DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As far back as 1902 Daytona Beach was in the public eye. It was the proving ground for the automobile engine; its 23 miles of firm sand beach were ideal for setting speed records.
Racing moved off the beach in 1959. You can still drive 18 of the 23 miles, but you have to do it at 10 m.p.h.
In the early '60s Daytona decided to try to attract a new crowd--the thousands of students who head for the sun during spring break. To make students aware of the welcome, a businessman headed down to the popular Fort Lauderdale area, rented a boat and, in front of Fort Lauderdale's beach, released thousands of table-tennis balls imprinted with Daytona's invitation.
This year about 350,000 students are expected to descend on the area between mid-February and early April for free concerts, various contests and frolicking in the sun, sand and surf.
Concerts by the Sea
Many of the free concerts are held at Dayton's beachside band shell. It can hold 5,000, but up to 30,000 can attend by gathering on the adjoining beach. The costs are covered by major companies such as breweries. The peak concert period is under way, Monday through Friday, until the end of this month.
MTV will broadcast from Daytona Beach until next Sunday. It will also sponsor contests at a variety of places, and a concert on Saturday.
From today through March 22, Expo America will be held at the Ocean Center. This free event offers major product producers a chance to promote their wares to the student consumer through entertainment, samples and demonstrations.
Almost nightly until April 9, the "Party Ship" will set sail with 500 spring-breakers. This ship has been sold out every night of the spring break for the last four years.
For $17 you get transportation to and from your hotel, a four-hour cruise and free drinks between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. The ship has three decks, two bars and a dance floor. You need to book at least two days in advance; call (904) 255-1997.
One of the most popular beach bars is Penrod's. In the hotel lobby during mid-March you'll find 25 promotional exhibitors. At the pool there will be various contests along with live music, and in the parking lot will be a driving competition.
The drinking age in Florida is 21. At bars such as Penrod's you can enter at 18, but you're given a special stamp so bartenders know that you can't be served.
You can take a minibus tour of Daytona International Speedway for $1 any day except when races or testing are scheduled.
The beach was recently designated a seaside park. During peak holiday periods there's a $3 charge to drive a vehicle on it--no charge for walkers. On April 2 it will be packed with runners; the 5K Easter Beach Run attracts about 5,000 competitors each year.
Not only is Daytona Beach one of the less expensive resort areas of Florida but it also has the advantage of being within easy reach of many of Florida's most popular tourist attractions. So if you need a break from the beach, here's where you can go:
Only about 53 miles inland from Daytona is the Orlando area where you'll find Disney World, Epcot Center and Sea World, the world's largest marine-life park. Even closer to Daytona, south along the coast, is the Kennedy Space Center.
Reaching these sites without a car isn't a problem. Several Daytona tour companies will pick up from major hotels and provide transportation and entrance fee packages, or transportation only.
For example, Atlas Bus service can get you to Disney World and back for $18. A-1 Bus Tours offers a package, including entrance to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot Center, for $48. Normally a one-day "passport" to visit either the Magic Kingdom or Epcot Center would cost $28 for an adult.
Transportation only to Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport U.S.A. costs $18 and is available from Atlas Tours on Thursdays.
A-1 Tours provides transport and a tour on Wednesdays for $21. Entrance and some tours at the center are free, but if you want to see the IMAX film with footage shot from the space shuttle, there is a charge of $2.75. A bus tour of the site is $4.
Return transportation to Sea World is $18; an A-1 Bus Tour with entrance fees is $34. The regular adult entrance fee is $21.95.
You must book tours or transportation to these sites at least a day in advance. Bookings can be made at most major hotels.