As a longtime resident of St. Petersburg, I had passed by The Ponce De Leon Hotel hundreds of times, but had never been inside. I imagine that a lot of the locals are like me, and know it only as the building attached to Ceviche. Currently living away from the area, I needed a place to stay recently during a short trip back. I wanted to stay downtown, and after some online searching, The Ponce De Leon looked like the most affordable and convenient option.
Online reviews are mostly good, but not amazing, so I went in cautiously optimistic. I ended up quite happy with the experience. The front desk staff was friendly and helpful, and the room was clean and comfortable. Amenities are basic – coffee in the room, wall-mounted HDTV, and free Wi-Fi. Curiously absent from the room was an alarm clock (or a clock of any sort, for that matter). What sets the place apart is the décor, and the overall historic feel. The room had a unique interior, fixtures, and color scheme (red AC unit, purple headboard) and one major upgrade over the standard hotel: hardwood floors. Amazing how much nicer that feels vs. the normal carpeting.
The Two Major Pros: Price and Location
These two things are, of course, relative. You can certainly find a cheaper place to stay in St. Petersburg if you’re willing to venture a few miles away from downtown, but in this specific area, The Ponce is your best bet. Rates are often a little north of $100 per night. You can find this hotel on the normal comparison sites like Hotwire or Priceline, and you should check there, but it’s also a good idea to visit the hotel’s website. They sometimes post specials that do not appear elsewhere. When I booked my three-night stay, the third night was offered at half price. All told, I ended up paying around $90/night for a Wednesday – Saturday stay. Part of that price was because I booked their Junior Room – which does not ever seem to appear on any outside sites. This is their smallest offering at 160 square feet, with a full size bed. I was a little concerned about the size going in – but I honestly didn’t notice it. While a refrigerator would have been useful, the room still featured a desk, fairly spacious closet, and private bathroom with a full size tub. Perfectly suitable for a couple.
The downtown Location is extremely convenient. Located at 95 Central Avenue, you can walk to basically everything – a huge variety of bars and restaurants, the marina, the Pier, and the Dali Museum to name a handful. Tropicana Field is about 10 blocks away. This makes the hotel a great option given that you can skip the rental car if you are looking to spend your time exclusively in and around downtown. If you do bring your car, you face just a bit more of a challenge.
The Major Con: Parking
The Ponce De Leon does not have a guest parking lot. You can park in loading zone for a limited time during check-in, then you have a couple of options for the duration of your stay. You can buy a parking pass from the hotel for the South Core Garage ($5/day Sun – Thurs, $10/day Fri – Sat) or you can deal with parking meters. The garage is not a horrible option given that it sits about a block away. It would be nice if the hotel could provide the pass for free, but I suppose I understand the upcharge given that not all guest will have a vehicle. The parking meters are temping if you anticipate being out-and-about during the day. There are two varieties of parking meter in the immediate area of the hotel – those that are enforced 7-days/week until 8:00pm, and those that are enforced only weekdays until 6:00pm – they all cost $1/hour with a two-hour limit. (Helpful hint from someone who played the meter game and lost: the city of St. Pete will forgive a first-time parking ticket if you can verify that you spent a comparable amount of money at a downtown business at the time you received the fine. Your hotel receipt counts).
Long story short, The Ponce De Leon is a small, unique place to stay in an incredibly convenient location. It has a few quirks, like a longer-than-normal wait for hot water or the elevator that I routinely beat on foot from the fourth floor, but those things somehow add to the charm. Does it make sense as a staycation destination for a current resident of the area? Probably not. But if you are traveling to the area or have friends heading in for a visit, and staying downtown matters, you will have a hard time finding a better option.