Every spring, St. Petersburg, Fla., is temporarily transformed into a speedway as the city plays host to the prestigious Honda Grand Prix.
The chic downtown area overlooking the bay with its laid-back atmosphere, sidewalk cafes and luxury yachts, evokes visions of Monaco as, for just a short time, street racing takes center stage. If you’re looking for an exciting reason to book a Florida vacation, this is it.
This year’s Honda Grand Prix is being billed as the “world’s fastest spring break party,” and when you consider the numbers that are involved, it’s right on the mark. Hundreds of auto racing enthusiasts attend this three-day event, where drivers will race a 1.8-mile course with 14 turns — hitting speeds upwards of 150 miles per hour. Now that’s fast.
Now in its sixth season, this year’s Honda Grand Prix promises to deliver action-packed, high-octane excitement that will draw racing fans from around the U.S. and beyond. In fact, this year’s schedule includes more racing than ever before.
For the first time in its five-year history, the Honda Grand Prix will feature five classes of motorsports racing. The 2010 season also heralds the return of the World Challenge Championship, including both GT and Touring classes, and the open wheel racing of the Star Mazda Championship Series and the U.S. F2000 National Championship series. The main attraction and featured event will again be the running of the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Firestone Indy Lights. All five series races will run on Sunday, March 28, and both the World Challenge Championships and the USF2000 National Championship series will run on Saturday, March 27.
As always, you are sure to see racing superstars such as Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. This year, General David Petraeus, the 10th and current commander of U. S. Central Command will serve as the Grand Marshal and will give the command to start the event’s featured race — the Honda Indy St. Pete — in addition to participating in the awards presentation and the pre race ceremonies.
Three-day tickets for this year’s event are on sale now, with adult pricing ranging from $45 for general admission to $85 – $110 for reserved grandstand seating. Single-day tickets will be available for purchase starting March 1, with adult pricing ranging from $25 – $80 (junior pricing is also available for children under 12).
While March is certainly peak season in St. Petersburg (with temperatures generally in the mid 70s, who wouldn’t want to take a Florida vacation?) you can still find availability at local hotels. Hotels in downtown St. Pete and along the race course typically sell out first and command higher rates, but if you are determined to stay close to all the action, be sure to book early to get the best deal.
Just a short 10-15 minute drive from the downtown area, St. Pete Beach offers lots of options for a Florida vacation. Full-service, family-friendly resorts such as the Sirata Beach Resort and the Tradewinds Island Grand Resort offer plentiful amenities in a beachfront setting, while the brand new Postcard Inn on the Beach is a one-of-a-kind boutique property with a casual retro feel featuring 1950s-themed décor in its guestrooms. This property also offers daily complimentary continental breakfast and is pet friendly. Rates out on the beach start in the mid- to high-$100-range for a 3-star hotel, all the way up to $300+ for 4-star deluxe properties.
Across the Bay, the Westshore area of Tampa is an easy 20-25 minute drive and offers some incredible values. As I write this, the luxurious 4-star Intercontinental Tampa is offering a rates from $135. If you’re planning a Florida vacation with a family or a larger group, there are numerous properties offering very reasonably priced suite accommodations in the Westshore area, some with rates starting under $100. The Mainsail All Suites Hotel offers spacious studio, one- and two-bedroom suites, and the Sailport Waterfront Suites offers comfortable accommodations with views of Tampa Bay — all at very attractive prices. Westshore also offers a range of dining and entertainment options for those rare occasions that you find yourself away from the race track.
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Joanna Citarella is a market manager for Orbitz Worldwide. She grew up in England and moved to Naples, Fla., nine years ago, favoring the perpetual sunshine over the unpredictable British weather.