Florida Family Reunions, Warm and Unfussy

    With so many beaches, museums, watersports, and resorts, planning a family reunion in Lee County is easy.

    By Chelle Koster Walton

    I'm something of an expert on family reunions in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. I live here with my husband, Rob, and 14-year-old son, Aaron, and every other year the in-laws descend from Virginia to spend the holidays. At our house. Last year, there were 12 of us. It happens when you live in sunny, warm southwest Florida.

    But you don't have to live here or even have a local relative to plan a family reunion. There's plenty to keep all generations happy and safe outdoors and in. My best advice: balance those together, bonding activities with some splinter-group, give-me-space pursuits.

    The Setting

    Lee County resorts practically invented the family vacationing concept and craze. Its resorts win awards for their family programs, including Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa (south Fort Myers), Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina and GullWing (Fort Myers Beach), Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa (Bonita Springs), Sundial Beach Resort(Sanibel Island), and South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.

    Condominium and vacation home rentals offer further practical options. Many rent by the week, but on Sanibel Island, a one-month minimum on home rentals applies.

    Group Hug

    With big groups, the beach works best for getting everyone together: it's roomy, it's free, and everyone can pursue their own interests. At Lynn Hall Memorial Park on Fort Myers Beach, tots can hang on the playground, older kids can fish on the pier or parasail. For easy feeding, hit the pizza and ice cream parlors.

    If you prefer a bit of structure, Lovers Key State Park to the south conducts special programs on fishing, birding, cast netting and the likes. Call to reserve a space in the program. Another venue for easy outdoor bonding, Lakes Regional Park works particularly well where there are toddlers and tots involved because it has a squirt fountain, a mini-train, plus traditional playgrounds. Older ones can take to the nature and biking trails. Reserve a picnic shelter for a home base and barbecuing.

    Herd the crew over to The Shell Factory in North Fort Myers where a variety of activities indoor and out treat all ages to a good time. The Shell Factory boasts a nature park with live animals, bumper boats and a shopping bazaar, as well as Capt’n Fishbones Steak and Seafood Restaurant with three bars and indoor and outdoor dining.

    Time Out

    The logistics of coordinating the whims and interests of a large group can become daunting, and then it's time to go separate ways. Often, you need look no further than your resort for ideas and assistance with special-interest activities designed to give families a little space. For instance, sign up the kids for a resort daytime or dinner-and-movie program while the parents do an adult thing - golfing, dinner out or a cruise.

    One day, send a group to the fishing pier on Sanibel Island while another does a group spa package at Sanibel Harbour Resort or the Hyatt Regency. Outdoors types can go kayaking on Sanibel Island with Tarpon Bay Explorers into J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge while the cultural variety visits Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. On a day when everyone wants to be inside, take the small kids to IMAG History & Science Center and the older ones to explore Fort Myers' connection to two turn-of-last-century geniuses at Edison & Ford Winter Estates.

    Now you're getting the idea. Mix and match your family for a Lee County reunion vacation that runs smoothly, warmly and, best of all, without a lot of fuss.