacies. “You just never know!” she laughed. “Fortunately, everything we needed was really close, including a grocery store, pharmacy, ice cream shop, and restaurants – the kid friendly-bar, too.” The Cooks walked to most places they visited.

Amenities

As for amenities, all were were tickled pink. From the free candy in the lobby, beach games (ping pong, Connect 4, corn hole), newly-built playground, in-room board games, and sand toys on the beach, the kinds were constantly entertained, which meant that the adults could relax on the beach with drink in hand. Kerry and Ethel also appreciated the free coffee in the lobby, free breakfast for the kids with fabulous kids cups (with accommodations pass), and complimentary access to beach towels, pool toys, beach chairs, and paddle boarding. “I loved sitting on the beach for breakfast while the kids played,” said Ethel.

“And I enjoyed having two pool options,” chimed in Kerry. “We loved having the pool open until 10PM. We swam every night until they closed. I also loved the giant fruit cup at breakfast. It was HUGE and amazing!”

The kids play in the pool as the adults indulge in libations. (Image by Kerry Cook)

The Cooks visited several restaurants while in the area, including Sloppy Joes on the Beach. “Although we only ate there once, the food was good,” recalled Kerry. “However, we ate at the cafe every day and the breakfast was great!  Large portions and great kids options. We really enjoyed breakfast to start our day, including Bloody Mary and Mimosas for the adults.”

“There were plenty of restaurant options around the hotel that we could walk to as well,” said Ethel. “We ate at a great place across from the hotel which seemed more of a local outside bar. Everywhere we went, the fish tacos and sandwiches were always awesome and the fish always fresh.”

Things to Do

The Cooks packed their stay with things to do, including a visit to the Tampa Children’s Museum in Tampa upon arrival. “The kids loved the museum. They were presented a wonderful array of learning experiences and hands on activities,” said Kerry.

Once on Treasure Island, the Cooks enjoyed the hotel activities and a long walk on the beach in the evening. “Our first full day there we got to check out the beach and enjoyed that for a while and then the kids wanted to check out the pool. So we did that as well.”

Over the weekend, they visited the Venice Beach area (an hour south of the hotel) for shark tooth hunting. “We found a number of shark teeth easily and had a blast!” And then they grabbed some food at a local diner and drove up to Clearwater to check out the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (40 minutes North of hotel). “The Clearwater Marine Aquarium was great!  We saw Winter from the Dolphin Tales movie, which we have watched as a family. It was really neat to see all of the animals there that lived there and those that were just being rescued, mended, and released.  We got to pet sting rays and then write messages to the scuba divers in the big tank. We even took some pictures of a big sea turtle named Kirby, and once we got home, we watched a video of his release back into the ocean!!

LGBTQ Friendly Destination

As for their LGBTQ-friendly travel experience, Kerry explains why it matters. “I always worry. I remember when Carley was little I would worry about her yelling ‘Mommy, Momma Ethel!’ because kids don’t know any better and don’t care who is around. I’m alway watching to see who is around and how safe my family is. So far we have been really lucky. We have met heterosexual couples with kids who we have become friends with and have no problem with us as a family.”

Ethel added, “We haven’t really had a problem, but we could.” Fortunately, the region in which Treasure Island is located is one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive places in Florida, a state known for being both politically and religiously divided. The region is home to many LGBTQ non-profit organizations and St Pete Pride, the largest pride celebration in Florida, and home to thousands of LGBTQ people.

When asked how the Bilmar Beach Resort stacked up to LGBTQ-inclusiveness, Kerry said, “They treated us no differently than any other family. Just to be treated nicely and pleasantly is fantastic. I am a positive person so I always smile and the folks at the resort always had a smile on their face as well and always asked us how our day was.”

Ethel agreed. “The front desk people were always friendly and they always chatted to me when I walked by (with or without the kids).”

When asked if they would return to Treasure Island future family vacation, they said, “Yes, definitely!  We were able to get cheap flights and really enjoyed a long weekend getaway. The beaches weren’t crowded so that was really nice.”