Mom And Teen Son Do Daytona
By Aaron and Chelle Koster Walton
Does Aaron remember when he was 8 and we walked the beach in Daytona, his dad and I wondered as we walked that night to dinner on the Boardwalk? Aaron had been so amazed at the time: “The sand squeaks when you walk on it!”
Of course we couldn’t ask him then and there if he remembered that because he is, after all, now a teenager, meaning walking on the beach with us would be akin to being seen in public wearing Speedo swimming briefs. And since this was Daytona Beach, he and his buddy, David, were naturally off doing the 101 things there are for teens to do.
Traveling with my son was easy back in those single-digit days. A hotel room, a pool, some sand, and all was good with his world. Teenhood changes all the rules and their criteria, their preferred criteria being that they stay home with their friends while you go along without them.
Traveling with a teenager, however, doesn’t have to be oxymoronic, or even painful. It’s all in the timing, planning, and bribing, I’ve discovered through the years.
So now I believe I’m this savvy mom-of-a-teen who puts together the coolest possible vacations with her kid. My son’s views may differ from my mom-vision. Wouldn’t surprise me; they differ on nearly everything else. So, here, weaved with a few teen travel tips, is my vision of our perfect Daytona weekend. Then his.
At age 11, Aaron learned to surf in Daytona Beach. I know he remembers this. Now, just weeks away from age 16, he was psyched about showing David (lesson one: bring friend along so there’s no one for him to stay home with) the waves, the cars, the amusement parks that are Daytona Beach. To teens anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, I too love the carnival scene around the Main Street Pier and Boardwalk and always have since my own teenaged spring break days. But these days, I’m loving the spas and historical sites and funky restaurants and cultural opportunities that are the flip, adult side to Daytona’s spring-break spirit.
That’s why we choose to stay on the beach close to the Boardwalk pedestrian zone (a mile-long stretch where cars can’t drive on the beach), this time at The Plaza Resort & Spa, in separate rooms. (Lesson two: give them their space, unless you too like sleeping in until noon.)
The boys, not yet driving age, could walk to Daytona Lagoon waterpark, the amusement rides at the pier (but be careful about letting them run loose alone at night; there are some rough characters about), the new Breakers Oceanfront Park, and Ocean Walk Shoppes, an entertainment bright spot against a backdrop of the historic pier and bandshell.
Here lies the future of Daytona Beach, in this complex of movie theaters (the boys loved that the seats recline) and formula stores and restaurants such as Maui Nix, Adobe Gilas, and Bubba Gump.
The old amusement complexes that once defined Daytona Beach are nearly all gone now, which saddens me. But as I sat on my pedicure throne playing with the good vibrations and roller massage modes, my feet swathed in warm paraffin, it was hard to feel anything but happily coddled.
This was happening at Ocean Walk Resort, a Wyndham property and one of three new resort spas on the beach. All Art Deco inside and waterpark outside, it is a thoroughly modern indication of where Daytona accommodations are headed. Out with the mom-pop and funky, in with condo hotels and boutique luxury properties. (Note to teen parents: Condos are the ideal give-‘em-space situation.)
Away from the beach, downtown’s historic commercial facades, notable restaurants, and motorcycle shops are punctuated with the contrast of a $29 million News-Journal Center performing arts hall, completed January 2006. The popular, 27-year-old Seaside Music Theater has moved to its stage along with other diverse entertainment.
While my husband hung out at Daytona Speedway and the boys hung out at Daytona Lagoon (lesson three, in a word: extreme), I hung out at the Museum of Arts and Sciences and drove down to Ponce Inlet, a favorite spot. Here you can climb the lighthouse and visit its historic entourage of buildings, learn about sea turtles and more at the Marine Science Center, and then eat fish on the boat docks at old-school fish shack Lighthouse Landing. You gotta love a place where teens and moms can all find their groove.
Our last afternoon in Daytona, the boys and I shared some quality together time shopping, lunching at Adobe Gilas, and doing the speed attractions. Final lesson: Spend money on them.
I swung the door open and smelled the sweet scent of a hotel room – all our own -- right after checking in. After I set down my bags and surfboard my friend David and I rushed to the window to check out the surf. We weren’t very excited to see one or two foot waves rolling in. I wasn’t worried I knew that surfing wasn’t the only thing on my agenda for my Daytona Beach experience.
Everything from go-karting at Daytona Speed Park to pushing yourself down a pitch black water slide or buying a cheap Chinese finger trap with your leftover tickets from the arcades, Daytona Beach is an adventure altogether.
Once David and I walked through the gates of Daytona Lagoon I was stoked to try out every single slide before the crowds got there. We tried out about three or four slides when we decided to go go-karting because the water park was starting to populate.
We dried off and the next thing I knew I was buckling my seat belt in my go-kart and slamming on the accelerator to take off. Next we climbed an artificial rock and I pushed the button at the top and got a record of two minutes; we crawled up the rock wall a couple more times before trying out the laser tag course. David whooped me with a score at least 1,000 times bigger than mine.
I was excited to revisit the Speed Park. I couldn’t wait to try out the three different go-kart tracks and my favorite “Nitro Alley,” which is when you sit in the drivers seat of a dragster and wait for the third yellow light to switch on and slam on the gas pedal hoping to reach 70 mph in less than 3.5 seconds so you can rub it in your challenger’s face next to you. The other three tracks include a slick track so you can almost power slide around the loop-track. We tried out each attraction at least three times before we finally left.
Onto Daytona USA: When the TV screens turned on I focused all my energy on the voice so I wouldn’t screw up while racing David and my mom in “Acceleration Alley.” Before long the training video was over and we were crawling into motion simulator NASCAR cars. I ended up in 13th place – ahead of David and Mom -- and a little shaken up but it was totally worth the most realistic car racing video game ever.
Even though the surf wasn’t booming we took advantage of any waves possible and fit in a surf session Friday and Saturday.
Daytona Beach, where you can go surfing and wind up in a racecar, climb an inside rock wall, accelerate from 0-70 in less than four seconds, and shoot your friends with laser beams all in one day: It’s the ultimate action-packed getaway that calls my name.
Best for: Families, history-lovers, NASCAR and motorcycle fans, spa-goers, surfers and other water sports enthusiasts.
- Daytona Lagoon, 386-254-5020, www.daytonalagoon.com. Water park, go-carts, and video arcade with climbing wall and Lazer Tag.
- Daytona USA, 386-947-6800, www.daytonausa.com. Virtual racing, motion simulators, racing history vignettes, speedway tours, surround-sound movies, and more.
- Halifax Historical Museum, 386-255-6976, www.halifaxhistorical.org. Deposited in a historic bank downtown, it gives you a spin around Daytona bygones.
- News-Journal Center, 386-226-1888, www.news-journalcenter.com. New $29 million facility with 860-seat main theater and 250-seat studio theater.
- Main Street Pier and Boardwalk, 386-253-1212, www.daytonapier.com. The epi-center of beach action set within Daytona Beach’s pedestrian zone.
- Marine Science Center, 386-304-5545, www.marinesciencecenter.com. Interactive environmental exhibits and artificial reef aquarium.
- Museum of Arts and Sciences, 386-255-0285, www.moas.org. Cuban art, Florida history, African art, railroad cars, and special exhibits.
- Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, 386-761-2959, www.ponceinlet.org. Complex of historic buildings and exhibits.
- Ocean Walk Shoppes, 877-845-9255, www.oceanwalkvillage.com. Entertainment district along the Boardwalk.
- Ocean Waters Spa at the Plaza Resort & Spa, 800-926-2895, www.oceanwatersspa.com.
- Seaside Music Theater, 800-854-5592 or 386-252-6200, www.seasidemusictheater.org. Professional musical theater for more than 27 years.
- Speed Park Motorsports, 386-253-3278, www.speedparkdaytona.com
- Spa Terre Spa at The Shores Resort & Spa, 386-322-7232, www.shoresresort.com.
- Vacation Therapy Spa at Ocean Walk Resort, 386-323-4861, www.vacationtherapyspa.com.
- Speedweeks, February, 386-253-7223, www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com. Rolex 24 and Daytona 500 highlight two weeks of car racing.
- Bike Week, March, 800-854-1234 or 386-255-0415. 10 days of motorcycle races and festivities.
- Pepsi 400, July, 386-253-7223. NASCAR racing under the lights.
- Biketoberfest, October, 866-296-8970 or 386-255-0415, www.biketoberfext.org. Four-day bikers’ rally.
- Daytona Winterfest, January, 386-253-2901, www.dbss.org – Classical music event hosted by Daytona Beach Symphony Society
- Daytona Beach Jazz Escape, Labor Day weekend – New this year, hosted by Daytona Beach Symphony Society
Getting there: Daytona Beach is a straight shot up I-95 about 250 miles.
Information: Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-854-1234 or 386-255-0415, www.daytonabeach.com.
- Cabana Colony Cottages, 800-239-0653 or 386-767-8939, www.daytonashoreline.com. A nice, quiet change of pace from the Boardwalk and high-rise scene. Suites and cottages start at $69.
- Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, 800-HILTONS or 386-254-8200, www.hilton.com. Newly opened behind the Main Street Pier, it’s big on conference business.
- The Plaza Resort & Spa, 800-874-7420 or 386-255-4471, www.plazaresortandspa.com. A historic hotel turned into a condo hotel with spa.$159 for standard in summer high season.
- The Shores Resort & Spa, 866-934-SHORES, 386-767-7350, www.shoresresort.com. Daytona’s latest and most luxurious boutique beach resort with spa, fine dining, and respite from dead-center beach partying. Season rates on a standard room, $179-$349.
- Wyndham Fairfield Ocean Walk Resort, 800-649-3566, www.oceanwalk.com. Two towers of one- to three-bedroom condos with a lazy river, water slides, and interactive water playground; and Vacation Therapy Spa. Rates start at $109 for a one-bedroom.
- Baleen Daytona Shores, 866-934-SHORES or 386-767-7350. Contemporary cuisine indoors in a West Indian plantation setting or outdoors with an ocean view at The Shores. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, prices TK.
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., 386-947-8433, www.bubbagump.com. Wildly popular and affordable theme restaurant at Ocean Walk Shoppes. Lunch and dinner menu entrees $9-$19.
- The Dancing Avocado Kitchen, 386-947-2022. A popular healthy alternative downtown for breakfast and lunch (entrees $4.50-$7.50).
- Rain Supper Club, 386.252.7246, www.rainsupperclub.com
- Chops Restaurant by Martinis, 386.763.1090, www.chopsbymartinis.com
- The Cellar, 386-258-0011,www.thecellarrestaurant.com. Fine Italian dining in the historic winter home of President Warren G. Harding. Dinner only. Pasta and entrees $15-$31
- Lighthouse Landing, 386-761-9271. A restaurant with fish and attitude on Ponce Inlet for lunch and dinner, sandwiches and entrees $5-$21.
- Ocean Deck, 386-253-5224, www.oceandeck.com. Better drinks than food but fun and right on the beach. Sandwiches and entrees $7-$21.
Chelle Koster Walton is co-author of Fun With the Family in Florida, and has written about family travel for FamilyFun, Miami Herald, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, and Great Florida Getaways. Her son, Aaron, age 18, has been collaborating on teen travel articles since he was 13.