Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daytona Beach: Review

Each year after I get back from a well deserved vacation I like to give a review ... and each time I like to try to provide a unique perspective. Rather than trying to give you a review of every aspect of my Daytona Beach trip - I'm going to use examples from my trip of what to do and what not to do.

Daytona Beach is located in Florida - about 60 miles from Orlando on the eastern coast of The United States.

See my story here on how to turn any vacation you go on into a business expense.


First and foremost - plan your vacation around relaxation time. Make your days spontaneous. Treat yourself and make sure others are treating you well on your trip. Take small setbacks or changes in plans in stride and know that it is normal to experience some sort of problem.

One thing I always do before a road trip vacation is service my car ...

I make sure that the oil is changed, the air filter is clean (replaced if necessary), the tires are slightly over inflated for better gas mileage, and that there's plenty of windshield washer fluid. One item I'll be adding to this list of inspections and maintenance in the future is making sure the coolant is full. We had a small issue with low coolant on the way down and it caused about an hour delay and several panics - but we got through it pretty easily - because I knew what to do and how to quickly solve the problem.

My recommendation for any road trip is to carry one quart of oil, one gallon of premixed coolant, a rag, a $10 roll of quarters, and a one gallon plastic gas can.

I had mentioned to my wife that we should just go to Daytona Beach and "find a hotel". Our trip was the first week in April - which is generally considered the last week of Spring Break. She wasn't too keen on that suggestion so we sat down in front of a computer and booked our vacation using an affiliate link from MyPoints. I always try to book my vacations using an incentive website in conjunction with an incentive form of payment.

Since I hadn't been to Daytona Beach in over 15 years, I couldn't really remember a lot about it ... especially hotels. My family went to Daytona Beach every year when I was 4 -14. I remembered that we stayed at The Ocean Sands Hotel a few times. I also remember that our first annual family trip to Daytona Beach was the first time I ate at The Olive Garden - one of my favorite restaurants.

Daytona Beach has grown a lot since I last visited. There is now an amusement area called Daytona Lagoon. I visited this by walking about 3/4 of a mile from my hotel. My wife and son played in the arcade area a bit but didn't go to the go cart or water park areas. This area, built up around Daytona Lagoon has basically taken the place of the old boardwalk which used to have all the cool arcade games, t-shirt shops, and restaurants. If nothing else, this area is worth exploring.

Let me take a moment to describe the kind of person I am - I'm an explorer ... which I feel is different from a sight seer. I enjoy discovering the behind the scenes and around the corner kind of things at the places I go. I like to go to the places where locals go in the cities I visit. I'm not that interested in historical background ... I'm more interested in what the story behind the story is ... like why does a certain version of a story get told at a place you visit and why not another?

Now that you know that ... let me tell you three other places I visited at Daytona Beach.

Different hotels ... We went in several hotels and looked at the lobbies, pools, and reception areas. One morning we ate a continental breakfast at another hotel. Because this is the beach and hotels are packed one beside the other - it's hard for staff to tell if you're a guest or not. All you have to do is walk right up. One evening while exploring, we went into a luxury hotel and peered into a conference hall that was being cleaned out ... I managed to snag a few balloons for my son that were going to be thrown away.

Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory ... I had seen a brochure or two for this chocolatier ... but didn't really pay it much attention. One day during our stay we happened to be driving around a bit on the inland and saw a magic store. We parked to go inside and saw the Angell & Phelps store was about to open and were filling space for the tour right as we walked by it ... we went in and watched. The making of candy is a pretty fascinating process. It was even more fascinating to people watch - to see the other families and couples that were there.

A Magic Store: As I mentioned we happened upon a magic store called Daytona Magic - we looked around for nearly 30 minutes ... getting a few demonstrations from one of the owners. My son and I love watching a show on TV called "Magic's Greatest Secrets Finally Revealed". My son also loves performing magic. This was a good opportunity to see him at his best. We ended up getting a squirting nickel.

Some things I would & wouldn't recommend about Daytona Beach ...

Staying near an entry point for the beach. Daytona Beach is one of the few beaches in the world that you can drive on. It's one of the coolest things about the beach. Just know that the hotels that surround these entry points are congested with traffic and often - people who aren't staying at the hotel park their cars in the hotel parking lots near the entry points. Most of the hotels do not enforce parking permits. Usually, the hotels around the entry points also charge a parking fee - which can add up over a week's stay. Know that MOST hotels DO NOT charge a parking fee.

Check tripadvisor.com for reviews of any hotel you may want to stay at. Also know that many hotels are owned or managed by the same owners. If you find a hotel you're wanting to avoid, but were initially interested in, you may want to do a little web research to see what other hotels are managed by that group. We had a few issues with the hotel we stayed at. After doing research, we found out they managed 15 hotels in Daytona Beach including national chains. We personally would avoid any of those hotels during another stay. [I am not mentioning the name of the hotel because the upper management has resolved our issues with compensation.]

I always stay at a hotel that offers a continental breakfast. Call your hotel before booking to find out the exact menu and if it varies from morning to morning. I didn't call - but wished I would have concerning our hotel. Our hotel lacked variety and often ran out of what limited items they did have.

Go-carts/Putt-Putt ... We decided to go to Speed Park - a go cart amusement park right across from the Daytona International Speedway. This was a major disappointment. We decided to get the all you can eat 2 hour pass. We found out that there's really only two good adult tracks (out of four). All the tracks are rather boring, with pretty much a short 1/5 mile loop design. We also discovered that (if busy) most of your 2 hours is going to be spent waiting in line. Each go-cart "race" has a limited number of riders - this prevents you from quickly riding. You will get in approximately four rides in two hours - therefore making it cheaper to buy discounted tickets for individual rides. I would probably go for a game or two of putt-putt at Congo River Mini-Golf on my next trip.

I probably would visit the Volusia County library that is located in Daytona Beach on my next trip as well. It's located on it's own little intercoastal island.

At least one day ... take some bread down to the beach and feed the seagulls. It's a rather unique experience at this beach. Instead of throwing the bread on the ground throw it high in the air. It is comical and amazing how it's caught. Also try throwing a huge piece of bread out and watch the fight that ensues. If you have children ... they should love this.

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