Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this retreat to Florida in July. Want to explore Florida with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Key Largo: A Sustainability Dive + Yoga Retreat rescheduled for July 15-18, 2021.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
I touched down in the Sunshine State full of pure giddiness: not only was Wander Women St. Pete my first retreat since I’d moved back to Albany and temporarily pressed pause on my new passion project, it was also a combination of so many things that made me smile. Practicing aerial arts, the creative city of St. Pete, my fantastic retreat partner Jess, and, well, basically anything beachside.
We couldn’t wait.
As Jess and I giddily ran around making all our final last-minute confirmations and getting ready for our girls to arrive, I boldly declared our gift bags my favorite Wander Women welcome yet.
We started with a few of our signature items, like a hand-stamped journal, pen, and program, as well as some super fun colorful heart sunglasses that I thought just so captured the spirit of St. Pete!The incredible St. Pete and Clearwater tourism board, who does such a great job getting the word out about their destinations, generously provided each of our guests with a big ‘ol beach bag, a cute beach hat, a beach towel, an infusion reusable water bottle, a phone clip ring light (great for selfies and food photography!), a beach koozie, and sets of reef-safe sunscreen and lip balm. Basically, everything you’d need for a sustainable day by the sea!
Speaking of sustainability, our friends at Eartheasy — who previously brought you my review post of eco-travel product The Scrubba — sent everyone the cutest little bamboo utensil set, which we would use right away on the trip!
And finally, snacks. My sponsors at KIND snacks kindly (low hanging fruit, I know) sent everyone two mini hundred-cal bars which are seriously so great for emergency snacking in travel and in fitness training, and Element Tea sent everyone a bag of one of their herbal creations — and I am the world’s biggest tea addict so I was all kinds of on-board with that.
My favorite gift bag item was one super near and dear to my heart.
One of the guests on my first ever Wander Women Retreat to Koh Tao in 2018, Lauren, just so happened to be an illustration artist, and after the trip she mailed every single one of us on the trip a copy of the piece she’d made to remember our retreat by. I was obsessed, and immediately got the idea to commission her to make one for each and every trip. Can you even think of a more special souvenir? Seriously, you have to check out her beautiful work at Green Blanky Studio — she’s so talented and creative, and they make great gifts! (She’s also leading a workshop at our upcoming virtual retreat — seriously, I love her!)
We’d chosen St. Pete as our destination for so many reasons, primarily its passionate aerial arts and acro communities and our desire to offer a domestic travel opportunity. When we first started looking for accommodation, I was looking for large rental properties by the beach. My previous retreats were based in villas and homes and my first instinct was to stay with that vibe! However, we first ran into an issue with short term rental bans which made bookings of under thirty days impossible in some areas. Then, I realized that well, much of what I loved about St. Pete — its fantastic restaurant offerings, its incredible art scene, and its buzzy modern vibe — were in fact downtown.
And that’s when it hit me — The Avalon!
I’d checked into this funky little boutique hotel on a previous trip to St. Pete and been charmed sideways. I knew my guests would too. While it was a leap out of my comfort zone to transition to a hotel as a home-base, I couldn’t think of a better place to do it.
The staff at The Avalon treated us like total queens, it was the most convenient location, and we loved taking advantage of their daily complimentary guest happy hour, their free shuttle around St. Pete, and access to the pool at sister hotel The Hollander next door.
Read my full review of The Avalon here!
With our welcome class in a local park rained out — and rescheduled to another time during the retreat — we went straight for a welcome drink and good vibe conversations at happy hour.
Thankfully, the skies cleared up for our rooftop dinner plan! We made our way over to The Canopy, where it was ladies night and we had a rooftop cabana reserved with glasses of frosé for all (if you’re wondering, the straws are paper and though I appreciate that, next time I’ll request without them — I think it just made them harder to drink, honestly!)
We had one more guest, Shelby, who sadly had missed her flight that morning and was still scrambling to get to St. Pete. Shelby had been a guest on my Wander Women Martha’s Vineyard trip, so whenever we were all sharing “getting to know you” info I kept offering up info on Shelby’s behalf which had everyone in stitches joking that I’d faked an imaginary guest, ha ha.
The next morning, we gathered again in the sunroom of The Avalon for breakfast smoothie bowl deliveries from Karma Juice Bar. Considering this was Jess and I’s first retreat together and Jess and I were brought together by her studio Good Karma Studios, we couldn’t have thought of a better fit!
Most importantly I was able to triumphantly introduce Shelby — a totally real, non-made-up retreat guest.
We then headed to Movement Sanctuary, St. Pete’s home base for all things circus arts. I fell in love with this offbeat, mural-covered space from the first moment I’d heard of it, and could not wait to bring our group here. The vibe reminded me a lot of Good Karma, with a tropical twist!
First on the agenda was an aerial hammock class with the master Jess herself.
Movement Sanctuary has a bunch of funky little corners and spaces and this was our one class up in the loft — so we made the most of it!
Our next stop — after a shower and glow up, of course — was the Florida Orange Groves Winery. While St. Pete is widely lauded for its craft breweries, I’m a big fan of its cider and wine. And this kitschy little winery is, I think, just the dang cutest. With small family business origins, unique Florida flair, and truly wild flavors — please pause briefly to reflect on the mysteries that are watermelon and carrot wines — I think it’s a must-do in the area.
(With the perhaps obvious caveat that um, serious wine snobs need not apply.)
Needless to say — or perhaps not needless until you’ve experienced the generous pours of a free wine slushie for yourself — we were ready for lunch at Love Food Central, after our tour and tasting. Downtown St. Pete is just bursting with options for healthy, creative lunch cafes and this one is a favorite!
Sadly, our afternoon on the Shell Key Shuttle was too cancelled by weather — with sporadic storms breaking up the sun, they’d already made the call to shutter operations for the weekend that morning. But I had a backup plan. And bonus — our itinerary adjustment meant a little more time to wander downtown St. Pete and explore.
I so love the street art in St. Pete, some of the best in the country, in my opinion — and I got to find all sorts of new pieces on this trip!
Our surprise Plan B for the trip? A private session at Solace Studio, a brand-new infrared sauna spot in St. Pete — which just so happens to be started by Erica, a longtime Alex in Wanderland reader.
Seriously, the place could not have been more stylish, and the girls loved getting to try the infrared experience. I loved talking to Erica about her journey as a female entrepreneur, her passion for wellness, and the amazing city she calls home! What a treat that we were able to unexpectedly partner with her for this retreat.
Our next and final stop of the day was perhaps the aspect of the trip that I was most stressed about ahead of time… and that turned out to be just about everyone’s highlight. Go figure.
After falling in love with the beautiful outdoor space at Green Bench Brewery, I’d begun making arrangements with them to hold a partner yoga class there as part of our retreat. All was going well until we hit a snag in the schedule. Then it got… unexpectedly better!
We wanted to have the class on a Thursday evening — turns out, that’s the night of the weekly acro jam in the same space. “Why don’t you guys get in touch and maybe collaborate?,” advised the events coordinator, which I found to be a distinctly St. Pete suggestion.
Being a community acro-jam and not an event organized by one person per se, it was a little tricky moving forward. Let’s just say I sent out several borderline frantic messages, emails and texts to various people — I did resists caps lock, in my defense — trying to confirm that it was like, totally cool to rock up to a jam with twelve girls who mostly had zero acro experience whatsoever.
Turns out, it was.
After a few solid facial expressions that I interpreted clearly as, “there is no way I’m trying that,” eventually every single one of our girls tried flying! And the evening summed up everything that is wonderful about the acro community — it is so warm, so welcoming, and so inclusive.
While no one was “in charge,” there are a couple guys that are veterans of the St. Pete scene and they acted as fantastic bases, coaches, and ambassadors to the acro community. Every single one of us — myself and Jess included! — left totally in awe of new feats we’d achieved there.
Want to get in on the fun? Jams are held Thursdays at Green Bench Brewing from 5-7PM, and on Sundays in Northshore Park behind the tennis courts from 3-5PM. Chris, pictured as a base in many photos here, often leads classes at Movement Sanctuary and other local studios. Keep an eye on the Facebook groups Acro Yoga Tampa Bay and St. Pete Acro Yoga, if you’re in the area and want to play.
So much of our focus on this retreat was on the power of play and movement as medicine — and so it made my heart burst seeing everyone stretching their comfort zone, supporting each other, and laughing outside in the sun. We could not have been more warmly welcomed and we left feeling like we were already part of the St. Pete acro family!
But as delicious as the drinks are at Green Bench, we eventually had no choice but to tear ourselves away for dinner.
Luckily we didn’t have far to go. We were having dinner across the street at Bodega, a St. Pete institution. Florida wouldn’t be Florida without its Cuban flavors, and I’m obsessed with the simple street food that keeps locals lined up around the block here.
Sometimes we go all out, and sometimes we keep it simple. After a busy and active day, this was the perfect sign off.
The retreat was flying by already, and soon we were tucked into bed getting ready for day three! Stay tuned…