Thrills and chills in Florida's heat; IAN DOYLE slows down then speeds up to sample life in the fast lane on Daytona Beach.
THERE'S nothing quite as seductive, soothing and showstopping as the sight of a shimmering morning sunrise.
And little can compare with viewing one of nature's glorious gifts from the Florida coast as rhythmic ripples from the Atlantic Ocean wash onto the beach.
But this isn't Miami. It isn't even the Gold Coast. We're further north along the shore in Daytona Beach, famed as the home of the Daytona International Speedway but now positioning itself as an alternative to the more traditional Florida resorts.
Waking up to such stunning views, it's not difficult to see why the city - just 90 minutes drive from Orlando airport - is increasingly becoming a popular destination with tourists.
Travelling Stateside in the spacious, attentive business class of Norwegian Airlines provides the perfect preparation for a break, making the transatlantic trek part of the experience rather than something to endure.
We were staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, recently opened on the coast and, with many of the rooms facing the ocean, offering those remarkable, intoxicating views that take the breath away.
As you might expect, music paraphernalia is scattered throughout the property, ranging from Eddie van Halen's guitar to Steve Vai's Harley Davidson Knucklehead bike and items that belonged to Elvis Presley, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. The hotel isn't a new build, and by renovating the 1950s Desert Inn Hotel it has retained a real sense of character. Nevertheless, the rooms are plush, modern and equipped with TV, comfortable beds, mini-bar and free wi-fi. Some have private balconies or patios.
And there can't be many hotels where upon checking in you're asked for which type of music you prefer, a mix of which is then piped into your room on walking in.
Our first morning is spent under the sun sampling breakfast at the hotel's main restaurant, Sessions. Eggs Benedict has never been so fulsome or tasty.
The hotel's impressive outside space - complete with fire pits, an outdoor pool, a kids' pool and a hot tub - invites you to fully appreciate the panoramic views.
It's here where, plates long since emptied, we undergo a yoga session that makes us realise (a) how inflexible we are and (b) how warm the sun can be, even before noon. Old Blighty it ain't.
Next comes a trip to the Tanger Outlet and Tomoka Town Center, a sprawling area that will sate the needs of any holiday shopper with boutique and designer stores.
Nearby is the LPGA International, the home of women's golf. Don't worry, you don't have to be able to swing a club to enjoy lunch here, the chicken salad hitting the mark like a 3 iron into the 18th green.
We returned to the hotel to sample its hugely impressive Rock Spa. There are several options, including Rhythm and Motion which features a 'rock bed' massage with bass vibrations through the bed. I plump for Recharge, and an hour later start to truly appreciate the value of that earlier yoga session. These are experts, for sure.
The evening, though, is when the hotel's unique selling point comes to the fore. The Wave Terrace features regular live entertainment, with two pool bars ensuring glasses are never empty for long. Revellers can also retreat to the hotel's private area on Daytona's famed beach.
The following morning it's off to the Museum of Arts and Sciences, one of the area's prized cultural venues. Central Florida's primary art, science and history museum, it includes a Coca-Cola and Americana section that will seriously make you view the drink and its curious history in a new light.
Lunch is at the Rose Villa Southern Table, where the signature fried chicken ticks all the boxes. The 19th Century building has retained its friendly charm and is also home to the Upstairs Absinthe Bar and Dessert Room, an unsurprisingly popular haunt.
Downtown Daytona Beach was our next call, and the Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory where we sample such unusual specialities as chocolatecovered crisps and, for the truly brave, bacon wrapped in chocolate.
A journey to the distinctive and imposing Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, the secondhighest in the United States, allows us to climb the steps inside for an incredible view of Daytona Beach.
A Hard Hotel On the way back, cocktails are taken at the beachside North Turn Restaurant, famed for being the exact location where motor racing history began at Daytona with races on the sands in the 1900s.
So it would be rude not to have a drive on the 23-mile beach itself - a real thrill.
The following morning takes in the Marine Science Center to see how sealife such as turtles are rehabilitated. But the petrolheads among us are finally sated with a stop at Daytona International Speedway, recently renovated at a cost of $400 million.
The size of the 500-acre site complex has to be seen to be believed - the main stand holds more than 100,000 spectators and is almost a mile in length - and the VIP tour includes access to Gatorade Victory Lane and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Next stop is the nearby One Daytona, a retail, dining and entertainment district across from the Speedway, for food and some stupidly enjoyable gaming in its large retro arcade, before the night ends with a quick trip to the Ocean Deck Restaurant and Beach Club, popular with locals for its live music, bustling atmosphere and coastal location.
bedroom The last morning is at Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant in Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, where each table has a griddle for you to make your own pancakes. Breakfast has rarely been so fun. Before the flight back home, there's a pit-stop in Orlando to enjoy lunch at one of several restaurants at ICON Orlando 360, having earlier hit the heights in the lofty observation wheel.
So, can Daytona Beach hold its own amid strong Florida competition? In a word, yes. One of its real strengths is the resort still retains much of its local character. To pinch a musical metaphor, the place has soul.
NEED TO KNOW | IAN DOYLE was a guest of Norwegian, who operate year round direct from Gatwick to Orlando. All flights are operated by a fleet of new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with Premium and Economy cabins. Fares start from PS155 one-way and PS275 return in LowFare economy and PS519 one-way and PS959 return in Premium. See norwegian.com/uk or call 0330 828 0854.
| Rooms at Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach start from PS120 per night for a seven-night stay in summer months, plus fees and taxes. See hardrockhotels.com/daytona-beach
Sunset over Daytona Beach
Beatiful Daytona Beach
Cars still race along the sand
Famous Daytona Beach Speedway
A Hard Rock Hotel bedroom