Best Kid Friendly Resorts in Florida

    By Chelle Koster Walton

    Kids can have their own vacation fun at these kid-friendly resorts and hotels.

    Kids' programs have made a major mark on the standards of top Florida resorts during the past few decades. Many resorts design activities to give parents time with their kids and time alone as a couple. Read on to discover Florida resorts for kids, along with accommodations that feature family-friendly amenities.

    Themes with Kid Appeal

    A handful of Florida properties under the LXR umbrella have kidding around down to a science. Two resorts, South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island and Sundial Beach & Golf Resort on Sanibel Island, were among the pioneers in inventing family resort recreation. They have created programs (Sanibel Sea School and Explorer Kids’ Club Eco Camp at Sundial) that are geared toward recreation, the environment and education.

    South Seas and Sundial lead in their implementation of kid programs. Counselors for these programs are specially trained and guided by a plan packed with themes and activities (essentially, lesson plans) for ages 6 to 13 at South Seas and ages 4 to 11 at Sundial. The programs are a result of 100 combined years of professional playing: every participating resort continually provides new activities for the program. Plays, beach walks, water balloon soccer, language-learning and scavenger hunts are among the activities incorporated into kid-appealing theme days such as Natural Wonders, Wet 'N' Wild, Messy Mania and Space Day.

    The programs also focus on nutrition. LXR hired world-class chefs and teamed up with corporate sponsors to create a menu as healthy as it is fun. Lunch offerings include turkey melt pop tarts and sun-dried cookies.

    Activities and lunch menus may vary.

    Dolphin Delights 

    Hawks Cay Island Resort, north of Marathon in the Florida Keys, offers an unusual outdoor amenity to families: Dolphin Connection. This training and interactive facility is located right on the property and families are free to observe dolphins from the dock anytime.

    Hawk's Cay's Camp Hawk incorporates dolphin observation and other nature-oriented programs for kids ages 5 to 12. There are five pools for family use, including one shallow pool with a pirate ship where kids can shoot each other with water cannons and play for hours. Dry fun comes in the form of a tree house playground with a climbing wall and tire swings. Hawk's Cay also does weekend Kids' Night Out (ages 5 to 12), great for couples who want to spend daylight hours with their kids and then enjoy a quiet dinner alone.

    Watery Wonders 

    Water features are the "boomingest" trend in family resort entertainment. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando was among the first to build its own mini water theme park. Its 800,000-gallon pool meanders through grottoes, past a cavern poolside café, under volleyball nets and a swinging bridge, through 12 waterfalls, into lagoons, around whirlpools and at the end of two plunging water slides. A small lake provides opportunity to play on the beach, canoe and paddleboat. Camp Hyatt entertains children ages 3 to 12 daily with splashdowns in the pool, tours of the property's equestrian center, biking and other activities. Every Friday and Saturday night, the resort hosts a bonfire and s'mores roast.

    Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort, features Loch Ness: A Monster Pool with slides, a zero-entry pool (you can walk right in), waterfalls, jets, fountains and sandy play areas. Innisbrook was already a family favorite before this happened. We liked its putt-putt golf course, playground, tennis and golf schools, wildlife preserve and spacious suites overlooking the four golf courses. Children's activities include mini-golfing, biking and playing dodge ball. Camp Nessie allows children ages 3 to 11 to participate in craftmaking activities and games. Kids also enjoy swimming at Loch Ness, crafts, games and quiet time. The golf shop offers free junior golf clinics every Saturday during the summer months.

    Homosassa is all about manatees and fishing, and so is Homosassa Riverside Resort. From its marina, families can depart on guided or on-your-own tours of the spring-fed Homosassa River, home to a variety of wildlife.

    Kidsuites: Just Right

    Kids on pull-out couches: too worrisome. Kids in bed with their parents: too crowded. Kids with their own suites: just right.

    In 1996, Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort Lake Buena Vista debuted the revolutionary KidSuites concept. Kids have a cozy nest of one or two sets of bunk beds, along with their own TV. A great idea, parents agreed.

    The idea spread to other Holiday Inns in Florida, including the Tampa Busch Gardens location.

    With the 2000 opening of Holiday Inn Family Suites Resort in Orlando, Kidsuites matured into a new floor plan that gives children more space. In spring 2005, the Florida resort for kids transformed into Nickelodeon Suites Resorts by Holiday Inn and created Nickelodeon-themed rooms.

    Other family-friendly amenities include an arcade and playful pools.