Best Beaches

Daytona Beach – My Expectations Versus My Recent Experience

Daytona Beach dubs itself as “The Worlds Most Famous Beach” and for someone who has lived in Florida for all her life and to have never stayed there? Well, I felt like that was just a crying out loud, shame!

John, on the other hand, has had much more experience than me when it comes to the east coast. John grew up vacationing in Daytona’s neighboring Ormond Beach and in his life before me, he worked and lived in Orlando, so when he headed to the beach his closest choices were always east.

I had only heard about Daytona Beach over the years, I mean who hasn’t? All the media reports about this Spring Break mecca, the carnival atmosphere, the crazy large crowds partying on the beach, and so on. Maybe all those news reports were the reason I had not visited there all these years, I mean I had a family so I always chose the beaches with a more family-friendly reputation.

But now the kids have all grown up and I am after all an adult, so why not go and see what this crazy, world-famous, big party beach town is all about? I am sure that inside me somewhere there is still a little party left.

This is 2020 however, the year of pandemic, economic loss, shutdowns, and fear of travel. With tourism being its number one industry, Florida businesses have really taken a hard hit, and Daytona Beach is no exception. I also need to add that being dollar conscious, we avoided a weekend stay and chose to stay Wednesday through Friday when hotel rates are less. With these two factors combined, I should have not been shocked to find an almost empty boardwalk and much smaller crowds enjoying the beach.

Granted things did start to pick up on Thursday with people coming into town for the ‘Big Truck Show’ that was going on, and it did start to get a little more rowdy and busy on Friday, but still, nothing like I imagined. I should also add that this was the Friday before Labor Day, where one would expect to see large crowds arriving and maybe a pre-party atmosphere developing, but the crowd coming in was moderate and there was just a small hint of any of them being the party animals that I expected to see.

My expectations of the boardwalk were also completely different from the actual experience. In pictures, I had always seen a busy boardwalk with a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and other carnival rides, and with crowds of people enjoying colorful street performers. In my mind, I remembered the news reports about the spring breakers and of the concerts on the beach, and I pictured a bandshell crowded with young people listening to music and displaying public drunkenness. We saw none of that, instead, we saw what I least expected to see, families enjoying family time at the beach.

With the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster gone, there are only two carnival-type rides left on the boardwalk, the Slingshot a 365-foot-tall slingshot that flings riders out of a smoke-spewing volcano at up to 90 mph, and the Vomatron, a 200-foot-tall ride that whirls folks on a rotating arm at up to 80 mph. For more on the ground fun, an arcade next door invites the young and not so young alike to play skeeball, video games, and air hockey.

Due to Covid 19 The Friday night concerts have been canceled until further notice and the beautiful bandshell on the beach sits eerily silent and empty.

The Iconic Daytona Beach pier stretching out 1,000 feet into the Atlantic is of course still a favorite attraction on the boardwalk. It is a famous spot to cast out a line and maybe catch the big one but if you are not inclined to catch your meal you can simply Eat at Joe’s. We did and found it to be pretty good, and besides, it has a view that can’t be beaten. Yes, it is touristy but heck we were tourists.

Ok, so I did not find it (during a Pandemic and during the middle of the week mind you) to have the carnival-like party beach type atmosphere that I was expecting, so what was it actually like?

I have to admit that the beach itself exceeded my expectations. The hard-packed orange/tan sand was easy to walk on or even ride a bike on. For someone who likes to take long walks on the beach, this hard-packed sand is a dream, no slipping in soft sand or burning leg muscles, just smooth steps, almost like walking on a cushioned mat. I guess that is why a good portion of the beach is open to driving a car on which is one of Daytona’s most famous features.

Another great thing about this beach is that it is convenient. Hungry, no problem there is a restaurant within walking distance no matter where you are. Ice cream, coffee, cocktails, sweet treats, chair & umbrella rentals, bike rentals, and the list can go on… everything is literally right there on A1A.

One of our evening meals was at Sloppy Joe’s where we had great service from Melissa and Amy and a wonderfully refreshing Sloppy Coloda. Of course Sloppy Joe’s is an institution down in Key West and I was delightfully surprised to find one at Daytona Beach.

Hotel options are plentiful and in all price ranges. It has been my experience that when an area has many hotel choices you will find that they compete with pricing, offer more deals, and provide extra amenities to draw people in.

John and I stayed at the Hilton and we chose the Hilton for a few reasons. It was closest to the pier, we have always had good luck with the Hilton brands, and we collect Hilton Honors points for free nights. We also stayed there to see if we would recommend a stay there to our readers. Hilton is an affiliate advertiser, meaning if you book and complete a stay with them off a link we provide on our website, we are paid a small commission. (The commission is not much and certainly does not cover the expense of providing this website article but every little bit helps in continuing to provide this service to our readers.) We never recommend anything that we ourselves have not tried out first and if we don’t enjoy or like it, well it does not get recommended, it is that simple. Our integrity is far too important for us to do otherwise. In addition we always wish you to get your best value deal, and encourage that you shop around for hotel stays, we only ask that you include and consider our recommendation in that search. Thank you.

One of the most beautiful features of Florida’s east coast is the sunrise, but we were lucky enough to be staying during a full moonrise as well.

Now I feel I must address the white elephant and another reputation that Daytona Beach has had in the past. Having been to Daytona Beach several times, John had warned me before we left home to be prepared at all times to practice caution and safety. Never leave valuables unattended and always be aware of our surroundings. I got a first-hand experience of what he was talking about, as soon as we arrived.

We got into Daytona a few hours before check-in time at our hotel, so we parked the car and decided to do some exploring. Of course, we had been on the road for a few hours, and my first stop needed to be the public restroom near the pier. As I walked up to the entrance of the ladies’ room, two homeless men were walking out. Yep, not a good first impression and yes, it made me uncomfortable to go in. This would not be our first encounter with the homeless population on Daytona Beach, and it appeared to me that the number of homeless living in the area is above average. We did not have any problems nor were we approached, however, it is an ugly truth that one might not feel comfortable seeing when trying to enjoy a vacation. On a personal level, for me, it triggered a sense of guilt as well, and what I mean by that is; It made me feel incredibly selfish that my first thoughts were judgemental and more out of more concern for my own level of vacation enjoyment. In other words, I did not feel very good about myself for being unsympathetic. Not feelings you want to deal with while trying to forget about it all for a few days of relaxation.

So what are my thoughts on my first experience with Daytona Beach? Well, I did enjoy the sand, surf, and food and we did have a relaxing couple of days, even if we had to look over our shoulder a few times. Everything is convenient and there are other enjoyable attractions, State Parks, and scenic drives just minutes away. So would I go back? absolutely.

Would I recommend it as a family beach? I did see a lot of families enjoying themselves but because I have never experienced Daytona during its peak party times, I can’t give a good honest opinion on that. In my humble opinion, there are deals to be had in the present situation, and given that schools have re-opened and the crowds have not fully come back, now may be the best time to take advantage of a more family-oriented Daytona Beach vacation. Of course, after the current Covid crisis is over and when things return back to normal, that may all change.

My big take away is that Daytona Beach must be a place with an ever-changing personality depending on the season and the events happening at the time. Daytona is famous for not only its beach but for Bike Week, The International Speedway, and as a spring break destination, so certainly the climate of the area will be determined by the type of tourist it brings in at any given time. So one should do their due diligence and research the happenings going on before selecting it as their destination of choice.

Thank you for following this part of our Florida Journey, we hope that we have provided you with some insights or at least some things to consider about Daytona Beach. Our journey is a continuing adventure of discovery and we invite you to continue to follow our adventures through the state we love.

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