There’s no better time for a Daytona post than the day after the Daytona 500. It was nice to see Austin Dillon in Victory Lane last night! I have been going to Daytona since I was a child and still visit quite often when NASCAR or a 1/2 marathon are involved. The City of Daytona is experiencing some major changes. Daytona International Speedway underwent a multi-million dollar renovation over the last couple of years. The surrounding area soon followed with One Daytona; an art, shopping and entertainment district. The Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott is now open and I was able to stay there during the 1/2 marathon on Feb 4th. Super nice and walking distance to the speedway, shopping, restaurants and the new Cobb Luxury Theaters. PF Changs (yes, a restaurant chain I do like) and Bass Pro were also nice additions. Free parking and wifi are added bonuses.
I’ve noticed a little change to the beaches as well. Although, it’s always hard to find a nice place to stay that isn’t in need of a total makeover, South Daytona/Daytona Beach Shores is trying to make a comeback. Up until recently, I wouldn’t given any hotel on the beach anything above a C+. I’ve been seeing some potential B- and that makes me happy. We’ve stayed at Coral Sands Oceanfront Resort, La Playa and a few I wouldn’t dare mention because they were so awful. Some restuarants on or near the beach I recommend are: The Chart House, Ronin Sushi Bar, Joe’s Crab Shack (on the pier), The Streamline Hotel (historic hotel and rooftop bar), Ocean Deck (very outdated beach bar and needs renovations, but still a tourist/local favorite. Also, Jake Owen shot part of his music video, Beachin’ there!). And, yes! you can still drive on the beach. The boardwalk/pier was revived when Joe’s Crab Shack was built several years ago. Much needed and so much nicer.
Most definitely some of the best times in my entire life were spent on those beaches and at that race track.
My friend MM introduced me to Daytona almost 20 years ago when we worked at Busch Gardens. She had connections with Anheuser Busch and we got to go to the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 every year. We have endless stories and super special memories. The actual race offers the best people watching you will ever experience. We always got Fan Zone passes that would allow us access to the infield and pre race concert. I could write for hours about the craziness I experienced. Most definitely some of the best times in my entire life were spent on those beaches and at that race track.
In early February, I ran the Daytona Beach Half Marathon for the 2nd time (2016 & 2018). It’s always a tough race for me. I PRd the course this year, but no where near my best time. It must be the bridge us Floridians can never really prepare for. The course goes around the track, to the beach and back. The medals never disappoint. They’re always big and bold. They also give all finishers a beach towel. Packet pick up is a breeze and race morning is very well organized. As mentioned above, I stayed the at new Marriott in the One Daytona District, which was super convenient.
Daytona’s location on the east coast is ideal. An easy drive to St. Augustine, Jacksonville and even Orlando & Central Florida, making it a great stop on a road trip or even a long weekend or vacation destination.
Whenever I can incorporate a race and a road trip, I’m a happy girl. This time, it worked out we had a long weekend, so we took off! First stop: Jacksonville, Florida for the Best Damn Race 1/2 Marathon Series. This was my 3rd half of the season, so I was about 50% trained and looked forward to the ‘mostly’ flat route and perfect Florida winter weather. Packet pick up was at Dick’s Sporting Goods located in the beautiful St. Johns Town Center. I wish we lived closer to this mall. We loved it! The Hilton Garden Inn Downtown/Southbank was super nice and perfect for the kids and I. Located 1.5 miles from the start and conveniently across the street from The Bearded Pig, which was an added bonus. The hotel was also a few blocks from San Marco Blvd, which has some trendy restaurants. I was able to enjoy a couple glasses of wine at Town Hall and loved it.
As long as they keep loving our road trips, I’ll keep on driving!
Race morning was a breeze. Easy parking ($10) in the garage across from the start at The Landings was super convenient. My only suggestion would be to start the 5k and 10k later than the 1/2 marathon. We had to dodge a ton of walkers. We caught up to them pretty quickly and it was dangerous for those of us running with a pace group. One gentleman tripped and fell over a walker. It was aggravating for about an hour until they split the routes. The last 2 miles were pretty along the water, but there was no-one directing us. For a couple miles, there was no one around me and luckily, I glanced at the map beforehand. That was the only thing that saved me. Typically, I don’t like to look at the course map. I finished in 2:02. No PR, but better than my first 2 this season and improving each month is my goal. The finisher medal was amazing. The biggest medal I have ever received. The race shirt was also the best tee shirt I have ever received. Super comfy and a nice fit. I would recommend this series (especially if they change the 5k/10k start time).
Time to continue the road trip northwest to Nashville; my favorite city in the US. A quick stop by First Watch (one of two chain restaurants I actually like) and we were off! It was a 9 hour drive and we arrived that evening to a winter wonderland. Snow on the ground and snow throughout the night gave us a beautiful couple of days in Music City. As always, using Airbnb is the way to go. Our cottage was tudor-style, located on Caruthers, just off of 12 South. It was perfect. Covered with snow and beautiful. The next morning, we were up and walking to Frothy Monkey on 12 South by 8am. It was 15 degrees and gorgeous. After some amazing coffee for me and hot chocolate for the kids, we were warmed up enough to walk around a little more and have some fun around town. The fun included Five Daughters Bakery (also located at Caruthers & 12 South) for some out of this world cronuts. They really are magnificent. The vegan cherry is to die for.
A short rest and we were headed out to explore North Nashville. We drove around looking at areas I had not been. My dream is to live there, so I am trying to see every inch of the city. Located in the Scottsboro Area is The Old School Farm House. A really good brunch spot, which also doubles as an event venue. Their garden (it’s a true farm to table experience) is on the property. It really is an old school turned restaurant and gives super chic, yet vintage vibe. A bluegrass duo played on stage and our meal was fabulous. Worth the 20 minute drive. On the way back into Nashville, we stopped by Nissan Field so my son could get an up close look at the stadium. It is located in a beautiful area between downtown and East Nashville. The stadium is the backdrop to downtown and has some gorgeous views of the Nashville skyline.
Next, we headed into Hillsboro Village to check out the new Tribe Kelley boutique (owned by FGL’s Brian and Brittany Kelley). It was adorable and we left with some gems. We decided to squeeze in some live music while in town, so we dropped the car off at the cottage and grabbed a Lyft downtown to Broadway. Parking downtown is tricky, so I always recommend calling a Lyft or Uber. FGL House opened this summer and we’ve been a few times. The kids like their menu and huge screen tv that covers the entire wall. They play country music videos and in the evenings, live music of course. Try their huge soft pretzel paired with a Music City Lite bottled brew. A perfect combo! As I have mentioned in a couple other Nashville posts, Broadway is kid friendly until 10pm (some places until 8pm). They love FGL House, Wildhorse Saloon, Hard Rock, Margaritaville and Honey Tonk Central. After listening to some good country jams by some wonderful local artists on broadway, we headed back to home base for some early evening snacks, Netflix and some board games that the AirBnB provided. A perfect ending to an amazing day in Music City.
The next morning, I wanted to try Barista Parlor. There are a few locations, but the one in The Gulch was the closest to us. I first saw it on CMT’s television series Nashville. It was amazing. The decor, the coffee, everything. I’m a decaf drinker, but wanted to try the recommended “Bourbon Vanilla Cappuccino” and it was superb even full of caffeine. My son begs for Biscuit Love every time we are in town. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favorite. Urban Grub, Nashville Biscuit House and Frothy Monkey are my favorite breakfast joints, but he’s right about one thing, BL’s orange juice is AMAZING. I always grab a green juice from The Juice Bar after I eat at Biscuit Love to help with the guilt. After a yummy breakfast, it was time for the long haul home. 10 hours & 2 stops later, we were back home and hearts full. When we get back, I always ask the kids if the drive worth it and they always say yes! As long as they keep loving our road trips, I’ll keep on driving!
When my mother mentioned she wanted to visit Cuba for her 60th birthday, I didn’t get excited right away. It took some research for me to become comfortable enough to plan this trip. We decided on a cruise because it seemed like the safer choice. We also live less than 45 minutes from the Port of Tampa, which made traveling there more convenient. There were so many people with different opinions (good and bad) about visiting Cuba. From the photos, posts and blog entires I reviewed on several social media outlets, it looked like a beautifully broken country. And, that it was.
I’ve always enjoyed cruising (I got married during cruise to the Cayman Islands). I definitely enjoy the larger cruise ships more, but the Port of Tampa is limited on size that can maneuver in and under the Skyway Bridge. For that reason, the ships tend to be smaller and for some reason, older. For our cruise to Cuba, we sailed on The Carnival Paradise and were told it was retiring and will be replaced as of February 2018. If you are a foodie hoping to entertain your palate, a small Carnival Fun Ship isn’t the way to go. The food is medicore. On occasion, they’ll offer something great, but don’t go for the food. Go for the fun!
Unfortunately, we ran into a major issue as we were boarding. One of the women in our group of 7 traveling, was born in Cuba and our Carnival Agent never told me (or her) she needed an updated Cuban passport. She is a US Citizen and hasn’t been there since she was 2. She only had the one they issued her in 1959, which had expired. The Carnival travel agent we used could’ve avoided the issue from the start if she would’ve asked if anyone in the group was Cuban-born. Unfortunately, that was never once mentioned she was turned away and didn’t get to go, nor did she receive her money back even though she purchased the additional travel insurance. As you can imagine, the first few hours upon arrival weren’t fun. I hoped after several calls and emails to Carnival, they would refund her, but they never did. When we mentioned this on board to one of the supervisors, she said that it happens often because the agents are new to Cuban cruises. Our ship was on the 4th one to visit Cuba.
We arrived in Cuba the next morning and it was surreal. I think the uncertainty of traveling there was probably the most exciting part.
We arrived in Cuba the next morning and it was surreal. I think the uncertainly of traveling there was probably the most exciting part. My first reaction was “Wow, how beautiful and old. How very very old”. Pretty much everything you see in the pictures is real. The old cars, abandoned buildings and a poverty stricken country who never recovered. There are definitely signs of rebuilding, mostly in the Plaza de la Catedral, but not as much as I expected there to be. We booked a bus excursion through Carnival (At the time we went, we were legally only allowed to travel with a guide). We chose the “top 10 things” excursion which included a 6 hour bus ride around Havana. We stopped as several places throughout the city. Some of the spots had amazing views. I wasn’t impressed by the market and the cigar shop we went to was very sketchy. I brought back some cuban cigars for a friend and he said they were most likely fake. So, travelers should be aware of their surroundings. Our bus driver took us to a privately owned restaurant (La Moneda Cubana in the Cathedral Square) for dinner, but it wasn’t fabulous. It also wasn’t what I imagined real cuban food to be. Americans eat CubanAmerican food and finding a Cuban sandwich in Cuba was very hard to come by. The most amazing part for me was trying to envision what it once was. Beauty shined deep within every wall. Time stopped for this country. They never had the chance to grow or modernize. We are so lucky as Americans. We are blessed to have what we have. Traveling to countries like Cuba makes you appreciate so much.
As we pulled out of port, I knew I would never go back, but I felt super lucky to have seen what I did and experience it with my family and friends. The remaining part of our cruise was so much fun. We enjoyed some sun by the pool, played bingo, gambled (and won), watched the comedy show and laughed. We laughed so much!
Whirlwind weekend road trips are so much fun! Especially when running and college football are the reasons for traveling.