By Kathy Buccio
Planning a vacation that’ll satisfy your younger travelers can be a challenge. That’s why many Florida hotels roll out the red carpet and give kids special treatment via onsite clubs or camps that'll make vacationing a worthwhile adventure.
No longer limited to pool slides or a designated kids’ menu, new and improved kid clubs are offering everything from scavenger hunts to pizza-making classes, all while parents get to enjoy some adult time without the stress or worry.
For your next Florida vacation, make the tykes and tweens front and center and book a stay at one of these hotels that boast kid programs – some of them educational! -- that’ll get the stamp of approval from everyone in the family.
Loews Miami Beach Hotel
1601 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, Fla., (305) 604-1601
The Loews Miami Beach Hotel just underwent a $50-million renovation, which included premium upgrades to its much-loved SOBE Kids Club. Parents traveling with kids can enjoy a worry-free vacation knowing that their little ones are soaking up the fun at a facility that includes a lifeguard stand in the playroom, unlimited activities such as arts and crafts, pizza-making classes with a Loews chef, and a raft race. A variety of daily activities are updated weekly, and the playroom includes a video games, a karaoke station, a TV, and reading nook. Kids can also participate in supervised swimming and there’s a Nighttime Camp Session if mom and dad want to squeeze in a date night, which includes dinner and movie time for $95. All-day sessions are available from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. for $95 (including lunch), or parents can opt for a half-day session with or without lunch, starting at $65. (Times vary from 9 a.m. -1 p.m. or noon-5 p.m.
JW Marriott Resort Marco Island Beach Resort
400 South Collier Boulevard, Marco Island, Fla., (239) 394-2511
If you’re heading to Southwest Florida, make it a family affair at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, where an impressive $320-million renovation is evident in their hotel kids club, The Tiki Tribe Discovery Day Camp. Marriott- trained coordinators lead the kids in theme-based activities like sandcastle competitions, spin and sand art, and ceramic painting. The camp is open daily from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and, for $70, lunch is included as well as ice cream treats at the onsite ice cream shop. While mom and dad enjoy a swim in the tranquil waters, kids can have fun and make new friends while learning in a nurturing environment. The Tiki Tribe also focuses on team building through sports and swimming, as well as environmentally-friendly nature lessons. Kids will also get a chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the property and get the scoop on how things happen at the JW Marriott Marco Island.
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate
500 Masters Blvd, Championsgate, Fla., (407) 390-6664
At Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, kids can dictate their activity schedule, while mom and dad roam and explore the resort’s adult-friendly amenities such as the premium championship golf courses and the European-style Mokara spa. Camp Omni Kids Escape is available to parents on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. for ages 4-12. Cost is $12 per hour per child, and includes dinner (during the summer, Kids Escape is available nightly), and kids get to enjoy movies, video games, board games, and more. The Omni Orlando Resort is the only resort in the Orlando area with a wave pool, and also has an 850-foot lazy river with a waterfall, water cannons for silly fun, and a family pool with a corkscrew water slide and water tower. Kids get an Omni Kids Bag filled with treats such as sunglasses, a colorful bracelet, a souvenir magnetic photo frame, and a cup to use for unlimited refills at any of the resort restaurants. Kids can also check out a complimentary backpack “survival kit” during their stay, which includes puzzles and books for the little ones and cards and video games for tweens. If they’re still looking for things to do, children can take part in activities like supervised bass fishing, Pokemon Go tours, miniature golf, and pool scuba diving lessons. For the foodie on vacation, sushi-rolling and pizza-making classes are also offered. The resort offers shuttles to Walt Disney World Theme Parks.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort
9250 Island Grove Terrace, Vero Beach, Fla., (772) 234-2000
Kids and parents get to enjoy a bit of the Disney experience without actually being at the Walt Disney World resorts when they visit this hideaway resort on the Atlantic’s Treasure Coast. At Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, children have the opportunity to attend a character breakfast on Saturdays with Goofy and Donald. After breakfast, why not slide into the Mickey-shaped pool or take a plunge on the 163-foot water slide. Tiny tykes have access to the Tiger Lily Wet Play Area, which features a pirate ship, water cannons, and a mini water slide. The resort also offers a surf school and professional tennis lessons for kids and adults of all ages. While the adults enjoy a meal at Wind and Waves, kids ages 4-12 can check into the Disney Discovery Club from 5-8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and take carts on creative scavenger hunts, and engage in arts and crafts and specially curated outdoor activities. Seasonal activities like the Teen Geo Challenge (ages 13-19) are also available, where teens get to go on a resort-wide scavenger hunt using GPS technology. Finish the evening with a campfire sing-along and good old family fun.
500 Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater Beach, Fla., (727-441-2425)
Imagine mom and dad indulging in tropical cocktails, spa treatments at the Sandpearl Spa, or catching live entertainment at the hotel’s restaurant, Tate’s, all while knowing the kids are fully immersed in an action-packed day at the hotel’s kid club, Camp Ridley. The Sandpearl resort on Clearwater Beach takes its casual elegance and extends it to the tiniest travelers. At Camp Ridley (named after the Kemp Ridley turtle that’s found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico), kids can expect an itinerary of things to do that’ll have them busy with arts and crafts and scavenger hunts with a Florida wildlife focus. After their day at camp, little jet setters can relish in dive-in movies at the lagoon pool, s’mores at sunset, and add a family yoga class for extra bonding. For an special touch, Ridley the Turtle, the kid club mascot, picks one lucky kid to ring the historic Sunset Bell (one of the resort’s long-standing traditions), which lets guests of all ages bear witness to one of the most beautiful sunsets on the Gulf Coast.
Hammock Beach Resort
200 Ocean Crest Drive, Palm Coast, Fla., (866-841-0287)
At the Hammock Beach resort in Palm Coast, just 30 minutes south of historic St. Augustine, guests ages 4-12 can join the resort’s Kids Crew, which offers educational programming, beach and pool games, arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts. The Kids Crew drop-off program is available Saturdays and Sundays from either 9 a.m. -1 p.m. for the morning session at $50 per day with lunch, or 6-10 p.m. for the evening session at $55 with dinner. One of the features of the Kids Crew program is themed drop-offs, with ‘Pirate Adventure’ a fan-favorite. Kids are asked to pledge themselves to the club’s pirate ship and once they do, are given a sword to protect them through murky waters, a telescope to keep them looking forward, and a compass so they’ll always find their way. They’ll meet their pirate captain (club counselor) and head on a scavenger hunt of buried treasure with their tools. They’ll come up with a pirate name and create their own pirate hat. The Kids Crew also offers an evening program for teens ages 13-17. (Note: kid crew programs are subject to change by season.)
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
9300 Emerald Coast Parkway W, Destin, Fla., (877) 398-8457
This family friendly resort on the Emerald Coast is a playground for all ages. While mom and dad get a morning workout at the resort gym or take a beachside walk, Club KZ at the Sandestin Golf and Beach lets kids immerse themselves in the culture and wildlife of their natural surroundings through arts and crafts and interactive games. Day programs are available from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. for kids ages 4-12 ($55 for resort guest rate or $65 for non-resort guest) and it includes lunch. A Parent’s Night Out option is available from 5-9 p.m. at $50 per child (dinner included), and both little and big ones can enjoy stargazing, night walks, and kid-friendly movies. Reservations encouraged.