We enjoyed our stay at the Marriott Residence Inn on Ulmerton Rd in Clearwater/St. Pete. The pool was heated and warmed to about 80 degrees every day and the whirlpool was probably pushing 100, it was smoking hot (but felt quite good in short intervals). The poolside towels, however, were a laughable 2' x 3' - one needed about 4 of them to get just kinda, somewhat dry.
The drive to the Phillies games at Bright House Network Field was an easy one as was the journey from the airport. Those trips were about 10 minutes and 20 minutes each, one way, respectively. The distance between the hotel and the beach, however, was not as simple or fun. My first attempt at this drive had us traveling Rt 688 the length, to Alt Rt 19 to Rt 60. Not good at all. I learned fast and began taking the real route 19 (which is just a couple blocks from the Marriott Residence Inn) all the way to Rt 60 (also the path to the Phillies facility) and then taking that straight into Clearwater Beach and Pier 60. Much much better - about 25 minutes one way.
We had a bi-level suite, which was perfect (since my parents joined us). The place had two king beds, two full baths, a living room and full kitchen with 4 seat table. It was comfortable and somewhat affordable at $249 a night. There is wired, free high speed internet access in each room and wireless in the lobby (where breakfast was served daily and evening reception from M-Thurs). The hotel features a smallish exercise room (two treadmills, a bike and an elliptical) and a Sports court which does double duty as a small tennis court and half-court basketball. Equipment is available to borrow for free from the front desk.
I would both stay here again, and recommend it, especially for Spring Training getaways. Using it as a base for the beach may prove too frustrating as the drive, if you hit traffic you could be pulling your hair out the whole vacation!
(going to the beach seemed terrible around noon-1pm and leaving the beach was backed up around 4pm. we were going the opposite direction most of the time, thank god!)
There is a new Residence Inn being built near the base of the Rt 60 bridge that takes you into Clearwater Beach. The sign said opening in 1Q 2008. This would be a great launching point for Spring Training and the Beach, once it opens. Alternatively, there is a Marriott Suites on Sand Key that offers spacious (500 sq ft) rooms and a package that provides your family with a poolside bungalow for the day (9am to 7pm). In the bungalow there are two chaise lounges, a table with 4 chairs, TV, wireless internet access and a mini-fridge. We are thinking about booking one for a weekend stay in the Fall (imagining how cool it would be to be poolside with college and pro football action so close.)