Disabled Travel: Corkscrew Swamp, an Accessible Sanctuary in Southwest Florida

    By Jill Martin

    Everyone is looking for a deal these days, and a free kids club included with your resort stay is a great way to cut costs. Read on to discover how to score big savings.

    Favorite Freebies

    The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort  on Longboat Key has complimentary kids club (Kinder Kamp and Kidding Around) programs, Thursday - Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon, for ages three to 12. This is also a  five-star diamond resort so mom and dad will have a wondrous time as well.

    Harbor Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale has a free-standing kids club called The Surf Club, for ages five to 12. Holy moly! It's a childhood fantasy come to life. They have a surf simulator, games galore, computers, a theatre with stadium seating and digital underwater cameras they can use to create souvenirs and crafts. It's fun-tastic.

    Club Med Sandpiper in Port St. Lucie is the only all-inclusive resort in the U.S. and some of their kids’ programs are included in your package (ages four to 17 are included for no charge). You can pay extra for the kids younger-than-four and babies program. Yes, babies – as young as 3 months old.

    The Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach has the amazing Splash Kids Club  - all included – and ages four to 12 are welcome. The fun begins around 9 a.m. and goes all day, till around 4 p.m. Kids can do karaoke, crafts, treasure hunts, limbo and hoola hoop contests… you’ll wish you were a kid again.

    The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort offers free morning sessions for their kids clubs. Ages for participation are 5-12. Your kids can stay longer as there is an afternoon session, they can even have lunch, available at an additional cost. Got to love free mornings, though!

    Seasonal Specials  

    Some resorts offer free programs in conjunction with a special promotion, for either a half day or full day. For example, The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach has offered a complimentary kids club called the Coconut Crew Interactive Camp, during the week (Sunday to Wednesday), and kids can be as young as three. They tend to offer this special in the summer and include things like free kids meals, free continental breakfast and more. Make sure to check for specials at your resort.

    Not Free But Worth It

    Since I travel with my boys constantly, we've thoroughly investigated our share of kids clubs and we have definite favorites. The programs listed below aren't free, but were my boys’ favorites because of the activities and the staff.

    Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach has an amazing area for kids and teens. There is SO much to do and they’ll feed them, too. The decor, the activities, the staff. All are superb. My teen is pretty darn picky and loathes the term kids’ club, but at Coast, he could be cool and entertained.

    Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys is the only full-day kids program and, boy oh boy, do they have a list of activities. From feeding fish off the dock to treasure hunts and all kinds of crafts, the list is long on fun. They also offer a Kids Night Out, which gives parents a night off. Did it, loved it!

    D-Dawgs KidsZone at the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort is a winner. Seven days a week, from noon till 8 p.m., your kids ages five 12 will beg to come here. There is 1,000 square feet of play area that overlooks one of their outdoor pools. There’s room for arts and crafts, ping-pong, Wii play, games and more. And Every Friday and Saturday night from 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm, it’s Kids Night Out.

    By Janet K. Keeler

    Many say there are no seasons in Florida, but you’ll find distinct changes in landscape at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a Southwest Florida gem maintained by the Audubon Society. The rainy season brings more swampy land and animals, plus it connects the area with adjacent wetlands. The winter weather is so pleasant that you might find a traffic jam or two on the boardwalk. And the dry spring changes the landscape again, drying up some ponds. Small fish remain in their small worlds until the rains come again.

    Corkscrew and the Everglades ecosystem can be enjoyed by traversing the 2.5-mile elevated boardwalk through pine flatwoods and then through the wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the world’s largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest at 700 acres. This watershed in the Western Everglades is 13,000 acres of natural Florida 15 miles east of Interstate 75 in Collier County and 45 miles northeast of Naples. Development is all around this oasis.

    The visitor center has wheelchairs (and strollers) to loan and those who have their own will find the journey along Corkscrew’s boardwalk quite pleasant, if not utterly amazing. That’s how the visitor who captured the panther skittering across the boardwalk must have felt. 

    Guided walks and other programs such as swamp meditations and summer night tours are held regularly. As you start out along the boardwalk you’ll see a large chalkboard where visitors record what critters they have seen on their walks. Some silly stuff shows up (don’t think you’ll find an elephant) but the birds are plentiful…and real.

    There are some special trees here, including the Rhett Green cypress named after the Audubon warden who stood guard in the forest in the early part of the 1900s to keep feather-raiders away from plucking the plumes off of egrets, herons and spoonbills. The Baker-Curry Landmark cypress honors John Baker and J. Arthur Curry who helped preserve the sanctuary and get it under the umbrella of the Audubon Society. Markers pinpoint the trees along the way.

    Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary includes a 2.5 mile boardwalk which winds through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. The boardwalk can accommodate disabled visitors in wheelchairs.

    Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary includes a 2.5 mile boardwalk which winds through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. The boardwalk can accommodate disabled visitors in wheelchairs.

    - Scott Keeler for VISIT FLORIDA

    As you traverse the boardwalk, watch for wildlife, above and below.  The birds of Corkscrew include roseate spoonbills and several varieties of heron, egrets and ibis. Oh, and those hooting barred owls.

    The biggest aviary star, though, is the threatened wood stork. There were once 150,000 wood storks in the southeastern United States. Today, that number has dwindled to about 10,000. Corkscrew has the largest wood story rookery in the nation.

    Visitors who come to Corkscrew when the famed ghost orchid blooms, usually in the summer but sometimes earlier, also realize amazement. The legendary flower blooms some 60 feet (bring binoculars!) in the air, the plant clinging to an old-growth bald cypress tree. In 2014, Corkscrew’s ghost orchid had 40 blooms. You can stay updated on blooming progress through the sanctuary website. When it does bloom, naturalists set out spotting scopes for all to use.

    Maybe more than anything else along the boardwalks, the ghost orchid has the power to amaze the crowds.

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