I was bundled up in a rocking chair on the historic porch of the Riverview Hotel on a chilly morning, when a hotel staffer guided my gaze to the middle of the river.
A school of dolphin was gliding across the surface of the Indian River in a graceful search for a morning meal.
For this visitor from our nation’s capitol, it was a magical moment. And it is a scene that I’m sure has repeated time and again since this charming inn first took shape in 1885 as a bridgetenders cottage and fish camp.
It is a cottage no more. Today, the 18-room inn has gone through several renovations and boasts one of the finer waterfront restaurants in Volusia County, The Grille at Riverview.
Upon my arrival…
The cheerful, personalized round-the-clock service at the Riverview Hotel in New Smyrna Beach exceeds even its charming décor — and that is saying a lot. It was love at first sight when I first stepped onto the porch of this “perfectly pink” property.
On introducing myself at the reception desk, I received such a warm welcome from desk clerk Deborah Hales that an observer would have thought I was a returning guest of many years’ standing instead of a first-timer checking in for the weekend.
I had many questions about the hotel’s amenities and local transportation options. My questions answered, I headed to Room 316, which I had reserved after viewing photos of all the hotel rooms on their web site, www.riverviewhotel.com
Each bedroom is different, and each is decorated differently. Some headboards are made of wood, others of wrought iron. Doors to vacant rooms are left open so guests can peek to see which to request on their next visit.
Room 316 was a pleasant surprise. The photo on the website had shown only the wall with the bed and a large window with plantation shutters. Upon entering, I discovered French doors leading to a small balcony with two chairs. If only it had been warm enough to sit out there!
Alas, my arrival in New Smyrna Beach coincided with a cold front and some serious rain. No complaints though — my room also had a comfortable high-backed chair and a floor lamp with a three-way bulb, perfect for reading. Accustomed to staying in chain hotels while traveling for business, I was beginning to suspect all hotels were committed to never providing a hotel guest with more than a 60-watt bulb.
An early riser who loves to walk the beach when no one except the sea birds are about, I was thrilled to discover I could have complimentary breakfast and a newspaper delivered to my room as early as I liked. I filled in the menu card and hung it on my door before going to bed.
On the dot at 7 a.m., my breakfast was delivered with a smile.
The round-the-clock service came in handy at midnight on Saturday, when I realized I hadn’t printed out my boarding pass for my flight home to Washington, D.C. the next day. Not wanting to leave the task until morning, I went downstairs to the front desk, where a very helpful clerk showed me what I needed on the guests’ computer in the lobby.
Several Riverview guests I met in passing — all transient boaters who dock at the hotel marina — said that they return to the Riverview year after year.
I plan to do the same.
Walking to the beach
The beach is a half-mile east of the hotel, an easy walk through the quaint shops, galleries and restaurants that line Flagler Avenue, named after the railroad mogul instrumental in making Florida a tourist destination at the turn of the last century.
If you are looking for an Old Florida beach town, you’ve found it. The shops are largely restored village homes with welcoming porches. Colorful antique shops, art galleries, pottery and gift shops are interspersed with cafes and friendly pubs.
At the east end of Flagler, the avenue flows right out onto the main beach. Drivers can either park free in the beach lot, or pay a fee to drive onto the broad, miles-long and traffic-friendly beach.
Or you can walk the beach, as many do, especially in morning when few cars are around to compromise the peace you feel with the rhythmic sound of the waves and chirping of seagulls.
The hotel is situated on the Intracoastal Waterway, a natural inland river that wraps its way southward around islands in the stream to Mosquito Lagoon, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Cape Canaveral National Seashore.
Boaters who travel the Intracoastal from northern climes to the Florida Keys, find the Riverview’s marina a welcome respite on their long journey. When I was staying at the hotel in February, many of the guests were doing just that.
The marina has limited dock space, so call ahead to reserve your spot.
The marina is located at marker 845 on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, two miles south of Ponce Inlet, next to the George E. Musson Memorial Bridge.
We had a wonderful Sunday brunch with the family. We chose from an inventive menu of breakfast and luncheon items at moderate prices, and the service was courteous and attentive.
My cousin Robert has been here before, noting that it’s popular with locals on special occasions, such as Mother’s Day, and last-minute reservations can be difficult.
Outdoor dining on the deck is a special treat on nice days, and there is also a outside bar where you can relax after a long day at the beach and enjoy the views. The inside dining area is very comfortable and picturesque, as well.
The Grille offers several menus throughout the day – brunch, lunch, mid-afternoon (3-4:30), a “sunset” menu (4:30—6) and dinner (6 p.m. to close). The sunset menu is limited, but diners are offered enough choices to satisfy most palates.
For complete menus, visit www.thegrilleatriverview.com
Choose from a long menu of massage offerings and body treatments, or go for a package of self-indulgence at the Spa. With any service, guests can use one of the outdoor heated saltwater pools in a private tropical setting.
Massages run from $50 for a 30-minute Swedish massage to $160 for an 80-minute Thai massage. Packages run from $120 for the Spa Sampler to $345 for the “Queen Mermaid” – a 5 ½ hour experience that includes a Riverview Stone Massage, facial, ocean pedicure and lunch at The Grille.
Web site: www.spaatriverview.com
103 Flagler Ave.
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169
Other Nearby Lodging: Hotels in New Smyrna Beach
Read more: New Smyrna Beach: The best little beach town
About New Smyrna Beach
The area was first settled in 1768. A Scottish physician, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, established the colony of New Smyrna, attracting about 1,500 immigrants from the Mediterranean, especially Greece, to grow hemp, indigo, sugarcane and produce rum.
But the colony’s troubles with Indians, coupled with Turnbull’s mistreatment of the colonists, led to its decline.
A revival of sorts took place in 1892 when Henry Flagler’s railroad brought winter tourists to the area, boosting the population and fueling an economic boom. Fishing and agricultural interests would follow, feeding the railroad with cargo to the northeast.
During Prohibition, the many islands and hidden coves around New Smyrna provided an ideal haven for rum-runners from the Bahamas. Much of that watery world is now part of Canaveral National Seashore.
Although I was in town for a family celebration, the Riverview would make an ideal base for visiting nearby Daytona Beach and Canaveral National Seashore. And while you can find many hotels on the beach here, you won’t find any with the charm of The Riverview.
Canaveral National Seashore is about 8 miles south of the hotel, at the end of State Road A1A, and offers numerous recreational activities, from beach-going and hiking to fishing and boating. On the river side, there is excellent access to kayaking and canoeing in Mosquito Lagoon.
Daytona Beach and the Daytona International Speedway are only about 10 miles north of New Smyrna, and during Speedweeks (Daytona 500) and Bike Week, it’s hard to escape the excitement in New Smyrna.
Surf fishing is very popular on the beaches, and New Smyrna is one of the few places in Florida where you can drive on the beach.
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