Suggest a twin-centre holiday combining Daytona Beach and Central Florida to clients and it may well conjure up images of an action-packed break full of racing cars and theme park thrill rides.
Yet the two destinations both offer altogether gentler sides of the state that soothes the senses and provides a calm respite for body and mind.
Set on Florida’s east coast, Daytona Beach is just an hour by road from theme park capital Orlando. It is known as “The World’s Most Famous Beach” because its hard-packed sands were where pioneering motoring enthusiasts held car races and speed record attempts in the early years of the last century.
You can still drive on some sections of the beach alongside lapping waves, although the maximum speed is 10mph.
Slower still is a beach cruiser bike. Cyclists can pedal along much of the 23 miles of the Daytona Beach area’s golden sands, skirting the Atlantic tideline, weaving around families relaxing or playing on the beach, and riding under its famous pier and past bronzed lifeguards keeping watch from their lookout posts.
Time to pick up the pace? Speed-lovers can get their thrills at the Daytona International Speedway, spectating at one of its high-octane races or enjoying a NASCAR experience driving or being driven on the tri-oval circuit in a racing car. Or stay at adjacent motoring-themed hotel The Daytona and take a VIP tour that includes a leisurely bus ride around its banked track and a visit to the Archives and Research Centre to see exhibits including famous winning racing cars and impressive trophies.
For a break from lazing on the beaches, take a laid-back sailing cruise from Ponce Inlet, at the southern end of Daytona Beach. Among craft operating half-day cruises is 50-foot catamaran Arabella, which sails along the sheltered Halifax River and out into the Atlantic, with the opportunity to see dolphins and other wildlife before anchoring on a sandbank for a paddle in the shallow, clear waters.
Towering over the area at 175 feet high is Florida’s tallest lighthouse, the 135-year-old Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. Although still operating, you can climb its 203 steps for panoramic views and visit the museum it forms part of. Close by is the family-friendly Marine Science Centre, featuring a touch pool and the area’s only turtle hospital and seabird rehabilitation facility.
The Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach features major collections of American and Cuban art and one of the largest collections of Coca-Cola memorabilia, a children’s museum and a planetarium.
Foodies should savour breakfast on the terrace of The Shores Resort & Spa at Daytona Beach Shores or sample treats such as bacon and crisps covered in chocolate at Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory in downtown Daytona Beach. You can also cook up your own pancakes on the griddle at De Leon Springs State Park’s Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant.
Central Florida’s small town feel
Bok Tower Gardens in Central Florida’s Lake Wales was one of Florida’s first attractions, opening in 1929 and attracting 23 million visitors since then. It comprises 157 acres of lush gardens, with the soaring Singing Tower and its 60-bell carillon at its heart, mirrored in a reflecting pool.
A must on a visit to the gardens is the 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion, El Retiro, originally built as a winter home by a steel magnate.
Lakeland is Central Florida’s largest city but has a friendly, small town feel. Walk the promenade at Lake Mirror Park or take in colourful displays at Hollis Garden, a formal botanical garden with neo-Classical architecture containing flowers, ornamental shrubs and native trees.
Antique shops, art galleries, museums restaurants and bars abound in Lakeland’s downtown Historic and Antique District. Don’t miss the First Friday Celebration held monthly in Munn Park, featuring local artisans and market stalls.
Take a tour of a citrus grove at Ridge Island Groves in Haines City and then tuck into smoothies made from fresh fruits. And for fine dining with a Latin American flavour, samba down to Nineteen61 in Lakeland.
Central Florida has its own theme parks, too. The world’s first Peppa Pig Theme Park opened last year just a few steps away from LEGOLAND in Winter Haven.
Accommodation options include vacation villas with private swimming pools at Balmoral Resort in Haines City and Camp Margaritaville RV Resort and Cabana Cabins, one of the region’s newest resorts, in Auburndale, that offers a tiki bar, firepits, resort pool, entertainment stage and children’s playground.
A chilled Daytona Beach and Central Florida twin centre may not be the Sunshine State holiday your clients are familiar with, but it’s a winning combination.
Book it with… Gold Medal Travel
A 10-night Daytona Beach and Central Florida two-centre stay costs from £1,799pp and includes Virgin Atlantic return flights to Orlando International Airport, seven nights in a villa at the Bahama Bay Resort on Lake Davenport in Polk County and three nights at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort plus fully-inclusive Alamo car hire. goldmedal.co.uk