Kid-Tested (and Approved) Kids Programs

By: Sam Dolson

The Reunion Resort offers an excellent kids' program along with the amenities you expect from an upscale golf club and spa.

It was sometime near the end of our first night at Reunion Resort that I realized this was a getaway that was working exactly according to plan.

The kids had crashed. We'd just munched popcorn and watched The Incredibles on the DVD player in our villa, and they went right to sleep without a peep of objection when it was over. As any parent of a five-year-old and a nine-year-old will tell you, that time after the kids go to bed is one of blissful unwinding and relaxation for the adults. If it comes without a struggle, well, all the better. Julia and young Sam were wiped out. Nothing but contented half-smiles and slightly audible snores.

And who did my wife Mary and I have to thank for reaching this touchstone of family vacationing? Plenty of people, really, but it's worth noting that the list includes a group of Orlando-area fifth graders whom we've never met. When they had their jobs to do, it seems they did them very well.

Reunion Resort & Club is a top-shelf destination, located just southwest of the Orlando attractions area. The accommodations, the golf, the scenery, the personal attention paid to guests... all excellent. So it's no surprise they got this one other detail exactly right: They established a program that provides young people with things to do, and other young people to have fun with.

This didn't happen by accident, and that's where the fifth graders came in. Back at the end of 2003, a "focus group" of about 25 young people gathered and shared their ideas about what would be fun to do, what would make up great meals. They'd won an essay contest at nearby NorthLake Park Community School.

The result: Reunion's Kids Crew program. The kids weighed in on what they have fun doing (think: active), what they like to eat (I'm told it's at least a little healthier than we parents might expect) and how they like things organized. It's set up for a few hours each day, during which time parents can golf, shop, or just relax.

The very idea of a program designed for children, by children, was a winner in my kids' minds. After telling me how much they wished they could have been a part of the focus group, they seemed sure they were gonna have a great time, because, after all, it had been kids that helped set the whole thing up.

On that first day, the Kids' Crew theme was Waterworks, and what kid doesn't enjoy splashing in and around a pool. But Reunion's recreation team made sure that there was more than just a random game of Marco Polo going on. To hear the kids report back was priceless. Julia was certain she was the best at swimming past the "sharks," and Sam just knew that nobody was better than him and his new pal Christian at avoiding the water bombers that were taking aim at the kids scurrying about. My thought was that the rec team gets quite a workout, too.

The recreation team is another secret to the success at Reunion. These counselors are not simply slightly older kids who are baby-sitting for a few bucks an hour. They have earned degrees in recreation. In other words: professionals. And Reunion's working ratio is for no more than six kids to one counselor.

The program changes daily, with superhero-themed games, cooking and movies also on the schedule. There's an organized Crafts Activities time each day at 3 p.m., and regular lawn games (horseshoes, croquet, bocce). All this on top of the kids' fun area packed with toys and games, adjacent to the water park.

A water slide park was added in 2006, and future plans also call for nature walks, a Web site that kids can use to touch base once they're back home, and the development of characters that will be the face of the program.

The emphasis is on a "Kids' Crew," and for us, it worked perfectly. Since the trip, both Sam and Julia have been e-mailing friends they made in the program. Mary and I know that they'll both thrill to the birthday greeting we're told the Kids' Crew counselors will send when the time comes around. This is one of those trips that's going to elicit countless "remember when . . ." discussions from both kids, until we get to go back.

While Sam and Julia were splashing about, Mary and I attempted to sharpen our golf games out on the Legacy Course, an Arnold Palmer Signature design. We had brushed up with brief tips from Pro Kevin Baker (which helped me keep it straighter on several of my drives and approaches) and then thoroughly enjoyed the generous fairways, rockscapes and elevation changes that defined the layout. Score report: Confidential.

The driving force behind Reunion Resort is, after all, golf. So the planners turned to the very best, with Palmer being joined by fellow legends Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in contributing signature designs.

Watson's Independence Course, his first design in Florida, reflects a British Open feel, and that's only fitting from a man who won that championship five times. The course is large and undulated, with numerous bunkers to consider on the way to the hole. There's also the Tradition Course from Nicklaus, designed in his usual sweeping style with angled greens and collection areas.

Afterward is when the benefit of our three-bedroom villa at Seven Eagles paid off. Reunion Resort is actually comprised of several different "neighborhoods." Beyond the villa-style accommodation that was perfect for us at Seven Eagles, there are private home offerings for when you need to factor in more space or more time to spend.

Our personal concierge, Stephanie, had checked us in at the start of the day, given us the lay of the land and arranged for grocery delivery. When we got back in the late afternoon, it was like returning home.

This is where the "resort" part of the Reunion Resort name comes through. Plenty of space in the kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom, and all beautifully decorated. A patio to catch some fresh air, which opens onto a town square-style walkway that connects to the rest of Seven Eagles. The kitchen was fully appointed, giving us everything we needed to prepare and present our meal. And it's all within a stroll of the pool pavilion and the golf clubhouse. The whole layout gave us the feel of having moved into an exclusive neighborhood (for a few days, at least).

We worked up some dinner, got the kids cleaned up, and settled in for our own private movie night. The day was followed by a well-earned night's sleep for all.

The next day brought a Disney World trip, just a few exits ahead on I-4; the proximity is a huge bonus. We left the villa early, but returned for a mid-day break. Then it was back out again for a late night at the theme park, with fireworks and thrill riding until closing time. There's a relaxation in knowing that a very comfortable night's rest is just a few minutes down the road.

Yes, this was definitely a trip that followed its design. We combined golf, a full-fledged kids program and a trip to Disney, and tied it all together with the comforts of home. But it was only after a little reflection and discussion that Mary and I came to understand that it was as much Reunion Resort's design as it was ours. Thank goodness.

They embraced as utter truth the idea that when families travel together, it is very difficult for parents to have a good time if their kids do not.

We all did, just as planned.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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