Daytona Beach and WHY I want my kids in competitive activities

We spent 4th of July in Key Largo last year and absolutely loved spending the holiday there! Fireworks were cancelled because of COVID and you could hear everyone doing their own fireworks all through Key Largo. I remember sitting on our dock at night with Peter listening to so many fireworks going off and feeling so proud to be an American and to be in a place where everyone was celebrating our great nation no matter the circumstances! We vowed to never spend the 4th of July anywhere else!

Well, Natalia’s dance studio had other plans for us! She has been at her small dance studio since she was in diapers. Some of the parents still remember how I would take a portable toilet seat with me to her classes and run in with it if her dance teacher announced that she needed to go potty. It’s been 5 dance seasons now. That is half way to ten!

Back in 2019 Peter played his first baseball season with a team. It was quite the roller coaster. If you know me personally or have followed me on social media since then, you may recall that in the middle of the season one of his teammates was diagnosed with a massive brain tumor. Side note- he is doing well now! At the time it was unexpected and shocking. His team was doing ok that season. I believe they were mid to lower in the ranks and we didn’t have expectations of winning the championship. Well, when their teammate went into the hospital those kids became UNSTOPABLE! I don’t even think they understood what was happening but they knew they had to win. They came up from the bottom and won that championship so that we could take the trophy to the hospital. To this day it brings tears to my eyes. This would hopefully be an unusual situation, although at 5 years old Peter’s teammate on that team isn’t his last friend to have cancer (second friend also kicked it in the butt though!), seeing Peter’s team come together the way they had made me want Natalia to have the same experience. It’s about improving and winning or losing TOGETHER and about the bonds you are building through the process.

At the time joining the competition team at her dance studio had not been mentioned but I wanted this so much for her that I put her in cheerleading. Cheerleading started over the summer and while she liked it at first, she is petite and they wanted her to fly so she was slowly starting to dislike it…. and it was during this time that she was invited to join the dance team at her studio when the new season started in the fall! We asked her to choose between the two although we always knew the answer was going to be dance. That studio is her second home and at that point we had already met some of our best friends there.

The dance season started and they began to learn their dance, ‘Walk the Dinosaur’. Her dance teacher warned us if the whole family didn’t know the dance by competition time, we hadn’t practiced enough and she was right! I would say by December of that year we all knew how to ‘Walk to Dinosaur’ and were so ready for the girls to have their first competition! Win or lose- I couldn’t wait for Natalia to have this experience with her team!

Her first competition was scheduled for March 14, 2020! I remember the Monday before that so well! March 9th was the date. We had a little dress rehearsal for the girls, her dance teacher gave us all the instructions for that upcoming Saturday and we were READY TO GO! Well, in case you didn’t focus in on the date, the world got turned upside down in the 4 days that followed and their first competition never happened. We went from ready to hit the stage to zoom classes which were hard for everyone.

We had other competitions on the schedule as well as nationals in Daytona but as time went by and we realized COVID would take more than ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ they were cancelled. I believe by nationals in the summer there was a competition we could have opted to attend but there was so much uncertainty with every thing that even some of us who returned to studio as soon as it opened opted not to participate. As for us, we had already rented our house in the keys for the month of July. The studio held a virtual recital which I drove Natalia in for but half of the team was still uncomfortable with settings like this due to COVID and ‘Walk the Dinosaur’ never hit the stage- not even the virtual stage.

FINALLY in March of 2021 though, a year later after putting in hard work to catch up on the time out of the studio, and after adding new girls to the team who needed to learn the dance from scratch since half never returned, ‘Walk the Dinosaur’ finally had it’s moment and we got to see our girls on stage! It may seem silly but after everything that had happened, all the practicing- not just at home but the extra practices at the studio on weekends, needing to wait over a FULL YEAR to see what the girls had been working towards- it was emotional for me to FINALLY see it on stage! The cherry on top was that our girls earned first place! It was definitely a full circle moment!

Fortunately, the season went on as planned which brought us to the big national competition in Daytona! I danced for a bit when I was younger but eventually did not want to anymore. Possibly because I mostly did classical ballet and let’s be honest- it was boring. On a side note this is the one class I do push Natalia to do because I know the foundation is essential but I think since it was what I mostly did, I eventually lost interest. The first time I saw a recital out of Natalia’s dance studio I couldn’t help but think that I may have stuck to dance if I had been doing fun performances like they do. An any rate, I never danced competitively. The closest thing I came to competitions was in cheerleading. I cheered at school and did Tamiami cheerleading. With Tamiami we actually won 1st place at the local competition and made it to regionals in Ft. Pierce where we got to travel! It was so much fun! Except when we didn’t win but nonetheless the experience of getting to travel with my team was a blast and definitely something I wanted my kids to experience!

Anyways- this is how we ended up at Daytona on the 4th of July! I would like to share some travel information on Daytona for anyone interested in going or visiting but the truth is we weren’t there to sight see or vacation. Daytona is known for it’s famous speedway and NASCAR races. My car enthusiast husband and even I would have loved to have seen a race, especially since neither of us had ever been to Daytona but unfortunately, none were happening while we were there. Driving in we drove by the raceway though and saw that tours were available! If we’d had more downtime we would have looked into them. We stayed at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. It was convenient because it was across the street from where the convention took place. As with most hotels right now trying to recover from COVID it was understaffed. If you read my post on Universal I mention that wait times at Universal Aventura were horrible. I did not feel it was as bad at the Hilton Daytona but nonetheless you will need patience. They offer bell hop service but no housekeeping. I know hotels are trying to recover from COVID but I wish they’d cut costs elsewhere, especially at a hotel on the beach where everyone is bringing sand in. Plus let’s be honest, when staying at a hotel it’s nice to have a vacation from making the bed, picking up towels, cleaning bathroom sinks etc.

Our first night we met with some of our dance family at the rum bar where there was live music. They told us kids couldn’t be in there so somehow some of the dads ended up watching them in one of the ball rooms across the hall! Not sure how the hotel figures this is better but the kids had to go somewhere! The next day we hit the beach. Growing up in Miami where you can find crystal clear waters on a good day and usually vacationing on cruises in the Caribbean, with even more beautiful water, the beach left much to be desired. The water is dark and the sand has almost an orange color. It was great for the kids though! It was shallow so they were able to run in and out, and build sandcastles! They had rentals on the beach so we opted to rent bougie boards for the kids which they had a blast with! Be warned though, you may want a rash guard for this! Some of the kids came out with rashes which wasn’t ideal for our girls competing the next day in two piece cave girl constumes! They also had a food truck selling Greek food. I can’t figure out what spice it us, but unfortunately they use a spice in Greek food that I just don’t like. Everyone else said the food was delicious though! The ice cream truck also visited and brought treats for the kids. It was a little overcast but no one was complaining since it made being on the beach more comfortable without needing an umbrella. All and all we had a wonderful time and the kids created beautiful memories with their friends on the beach! Fortunately of the group that was there, all the girls on the team have little brothers that are all about the same age! One of the families is in the same school as Natalia and Peter so we are very close! I may have recruited them to the studio! haha

We needed to head out of the beach around 3:30 because the girls had rehearsal at 4PM. We rinsed them and took them across the street to meet their dance teacher. In the meantime we tried to figure out dinner plans for those of us who didn’t already have reservations. We ended up at Sloppy Joes– like the one in Key West! It wasn’t bad! Our server was great and the conch fritters and Spinach and artichoke dip were delicious.

The next day was COMPETITION DAY! We had to be at the convention center early for hair, makeup and to make sure everyone was accounted for. Our girls killed it and placed 3rd, gaining them entry into the finals the next day!

This happened to be 4th of July so after the competition it was time to change out of dance clothes (girls and family supporting the studio included) and into our Red, White and Blue attire! We were starving at this point and our friends who had been there a bit before us the first day and had dinner in Daytona recommended a place they really enjoyed called Ocean Deck. They were willing to go for a second round so we decided to check it out! I have to admit- this was one of the highlights of our trip outside of watching our girls perform in the dance competition! We loved this place! It’s a beach bar dive by the pier. We were lucky enough to snatch tables with enough seats to fit our group. It has a Key West vibe to it where everyone is just eating, drinking and having a good time. There was even Karaoke which was pretty cool as some of the performers are actually really good while others are hilariously bad! People were dancing even though it was the middle of the day. It was just a good time and if I’m ever in Daytona again, I would love to go back! The food was also really good!

The Dance Studio scheduled a party at the pool at the hotel so we wanted to make it back to the hotel by 6PM. A storm started to roll in and we thought we’d beat it going back to the hotel… well we thought wrong! We got totally soaked and ended up under the pier trying to decide if we should hang out there or make a run for it! We decided to run for it and showed up back at the hotel soaked and looking like crazy people! It was definitely unforgettable!

The storm eventually did pass and the dance studio’s pool party was finally able to happen. One of the things I have loved about having Natalia at this particular dance studio is that it’s a big family and the older kids form beautiful bonds with our little ones! Many of these relationships are built at dance camp the weeks leading up to recital but now they will also have the memories of the pool party at the hotel. The hotel is located on a boardwalk where you can find food, shops and ice cream. At least the nights we were there you could find plenty of activity on it. Since it was 4th of July we had sparklers for the kids and there were fireworks later. It wasn’t our original plan but it was definitely a great way to spend the holiday with friends that have become family!

Not everyone makes it to the final dance off but our girls made it! This meant on our last day there they got to go on stage again! The previous day we didn’t really get the chance to see our competition. On the day of the finals we did and let me tell you- the competition was steep! There was a break between when they competed and awards so we ate at the ‘Hog Heaven’ across from the convention center. Classy right? haha It was actually surprisingly good BBQ, cheap, and decent service! They got us out of there in time to be back for awards! If you are ever in Daytona, don’t be deceived by the fact that the structure looks like it needs some TLC. I’d eat there again!

We returned for awards and were excited to learn that our girls still came in the top 3 overall! They were so excited to show their trophy to the older dancers!

The older dancers were performing later so we stayed to support them. Unfortunately, we had checked out that morning and had to drive back to Miami so we were unable to stay until the end. To top it off, we were receiving reports of bad weather on the way home with Tropical Storm Elsa being nearby. We learned that the studio learned the ICON award in the Diamond category which is the highest award that can be earned in the competition!

While I do not think we will visit Daytona again unless it’s for a NASCAR race or another dance competition, we definitely had a blast! I want my kids to be in competitive activities because of these experiences! Natalia’s team had to work so hard to get here with all the obstacles of COVID in the way! Her team had to catch up from all the time away from the studio. We all tried our best with the zoom classes but let’s be honest, it’s not the same. They also had half their team not return so they had to add girls to the dance who needed to learn the dance. They had to change positions because of all these changes. All of their hard work as a team PAID OFF and they were able to participate in the finals and walk home with a trophy! We are so proud! They aren’t just taking home a trophy but also the beautiful memories of traveling together! I know they will look back and remember how fun daddy daycare in the ballroom on the first night was, their beach day with bougie boards and ice cream, the restaurant with the Karaoke and getting caught in the rain trying to get to the pool party, 4th of July sparklers, nights on the boardwalk and the list can go on and on! I hope we continue to build beautiful memories like this! Winning is nice, but it’s not what it’s all about!

Thanks for visiting!


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