Sometimes a vacation within a vacation is just the ticket before you head back to the everyday life you left behind a week ago. I had just finished up a 4-day trip to trendy St. Augustine, Jacksonville’s neighbor to the Southeast. After all that fabulous wining, dining, touring, and shopping I needed a day off to relax and recoup before making my way back to the West Coast. PR great Leigh Court suggested I try the seaside Casa Marina Hotel. What have I got to say about that experience? Always, always listen to your soul sister, she’ll steer you right every time.
There’s something timeless and “right” about this place. From the moment you pull into the half-moon driveway to the time you walk through those lovely front doors to the reception desk you get the feeling you’ve arrived at a gracious place. At eighty years old, this grand lady has charm and character you’re not going to find in a chain hotel. This is a one of a kind treat.
Leigh helped me check in and offered to buy lunch at the picturesque Penthouse Lounge. We ordered off the hors d’oeuvre menu. As we thoroughly enjoyed a girlie lunch in celebration of friendships and future travel, we toasted mutual accomplishments with magnificent martinis and leisurely snacked our way through Homemade chips with Blue Cheese crumbles & Rosemary balsamic reduction( $5.95) and Spicy Shrimp Sautee made of Tomatoes, Mango, Chilies & Lime with Sweet Plantain ($9.95 ). The view from the penthouse setting is 180 degrees of beautiful sand, surf and fun. The service is awesome, the dress is Florida casual. But as I was to learn later, the action all begins at 5 p.m. when happy hour begins. Don’t miss this place, it’s a one of kind experience with really good food, affordable drinks, and snappy service. And hey, get there at 5 p.m. or you’ll be hard pressed to find a great indoor or outdoor seat to bring in the evening magic.
The Casa Marina offers 24 casually luxe bedrooms and parlor suites. There’s nothing more I love then a suite, so I was in heaven. I had a great view of the beach. I threw open every window I could find and breathed in the scent of the sea. The rhythmic slap, slap, slap of the waves called to me to go and discover the charms of Jacksonville Beach. With direct beach access this was a simple task. I skipped down the stairs, threw open the French doors and headed out to the funky, colorful enclave. I enjoyed strolling the beach, the pier and the boardwalk. A big storm was coming in, bringing with it magnificent rollers, spray and foam. Great food, glorious martinis and affordable seaside accommodations. What else could you ask for on a one day vacation from your vacation?
About 10 minutes away is the Crazy Fish, a kind of funky sea time adventure for singles, adults and family. The Crazy Fish is on the waterway and offers fishing, kayaking, wake boarding, water skiing, tubing, chartered fishing, and an Airboat cruise for six. If you book the chartered finishing choice, you can hook your own lunch and have the chef prepare it for you for lunch. This is a place of good times, good eats, and a decent wine list.
The Casa Marina offers year round affordable rates, but my tip to you is to try one of their special packages like Fall In Love. Includes Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Champagne $99/nt Standard Deluxe Or $119/nt for a 2 Room Parlor Suite! (Sunday – Thursday). The Sunday Funday deal at $139 a night Includes brunch for 2 in a 2 Room Parlor Suite (Sunday only). Prices and deals change so check to see what’s available when you’re ready to book. The Casa Marina is about 30 minutes from the easy breezy Jacksonville Airport. No crowds here; just a small airport catering to the water and sports enthusiast. The hotel has negotiated some great airport shuttle rates. Ask about them when your reserve your room.
RED SNAPPER ala Casa Marina
5 to 7 lbs Whole Red Snapper, scaled & degilled. Leave on tail and head.
Gently score the fish long way & cross ways with a sharp knife (forming large diamonds). Do not cut through the center bone.
With virgin olive oil, pour or brush in between scored crevices. Season the scored crevices with your choice of spices: garlic powder, salt & pepper, cumin, lemon pepper, etc.
Create a large ball of silver foil and stuff into the open base cavity of the snapper so that it will stand up firmly on an oiled cookie sheet. Cook at 325 degrees for 45 minutes; rotate fish then check in another 20 minutes for doneness. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce!
Story and photos by Linda Kissam.