I’m one of those lucky parents with three children, ages 6 and under, who are still content with a vacation that includes sand, sunshine and chicken fingers on the menu. But my husband and I know it won’t be long before our pint-sized adventurers start expecting more. Thankfully, Florida is a playground for kids of all ages – including romantically-deprived parents. We’ve visited many of the state’s resorts and you really can’t go wrong, but here are our family’s favorites.
In 1999 BC (before children) – my husband and I indulged in a romantic beach weekend at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. It was that trip, though, that made us realize how wonderful it would be to return after we had kids. Everywhere, it seemed, we saw families playing in the sand, pedaling around the property and enjoying an old-fashioned good time – together. This time around, that was the intent in booking a stay with our little busy-bees.
We soon discovered why so many families check in here – it’s easy and there's something for everyone. The resort’s location on Florida’s Northwest coast makes it a manageable drive from many places in the southeast. Because it’s actually a gated resort community, you have your choice of accommodation options, whether it’s a beautifully appointed hotel room with mini-fridge and microwave, an oceanfront condo with a kitchen so you can serve your toddler three square meals, or a cottage or townhome with enough room for grandparents and a rambunctious brood. And the resort itself is a destination, with lots to do no matter what your children’s ages are.
Grown-up preferences leaned toward a leisurely pace. We bicycled along the extensive paths that crisscross the community and kayaked in the bay. Despite all the different diversions to keep us busy, nothing compared to the beauty of the sugar-white beach. Armed with a couple of buckets and shovels and a slathering of sunscreen, our crew sat for hours digging in the gentle surf and bubbly breaks along the shore. 850-267-8000.
Nickelodeon Family Suites, Orlando
Located in the heart of Orlando’s tourism district on 24 acres, Nickelodeon Suites Resort features Nickelodeon’s signature brand and style throughout all 777 suites, its two water parks, Studio Nick, the Kid’s Spa, the 4-D Experience, Code 9 Teen Lounge, and a 3,000-square-foot Arcade.
The Nickelodeon Suites Resort Mall is the hub of shopping, dining and entertainment activity with its restaurants, convenience store and souvenir shop. Not only is the Nick Hotel Mall your destination for all things Nick, it can also be your jumping-off spot for all major Orlando area attractions with our convenient shuttle service.
The Nickelodeon Suites Resort, also known as the Nick Hotel, rolled out the orange carpet and welcomed its first family on March 9, 2005. The hotel has been "sliming" and thrilling guests daily ever since. Situated on 24 beautiful acres and just minutes from all of Orlando’s best attractions, the hotel provides endless entertainment for its guests of all ages. With new characters and shows debuting regularly on property, the Nick Hotel is the place to be for Nickelodeon fans from all around the globe. 877-642-5111
I am the first to admit it: I had my doubts about taking children to The Breakers in Palm Beach, a hundred-plus-year-old, family-ownded resort listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a mainstay on virtually any list of chi-chi hotels recommended for romance, family gatherings and powerbroker business events.
I held my breath when we entered the marbled main lobby, crossing over custom carpets more expensive than the minivan we arrived in. The anxiety, however, disappeared the minute the bellman asked whether the girls wanted a ride up on the luggage cart. (Yes!)
For the rest of our stay, rather than feeling uptight about the fancy-schmancy accommodations, we felt like guests at grandmother’s house, where spilled milk was forgiven with the wave of a hand and losing our room key three times never ceased to be amusing.
The Breakers has oodles of activities for kids. We played croquet, snorkeled and swam in one of the five oceanfront pools, hunted for shells and took an afternoon bike ride – and that was just the first day. By early evening, exhaustion had driven the girls to the breaking point, so we ordered room service.
Days two and three were just as packed. Lily Sweet and Creed checked in to Coconut Crew children’s camp, where they played lawn football and went on a beach scavenger hunt. Dad skipped out for a snorkeling tour arranged by the hotel. And I went to the spa for a marine algae wrap. Most of our time was spent together – by choice – but we did manage to have a mom-and-dad-only date one night at The Italian Restaurant, an informal eatery where monitored play for children in the Family Entertainment Center is offered each night from 5:30 to 9:30. 888-273-2537.
The Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa
The Marriott Marco Island is touted as the ultimate escape for families, but truth be told, it was my husband who first suggested this resort as a potential getaway. The resort pool has a waterfall and slide, he argued, and there are tennis clinics, sand dollar painting, ceramics and sailing – just the kind of activities that the girls would enjoy.
It wasn’t until we arrived, however, that I discovered the real reason he was partial to this location – golf at The Rookery at Marco Island.
With its beachside location, the resort is also one of the best places to play in the sand and surf, and there are all kinds of outdoor activities designed to keep families entertained. Simple as it seems, the sandcastle building contest was a highlight of the girls’ trip, along with the Sailing and Shelling tour. Opting for the morning excursion, when the sun wasn’t quite as intense, we spotted a number of dolphins on the ride and came home with some of the largest shells we had seen outside of a souvenir shop.
The Marriott Marco Island does a number of things well, but the resort earns an A+ for its unbeatable activity schedule. All day long, there are opportunities for kids and adults to participate in tried-and-true and new activities, including waterside bingo and hair braiding. Perhaps that’s why the girls didn’t protest when we booked a nanny for the night and headed to the spa for a totally decadent Balinese Massage experience. As my back was being anointed and massaged, I realized that I agree with my husband – Marco rocks for families. 239-394-2511.
Packing up the family for a different part of the state? Consider these resorts that are sure to keep the kids talking – at least until next year’s family vacation:
Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Port St. Lucie
This all-inclusive resort takes personalized service so seriously, it tailors kids’ programs for guests aged 4 months to 17 years. The staff is just as serious about having fun, supervising age-appropriate activities including puppet shows, dance classes, circus school (complete with a flying trapeze) and an array of sports activities. The resort thought of everything when it began offering bottle warmers and cribs. 800-CLUB-MED, www.clubmed.us.
Take a personal watercraft ride or go parasailing from the resort marina. Hang out at the family-friendly area with the shallow, pirate ship pool, playground, basketball court and a little golf course among other activities. Plan your leisure time wisely – you wouldn’t want to leave without experiencing the dolphin encounter, would you? 305-743-7000, www.hawkscay.com
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Orlando
You’re in for a wild night here, where a savanna-view room gives you a lookout over part of the 43-acre reserve. Watch the giraffes roam, dine under a thatched ceiling and slide 67 feet into the resort pool (there’s also a wading pool for the littlest ones). Simba’s Cubhouse for kids aged 4-12, an arcade and a playground give kids even more options (if you can pry them out of the parks). 407-938-3000, www.disneyworld.com