Holing Up at the Aloft Sarasota During Hurricane Irma

The Aloft Hotel in downtown Sarasota took in Sarasotans—and their furry family members—who were seeking shelter from Hurricane Irma.

By Susan Burns September 12, 2017

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The WXYZ bar at the Aloft before the hotel opened, and during quieter times.

Image: Courtesy Photo 

My husband Larry Eger and I live in a 1934-built cypress home with heart-of-pine framing. It’s solid. And after 2004, when four hurricanes crisscrossed Florida, we fortified the house even further by investing in wind-impact windows and doors. But we also live in a pocket in the Indian Beach Sapphire Shores neighborhood that loses power even in a bad thunderstorm. The big trees on our block hit the power lines and kaput. We knew with a Category 4 hurricane barreling down on us last week that we would be one of the first to lose power and, if history was any guide, the last to go back online.

So we splurged. We booked three nights—starting on Saturday—at the 18-month-old, dog-friendly Aloft Sarasota downtown, not only for the two of us, but also for my mother, our daughter, our globe-trotting son—who happened to be in town—one of his friends and our three dogs. We figured that the hotel, while it might eventually lose electricity, would probably hold onto power longer than our home.

The 139-room hotel was at capacity with about 400 guests and 40 dogs. Among the refugees were Colony Beach & Tennis Resort founder Murf Klauber and his wife, Sue (the two of them always looking as crisp and fit as though they were heading into a tennis clubhouse); Mote Marine Laboratory CEO Michael Crosby and his wife Sharon with their bulldog; Sarasota psychiatrist Eddy Regnier and his wife, Angela; Coldwell Banker’s Lynne Koy; and Michael Saunders & Company’s Lee Delieto Jr. (whose wife was out of town and insisted he not sit out the hurricane alone in their Gillespie Park bungalow).

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Burns and Eger's daughter, Anna, with the family's three dogs.

Image: Susan Burns

It could have been the perfect set-up for a meltdown, with too many guests in too few rooms stressed about the unknown power of Irma, dogs off their routine and a staff that had never gone through a hurricane together or even faced a booked hotel with dozens of dogs.

But the staff (and a skeleton one at that) stayed calm and helpful throughout the storm (even amid the weird scene of dogs scattered all over the hotel lobby), and the hotel miraculously stayed immaculate. I can’t say enough about the Aloft employees—general manager Jason Samson, front desk staff (a special shout out to Drew Fulmer and Alyssa at the front desk, who never failed to listen to everyone’s questions and find solutions in a chaotic environment as people from the east coast canceled reservations and people from the west coast were trying to book); two chefs, who had never had to prepare food for hundreds of people for breakfast and dinner at this location; and the housekeepers and valets who remained at the hotel (often standing outside in terrible weather to retrieve and park cars) for the entire three days without going home. They kept us all comfortable, the bar open and even sent out announcements through the P.A. system that it was time to take our dogs out before the winds became too strong.

During the worst of the storm, we stayed in our rooms instead of at the bar. The trees were whipping in the wind, but it was eerily quiet inside the hotel. We watched ABC7 for the region’s absolute best hurricane coverage (my husband and son were disappointed that no NFL games were on but we were all happy not to hear news from Washington), played Scrabble or read. The dogs slept in their crates (and, OK, I confess, sometimes on the beds), seemingly unaware of the storm outside. The hotel never lost power.

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Neil Jennings and Jim Reese

Image: Susan Burns

We checked out today, and like millions of other Floridians, we headed back to a home that has no power and a yard filled with debris. We’re some of the lucky ones. We’d like to thank the entire Aloft staff for their professionalism and cheerful and generous service. We miss you.

And one more shout out to Neil Jennings and Jim Reese, who own the bodega Pineapple Express on Palm Avenue near the Aloft hotel. They hunkered down behind the store with a canoe and a commitment to keep their doors open as long as people needed them.They were a welcome sight in a town that was completely shuttered. They provided water, medicine, comfort carbs and, of course, beer to Sarasotans desperate for sundries and a smile. 

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