Anna Maria hotel sign
March is here and spring break is coming quickly. If you haven’t yet made plans and last minute airfare isn’t an option, consider one of these Florida destinations for a great vacation. We asked our Neapolitan Family readers to give up their favorite and best kept secret (non-Disney) Florida spots that might just be the change of pace your family is looking for.
This classic Florida resort in Boca Grande, recommended by Stephanie Dixon of Naples, claims to embrace guests in “tranquil civility” the moment you step onto its lush grounds and into the elegant lobby. Think classic golf club and luxurious beach chic style with jackets required in the dining room. While this translates into a pricey per night stay in the hotel, suites or cottages, the trade-off is a 95-mile drive from Naples which means your vacation can start in less than two hours. The inn’s Family Spring Break Package offered during the month of March features teddy bear tea parties, sand castle contests, laser tag and “Drive-Inn” movies in addition to adventures including paddle boarding and geocaching. The resort is pet-friendly with an onsite dog park.
500 Palm Avenue, Boca Grande, 33921
Siesta Key Bungalows
We may think the beaches in Naples are special, but did you know we are less than two hours away from the very best beach in the country (according to Dr. Beach)? Siesta Key, near Sarasota, is known for its “gorgeous, powdery beaches,” says Valerie Foley of Naples. The Siesta Key Bungalows have screened-in porches to enjoy coastal breezes with a full kitchen and enough room for a family. Close enough to Sarasota to enjoy dining, museums and nightlife, Siesta Key beats to its own drum with live music, shopping, dining and drum circles.
8212 Midnight Pass Road
Siesta Key, 34242
Tradewinds Island Resort
This pet-friendly group of beach resorts boasts that kids will never be bored on the 20-acre property. Neapolitan Karen Krieger recommended this resort because there are many family activities, five pools and a kids’ camp, and older kids can learn to surf or fly with a jet pack. What makes this resort unique to our list is that it has been designated by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities as an autism-friendly business. Rooms can be equipped with door alarms, outlet covers and cushions for furniture corners and the staff has received sensitivity training. Parents also can drop off their kids for special sensory activities. Guests on special diets can expect gluten-free offerings in all dining outlets onsite.
5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 33706
Sundial Beach Resort and Spa
Reader Jennifer Townsend claims that this resort is good enough to go back to every year. Located on beautiful Sanibel Island, the resort and spa keeps kids entertained with programs such as the Sundial Buddies Camp and Sanibel’s Sea School for Kids. Florida residents enjoy a 15% discount, but the “Stay Two Nights, Get the Third Free Plus $50 Gas Credit” package may be the best bet for this resort that is only 40 miles from Naples.
1451 Middle Gulf Drive,
Sanibel Island, 33957
The Forgotten Coast
Reader Jason LeMay suggested the Forgotten Coast as the location where his family makes its vacation memories. It may sound a little sad that this panhandle destination identifies itself as “forgotten” but that may be exactly what season-weary Neapolitans are looking for. The Forgotten Coast website offers 101 things to do in the nearly 20 towns along the coastline, including more than 250 free and low-fee festivals that fill up the entire year’s calendar.
Reader Mandi Goins let us in on a secret so good that the destination’s own website jokingly begs you not to tell your neighbors about it. Situated on the Treasure Coast between St. Lucie and Martin Counties, Hutchinson Island is a rustic beach that has been left mostly in its wild, natural state. While the island has a few small grocery stores and oceanfront accommodations, nearby Stuart, Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce have dining, museums and galleries should you crave a bit more modern civilization.
Hawks Cay Resort
Once you drive into Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Cay (in between Islamorada and Marathon Key) you will not have many reasons to leave the property. This resort features spacious condos in addition to the hotel with a lagoon-style resort pool, a family pool with a pirate ship and a small saltwater lagoon perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding or snorkeling. The resort property also houses a marina where you can park your own boat or launch into a water adventure such as a snorkeling trip to a local reef. There is an ice cream parlor and a natural dolphin habitat where a variety of interactive dolphin experiences can be enjoyed. While this destination can get expensive, the sunsets and dolphin watching are free and you can cook meals in the condos to help defray the cost. (A hands-on dolphin adventure is costly, but considered by many to be an experience of a lifetime.) This resort, a favorite of several of our readers, has been known to have offers on Groupon that are less than half the regular room rates.
61 Hawk’s Cay Blvd, Duck Key, 33050
Cheeca Spa and Lodge
The landscaped drive into the beach-front resort recommended by Christina Elliot of Naples reminds one of a cool jungle that ends at a cozy lodge and nine-hole golf course.
The family pool here always is filled to the brim with children so adults may prefer the adult pool and cabanas with televisions adjacent to the spa. The man-made beach features a gorgeous lantern-lit fishing pier and unlimited complimentary use of the bikes, kayaks, catamarans and paddle boards.
81801 Overseas Highway
Myakka River State Park
Just a short drive from Naples is reader Trish Richardson’s ideal place to go camping with her family. One of the oldest and largest state parks, Myakka River State Park has two lakes and a river that are ideal for kayaking and paddle boarding. There are full-facility and primitive campsites plus five log cabins that have been modernized for comfortable lodging.
13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, 34241
Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures
Christie Lewis of Naples became a fan of Wekiwa Springs when she lived in Orlando. Along with the Myakka State River Park, Wekiwa is one of only two federally designated “wild and scenic rivers.” Lewis recommends going when it is hot to enjoy swimming, kayaking and canoeing in the cool crystal Springs. If you want to stay overnight in the park, full camping equipment including tents, stoves, lanterns, sleeping bags and a canoe or kayak are available for $132 for two days/one night or $60 for a campsite if you bring your own gear.
1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, 32712
Weeki Wachee Springs
Cool off in Florida’s only spring-fed waterpark where you might just bump into a manatee or a mermaid. The Weeki Wachee Springs State park has water flumes, an authentic lazy river, river cruises and mermaid shows. Kids can go to ranger, lifeguard or mermaid camp. Stay in nearby towns such as Spring Hill, Dunedin, Tampa or a local camping ground.
We promised to not to mention destinations near Disney, but this resort in Kissimmee is special enough to forget about a mouse sighting. There are three championship golf courses, a luxurious spa and a water park that has a lazy river, slides and splashing water features. The kids club hosts a variety of activities all day long at the pool, including hula-hoop contests and crafts. The best part are the luxurious suites in the hotel and condos where parental privacy is guaranteed and the coffeemaker and dishes are cleaned daily by housekeeping. Florida resident specials often bring down the rates to a mid-price hotel level and the condos are roomy enough for a large family or even two small families to share. If you do decide to venture out, there are a lot of fun things to do within a short drive, including The Orlando Science Center, a day trip to Tampa or Cape Canaveral, nearby state parks, airboat rides and, ahem, a few theme parks.
7593 Gathering Drive, Kissimmee, 34747
Hilton Historic Bayfront
Get hands on with history in America’s oldest city, a favorite of readers Nicole LeMay and Carli Suarez. Full of interactive historical tours, you can watch a blacksmith at work, ride a ghost train, recreate a battle scene at Fort Matanzas, or drink from the fountain of youth while admiring the peacocks showing off their colored plumes. Reader favorites include the historic trolley tour and feeding the catfish while dining at the Santa Maria Restaurant. The Hilton Historic Bayfront is close enough to walk to all of the old city attractions. Though the rooms are cozy for a family of four, the pool and historic location makes it a good choice for families.
32 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine
The Embassy Suites
Located down the road from Busch Gardens and Adventure Island Waterpark on the USF Campus, The Embassy Suites is in the ideal location to experience Tampa. The hotel provides free shuttle service to and from the parks and includes a free hot breakfast for guests in its atrium. The hotel also is near the Museum of Science and Industry with its interactive exhibits and IMAX theater. If you don’t get enough of the wild rides and 12,000 animals at Busch Gardens, visit the Lowry Park Zoo in Central Tampa or the spectacular Florida Aquarium in the Channelside district. While you are downtown, visit the Latin Quarter, called Ybor City, to see The Tampa Baseball Museum, catch a movie or dine on fabulous Latin food.
3705 Spectrum Blvd, Tampa, FL 33612