Good-Natured Families

An eco-friendly vacation awaits in Charlotte Harbor.

"The two things I liked the most about the whole tour was this little narrow creek going through a tunnel of mangroves. It was picture perfect, but of course mom forgot her camera. Inside the little creek we saw tons of crabs and a green egret. Then my next favorite part was when I really got to get goin'. We reached the end of the creek and we were in the bay, the wind was blowing real hard, but no problem for me. I wanted to gun it so bad but Joe [our guide] said to keep close. I couldn't help it, I just let loose, went real fast, and had all the waves crashing into the front of the kayak."
  -from the travel diary of Aaron Walton, 14

I've been encouraging my teen son lately to keep a travelogue, much as I did when I was his age. It's fun to compare our perspectives on family forays. This one he pegged pretty close to my reactions of an awesome (if I may borrow a word from his vocabulary) kayaking adventure with Grande Tours in Placida, an aptly named placid community that, like many along Charlotte Harbor, is surrounded by water. Gulf, bay and rivers add the ingredients to expand, like one of those spongy toys you soak overnight, options for meaningful, outdoors family activities.

Besides kayaking, Grande Tours offers Sea Life Excursion cruises and family fishing outings, which give you an idea what the region is about: wildlife and water sports.

Cast your line from any of the county's seven fishing piers, some of them historic remainders of railway phosphate shipping. Or hook up with King Fisher Fleet for inshore and deep-water safaris. The long-time tour operator also does sightseeing cruises into Charlotte Harbor, Florida's second largest estuary and legendary for its fish, scenery, dolphins and birds. A quiet antithesis to the crowds and commotion of the Florida most families know, it boasts vast expanses of water and land protected from development.

Take Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, for instance. Its 79,000 protected acres and gorgeous Webb Lake encourage hiking, fishing, or just a scenic family drive. Adjacent Babcock Wilderness Adventures takes your family into the Wild West of Florida with swamp buggy tours of cypress swamp and habitat for deer, wild turkeys and Florida panthers.

"Unplugged" islands accessible only by boat are the final frontier for family vacations au naturel. Hop aboard a water taxi to Don Pedro Island State Park for a picnic lunch, nature hike and snooze on the beach.

Head to Palm Island Resort, a short ferry ride from the mainland, for a family-friendly meal or overnight getaway in the castaway embrace of beach. Guests get around by foot, bike, golf cart and kayak. Nature trails, swimming pools, playgrounds, a kids' program and a resident pirate named Red Beard multiply kid appeal. It long has been a favorite escape when we're looking for one-on-one, one-of-a-kind time with Aaron. Charlotte County sets the scene that way for family interaction of a whole different nature.

"It was cool to see the feeding and we also got to see other birds like a crow that could quack like a duck and say "hi," Aaron concluded his day's summary. "All this adventure in one day!"

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