Traveling is in my blood. Maybe it’s because as a military child, my family moved a lot. From Norfolk, where I was born to Texas, Maryland, Newfoundland, and Virginia Beach. Those experiences—making new friends, discovering regional cultures, trying new foods—helped me develop curiosity and a passion for new experiences.
My thirst for travel led me to Europe, where I met my future husband, Peter, who worked as a waiter in an Amsterdam hotel. Later it led our family to embark on a six-month camping trip along Europe’s coastlines. Luckily Peter shares my love of travel, and together we’ve journeyed far and wide—at first with kids in tow and now just the two of us. Going new places solo and with friends is also fulfilling.
Sometimes I think I’m looking for something on my trips. A pot of gold? The perfect place to retire? Who knows? All I know is traveling energizes me. Staying home following the same routine simply doesn’t. So with current travel restrictions, my 2020 travel plans have changed course. Instead of Costa Rica in spring and Europe this fall, I’m staying closer to home.
The good news is travel options still abound—even right here in our backyard. I decided to grab my gal pal, Margaret, and enjoy a staycation at the oceanfront and be a tourist in my own hometown. I discovered that you don’t have to go far to have fun. Everything you need for a thrilling vacation is right under your nose. Come along and play with us!
Go Sky High with iFly Virginia Beach
Or Try a Gentle Game of Jungle Golf
Ever wanted to fly? You can—for a few moments anyway—at iFly Virginia Beach, which opened in 2015 on Pacific Ave. It’s been on my radar for a while, so Margaret and I decided to try it. I have to admit filling out the waiver made me a little nervous, but Margaret had flown once before so reassured me that it would be fine.
We suited up in our red jumpsuits and helmets and took a brief safety course with our instructor, who told us the key is to relax and keep our chins up—good advice any day of the week! He also taught us hand signals he’d use if we needed to adjust the position of our arms and legs. Then we sat on benches in front of the vertical wind tunnel and watched experienced students spin, frolic, and cavort in front of our eyes.
After Margaret had her first flight, it was my turn. I assumed a superwoman position and flew into my instructor’s arms. He helped me balance horizontally, and for a few seconds I actually felt like I was flying. It was exhilarating. After the other flyers had a second flight, it was my turn again. This time, our instructor helped me fly way high in the wind tunnel. He held on to me thankfully or I’m not sure I would have ever gotten down. What a fun adventure!
In fact, our staycation was all about having fun and being a kid again. For three days we forgot about work and worries and let ourselves be in the moment. One evening we played putt-putt at Jungle Golf, a friendly competition that ended up in a tie. Some of the holes have a wheel you spin with good and bad outcomes. Once I had to stand on one foot to hit the ball. Another time I got to block Margaret’s putt. There were lots of people playing, but social distancing was no problem.
One morning we awoke early and joined a dolphin watching cruise offered by Rudee Tours. It was a sparkling morning, not too hot, and Margaret was happy the seas were calm. Rudee Tours has a 100 percent guarantee that you’ll see dolphins on the tour, and we found a playful pod right away. There was even a baby dolphin swimming with its mother.
About midway through the 90-minute tour, a few dolphins started riding the waves in our wake, and others came up along the bow and swam alongside us. I asked Christina, our guide, if they were playing. She said she couldn’t be sure, but she felt they were enjoying themselves. The dolphins made me think about how much I needed to be playful after all the angst and gloom surrounding COVID-19.
A Google search says the definition of play is to “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” I beg to differ. Play has an important purpose. It helps reduce stress, which in turn makes us healthier. So get out there and play, people!
Find Tranquility at the Virginia Aquarium
Don’t Forget To Play in the Waves
We also stopped in to say hello to the marine life at the Virginia Aquarium. Watching the fish, turtles, and rays swim languidly in the tanks is very calming, and we can all use a little extra tranquility these days.
One afternoon I sat on the beach by myself and read. It was my favorite time to be on the beach. The sun was going down, crowds had thinned, and a cool breeze blew off the ocean. I watched swimmers playing in the surf and decided to join them. Waves were 4-5 feet, mostly shore break, but perfect for jumping over and diving through the ones that were too high.
I couldn’t remember the last time I played in the surf like that. I was getting in touch with my inner dolphin, playing for the sake of playing. The ocean water was cool, but not cold, and no jellies came along to ruin my day. It was heaven frolicking in the water all by myself. I definitely need to go to the beach more often!
Margaret had never been to Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment on 67th St., and I love walking the labyrinth, so we headed there for a peaceful, contemplative interlude. The labyrinth, located up on a hill, is modeled after the one in the Chartres Cathedral in France and invites you to follow its maze to the center, where you may discover an answer to a question you are pondering.
It was a radiant afternoon, and from the labyrinth we could see the blue Atlantic over the rooftops of oceanfront homes. While neither of us had a deep revelation, we both felt a sense of calm after our walk. We strolled in the nearby meditation garden, where a tinkling waterfall added to the peaceful moment, a reminder that stopping and reflecting—no matter where you are—does your heart good.
The New Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront is Dazzling
Don’t Miss a Massage at Green Leaf & Pebble Tea Spa
Margaret and I stayed at the new Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront, across from the Cavalier, which just opened in May. Developed by Bruce Thompson, the Oceanfront Marriott is gorgeous with all the amenities you’d expect from a luxurious resort. When you enter the lobby, a living wall greets you: a unique art installation composed of different plants that create an abstract painting and enhance indoor air quality. The spacious lobby is decorated in neutral shades with hip, modern décor. It feels sassy and classy at the same time.
Our room on the 19th floor had a bird’s eye view of the North End and First Landing State Park. Visibility was so clear you could even see the Eastern Shore. Margaret and I loved sitting on the balcony and watching the sea change colors at sunset. Our room was spacious and comfortable, and we were happy as clams in our staycation home away from home.
Our hubbies joined us one night for dinner at the posh Orion’s Roof for a decadent dinner and amazing views to the north, east, and south. The lounge at Orion’s is open air, an ideal place for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail. Tables in the restaurant were well spaced, and the trendy décor made us feel like we were in a ritzy resort far away.
Margaret and I started with cocktails. Hers was a Japanese Old Fashioned, which the server described as “spirit forward” (translation: strong). It featured artisan Japanese whisky, among other spirits, and Margaret said it tasted better and better as the ice melted, opening up the flavors. My choice was a lychee martini, a refreshing blend of sweet and tart. Margaret and Ed ordered the same entrée: steamed Chilean sea bass with a salty preserved olive spread, broccoli, and egg fried rice. They ate every bite.
I selected a spicy yellowtail hamachi roll for an appetizer and liked it fine. Peter chose a specialty roll: a Triple Spicy Tuna Roll, which outshined my roll in size and presentation. Luckily, he let me have a few bites. For dinner I had the Caesar salad with hanger steak and loved the miso dressing. Peter had a couple more apps including a fabulous conch ceviche with a yuzu soy marinade. So flavorful.
Vacations are all about dining out so Margaret and I enjoyed a few other restaurants in and around the Oceanfront. We had Filipino pancit for lunch at Ray Ray’s Mayflower Café, a Mediterranean lunch at Baladi’s at Hilltop, authentic Italian fare at Bella Monte, and an excellent breakfast at Mary’s.
Our last stop was for some R & R at Green Leaf & Pebble Tea Spa on Great Neck Rd. We relaxed for 50 minutes in the salt cave, a peaceful oasis with a waterfall and a wall of Himalayan salt, which is said to strengthen the immune system. Margaret said it helped her sinus issues, and I felt supremely relaxed afterwards.
Next I had a fantastic therapeutic massage with Grace Ann, whose nimble fingers worked magic on my knots and kinks. A cup of tea is offered with every service, and Margaret and I agreed a spa experience was the perfect way to end our staycation.
Design Your Stay in Virginia Beach
Everything You Need To Know to Vacation in Your Backyard
Virginia Beach Tourist Information
Get to know our lovely oceanfront vacation destination at the official tourist website for Virginia Beach. You can also find out about dining, lodging, shopping, activities, and more. For all this and the latest COVID-19 updates, go to www.visitvirginiabeach.com.
The New Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront
Make plans now to stay at Virginia Beach’s newest resort, where you can enjoy the pools, a wide expanse of beach, and a relaxing home away from home. For rates and reservations, visit www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/orfmc-marriott-virginia-beach-oceanfront.
Watch the Dolphins Frolic with Rudee Tours
Rudee Tours has a 100 percent guarantee you’ll see dolphins on one of their dolphin watching cruises. As an added benefit, you’ll enjoy a coastal view of our resort city. Find out rates and times and make your reservation at www.rudeetours.com/tours-cruises/dolphin-watching.
Check out Marine Life at Virginia Aquarium
See a shark up close, watch a giant sea turtle swim inches from your nose, and explore the marshes on a nature walk. Find out opening hours, admission rates, and directions at www.virginiaaquarium.com. Please note that you must buy timed tickets in advance.
Play Putt-Putt at Jungle Golf
Can you hit the ball while standing on one leg? Spin the wheel and see what challenges await. Jungle Golf is open 24 hours a day seasonally and your ticket entitles you to play for hours. Get directions and admission fees at www.junglegolf.com.
Let Your Cares Float Away at Green Leaf & Pebble Tea Spa
Plan to spend time in the relaxing salt cave, a therapeutic space that is said to help with allergies, skin conditions, and much more. Then opt for a serene massage with one of the qualified massage therapists. Every service includes a cup of tea! See what services are available and make your reservation at www.greenleafandpebble.com.