Location: Back to the Buffalo. At least I'm close to Toronto.
Programs: Hilton, AA, SW, Delta
Clearwater Beach is nice. Beautiful white sandy beach. Not really much snorkleing from the beach. Swiming is good as there is usually very little surf. There is a marina at Pier 60 so lots of other watersports right there. Lots of food options within walking distance of Pier 60.
Clearwater beach will be about a 2 hour drive from Orlando depending where you are staying, traffic, and how fast you drive.
I reside here in Pinellas County, and I can confirm that Clearwater Beach traffic in July will be very heavy. Plan on at least 2 1/2 hours each way (if you are lucky) for driving. You will hit bottle necks in Tampa, as well as in Clearwater on the way out to Clearwater Beach.
Having experienced the beaches here, as well as Cocoa Beach, I would recommend Cocoa Beach mainly because you will be staying in Orlando. You will spend less than 1 hour in the car each way, and the beach is just as good as any we have here on the gulf coast. If you want to parasail or rent a jet ski, those are also available at Cocoa Beach.
This is has my vote for a close east coast beach. Plus, if you go a week or two before a shuttle launch, you are likely to see it on the launch pad. They close access to this area on the days near launches however.
Another great east coast beach near Orlando is New Smyrna Beach. It is a favorite spot among surfers and driving is still permitted on the beach.
Crescent Beach is a clean, quiet, family beach that is not well known outside the local area. It's where we go to relax. The Volusia County Beaches (e.g. Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach are not my first choice by any means. Both permit driving on the hard-pack sand. Trying to relax on the sand while having cars whizzing by is not restful by any means. Occasionally, people are hit by these slow moving cars. Regarding New Smyrna Beach specifically, just Google "shark bite capitol of the world", and see what you get! Nuff said?
Unlike Vic, I like New Smyrna Bch. Are there sharks ? Yup, plenty. I flew from NSB down the coast to Jupiter one time to play golf and it looked like there was a big bull shark sitting out there, every 100 yds the whole trip. Don't worry, they don't eat much ! As far as the cars, I can help you with that. From 95, take 44 to the beach, go S on A1A about 2 miles and there's no more cars and not many people on the beach. Need more seclusion ? Keep going S into the National Seashore. There's nobody around (except at the nude beach). Since the Gulf has turned into a giant oil can, your closest option would be Cocoa and I like that too. Lotsa great crystal clear springs around Orlando too. wj