By: JD Conroy
On March 15th, a group of American Classic travelers returned home from our annual Fly Away Mystery Tour. For almost 20 years, American Classic travelers have come together in March to escape the cold weather and enjoy a journey full of fun and mystery. This year our journey led us to Daytona Beach, St. Augustine and Orlando. Below I want to take you step by step to show you how our Mystery Tour unfolded this year.
Before I Start...What is a Mystery Tour?
A Mystery Tour is exactly what it sounds like - a mystery! From one moment to another, mystery travelers do not know where they are going next. As the trip unfolds, the tour directors dress in costumes as clues as to where we are going next. The tour directors also pass out themed gifts, snacks and games throughout the trip as clues to where the group is headed next.
Flight from O'Hare to Orlando. Check in at the oceanfront Daytona Beach Hilton. American Classic exclusive cocktail reception at the hotel bar. Dinner at the Hilton's Doc Bales Restaurant.
The Tour Directors:
Joe, Mary and JD met the group at O'Hare Airport to help the group check in. They came dressed as bikers wearing leather jackets, bandanas, tattoo sleeves and sunglasses for the first clue. Every year Daytona Beach hosts Biker Week in the middle of March. Off to Daytona!
The Daytona Beach Hilton
We checked into the Daytona Beach Hilton for a 1-night stay. Our entire group enjoyed ocean views from our rooms! We had a few hours of free time here to get acclimated to the warm weather as we walked on the beach and relaxed at the hotel.
MARY FOUND HERSELF A BIKE!
The hotel was themed for Biker Week. Mary even found herself a bike to ride around Daytona!
Dinner at the Doc Bales Restaurant
We enjoyed a dinner at the seaside Doc Bales Restaurant located at our hotel. For our first course we ate a savory Bistro Salad - seasonal lettuce, topped with ripe tomatoes, sliced carrots, cucumbers, croutons and house dressing. Our entree plate included a Dijon Demi Glace Filet of Beef and a sauteed chicken breast with a side of mashed potatoes and asparagus.
Wake up to sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean at the Daytona Hilton. Full breakfast buffet at the Hilton Daytona. Tour the Daytona 500. A quick stop at Indian River Fruit Stand to buy fresh Florida fruit. Afternoon cruise on the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of St. Augustine. Check into the Wyndham Tryp in St. Augustine. Dinner at the Columbia Restaurant in downtown St. Augustine
Morning Sunrise from our Hotel Rooms
Nothing beats waking up to the sound of waves crashing onto the beach shore and the light of the sunrise hitting the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean just outside your window.
Tour the Daytona Speedway
The first attraction we visited on the 2017 Mystery Tour was the Daytona International Speedway - home to one of NASCAR's biggest races - the Daytona 500. On our tour of the Speedway we road around the track, we walked through the infield, and we saw Kurt Busch's winning car from the 2017 Daytona 500! The tour escorts - JD, Mary, and Joe - dressed as a pit crew team.
fresh fruit & gator Jerky at Indian River
We took a quick rest stop at the Indian River Fruit Stand to buy some fresh Florida oranges. Along with their oranges, Indian River offers numerous jams, salsas, and hot sauces that are made with home grown Florida crops. They also offer Gator Jerky!
Cruise off the Coast of St. Augustine
Next stop - St. Augustine! Founded by Spanish colonists in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States.
Next Clue - Spanish Guy & Matador
After a short break at the hotel, we boarded the motorcoach for dinner. Joe and JD were dressed as a Spanish man and a matador.
Dinner at the Columbia Restaurant
The Columbia Restaurant is an elegant, Spanish-styled restaurant. It is the oldest restaurant in Florida. The Columbia has been owned by the same family since they opened in 1905. Our meal started with the Columbia's famous 1950's Salad. We had a choice of Filet Mignon, Pollo Riojana, Red Snapper, Paella, or Eggplant Riojana for our entree. For dessert we had a choice of Flan Spanish Caramel Egg Custard or Godiva Chocolate Cake.
Breakfast at the Wyndham Tryp. First clue - escorts dressed in outrageous baby costumes!!! Visit the Fountain of Youth. Free time for lunch and shopping in historic downtown St. Augustine. Guided Tour of St. Augustine with Henry Flagler. Visit Castillo de San Marcos. Alhambra Dinner Theater to see Showboat.
The Fountain of Youth
In 1513 Ponce de Leon and his fellow Spanish Colonists established the first European settlement in North America almost 100 years before the English settled in Jamestown, Virginia. According to legend, Ponce de Leon was in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth.
Free Time in St. Augustine
After touring the Fountain of Youth, we had some free time to enjoy the charming downtown of St. Augustine. The old, brick streets of St. Augustine are lined with historic architecture, boutique shops and gourmet restaurants.
nEXT cLUE - cOLONIAL mAN & sPANISH gENERAL
Pictured above (from left to right) is JD dressed as a colonial man, Joe dressed as a Spanish general, and our local guide Cliff dressed as Henry Flagler. For the entire tour Cliff impersonated Henry Flagler - the 19th century American Industrialist and founder of Standard Oil - as he showed us around the city that Flagler used to call home - St. Augustine.
gUIDED tOUR OF sT. aUGUSTINE
St. Augustine's Spanish heritage, long history, and European-styled architecture make it one of America's most unique cities. On our guided tour we saw the Mission Nombre de Dios, the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Alcazar Hotel, the Government House and the Plaza de la Constitucion.
Castillo De San Marcos
To end our tour of St. Augustine, Henry Flagler escorted us into the Castillo de San Marcos - the oldest masonry fort in America, which has been occupied both by the Spanish and the English in its long history.
"Showboat" at the Alhambra Dinner Theater
We had dinner at the Alhambra Dinner Theater in Jacksonville, Florida. We had a choice of the following entrees: Blackened Salmon and Shrimp, Beef Coulotte, Stuffed Quail or Sauteed Kale. After dinner we saw the Showboat, a groundbreaking musical about the lives of performers, stagehands, and dock workers on a Mississippi River show boat.
Breakfast at the Wyndham Tryp. Tour the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Check into the magnificent Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Florida. Free night to relax at the Gaylord Palms.
Some Jedi Joined the tour this morning
For the next clue JD dressed as Luke Skywalker, Joe dressed as Darth Vadar, and Mary dressed (and talked) like Yoda. Next stop, Disney? Not so fast...
The Kennedy Space Center
We went to the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral for Day Four of our 2017 Mystery Tour. We met astronauts who rode in the epic Atlantis Spacecraft, we touched rocks from the moon, and we toured the launch sites of the Apollo missions.
Check into the Gaylord Palms
We checked into the luxurious Gaylord Palms for a 3-night stay. The Gaylord Palms is home to a soaring 4.5-acre glass atrium, lush gardens, indoor waterfalls and waterways, numerous restaurants and bars, and a full-service, award-winning spa. The hotel is split into 3 sections each modeled after a different part of Florida - St. Augustine, the Everglades, and the Florida Keys.
Breakfast at the Gaylord Palms. Visit Wild Florida for Everglades Boat Ride and Exotic Animal Park. Free afternoon at the Gaylord Palms. Dinner at the DoveCoat Restaurant in downtown Orlando.
Breakfast at the Gaylord Palms
We started each day of the trip with an included breakfast. The Gaylord Palms, in particular, had quite a selection: fresh fruit bar, pastry bar, eggs, pancakes, waffles, prosciutto and other fine meats, fine cheeses, salmon & capers, an omelette station, a yogurt bar, and so much more.
a few alligators Were Waiting by The Bus
There were a few alligators waiting by the motorcoach in the morning.
Everglades Tour at Wild Florida
We started Day 5 of our 2017 Mystery Tour with a visit to Wild Florida for an airboat tour of Lake Cypress and the marshes of central Florida. We saw a lot of birds including Blue Heron, Egrets, Coots, Moorhen, Grebes and so many more! We also saw 10 wild Alligators!
Exotic Animal Park at Wild Florida
In the afternoon we toured Wild Florida's animal park. We saw all kinds of animals including Alligators, Tortoise, Zebras, Zorses, Lemurs, Macaws, Goats, Bobcats and so much more!
the dovecoat restaurant in downtown orlando
DoveCoat is a French restaurant located in downtown Orlando. Mary dressed with a dove's wings and a white coat to symbolize the name of the restaurant - DoveCoat. JD dressed as a French guy to give the mystery travelers a clue that we were headed to a French restaurant. We had a choice of the following entrees: Braised Beef Short Ribs or Atlantic Salmon. We had a choice of Madagascar Creme Brulee and Petit Fours for dessert.
Breakfast at the Gaylord Palms. Epcot at Disney World. Free time for dinner at the Gaylord Palms.
Next Clue - People from Around the World
Mexico, Japan, and England...where could we be headed next?
Epcot at Disney World
We traveled around the world in one afternoon at Disney's Epcot Park.
Free Time to Relax at Gaylord Palms
Free time at the Gaylord Palms to enjoy their pools, spa, bar, and restaurants.
Breakfast at the Gaylord Palms. Guided Tour of Downtown Orlando. Guided Tour of Henry Leu Gardens. Flight back home to Chicago.
Next Clue - Orlando Gear
The tour directors - Mary, Joe, and JD - all ready to go for the final day of the Mystery Tour dressed in Orlando Magic gear. The picture above was taken in front of Lake Eola in downtown Orlando.
Guided Tour of Orlando
We learned about the history and culture of Orlando on our guided tour. Our guided tour included a short, morning stroll around the beautiful Lake Eola which is located in the heart of downtown Orlando (pictured above).
Henry Leu Gardens
Orlando's best kept secret - the Henry Leu Gardens - are located just minutes from downtown. This 50-acre garden is home to palms, cycads and flowering trees, azaleas, vines, bromeliads and tropical philodendrons, roses, camellias, camphor trees, elm trees, oak trees, and so much more!
Thanks for joining us on this Mystery Tour 2017 Recap!
If you would like to get in on all the mystery fun, come along on our 2018 Fly Away Mystery Tour next March. To sign up please call us at 847-548-3333!