Testing The Current at Tampa Bay

We recently flew down to Tampa to visit some family and to attend a couple baptisms. In past trips to visit, we'd stay along the Gulf coast (although when we decided to fly through a hurricane for a previous baptism, we stayed closer to the church in Lakeland). While Tampa offers quite a bit to do, we've never actually stayed in the city. With just a short weekend trip, we decided to take advantage of Tampa's central location which was about half-way between family on the Gulf and family in-land. We stayed at Marriott's newest Autograph hotel, The Current, which happened to be a quick eight minute drive from the airport.

The Current Tampa Bay

The Current was scheduled to open in October when we booked our stay at the start of November, over Veteran's Day. Tampa appears to be in the middle of a hotel boom right now; next year will even see a JW Marriott built nearby. An impetus for the sudden boom is the 2021 Super Bowl1 which will be hosted at the nearby Raymond James Stadium. The location really is quite excellent for getting out of the airport, and while not being right next to much, being close to quite a bit as long as you don't mind a drive.

One of the drawbacks of the recent opening, and Marriott's general direction, is that it was hard to find eMail contacts for the hotel. Since we were travelling with our three young kids, I wanted to make sure there would not be any problem with occupancy limits. Many of the hotels2 I've reached out to have clarified that they don't count children in the posted occupancy limits. Unfortunately, there was no general contact for the hotel, so I tried the event coördinator and never received a response. Undeterred, we kept our reservation and presumed reason would win-out, as we'd booked a suite which, while it only had one bed, was bigger than the room options quoting five-person occupancy with two queen or two king beds.

Kids playing

Arrival

After crossing the Tampa Bay Channel, we took the first turn off the highway. As you then get to the end of North Rocky Point Drive there is a parking garage on the right, but it is reserved for the office building3 located at the end of the road. Just before the office building is The Rusty Pelican, and just before that, is the turn-in for The Current.

Valet

The entry leading to The Current is inspired, and its one of the regular cover photos used by the hotel and Marriott. The drive leads up a curved entrance ramp that opens at the valet station and the entrance to the main lobby. The valet service was quick, efficient, friendly, and helpful; really everything you would want or expect from a valet, and a refreshing change from the mess in Niagara or the understaffed examples in NYC. Given the effortless affability they put-on as we loaded and unloaded our rented minivan, I found the $22 valet parking fee entirely reasonable; which is for the best, as getting around the area really needs a car, and there is no self-park option. If you happen to just be stopping in for a few hours, however, the restaurant and bar will validate parking, so you won't need to pay for the full day4.

Valet

The parking garage was exclusively for the valet attendants, although retrieving cars proved to be efficient.

Check-in

There was only only one person working at the small reception desk, but there was also only one person ahead of me. The agent was was cheerful, professional, and quick—we got our key and the run-down of Platinum benefits in about as much time as it took for the valet and porter to finish loading our luggage onto a trolley. The agent clarified that there was no lounge on the property, so we had the option of 750 point per day or breakfast in the restaurant for two guests (which is standard for Autograph collection hotels). He did mention that the breakfast was from a limited menu, but did not know anything else about the option; we did later check with the restaurant and the options were basic meat-and-starch options, like biscuits and gravy ($14 on the menu), although you could also choose a $5 discount off of another item.

Lobby

Sitting area along the main spine of the first floor, connecting the entrance with the restaurants and exiting at the pool.

The agent began offering to show us to our room, but as our luggage was rolling up to the desk at that moment, he deferred to the porter. Also at this time, family who was meeting us at the hotel arrived, and there was a bit of commotion, with the upshot of there not being enough space in the elevator. The porter said he would meet us in our room, but never told us how to get there before the elevator closed. It turns-out to have been fairly obvious: the hotel follows the standard pattern of prefixing the room number with the floor, so we took a stab that we were headed-up to the top floor and then turned away from the Rox Rooftop Bar down the only hallway full of room. A little more disappointing is that he didn't give us any details about the room: although we eventually figured-out which connecting room was attached to the living area we'd entered and how to turn on the rest of its lights, it would have been a nice touch to give a quick overview before obviously being non-obvious that he was waiting for his tip, collecting, and scurrying away.

Grandparents looking out the window

The kids' grandparents met us at check-in, and marvelled at the view as we settled-in.

The Room

We booked the three-bay king suite. We didn't know much more about it than it had one more bay than the two-bay king suite, and was 1,200 square feet compared to the latter's 900 square feet. Standard rooms are 450 square feet, while there is an extended room offering 520 square feet. In addition to single-king rooms, there are rooms with either two queen-beds (small premium) or two king beds (larger premium) which are listed as fitting five adults. Finally, there's the 560 square foot Extended King Suite, which sounds like a studio (i.e. non-suite).

King bedroom

The king room was effectively a connecting room on the living area. While most things looked finished and complete, some of the artwork was simply leaning against the wall rather than properly hung.

Our room had a modern, minimalist aesthetic, but amazingly suited for our needs. It had a hard wood floor, which wasn't the softest or quietest surface for our just-starting-to-walk toddlers, but it was easier to clean. We found there to be sufficient outlets, and the TVs disappeared into the wall; unfortunately these were a pretty tight fit and I had trouble finding a slot for the Amazon Fire so we did evening shows for my daughter on a tablet. From what I can surmise by the names, the two bay adds essentially a connecting room with its own entrance and living area (second TV, sofa, chairs and half bath). The three bay, of which there seem to be very few (if not just the one) is similar, except the connecting room extends behind the couch to include a 300 square foot dining area5. We set-up the boys' cribs in the dining section, and despite floor-to-ceiling windows, had no problem with light given the fully adequate black-out curtains.

Alcove

There was plenty of seating in the suite, I found the room quite functional.

Living room

The living area of the suite, with the second entrance visible on the right, a half bathroom with a sliding door to its left, and the connecting door to the bedroom out-of-frame to the right.

Connecting door

One twin coming by to say hello, while the other was trying to get into the bedroom.

Living area

There was plenty of space for the kids to move around, and we could set-up a convenient changing station. An optional second connecting room is past the dining area, in front of which we'd placed the dining table chairs to make room for the cribs and walking space.

The hotel raves about its views of Tampa Bay, and our guests were certainly enthralled. Personally, I appreciated the view, but did not think it was a major draw. We did have a good view of the coast line nearby, and even got to see a couple of sharks popping out of the water and then disappearing; but this I'm told is the exception rather than a standard sight. More regularly, you will see lots of water and the Howard Frankland Bridge (Interstate 275 crossing the bay) off in the distance. Unfortunately, if you aren't wearing blinders, you can't help but notice the framing from the hotel itself (and its bar) jutting into frame from your left, and a generally mundane Florida groundscape below you. To the right is a large office building, which at least helps capture and reflect some of the golden morning light.

Rox Bar

The hotel's bar jutted in to view from the left.

Office building

An office building came-in from the right. Admittedly, it was still a good view.

Frankland Bridge and Bay Looking out the window

My daughter watching the sunrise over the bay.

Restaurant and Food

After dropping-off our bags and setting-up the boys' cribs, we went back downstairs to visit the principal restaurant, Julian, and asked for a table. The hostess took a quick glance at tables before inquiring whether we'd made a reservation, which we hadn't. The restaurant occupied a rear corner, looking out onto the outside pool through a glass wall, and was mostly empty at 5pm: there were a couple tables right on the windows which were occupied, and in the center of the restaurant, a few members of staff were re-arranging tables and chairs. Not to worry, she said; another party had just made a similar reservation for five seats and two high-chairs, and the group that had caught our eye in the middle had been practicing arranging the tables, we were assured. They took a few more abortive attempts with various sets of tables over the next five minutes or so before the hostess intervened and they reverted to their original selection of tables and chairs and we began taking our seats.

Dinner

We were happy to find that not only were there two high-chairs, but there was a dedicated children's menu, and that the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches meth with the approval of our three-year-old (and her less-picky brothers). The adult menu is limited, but also fairly eclectic with some east-Asian inspiration thrown in with more traditional European and American fare. We opened with the tempura tuna tataki, which was quite good. We also ordered a dozen oysters; unfortunately, these came with the sauce already on top of the oysters, and the sauce overpowered them. At the server's suggestion, we ordered a selection of other dishes to share amongst the table, although really each dish is best for splitting between two or at most three people. I thought the gnocchi was well prepared, al dente with just the right amount of resistance; but perhaps a bit too heavy. I also had seared tuna, which was unfortunately overcooked, something that I would experience again on this trip when I ordered seared tuna from a restaurant across from the Glazer Children's Museum (fool me twice, Tampa…). While the tuna was overcooked to both my taste and its description, it was served on an interesting bed of pickled vegetables. While I did not get a chance to try the duck wings, the consensus from those who had, was that they were over done.

Cooked tuna

While slightly more rare than at the hotel, I failed to find seared tuna which hadn't been over cooked.

The Current has added a bio of their chef, Steven Hall. The bio generally does not have any stand-out appointments67, but there is some creativity and coherency to the menu; however it seems like the line chefs though aren't up to the task.

Breakfast

We did not have breakfast at the hotel on the first day, as we were meeting family in the area for the day. The on-site restaurant seemed a convenient option for our last day, however, to grab a meal before dashing-off to the airport for our almost-noon8 flight. We arrived a couple minutes after 9am and quickly put in an order for the children's food so they could get started first. Around 9:15 my wife and I put in our orders (including coffee and juice). The first food appeared at 9:46, we never got refills on our coffee, and once we were done we had to actively wave-down our server to finally get the check. As I was riding-up the elevator to pick-up our bags to leave, I was sharing an elevator with another couple who had arrived a few minutes after us, who exclaimed that it was The Slowest Breakfast Ever; which I found hard to argue.

Drinking water

I ran upstairs to get the boy's cups. We ended-up going through a few yogurt pouches before we received their pancakes, eggs, and sausage about forty minutes after placing the order. The ant bites were from a nap not in the hotel.

Unfortunately, it seemed, either the server or the kitchen had decided to hold the kids' order until my wife and my order was ready despite our indication of wanting to get the kids order in so they could start eating (and we could focus on our food when it was ready). Unlike dinner which seemed better prepared for children (at least in smaller parties), breakfast service did not seem to have ever dealt with children. In addition to not bringing their food when it was ready, the 15 month twins were provided with a full setting (flatware and coffee mugs) that not only weren't cleared once we sat down, but the mugs were actually brought to them after we sat down.

Cigar box

The meal's receipt came in a cigar box, which may have been a cute touch were it not so long in arriving.

Also opposite of dinner, I found breakfast to be well prepared but less creative and less enjoyable. My eggs Benedict had really well done eggs, but the menu substitutes slices of city ham for the Canadian bacon which lacks the fat, salt, and texture that partners so well with the toast and egg. The salmon Benedict would probably have been the better choice.

Final Thoughts

I appreciate the backstory of the hotel, the result of a vision over three generations that is able to capitalize on the sudden hotel boom in the area:

"You can see both Tampa and St. Petersburg's skylines from here," said Stan Lifsey, whose grandfather started developing the Tampa island in the 1960s. "We're right on the doorstep of Tampa Bay."

Rocky Point juts out into the bay, the Courtney Campbell acting as its artery to the mainland. More than 50 years ago, the late Julian Lifsey began buying up island parcels to develop. Now, his grandson is leading the largest Rocky Point project his family has ever shepherded: the 180-room hotel set to open in June. Julian, who died at 72 in 1989, always thought Rocky Point was perfect for an upscale hotel.

But it's not until the last few years that Tampa and its growing number of visitors made it possible for that vision to materialize.

Stan Lifsey, the president at Lifsey Real Estate Holdings, is among a number of developers adding to Hillsborough's hotel inventory. Visit Tampa Bay anticipates 2,000 new hotel rooms will be added to Hillsborough County over the next two years. The key, experts say, is that new hotels fill gaps in the current offerings rather than just compete with existing businesses.

As the region's "doorstep," the new hotel has Tampa Bay flare. A short drive from the airport, the Current is likely to be many guests' first real taste of Tampa. Oxford Exchange will run a high-end lobby shop called Curated, the bar will serve coffee from local roaster Buddy Brew and area artists' works will cover the walls. Even a special locally brewed Current craft beer is in the works.

Outside, the hotel has a crystal blue infinity pool and an area to launch into the bay on paddle boards. Every room has hardwood floors and tall windows with waterfront views.

Lifsey envisions the hotel feeding into a live, work, play atmosphere on the island. This "urban oasis" isn't just for tourists. After 5 p.m. every day, locals will be able to access the rooftop lounge — the Rox — to sip on cocktails and watch the sunset over the water. They can see planes take off from the airport and cars flood the bridge from the comfort of a lounge chair.

The hotel is distinctive, attractive, and the service is quite good for the most part: ranging from well-meaning at the restaurant to excellent at the front-desk and valet. Hopefully some of the rough edges–the service and kitchen inconsistencies–will be worked-out as they become more experienced. The right positions seem to have been prioritized (front-desk, chef) as opposed to 1 Hotel where it seemed that the porters were responsible for creating a good impression making-up for deficiencies elsewhere. Hopefully the well-running valet is indicative of where the hotel is going, with training and positive examples trickling down to other members of the team.

I don't think that I would be fond of the night scene at the hotel, but the vision of locals popping-over for the bar scene does seem to be taking-off, which bodes well for at least the commercial success of the property. Generally, while the hotel seemed to be trying to push upscale, much of the clientele was very casual which presented an initial since of discord. Deeper exposure did break a few of the seams, such as the failures at the restaurant and the lack of response to eMail ahead of the stay.

The hotel felt similar to the 1 Hotel Brooklyn with some of the same modern, environmental, and regional focus; but the result was both less ambitious and more functional. Technology worked, and there weren't any of the odd poltergeists and gremlins that plagued the 1 Hotel system. The televisions at The Current featured Marriott's common media system, which includes support for signing-in to a limited selection of streaming services, like Netflix; unlike the in-room tablets at the 1 Hotel which don't wipe themselves between guests, the TVs assuage any concerns by confirming that they will reset when you check-out. A Marriott Category four hotel, on points, this is a great value; even more so when compared to the points needed for our immediately preceding hotel, the Category 6 Sheraton on the Falls which was simply a mess.

One other observation is, at the moment, all of the art seemed to be from the same person, and listed at the same price point of $10,500.

Floor art

Floors had a colourful flourish to their signage, which was a nice touch. These pictures I believe were part of the permanent collection, as opposed to rotating or for sale, unlike in the wing off of the lobby.

With a lot of hotels being built, I expect we'll try some of those (such as the JW Marriott) were we to stay in Tampa-proper again. The Renaissance (even closer to the airport) and Epicurean (with a bigger focus on food quality and experience) are also tempting properties nearby. The Current, especially at its present price point either in cash or points, has a lot to offer and is worth a continued look.

Sitting in front of the window


  1. Super Bowl LV will be on February 7th, 2021

  2. All but one that I've spoken to this year have been fine with the extra children.

  3. The Pointe

  4. The front desk estimated $5 for a couple hours.

  5. the description makes this sound like a third room, but the living and dining areas are effectively in one large room

  6. "first in his class" is notable, although it fails to mention which Le Cordon Bleu campus, which is significant

  7. Massimo's doesn't say even as much

  8. 11:55