The Pink Palace of Florida
Coming up the long, brick drive towards this grand hotel, was pretty impressive.
I'm guessing, those high society guests came by boat and probably brought trunks of dressy clothes. Ahhh, the life!
The Not So Elite Guests Arrive
Don and I arrived, as the least elite guests of The Don Cesar. We had booked the cheapest room and we chose self-parking over valet. While Don took the car, I stepped down the stairs and headed to the desk on the right. As I got checked in, I spotted a tray holding some champagne flutes and some kind of pink beverage. But, suddenly the eager bellman was ready to show me to the room. Rats. We missed out on the welcome cocktail. Or, were we not elite enough?
Even though we didn't valet park, the valet staff and those who handled our baggage were by far the friendliest in the whole hotel. Our bellman proudly shared that he had been working the job for over 40 years. Another good humored fellow, happily posed for my camera at the top of the stairs.
Arches and Glass
Heading to the elevator I took in the hall decor. I loved the repeating arches and the modern glass light fixture.
This hallway with endless palms and glowing fixtures, made me feel like I was looking into a set of tricky dressing room mirrors... allowing me to see forever!
Blue and White Glass
When an historic hotel goes modern on me, I appreciate it when they at least fill the space with appealing decor. The hotel's refreshingly cool salt blue and sand colors. definitely appealed to me. I especially loved the wall and ceiling lights with their dangling blue and white glass!
The elevator took us to the 4th floor. All was quiet, clean and modern.
The Halls Long Ago
Our Beach-y Room
We ended up with 2 beds and a view of the parking lot. But no complaints. The room was fresh with its sea-green and white decor.
There are worse views. We were able to look over the parking lot and see the bridge over the bay. We could also see the palace-pink stucco and spy into another room, if we were so inclined. Best of all, we saved about 50 bucks by not needing an ocean view.
I liked the arched opening to the bath/dressing area.
The framed vintage photos gave us a few glimpses to the past. There showed guests on shuffleboard courts and others enjoying some lawn bowling entertainment. No Cornhole games, back then, but we saw some on the beach, later.
Before our bellman left, he showed us around the room. He seemed concerned that we had no robes. He said we should call the desk, so I did. The woman seemed terribly surprised. Were we sure? Had we checked the closet? She seemed a bit skeptical, but I assured her that the bellman had noticed... just in case she thought we (budget travelers that we are) were stashing some robes to take home.
She said 2 robes would be delivered. We left the room a while and returned to find a heap of white fabric dropped on the chair. We were perplexed and took a picture. A different woman at the desk, agreed that the delivery seemed odd... even a little passive aggressive. She promised to take care of it. Later, we found wrinkled robes hanging, properly in our closet. I found the whole robe thing creepy. It was easier to tolerate the thought of a hotel poltergeist, than a grumpy or drunk employee.
Enough About Robes!
Actually, Don and I didn't care a hoot about the robes. We cared about the sunshine and 80 degree temps that called to us from the beach and pool area!
On a weekday in January, there were plenty of chairs around the two pools.
We headed out to the beach, but we didn't get in the water like these fellows.
It was fun comparing the building in this old photo to the hotel today. Most of the towers and structures looked just the same. Today, there's an added tower on the back, hiding an open air stairwell.
Too bad Don didn't have a black tank suit, to match the age of the hotel. But we did feel pampered, like elite guests from long ago.
At check in, we were given passes for chair and umbrella setup. When we stepped on the sand, we were graciously ushered to find a good spot, where chairs and table were arranged and towels were laid out. We were offered an umbrella, but after 2 chilly weeks of traveling, we didn't want anything blocking our sun.
Don CeSar Umbrella
The beach staff checked back with us to see if we'd changed our minds about the umbrella. It was tempting, since it had Don's name on it. But we declined. The sun felt wonderful in the late afternoon!
We kept an eye on the time and headed back, before the sun got too low. We were on the Florida gulf, after 2 weeks on the Atlantic. We were excited for sunset on a clear evening!
Up in the Tower
Before heading to the room, we climbed up in the tower to check out the view. We could see the garden area below and the Spa in the building across.
We found another good spot that no one seemed to be using. The nice little terrace had a vacant seat, just made for watching the sunset.
We looked out past the pool and sand and saw the sun sinking lower. We rushed back to the room to change clothes.
A Visit with The Dolphin
Dressed and ready, we headed out towards the beach. I paused to admire the smiling dolphin with his painted designs... all aglow with evening light.
The Rowe Bar
The Rowe Bar was raised just enough to offer a good view of the water and lowering sun.
We sat back and enjoyed our cozy couch and toasted, with our sunset martinis. Just before the sun sunk into the gulf, we stood and snapped a photo or two.
Don's was better. I snapped a one-handed shot with my Nikon, because I was talking to our daughter on the phone. That makes me sound like the kind of tourist I hate. But, we answer when our grown kids call, wherever we are. They are busy and we travel a lot. Some of our best memories from trips, involve an answered call, in an odd place... learning fun or special news that ends up flavoring our trip. We have never traveled to get away from our kids!
The air got chillier and we took our drinks into the Lobby Bar. We chatted with a fabulous bartender and a somewhat interesting couple. We thought about the 2 lovely hotel restaurants, but ended up taking a guest's suggestion. We ordered the hotel's pizza for the room. This decision was as much about laziness, as saving money. It was a good plan. The pizza was good!
A Quick Peek
Before heading up to the room, I took a quick dash outside to view the hotel's grand entrance, lit up at night. I don't rate our Notable Nights, but I do take note of how hotels look after the sun goes down. This one would get an A+.
Besides the robe mystery, all was good! I felt like I was getting my cake and eating it too. A curious and grand historic hotel, along with a heavenly, pampering beach!
One Night at a Universal Orlando Hotel
There it is!
Don and I learned about Cabana Bay, when searching the internet for hotels between St. Augustine and St. Petersburg. When I saw pictures of the whimsically mod hotel, I got pretty excited. When I saw it on the map, I said, "Perfect!" When I saw it with my eyes from the exit off 1-4, I squealed. You would have thought I was a kid, spotting Cinderella's Castle!
Colorful Hotel on a Colorful Day
We arrived before noon, just as the clouds were breaking up. The blue sky and green palms fit in perfectly with the bright-tropical style... waiting just inside.
We entered the lobby and I felt as if I'd walked into my childhood television set. Of course the future-istic, world that I loved in The Jetsons, was all black and white. We didn't have color TV until I'd outgrown cartoons.
The crazy-mod lobby looked totally out of this world! When I used to watch episodes of The Jetsons, I assumed this is how my life would look when I grew up!
Don and I stepped up to the counter, just past the stack of vintage suitcases. A young man in a yellow, "bowling" shirt greeted us. His color fit in nicely, with the 2-story, mosaic wall. He seemed a little surprised that we were staying only one night and that we had no plans to visit Universal's theme parks. "We're just excited about the hotel!" We told him.
Under the lobby's skylight, tall palms happily thrived. Sprawled out on couches surrounding the oasis, there seemed to be numerous families who were not happily thriving.
I spotted piles of luggage, snoozing teens, bickering sibs and one very fussy baby. I was glad to not be a part of that "Last day of Theme Park Vacay with Kids" Club! I was also glad it was not family travel season, or we would have seen a lot more this kind of scene.
I didn't spot any parents sneaking over to the nearby lounge for a bit of liquid relief. Did George Jetson ever stop for a martini on his way home from work? I guess not, but I could picture him lounging beneath that starburst chandelier.
Our room was located in the Americana, one of 4 large hotel buildings. The retro colors and geometric shapes were a soothing throwback to the dreamy motels I adored as a kid. Of course we never stayed at anything so large, but I saw them in movies... mostly Elvis or Las Vegas focused movies.
Even the halls were a hoot. Our elevator opened up to carpeting and light fixtures that delighted me. Who needs a theme park? I could have just played on the elevator all day and checked out all the different retro posters.
Each elevator, on each floor had a circular window, that lured me over for a look. I didn't check out every one, but I liked this window on the pool side. The view of the nearby Volcano Bay Waterpark, was a fun surprise. Guest rooms that overlooked the volcano, paid for that perk.
The hallway seemed to go on forever, but we didn't have to walk far.
We opened the door to our room and grinned at the nostalgic decor! We didn't fork out extra bucks for a pool view room, but our floor was high enough to avoid staring at the parking lot. In fact, the view of distant hotels and parks was pretty interesting.
What Year Is It?
Cabana Bay's moderate rates and kid friendly atmosphere, appeals to families. But I felt like they had created this hotel specifically for me... and my Boomer peers, who grew up in the '60's and '70's. Oh how I loved sliding into those smooth plastic chairs when I was a kid!
Gotta Love the Bathroom
For most of my growing up years, my family of 6 shared one bath. It never looked as clean as this one! No one had wall-mounted hairdryers back then, but many of us had Zest and VO5 Shampoo!
After finding our room, we headed for the Bayliner Diner, with its classic-curvy entrance. The bus stop sign actually had a purpose... for shuttle buses. The purpose of the retro cars, was to confuse us about what year we were living in.
I was able to get a photo without people. If I'd taken this picture in busy March or June, my photo would have included 2019 tourists, snapping cellphone pics.
Retro Diner on Steroids
This was the main dining area for the hotel. Looking down at the huge space, made me think of the Tokyo Airport at 6 am... huge, modern and empty. If the dining area had been filled with summer crowds, it would have looked just like I remember the 1964 New York World's Fair. The fair seemed overwhelmingly large, modern and crowded, when I was 6.
Cartoons and Lunch
Don and I grabbed lunch in a gigantic food court and carried our trays to the entertaining dining room.
The food court setup was obviously designed for crowds, but I would have loved a good old cafeteria better. I didn't get to slide my plastic tray past displays of jello and fruit salad and pieces of pie... but I carried my tray into a magical room where I could stare at cartoon tourists on the wall, or giant projection screens.
The dining room was practically empty at 1:00. I think every guest was at the theme park. We chose a cozy round booth and sat on one side, so we could watch old TV commercials and sitcom clips on the big screen!
Don's Cuban sandwich and pasta salad was not a bit retro, but his palm tree covered shirt, fit the scene.
After lunch we explored the second level, connecting the diner and lobby areas. The colorful bowling alley was calling to us with its neon.
Dining at the Alley
We could have eaten lunch at the bowling alley for a different kind of meal experience! There was bar and restaurant service, plus a choice of mod table options.
It was tempting to make use of the quiet lanes, with their neon bowling pins. But it wasn't free and there was so much more to explore.
If we'd had more than one day, we could have come back for bowling and then hung out with a deck of cards in one of the lounging areas... or ordered some kind of retro cocktail at the Galaxy Bar. Next time!
Jack La Lanne Phusical Fitness Stuido!
Best Hotel Fitness Room!
I'm one of those people who actually uses hotel fitness rooms, so I was blown away by the size and quality of this space!
Me and My Buddy
I wasn't dressed for a workout, but I posed next to the fine Fitness Legend, Jack LaLanne.
The next morning, I came for a work out and noticed only a few thirtysomethings, working out with the equipment. I was tempted to ask, "Do you have any idea who Jack La Lanne is?"
Godfather of Modern Fitness!
A lot of gym space was devoted to the TV star, who once motivated housewives to grab chairs and exercise with him.
Oh how my siblings and I groaned, when cartoons went off and Jack La Lanne came on. But many a time we were bored enough, to roll our eyes and playfully follow his instructions. I spent some time looking over the little museum, which spotlighted Jack's fitness history. I'm no longer laughing at this guy and his 70+ year, fitness & nutrition career.
The weather was breezy and cool, but far too nice to stay inside. We took some time exploring both sides of the resort.
Thunderbird and Starlight
There are over 2,200 rooms and suites at Cabana Bay, in 4 colorful buildings. Thunderbird and Starlight buildings surrounded the larger pool area.
At first I was fooled by the faux diving platforms. Really, the intimidating tower was just the finale of a water slide.
Over by our building, a few guests made use of the heated pool. The meandering, lazy river only had one guest, who floated by in an inner tube.
You could tell the temps were cool, by looking at the quiet pools... or the overdressed lifeguards. At first I thought the pacing lifeguards were trying to keep warm. Eventually it seemed clear that the always moving guards, must have been following some kind of strict guidelines. Nobody was going to drown at Cabana Bay, where every swimmer had at least one rescue-tube-hugging lifeguard, staring at them. That was enough to keep me out of the pool.
Tropical Posing Time
Royal Pacific Hotel
Don and I took our tropical outfits & drinks, into the warmer lobby. We ended up chatting with a woman who encouraged us to explore the other nearby properties.
We grabbed jackets and left our hotel, following the lovely pathways that connect Universal hotel properties. It felt like we were sneaking away from summer camp, when we left our moderately priced, family hotel and ended up at Universal's upper end Royal Pacific Hotel. It was exciting to escape the cartoons and sparkles of CB for a bit and sip drinks in a classy lounge with quiet adults. Then happily headed back to our friendly hotel.
A Florida Hotel With a Past
Off Season Daytona
Daytona Beach has never been my dream destination. But Don and I have visited a few times, when there were no beach crowds or motorcycle rallies or NASCAR happenings.
On our first visit, we took in a lot of the fun, retro flavor of the beach city. I was delighted when I spotted the curious Art Deco hotel. But its paint was peeling and we heard its reputation was a bit tarnished. Three years later, we noticed some renovation going on!
Then and Now
The black and white, mid-century photo, shows the sleek 4-story hotel when it had a few more signs and less landscaping. The white and green image from our visit, shows little structural change... thank goodness!
Our Boat-like Hotel
When we arrived, we had a great view from the large parking lot. The rounded corners and the rooftop railings made me think of a boat. There were even porthole windows on the north side.
A Riverboat Tangent...
The Art Deco, Admiral (along with its powder rooms and big band ballrooms) started cruising the Mississippi in 1940. That was the same year the Streamline opened! The poor Admiral was eventually used for scrap metal, but the Streamline dodged the wrecking ball and made a strong comeback, in 2017.
White and Mint Green
The parking lot was empty when we parked and headed towards the white and green stucco hotel. The pool area was empty too, but that was probably because it was January and chilly.
The lobby desk was as shiny as the old Admiral riverboat! The marble (or marble-like?) floor and columns were so clean and slick, they looked as wet as the Mississippi.
The huge race car image on the wall was there to remind me, we weren't all about boats and rivers. The decor and the welcoming woman at the desk greeted us with much enthusiasm. I'm afraid I can't remember her name, but she was very cheery. "The bars aren't open yet, but I can make you drinks anytime!" We said we were fine for the moment and took some time looking around.
The curvy ceilings were glowing, along with the triple ring light fixture, in the sitting area. I don't know all the decorator terms to describe the lobby space, but Modern and Fun are the words come to mind!
Dividing the lobby and the bar, was a giant fish tank with pristine glass and graceful fish. Our host pointed out her favorite swimming friends. I was tempted to have her make us some tropical drinks and pull 2 bar stools up to the glass.
Cars on the Wall
On the north side of the building, the original, garage-door-style-windows were cleverly renovated, to look as if we were looking down towards the stock car races. A large TV on the east wall, played historic film footage of interviews and racing clips.
After a little lobby time, we took our key and bags to the elevator.
The hotel's original elevator was decorated with old photos and news clippings. While we traveled to the 4th floor, I learned that our hotel was the first fire proof building in the city. It was used as an air raid shelter in WWII.
We asked for a room with a view and got a nice corner room, facing the ocean. Some of the buildings across the street were not too lovely, but I just looked further out towards the Atlantic. We could see the rollercoaster and a few of the boardwalk's more recent additions. I was glad we were in the area, without spring break crowds.
The room was a bit cramped with 2 beds, dresser and chair. But we pretty much had the whole hotel to ourselves and we were a block from the beach... and the newly renovated hotel was clean and classy... and the price was right!
But, before that, The Streamline also spent time as a Youth Hostel and a Retirement Home. It was even owned by an evangelist, who claimed he ministered to Elvis. Hmmm?
To The Roof
At 5:00, the rooftop bar opened, so we made a trip. It was too chilly for lounging on the deck, but the staff went ahead and made the space inviting, with seat cushions and pillows.
After wandering a bit, Don and I ducked inside the Sky Lounge. The cozy, enclosed space was surrounded by roof deck. Again, I felt like I was on a boat.
Our young bartender Nathan, couldn't have been more welcoming. He shared every bit of hotel history he knew.
The Birth of NASCAR
Nathan showed us the photo of Bill France Sr. and all the men who gathered on the hotel's rooftop bar in 1947... called Ebony Bar, then. I wonder how windy it was on that December day, when the men created the association, that united all stock car racing under one set of rules.
Nathan told us a few more bits about Streamline's earlier years. Evidently there was a little bootlegging going on and a tunnel was discovered, that went from the hotel to the beach. I wasn't clear about what the big black safe was for. "Al Capone" was written on the door. Funny, how just about every historic hotel claims to have a connection to Al Capone. ??
Sunset on Deck
I had to step out a couple times to catch the evening colors.
It would have been so pleasant on a warm, tropical evening.
Classy Hotel in Historic City
On the Corner
Three years ago, Don and I spotted this immaculate, Spanish style hotel, on the corner of Cordova and King Streets. The hotel was so large, I couldn't get it all in one picture.
131 years ago, Casa Monica opened on that same busy corner. Just 4 months later, Henry Flagler bought the grand structure and named it Hotel Cordova.
Flagler hardly needed another hotel. Across Cordova Street, he already owned Hotel Alcazar, which now holds the courthouse, a restaurant and museum. Adjacent to Casa Monica, Flagler was finishing up the Hotel Ponce de Leon, which is now Flagler College. How could the city possibly need 3 grand hotels on one corner, in 1888?
On January 20, were took advantage of a good rate. It was still a splurge for us. We moaned for a moment when we found no street parking options. But, if you're going to fork out for valet parking, you need to enjoy it. We did. We pulled the car in through the doors, past a statue and stopped in front of the staircase. Even the door handles were pretty ritzy.
Actually someone did find street parking. This car was parked on Cordova Street, right at the entrance to CM's, Costa Brava Restaurant. It would have been more fun for us, if we'd been driving this little beauty when we pulled up to the valet guys!
When we checked in, the lobby was actually much more crowded than my photo. Our room wasn't ready, so we joined lots of others guests who were killing time... with complimentary glasses of champagne.
There was lots to take in, while we stood at the counter. A glowing red lamp with fringe, was hanging just above Don's head.
A curious nearby chair attracted quite a few guests, who posed for photos while seated between the lion heads. I thought about asking Don to pose, but I didn't want to waste one of my photo requests, just yet.
I'm pretty sure this cushioned seat was not around during the hotel's first run, from 1888 to 1932. But it might have been in the lobby in 2001, when the Kind and Queen of Spain were guests.
The painted beams, ornate chandeliers, tapestries and fountain, made me feel like I'd stepped back in time. While waiting on our room, I did a little wandering and researching.
The hotel's exterior today, still reflects the Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque Revival style, from when it was built. However the original construction material was poured concrete.
Today you can still see all the details from iron balconies to the twisted, corner pillar. There are still shopping options on the corner. But instead of carts and stands on the sidewalk, there are lovely shops like Grand Bohemian Gallery... and Starbucks. I should have cropped that logo out of the photo!
In the 1960's the natural look of the concrete, was covered by stucco. The hotel that had been empty since its closing in 1932, reopened as a courthouse in 1968.
I'm not sure how long the hotel has had this ritzy, second floor, courtyard & pool area. It was empty on a chilly January day, but I had fun looking around.
I read that at one time, Henry Flagler decided to build a bridge between Casa Monica and Hotel Alcazar. It was later torn down and I could find no hints of it.
After waiting on our room for over an hour, I went to the desk and told them we no longer cared to wait for a 5th floor room to be cleaned. Our hall on the third floor was lit by sconces and decorated with lovely beams.
All the halls had interesting artwork, related to some of St. Augustine's most interesting people.
I had to chuckle a bit at the style of our room. The red-cushy headboard looked like something from a Dean Martin movie.
The Spanish style dresser and wardrobes (with "antiqued" mirrors) felt a little '70's to me... for a hotel that reopened in 1999. But the TV was up with the times. Football isn't usually a part of our hotel adventuring, but we caught the end of the Saints and Rams game... and it wasn't pretty.
Bath and View
The room had decent space, with a couch, desk, and an extra sink and coffee area. The bathroom was not photo worthy. I had hoped for a fancy tub, but probably wouldn't have used it, since there was an odd smell in the room. I should have complained, but I chose to ignore.
Our view of King Street would have been better had we waited for the 5th floor. St. Augustine was still lit with lots of holiday lights in January and a higher floor would have offered a festive view.
The hotel's website mentioned classical music and Flamenco guitar, in the lounge beside the lobby. However, the bar TVs had been tuned into football on that Sunday afternoon. By the time we arrived, the crowds were just leaving.
To lift the gloom over the Saint's loss, Don ordered a Sazerac... the drink of New Orleans. My choice was less unusual, but I enjoyed my Cosmo. I made use of our kind bartender and asked the question that Don dreads. "Would you mind taking our photo?" Don doesn't look annoyed, because our bartender was very good humored. He snapped from a few angles and laughed about how staff training included tips for taking guest photos.
Admiring the Details
We enjoyed our drinks before bundling up and heading off to enjoy more of St. Augustine on foot. It was a 3-day weekend, so there was a festive feel in the historic city. We returned later and ordered a pretty scrumptious sandwich dinner in the quieter part of the lounge. Perfect.
Surprise at the Pool
Before we turned in, I made one more quick exploring dash around the hotel. I came back and reported to Don that there was a small gathering at the pool courtyard, with all eyes looking upward to catch a glimpse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse! I could see just a small bite, out of the moon when I zoomed in. Don attempted to catch it later, but the clouds had moved in.
Martin Luther King Junior's Birthday
The hotel was quiet early the next morning, on MLK Day. I took some time to look at the lobby space and imagine it in the summer of 1964, when the vacant hotel played a dark role.
I learned a few things when I woke earlier and searched the internet for info about MLK Day happenings in St. Augustine. I was surprised to learn of MLK's connection to the historic city. There is a disturbing history that ended up leading to the signing of the Civil Rights Act. In 1964, the hotel's empty lobby was used to house police dogs, which were used against peaceful demonstrators.
I learned that the city would be honoring Dr. King with their 34th annual Silent March, that day. We decided to join in.
The hotel offered to keep our bags after we checked out. We joined others near St. John's AME Church, where we lined up in rows of 5. The route followed the same one that Dr. King and other peaceful protesters marched, over 50 years ago. The march ended at noon in Plaza de la Constitucion, while the church bells rang. Just before reaching the pavilion, we had followed the Andrew Young Pathway, with bronze footprints and the words Justice, Peace, Equality and Freedom. After a program with music, prayers and speakers we returned for our bags and headed off on the road with a headful of memories.
I will always remember the magical night we spent, surrounded with Moorish columns and Moroccan frescoes... and a lunar eclipse to top it off. But mostly I'll remember the morning, with all the discoveries and the honor of being able to join in the Silent March.
Historic Beachside Hotel in Florida
The Casa Maria was our second stop on our southeastern road trip. Don and I were excited when we pulled up to the Spanish Mediterranean hotel from 1925. The awning and palms, stucco and tile, looked inviting.
Once inside, the hotel had a homey feel. There was no grand lobby, just a corner office for checking in. I wonder what the interior looked like in 1925, when Florida was in the height of its land boom and this hotel was bustling.
Hall of Photos
I could get a little bit of an idea about the hotel's past by studying all the old photos in the halls. Jacksonville Beach must have been quite the place with boardwalk and carnival rides.
Just off the lobby there were doors to the patio area. I could see strings of lights and a wooden walkway leading to the beach.
Palms and Stucco
The courtyard on the ocean side, looked fairly impressive with some outdoor seating. The wind was pretty fierce on that January afternoon, so the buildings did a good job of blocking the wind.
To the Beach
The afternoon light was glowing on the surf. I took a quick walk out toward the beach.
I didn't see a pool, but evidently there was one in the past. I liked this old postcard image of the colorful umbrellas. There were probably a few swim caps in that pool.
Don and I asked for a room with a view, but turned down the $40.00 upgrade. Our check in host said she could give us a partial view, so we headed up the stairs, happy.
Corner Room - 208
It's hard to get too much of a view, with a 2-story building, but at least we had more than one window. Corner rooms are always a perk. The side window even had a side view of the beach. However, the aged window screen was so loose and wavy, that I had a hard time seeing the view! Amusing.
Curious Set Up
The bed with unusual frame, was squeezed in next to one bedside table. There was some extra space outside of the bathroom, with a sink built into a dresser. I liked that. But there was no chair and the TV was on an awkwardly low table, beside a dusty bible.
So we helped ourselves to one of the chairs in the hall and brought it into our room. Then I made a luggage rack out of a wobbly ironing board. The bathroom at least had good light from a window.
The north end of the building showed the entrance to the restaurant.
Once inside, we discovered a nice dining area with wood beams and white tablecloths. Unfortunately, there was no dining for us. The area is now an event space, so just took the stairs on up a few levels, where food was available.
The Penthouse Lounge
From a distance you can see the covered stairs, leading up to the Penthouse Lounge. The third floor was added in later years and in recent years has become a popular gathering place for locals.
Too Cold on Deck!
The outdoor deck had a great view of the beach and pier. The photo doesn't reveal how fiercely that wind was whipping. We opted to stay in the indoor bar and enjoyed drinks and appetizers, where we still had a decent view.
Tempted by the View
I kept looking out at the view and finally could not sit any longer. I just grabbed the camera and headed down the staircase, from the outdoor terrace.
Bridge to the Beach
I headed down the wooden walkway, away from hotel.
The further away I got, the more the hotel looked its age. It made me think more about the famous people who stayed in the early years, from Al Capone to Charlie Chaplin.
The Colorful Days
I wanted to see all the people who romped in the waves over the years... in all the various styles from the modest 1920's to the bikini days.
But instead, I saw this lovely old hotel, with the sun sinking behind.
There were no sunbathers on a cold January day, but I did spot some brave souls with surfboards. What a a lovely spot this hotel has held, for over 90 years.
In the morning I finished studying the last of the old photos in the hallways. Then, we headed towards the lobby bar, where a complimentary breakfast awaited. Determined to make use of our little beach hotel's location, we moved outside with our coffee and rolls.
A Night at the Depot
I sort of moaned and chuckled, when I took this photo of the L & N Depot, built in 1912. There was no way to get a picture without that ridiculous wall of windows behind.
Don and I have stayed at a few train station hotels. We love the history and we also like the train sounds, that often come with a stay. We decided to go for a night at the Pensacola Grand Hotel, even though we knew we wouldn't be staying in the historic station itself.
We spotted the modern building, as we approached the heart of the old city. The depot was squeezed in, between the towering hotel and a tangle of raised highway. I laughed.
Nearly a Century Ago
The setting for the station was very different, a century ago. The Louisville & Nashville passenger depot was a hopping place, with a lovely park nearby. The park is gone, but at least the ocean hasn't moved.
An Odd Connection
When we arrived on a Thursday afternoon, the brick and stucco station looked lovely. The connected hotel (once a Crown Plaza Hotel) looked less charming, but the price was cheaper than the Holiday Inn Express.
We parked on the street for free and headed towards the entrance. I studied the green doors, imagining the people who passed through, until the depot's closing in 1979.
Once inside, I was relieved to see glimpses of the past.
The original floors were covered with wood and numerous tile designs. I loved the snowflake design best.
I spotted marble baseboards and white marble, framing a sweet pair of stained glass windows.
Stepping into the Future
To check in, we had to pass out of the old station and into the modern hotel lobby. I looked back towards the doorway and realized that is where passengers once stepped outside, towards the tracks.
The threshold tile was a reminder of the past depot. The antique clock above the doors, was brought in during the renovation years.
At check in I asked if we could have a room with a view. The very serious check in woman insisted, "Oh you're going to like your room."
I knew from reviews that rooms were dated, so I didn't expect luxury. However the size of the room, plus our view, kept us happy.
Highways, RR Tracks and Ocean
We didn't fret over the old Mr. Coffee maker and the "vintage" TV. We had a ball with our corner room, which was basically all floor to ceiling windows! I was totally entertained looking towards the ocean. I was like a little kid watching cars and trucks and trains, below.
Luckily our 15-story hotel had an elevator, but I loved the stairs in the 2-story station best. I found more marble and dark wood.
I shouldn't be a hotel snob, but I did sort of roll my eyes when I saw the fountain and library, at the north end of the new building.
I love a hotel library, but this one did not lure me to sit a spell. I had no desire to sit on one of those parlor chairs and read any of their encyclopedia sets! Library of Rejected Books?
Dine & Drink
The Lobby Bar looked curious, but it was closed.
Restaurant 1912 and Cavu Club
It was early when Don and I started thinking about dinner. We had 2 options in the train station. The restaurant looked too quiet and formal, when the doors opened at 5. The bar looked more welcoming.
As we entered, the beautiful stained glass over the bar caught my eye. I hate bar TVs, so I was happy to realize the blue and white glow, was really an illuminated Navy symbol of some kind. In corner filled with Navy Aviation photography, a jeweled ceiling dome glowed.
Don and I had a nice chat with our very friendly bartender, while we split a mighty good club sandwich. It was a cozy atmosphere, but the antiques weren't original to the station and the Navy focus was more about airplanes than trains. I wanted more train focus!
Morning at the Station
Honestly, my expectations had been low. I knew we weren't going to have the "old hotel" experience that we love, while staying at modern hotel with dated decor. But Don and I enjoyed the station and our sprawling room with the views. I finally got to see my vintage train depot photos to help me imagine the past. It was a great stay for $116.
The Old Spanish City in Florida
Check-In at the Window
This must have been a lovely house back in the day. I'm pretty sure the original owners wouldn't have had a framed photo of Marilyn Monroe above the fireplace. We headed towards the glowing window where we checked in and got our key to room 5. I was excited to be in the Main House, since the inn has expanded and spread to some other buildings.
Tini Martini Bar
We peeked into the Martini Bar, because our night included a 15-dollar voucher for the bar... which gets you about 1 drink. The cozy bar was pretty empty because everyone wanted to sit outside. If we'd stayed in, we could have viewed the nude woman or the colorful dancing couple.
We chose instead to sit outside on the veranda where we could sip our martinis with a view of the bay.
And as evening progressed, we got to gaze over the flaming torches and keep an eye on the boats and the draw bridge.
And as the sun lowered, the clouds changed to pink and the beautiful homes across the water began to glow. Occasionally, we got to watch a carriage load up with passengers and head off for a ride through the ancient city, still lit with Christmas lights.
About Those Martinis
Don and I each ordered one martini that came in its own shaker. That's not unusual. There wasn't any unusually fancy 2-handed shaking by our server, either. What was unusual was that instead of a metal lid, they used rubbery plastic caps like you'd see on the bottom of your grandpa's cane. Now, I'm sure those things get sanitized well, but the dingy color kind of creeped me out. Glad they took those off the table.
Sitting on the veranda allowed us to watch the bay, street and sidewalk. It was a busy 3-day weekend so there was lots to watch. Most intriguing of all, was the couple with three Maltese pups seated below us. I finally got so curious about this traveling family, that I just had to go down and chat. They turned out to be very lovely people from Sarasota and these were rescue dogs, not show dogs. All 5 were kind enough to pose.
What About the Room?
I'm spending a lot of time talking about the porch and view, but we did have a room. It was in the back.
You had to step out the back door to get to our little porch. Our door had a Christmas wreath a plaque with the name, Gonzalez Sanchez. I wonder if Mr. Sanchez was a very small man?
Our Teenie Tiny Room
The bed was teeny, but it was soft and comfy and there was a cleverly built set of teeny lamp holders, since there was no room for bedside tables.
We really didn't mind our small room. We had chosen the most economical room we could find and we weren't going to spend much time in it anyway.
Lots of Christmas Going On
It was back to the veranda one more time in the morning to use our 25-dollar brunch voucher, that came with our stay. We had coffee instead of martinis and our table was lit with sunshine instead of Christmas lights. I studied the clipboard with brunch options and chose a delicious Veggie-Benedict with avocado and sunflower seeds. The toasty potatoes were perfectly seasoned. Service was a bit slow, but the food was worth waiting for.
I might remember the teeny room, but mostly I'll recall the festive front with porches and torches and the incredible view!
Vilano Beach, FL
About That Sign
We spoke with the owner, Earl and he gave us some history about the motel and sign. The motel opened in 1951, but there was no neon sign with bunnies and top hats. The sign went up in the late 1990's when the motel was used for filming a TV series called, "Safe Harbor". The show was about a family living in a motel, in the fictional town of Magic Beach, Florida. One of the family members happened to be a magician.
Gotta Love Flamingos
A motel sign with bunnies may be a first for me. But I'm guessing this is not my first stay at a Florida motel with a few flamingos. There were flamingos near the doors and high on the roof, glowing at night.
I liked having flamingos on both sides of the door, but I also liked all the accent colors. Mint doors, pink-orange triangle shapes, stripes... The chairs didn't quite blend with the color and style, but I'm willing to ignore that.
Once inside 106, we found lots more color. The room murals were evidently done many years ago and have been touched up by art students over the years. Luckily I didn't go to sleep thinking about the 2 pirates waving their flag right above my head. Only in the morning did I chuckle at the thought.
Was it like Alice's looking glass or the famous, "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall..." Earl promised me it was just a window to some room with a furnace or something. Hmmm?
We had a spiffy set of chairs and a table, beside a big picture window, with a view of the parking lot. But with some positive thinking, I could practically see the ocean... just past that taller building.
What is that building?
The lower half of the building was once the motel's restaurant. The owner of the motel in the 1970's added the second floor at his wife's request.
A Better View
Earl showed us the second floor room, with a shark mural and a balcony. But the view the wife had once requested, was blocked by a newer complex... built by the same husband, trying to please his wife. That just makes no sense.
What to do?
The weather was chilly and breezy, or we could have lounged beside the somewhat kidney shaped pool.
Wandering the 'Hood
Instead, we decided to wander a bit and see what was within walking distance. Heading east from the motel, we found a pavilion and a sandy beach with lots of families. Heading west, we found a pier which had once been the bridge over the bay. The closing of the bridge is what caused the old motels and motor courts to close down.
In truth, we didn't find enough to keep us entertained. We drove over the bay to St. Augustine, which was hopping on Saturday night. When we returned later that night, we found something else hopping! 3 neon bunnies (and one in the hat) were looking mighty festive on our motel sign!
We had a stay in a retro Florida motel with a memorable neon sign. The place is family owned and in walking distance of beach and pier. There was even a continental breakfast with "MeTV" showing a "Gilligan's Island" episode as we ate breakfast. Pretty fun stay for less than 100!
It doesn't look like the old motor courts and motels I remember from when I lived in Florida as a kid. But this 196-room boutique hotel had a nice mix of styles.
The huge lobby had lots of sitting areas, all very bohemian-modern. Or maybe should say, it seemed a little Sixties-Snobby. That term I just made up from watching Jerry Lewis movies as a kid. All the snooty, sophisticated characters who were mean to Jerry lived in modern penthouses with lots of super mod decor!
I grew up in a house with antiques, so the only modern furniture I owned was the lovely "marble" swivel coffee table, that went into my dollhouse. That "Petite Princess" brand of toy furniture looked a lot like some of the stuff I saw in the lobby... which was luckily pretty empty. It was October and no spring break crowds!
The patio rooms were just steps from the lovely pool. It was peaceful on that evening in October, but as we wandered through the tidy rows of lounge chairs I was reminded of how un-peaceful it might be with a spring break crowd. Closer to the beach and "shack-bar" there was a handy little platform, holding some sort of creepy mattresses...for lounging, or whatever. I don't think I'd want a poolside room in March or April.
Our Groovy Room!
I'm pretty sure this is the first surfer-style room I have on my Notable Nights list! One wall was covered with a colorful surfing mural. The green wall figures lured us towards the dandy chair with mod fabric. The window had Venetian blinds and drapes with groovy green fabric. The view looked out on our courtyard, which actually had some lovely trees and landscaping.
Pink Tile & Surf Board
I love old tile in bathrooms, especially when a soap dish and toothbrush holder are incorporated! Was that color a flesh tone? Pink, I hope. I've never had a surfboard in the room. I have a feeling that was not to be borrowed like a hotel towels. But it was tempting, since I could hear the gulls and surf through open windows!
By the Beach
Again, I'm focussing on the peaceful images. My sunset with dunes photo does not reveal the huge beach nearby. There were volley ball nets and sunburned tourists... This is the scene I choose to remember.
Later that evening, Don and I enjoyed some drinks and appetizers at the restaurant/bar attached to the lobby. It was a treat to enjoy the laid back atmosphere without throbbing music and "kids" who would have called us Gram and Gramps. But I wouldn't mind a glimpse of that scene just for fun.
Venice, Florida in October 2012
Three years ago, we planned a Florida road trip to revisit some of the places I adored as a child. I had fond memories of Venice and I loved the idea of staying in a retro Florida-Style motel. However when we arrived I had to roll my eyes at this awful sign that overshadowed the quaint semi-circular office building.
The Tamiami Trail from Tampa to Miami
When most Floridians escaped to the north during summer months, our family traveled south (for Dad's work) from Tallahassee to Sarasota. We knew the north portion of The Trail well. Every neon sign and orange juice stand made the 4 kids (and our traveling pets) pretty giddy. My dream when planning the trip, was to stay at a motel on the actual Trail!
This is what Island Breeze used to look like! When built In 1951, it a had a cutesy name, a lovely grass courtyard with a fountain and most likely shuffleboard! The sign possibly was not neon, but it had a colorful fellow sleeping under a sombrero... which may not be considered politically correct, today. But these are the images that still make me sigh today. I'd like to sit a spell in one of those webbed lawn chairs.
At Least It's There!
I was glad we were able to find any place at all right on the TheTrail! When bigger interstates opened up, the motels and restaurants suffered. This very area turned pretty shady. The places that didn't have boarded up windows were becoming flophouses and homes to drug dealers and prostitutes. Around 2005, a few brave souls began to work on saving the area with renovations.
Nothing Too Fancy
The motel is not on the beach or they might have gone for a pricier fix-up. But I liked the simplicity of the flat roofs and painted cinderblock. We enjoyed the convenience of backing up to the door. There was even a covered walkway that we could have used as a porch to watch one of those great Florida thunderstorms.
Porch with Shells and a View... Sort Of
The TV and microwave reminded me that it wasn't 1967 anymore. But the doors and ceiling had the original knotty pine. This was their smallest and cheapest of 21 rooms. The woman at the desk tried to talk us into something "more comfortable" but we assured her it would be fine.
We didn't seem to have neighbors, so the porch was ours. We noticed a few shell collectors had decorated the windowsill. The rock and palm landscaping was pretty tidy and gave us a little view. But mostly it was just sad to see the parking lot, where there had once been a refreshing, green courtyard.
There was a tiny pool with a wooden table and grill, but I was eager to get to the beach. It was Venice Beach where my family spent many an afternoon filling paper cups with shiny black shark's teeth. "I found 94," Says an entry in my 1968 diary. I was sad to discover that 40 years later, the "Shark Teeth Capital of the World" has lost its loot. I didn't find a single one.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!