I could not have visited the 200-room Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach on a better weekend. After leaving my car with the valet, I found the lobby abuzz with action.
On one end, roadies were loading in lights, sound equipment and instruments for the evening's '80s hair metal concert featuring Nova Rex and Pretty Boy Floyd. On the other end, ultrafit men and women in muscle shirts and workout shorts checked in for a bodybuilding contest being held in the hotel's event space the following day.
In that moment, I wished I could trade in my yoga pants and flip-flops for some black leather and clear plastic high heels. I'd expected a laid-back beach vibe like the one I've experienced at Florida's coastal hotels time and time again. Instead, I was instantly immersed in spectacle, with all the accompanying glitz. It's the Hard Rock, after all.
The hotel, which opened in March, is a central piece in Daytona's renaissance, repositioning the area much like Fort Lauderdale and Panama City Beach have done in recent years. Those two cities have been successful in eschewing their raucous, trashy spring break pasts and rebranding their destinations as family-friendly, year-round beach-lovers' havens. Between the opening of the One Daytona entertainment complex and the completion of the Hard Rock Hotel, Daytona Beach is on much the same path.
I made my way up to my room on the seventh floor, designated by not only a room number but a placard with a musical artist. Mine was Keane, but I took note of others as I walked down the hall, including Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys. I was later told by one of the staff members that guests can request a room assignment by musical artist or genre.
The room was spacious, and its decor serene. My Deluxe oceanfront room (rates start at $129 in shoulder season, $179 in peak season) had a king bed, a sofa and long desk area that housed a minirefrigerator. Each guestroom TV is outfitted with a Google Chromecast, which enables guests to connect a cast-enabled app (like Netflix or Hulu) to the television to stream their own content.
I spent a lot of time during my stay on the balcony, which is prime people-watching real estate and is big enough for two to three adults to fully enjoy a panoramic view of the ocean. Below my balcony, I watched the stage get set up for the evening's concert, took note of the two chic pool decks and on the following night, watched a concert by a local band playing acoustic covers on the third-floor Wave Terrace like it was being performed just for me.
One of my favorite parts of my visit was the memorabilia tour led by the hotel's "vibe director." Each Hard Rock Hotel has one, and this person is in charge of -- you guessed it -- the feel of the hotel, including each day's playlist. I was led through areas of the hotel most guests wouldn't wander into, areas that held some really remarkable rock and roll memorabilia. Some of my favorites included a full outfit worn by Jimi Hendrix, Bette Midler's mermaid costumes from a Las Vegas residency and a bass guitar owned by former Van Halen member Michael Anthony. The guitar is not only remarkable for its lineage but also because one of its strings has been vibrating in its Lucite wall case ever since it was hung in the hotel lobby. Spooky.
The Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona is also home to the state's first fully upgraded Rock Spa & Salon (the spas at the Hard Rock properties in Hollywood and Tampa are currently being renovated). It's quiet, comfortable and ensconced, as a hotel spa should be, but offers one of the most innovative treatments I've ever experienced: the Rhythm and Motion massage. The treatment room itself is quite unique, with a conical treble speaker hanging over the massage table (think "Cone of Silence" for any "Get Smart" fans out there) and a bass speaker underneath.
Upon entering, the guest can pick from four themed playlists that incorporate rock 'n' roll songs into the usual ambient relaxation music. I picked a rather ethereal playlist that started off with John Lennon's "Imagine" as I settled into the table's sheets and ended with a Pink Floyd number 80 minutes later. The massage therapist is trained to massage the client to the rhythm of the music, as the bass softly rumbles the table. It's a singular experience.
The only thing I found lacking at the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach was the execution coming from the property's signature restaurant, Sessions. It's unfortunate, considering the price point. I had expected much better from a kitchen not batting an eyelash at charging $18 for a fish sandwich. I did dine twice at Sessions, just to make sure the first time wasn't a fluke. Sadly, it wasn't. Both times, salads came out without their dressings (I had to ask both time for the dressing, and the salads were greatly improved once drizzled), lamb chops were criminally unseasoned, and a side of garlic mashed potatoes looked as though they'd been portioned with an ice cream scoop by my elementary school lunch lady. Such a bummer. I hope they get it together.
That being said, every staff member I encountered on my stay at the Hard Rock was friendly and had a clear focus on customer satisfaction. Any request I had was met promptly and courteously. I adored the common areas' comfortable couches and lounge areas, heaped with midcentury modern furniture with just the right accents -- a remarkable lighting fixture, a gorgeous shade of aqua velvet -- the kind of common areas you don't mind hanging out in, taking in the scene with a libation in hand to get the party started.