Family Reunions 101

By: Lisa M. Moten

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Planning a family reunion in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area? Use these helpful hints and tips to get you started.

After trial and error, and a handful of scraped and bruised relatives, I have uncovered a painless, low-stress and economical way to plan a family reunion that everyone will love. Pack your sandals and leave the boxing gloves at home. Below, you will find the recipe for a glorious, peaceful family gathering.

1. Make plans to host your reunion in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.

Offering an exciting variety of culture, family fun and lush, tropical surroundings, St. Pete Beach has the perfect formula for the ultimate family reunion. This community provides just the right combination of sunshine, warm weather, art, history and entertainment, so there is something for everyone.

2. Go Condo!

Ever the budget-conscious family, our search for accommodations led us to condo rentals. What we discovered was a little piece of heaven. Vistas on the Gulf is a family-friendly, beautiful little hideaway situated in St. Pete Beach, right on the Gulf of Mexico. This luxury condo hotel provides all the comforts of home — including washer and dryer, cable, full kitchen and living rooms
 for rates surprisingly comparable to most hotels (three-day minimum reservation required).

3. Let "The Don" be your guide.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel,
affectionately referred to as "The Don" by locals, is the visitor's anchor point on St. Pete Beach. The grand hotel, which originally opened in 1928, was appropriated by the military during World War II and eventually abandoned, restored and reopened in 1973. Services are available to cater to your four-legged friends, making this regal resort a favorite among pet owners. This historical monument made navigating around St. Pete Beach a breeze — and getting lost a virtual impossibility.

4. Savor the incredible beaches.

If all your time is spent living it up on breathtaking St. Pete Beach, you've not wasted a moment. The Gulf provides a serene escape from the everyday. Let the kids burn off boundless energy building sand castles, collecting shells and riding boogie boards while the adults sip fruit-garnished drinks under a cabana and reminisce about the good ol' days.

5. Visit downtown St. Petersburg.

Check out the Salvador Dalí Museum and Great Explorations, a hands-on museum where kids can learn and have fun.

The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, near the city's Jordan Park community, opened in 2006 and highlights different exhibits throughout the year.

6. Don't do all the cooking.

Snappers, a favorite among the locals, offers all the trappings of five-star seafood dining in a casual environment with charming outdoor seating. Their seafood is delivered two to three times daily, fresh from the Gulf. We opted for the fried fisherman's dinner, and we were served generous portions of fresh haddock, shrimp, scallops and a crab cake too tender to believe, with coleslaw and fries.

7. When you do cook, do it at Fort De Soto Park.

Fort De Soto Park is the perfect host for family reunion picnics. Rated the No. 1 Beach in the U.S.A. for 2005 by Dr. Beach, visitors will enjoy campgrounds, grills and 7.5 miles of white-sand beaches — everything needed for a full day of family fun.

8. Let them eat dessert.

In a sea of Gulf Boulevard ice creameries, Larry's Famous Olde Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor stands out, modest presence and lack of sign notwithstanding. An institution for decades, it's not unusual to see co-owner Dore Herman there chatting with the locals and sharing Larry's history with tourists.

In the mood for soft serve? Herman also owns the Twistee Treat just a half-mile away. Look for the giant ice cream cone on Gulf Boulevard.

9. Want to escape? Steal away to Egmont Key.

On the hunt for the local grocery, we found Dolphin Landings by accident. Offering daily cruises of varied lengths, they have a warm, friendly staff to help you plan your activity.

Given the choice of their two-hour dolphin watch cruise and a longer snorkel and shelling trip, we chose the latter, a four-hour journey to Egmont Key. Armed with beach towels, snacks and waterproof sunscreen, we boarded the Island Hopper and headed out into scenic Boca Ciega Bay. We encountered scores of dolphins along the way and laughed out loud in delight as the majestic creatures gave us an impromptu dive show.

After 45 minutes of cruising accompanied by a spectacular breeze and the stunning beauty of Pass-A-Grille Inlet, we arrived at our own private island paradise. Near the mouth of Tampa Bay, framed by some of the most beautiful and lush views the eye could behold, was Egmont Key. Gilligan never had it so good.

This historic island was fortified during the Spanish-American War at the turn of last century, protecting the entrance to Tampa Bay from the Spanish. The end of the war eliminated the need for the location and thus brought about its abandonment and subsequent fall into disrepair. What stands today is a protected bird sanctuary among the historic ruins of a once-thriving outpost.

Surrounded by breathtaking beaches, the island is now inhabited largely by gopher tortoises and the park ranger, who maintains the island. Visitors will still find many of the mortar structures and original brick and mortar roads, along with signposts that detail the Key's history.

On any given day, visitors can find Florida whelk shells measuring a foot long on the northern tip of the island along the western shore. Our tour guide, Steve (an investment banker from Chicago who was taking time off to do research for a book), gave us the VIP tour, naming every shell in existence, from clam and scallop to Florida fighting conch. The water is perfect for snorkeling; it's not uncommon for divers to spot lots of fish and other underwater sights.

10. What kids? Make time for romance.

Designate a sitter, order pizza for the kids and head to the StarLite Majesty Dining Yachts for a night of elegant dining, live music and dancing. Experience brilliant sunsets while enjoying continental cuisine prepared fresh on board. They offer kid-friendly themed lunch cruises, but we found a variety of grown-up celebrations — marriage proposals, birthdays and anniversaries — on this romantic three-hour dinner cruise.

From the kids to Aunt Isabelle, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area had a treat for members of each generation in our family. Who had time to bicker?

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More By Lisa M. Moten

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