DAYTONA BEACH SHORES — One of the beachside’s longtime independently owned hotels is ranked atop a prestigious new list of the nation’s Top 25 family-friendly accommodations.
The beachfront 91-room Sun Viking Lodge, at 2411 S. Atlantic Ave. in Daytona Beach Shores, scored the first-place ranking on a list of the Top 25 Hotels For Families in the United States as part of the 2022 Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Awards presented by travel website TripAdvisor.com.
In claiming the top spot, the Sun Viking Lodge finished ahead of an array of hotels in destinations that included Anaheim, California; Branson, Missouri; Santa Cruz, California; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Ocean City, New Jersey; and Williamsburg, Virginia; as well as five hotels in the shadow of Walt Disney World in Orlando.
“It’s a source of pride for everyone here,” said Amy Alexon, the hotel’s general manager. “It’s the employees that did this. That’s the reason we have so many good reviews. We’re like a family here. When you look at all the hotels we beat on that list, all the water parks, it’s a huge honor.”
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The Travelers’ Choice awards honor travelers’ favorite destinations, hotels, restaurants, things to do and beyond, based on the reviews and opinions collected from travelers and diners around the world on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period, according to the website.
The awards are split into two levels: Best of the Best and Travelers’ Choice.
The Best of the Best designation is the website’s highest honor.
It considers the quality and quantity of traveler reviews and ratings to rank the best accommodations, destinations, beaches, attractions, restaurants, airlines and experiences in specific categories and geographic areas, according to the website.
Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best award winners represent the top 1% of TripAdvisor listings, the website stated.
Other properties on the Top 25 family hotels list include Celebration Suites in Kissimmee (at No. 5); Marriott’s Harbour Lake in Orlando (No. 8); Sanibel Moorings in Sanibel Island (No. 11); Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa in Orlando (No. 16); and Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas, also in Orlando (No. 17).
A time of change at Sun Viking
For the Sun Viking Lodge, the TripAdvisor award comes during a time of transition.
A year ago, in June 2021, the hotel was sold by its longtime husband-and-wife ownership team of Gary and Barbara Brown to new owners Ty and Tovah Lohman of Ormond Beach for $8.5 million, according to Volusia County Property Appraiser records.
Moving on:After more than 50 years as hoteliers, Brown family sells Daytona Beach’s Sun Viking Lodge
The Browns had owned and operated the hotel since 1971. Although their son, Greg Brown, had initially stayed on as general manager, he stepped down from that position at the end of May to focus full-time on video production work.
Ahead of that change, Alexon had been promoted to general manager in January, moving into that job after more than a decade in various roles at the hotel where she had started as a front-desk clerk. Likewise, the hotel’s assistant general manager, Joel Pape, started at the hotel nearly four years ago in the maintenance department.
Ty Lohman, the hotel’s new owner, pointed the spotlight at the hotel’s leadership team and employees for recognition for the TripAdvisor honor.
“Amy has a great team that takes great care of the guests,” Lohman said. “This is really about her and everybody she’s got there. It’s an iconic hotel that has a lot of amenities to offer families. They worked really hard, so they’ve earned this.”
In turn, Alexon offered gratitude to the Brown family for instilling the family-friendly mindset that still characterizes the hotel.
“I sure do miss the Browns,” she said. “I learned a lot from them. They were amazing.”
In offering congratulations, the role of the Brown family in developing Daytona Beach as a tourist destination over five decades also was heralded by Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.
“This is a fantastic, amazing reward for a family that has given their lives to the industry here,” Davis said. “What that represents, that took years.”
When the Browns first opened their hotel in 1971, there was a lot of local talk about the potential impact of a new tourist attraction that would open later that year in Orlando.
From 2019: Sun Viking Lodge owner chronicles changes in Daytona Beach
“There was a lot of speculation about whether Disney World would help Daytona or hurt Daytona,” Gary Brown said in early 2021 as the Sun Viking Lodge marked its 50th anniversary. “If you look at history, I think it did both.”
Even as Disney’s mammoth empire loomed ever-larger, the Sun Viking Lodge endured.
It weathered gasoline shortages, wars, wildfires, economic downturns, the impact of the Sept. 11th attacks and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
Hotel staff praised for award-winning effort
Reached by phone, Greg Brown also acknowledged his parents’ role in defining the Sun Viking Lodge experience over more than 50 years at the helm.
“We feel blessed to get the award,” Brown said. “Obviously, my parents played a big part in that, as well. The whole staff has to be commended for all their hard work and making everybody happy.
“We have a very solid staff, even through the pandemic,” he said. “The issues with staffing shortages have been hard on everybody, but the core is there, and it kept us going.”
Labor shortage issues are still a factor at the hotel, said Pape, the assistant general manager. Right now, staffing for the hotel’s housekeeping department is about 20% below typical summer levels, he said.
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“But we all have to step up as a group and get the job done anyway,” he said.
Alexon said that a staff celebration party is in the planning stages as a reward for the TripAdvisor honor.
“It’s really going to boost morale,” she said of the award. “We’re going to have a big party to celebrate the employees.”