I am doing IM Florida in 2011, and I wanted to book my place early. Any recommendation from people that have been there before. I would prefer to be able to walk to start, transitions..etc from the hotel
You don't really need to book a year ahead of time. IMFL isn't some local like Lake Placid where the choices are expensive and limited. Panama City was designed for spring breakers in mind so there are a lot of accommodations in there. There were signs during race week advertising vacancy at prime places.
The Boardwalk is the host hotel and you will pay a premium for that. To it's left is the Sunbird and to its right is the Summit. I stayed at the Summit this year and the Sunbird last year. You can check out http://www.vrbo.com/ for condos. I paid $350 for a one bedroom condo at both the Sunbird and the Summit. Both of these places area short walk away from the start. You can pretty much leave your car in the parking lot and walk to the start/finish/expo from either of those places. We are talking about 1/4 - 1/2 mile walk.
The Sunbird is a newer place and is strictly condos. The Summit is a condo/hotel combo. It is older and you can tell that it has a little bit wear and tear. You can't go wrong with either of those places. The Sunbird has a pull out bed in the living room for extra guests. The Summit has a pretty nice bunk bed in the hall way for guests.
I think that all of the DCTri folks who came down there this year stayed at the Summit ... mostly based on my recommendation from last year :)
Having stayed at both places, I personally would recommend the Summit for the following reasons
1. It's right on the run course.
2. When going to the swim start, you will walk pass the bike and run special needs bags drop off area. This is probably more convenient than being at the host hotel.
3. When walking back after the finish, you will walk past the run special needs area. This will allow you to pick up your special needs run gear hassle free.
I talked to a lady who has done the race 5 different years and she has told me that the finish line/expo area is different every year. Last year it was literally next to the Summit (which was why I booked it this year). To my surprise, this year it's a little but down the street. It's always within 1/4-1/2 mile of each other so we are not talking about a vast distance. This year's finish line is a lot better I think.
If I were doing this race again, I would definitely choose the Summit again for its convenience. Although, I would say that if you prefer quietness after a race, the Sunbird is a better option, You can hear them say "xxxx You are an Ironman" from your room in the Summit. It's not too bad. You are so hyped after the race that the night of your finish is probably the night that you will get the least sleep. Trust me, no matter how tired you are, you will not be able to sleep for hourssss after the race :)
I'll be heading down next year as well, I haven't looked into accommodations at all but a few others I know going have already made reservations at some place called Laketown Wharf. I haven't had a chance to even look where it is or how it stacks up against these other places. sounds like Tuan has his schedule and itinerary down pretty well, I'll have to check out this Summit place also.
I would also recommend the Summit. Last year I went and checked out the other options... staying a night on Tuan's coach, staying a night at the Holiday Inn with Kara and Mark Z, and staying at the Boardwalk with Doug H...
The Holiday Inn was the nicest by far but was a hotel (no kitchen) not to mention it was probably about a mile away so logistically a pain bc of all the admin you need to do - not to mention a bit of a walk for your family/friends to have to contend with on race day to spectate.
The Summit was fine... my mom and bro had a great room... mine was fine... guess it depends on how well the owner/property takes care of it (mine was an owner rental, the room my mom had was owned by the Summit itself).