There's an old beach saying that fish and family get old after three days, but you can avoid spoiling your next family reunion by planning a Sunshine State vacation getaway. Why Florida? Florida offers affordable venues and activities that will satisfy a variety of tastes and budgets.
Florida is a hot spot for large groups, which means the planner in your family will have access to a variety of experts and resources to help pull your event together. And if Florida is anything, it's the great outdoors, which means that when families need space, there's plenty of it to explore. Following are three hot spots to consider for your next get-together.
Easy Emerald Coast
Ginny Mills, an octogenarian who recently organized a family get-together for 35 people of all ages, chose the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area. Mills was attracted to the Emerald Coast for its temperate weather and variety of activities - key ingredients to a successful gathering. Mills also chose the area for its central location. Destin and Fort Walton Beach are within a day's drive from the Midwest and South.
Not to Miss
If you plan only one outing, make it a day at the beach. Northwest Florida boasts sand that's actually quartz ground so fine that it resembles sugar. This is why the beach is blindingly white and why the Gulf's tourmaline green waters are so highly reflective.
Panama City Beach, Fort Walton Beach and Destin (the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village") are also world-famous for their deep-sea fishing. Boats can sail in less than an hour to seas teeming with amberjack, snapper, mahi mahi and triggerfish. Charters take families on four- to twelve-hour jaunts and can also accommodate overnight trips.
Suites and Retreats
When planning a get-together for your entire family, it is important to include accommodations for all budgets. This is easy to do in northwest Florida, where beach houses and condominiums abound. Shop around for accommodations within walking distance of each other, and keep costs to a minimum by suggesting "eat-in" meals when group dinners are not planned.
If your family can't find the time to plan a reunion, let a group planner do the work for you. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a 2400-acre South Walton resort can help you find accommodations in different price ranges, an array of activities and complimentary amenities for groups.
Pensacola is centrally located for the family to enjoy the area’s 52 miles of immaculate beaches along with fishing from the Pensacola Bay Bridge, one of the longest fishing piers in the United States. Splash around in the Santa Rosa Sound waters on Quietwater Beach, just in front of Portofino Boardwalk, or have a family volleyball tournament at either Pensacola Beach or Perdido Key while children play in the sand.
Not to Miss
Plan an African American heritage tour through the Seville Square Historic District, which includes Pensacola Village, Julee Cottage Museum, Seville Square and the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum. Concerts, events and festivals occur throughout the year in the district.
Another option is a visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum featuring some of the most famous aircrafts. Children will enjoy an interactive game where they match clues about heroic and daring pilots to museum exhibits while at the same time learn interesting facts like who was the first African American to complete the Navy’s flight training program. The whole family will have a great experience as they try their hand at flight simulation before taking in a show at the IMAX Theatre.
Another option is a tasty family barbeque while witnessing the Blue Angels flight demonstration team roll, dive and spin upside down while practicing their legendary show, weekdays March to November.
Rendezvous in Daytona Beach and the Space Coast
Daytona Beach is home to the Daytona 500 and Bike Week, and within an hour's drive from Kennedy Space Center and Disney World. Just off Interstate 95, a major corridor for visitors driving into the state, Daytona also features fantastic beaches, with pastimes from bird watching to surfing.
Not to Miss
Launch the kickoff for your reunion at Kennedy Space Center in nearby Titusville on the Space Coast. Besides its spacious conference facilities, the lure of meeting here is the unique events you can plan. Schedule an astronaut appearance, rent the IMAX® theater for a private screening or sign your crew up for the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), an authentic astronaut training program.
No reunion here would be complete without a family outing to the Daytona International Speedway. The famed Daytona 500 takes place each February, and the DAYTONA 500 Experienceis open year 'round. Motor-sports shows, motion simulator rides and a 16-second Pit-Stop-challenge are among the high-energy activities. Spend an afternoon at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where you can drive or ride along on Daytona's 2.5-mile track in an authentic stock car.
Daytona Beach is also home to prolific African American leaders and heritage sites related to advancements in education, government, athletics and the Civil Rights Movement. Have a friendly family baseball competition at the Jackie Robinson Ballpark, site of the first racially integrated baseball game in modern major league baseball history. The next stop on your itinerary is the home of Mary McLeod Bethune, located on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University. Your family will discover Bethune's legacy through the numerous citations, plaques, artifacts and photographs displayed throughout the home.
Other cultural sites of interest include theologian Howard Thurman’s home, the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which is one of the finest African art galleries in the southeastern United States, and the Black Heritage Museum in nearby New Smyrna Beach.
Suites and Retreats
Booking your reunion at a seaside spot is a win-win situation. In Daytona, the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort is reunion central, with rooms, suites and cabanas that can accommodate families of different sizes.
The family-friendly El Caribe Resort & Conference Center is another property to consider, especially when affordability is an issue. This oceanfront resort offers everything from a standard hotel room to a fully equipped apartment complete with spa tubs.
For a more intimate option, check out the Longboard Inn B&B, a Craftsman-style bed and breakfast in nearby New Smyrna Beach.
Fort Lauderdale Liaisons
Fort Lauderdale's sunny skies, miles of beaches and eclectic restaurants that serve delicious seafood and Floribbean favorites ensure that everyone in your clan will have a good time. Plus, the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a complete planning kit to help you sort out your itinerary.
Not to Miss
Take your family out to a ballgame by planning an afternoon at a professional sporting event. The area is home to the NFL's Dolphins training camp in Davie, spring training for the NHL Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.
Then, plan a different kind of water activity - a day in the Everglades. Several tour companies in the area specialize in the flora and fauna of the "River of Grass," and many can coordinate your event from transportation to catering. The Billie Swamp Safari takes adventurers on exciting airboat rides where you could come face-to-face with the Sunshine State's most popular reptile - the alligator.
Suites and Retreats
A retreat to the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six will have you basking in praise from family members who have been pampered during their stay. The staff can help you set up both on- and off-site activities, but it's likely that no one will want to leave the premises, especially if you schedule massages and facials for the entire group at the world-class spa. The facility also has two 18-hole PGA championship courses, three pools, tennis courts and gourmet dining available to guests.
Reunions are not just about catching up, they're about making memories. For your next affair, these activities infuse fun into your family time.
• Any gamblers in your group? Then head to the Miccosukee Resort in Miami, where 24 hours of gaming will keep your clan busy around the clock. There are 32 poker tables, seven-card and scheduled poker tournaments, and more than 1,900 gaming machines.
• Go back to school at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, where you can take lessons kiteboarding, Segway riding and scuba diving. To make class more fun, plan ahead and custom-design packages for the entire group.
• Take a twist on the traditional Disney vacation with a Disney Cruise. There are as many activities for adults as there are for children, which means you can plan simultaneous adults-only and kids-only events when you're not all together.