If anyone needs or deserves a vacation it’s the parents of young children who have spent many a sleepless night and endless hours on high alert hovering and averting disasters of the small people kind. It’s no wonder family trips often end up in not-so sexy-destinations like Cincinnati, Albany or Tulsa—places where grandparents await with overstocked refrigerators and open arms, eager to babysit. For many seasoned travelers, the thought of having children means the end of an era, the demise of carefree globetrotting. And while a last minute excursion to an outer island of Indonesia may not be at the forefront of your family travel itinerary, you’d be surprised how many cool things you can do with your kids that do not involve mental torture or men dressed in funny hats twisting balloons. Here are a few winter escapes where all family members can partake in the fun:
First and foremost, Florida springs to mind. Sure it’s Spring Break capital and retirement heaven, but it’s also ideal for kid vacations with its ease of accessibility, white sand beaches, 80 degree turquoise water, and glorious weather. Just about everyone can get to Florida in reasonable time, unlike the Caribbean which involves layovers, puddle jumpers and overpriced food that your kids will complain about incessantly.
The best kept secret is Captiva, only an hours drive from Fort Myers airport. Rent a house on the powder white sand or stay at South Seas mega-resort which has everything from hotel rooms and condos to massive mansions and yachts available. On Captiva, you can arrive, park your car and never drive again as you can ride your bike (plus child seat on the back) for the entire stay or take the trolley from South Seas to town. The charming main drag boasts wacky restaurants like the famous kitschy Bubble Room, which Frommers describes as “Walt Disney on acid.” Waiters, dressed as Bubble Scouts, serve up dishes with names like “Some Like It Hot Hot Hot”—Gulf shrimp fired up with Louisiana hot sauce or “Duck Ellington”—roasted duck in orange and banana sauce. The hyper-decorated rooms sport endless eye candy like antique toys, jukeboxes, sports-figure bauble heads, Christmas decorations, and so much nostaglic movie memorabilia, it will make your head spin. People drive for hundreds of miles for a massive slice of their famous Orange Crunch cake—a three-tiered mountain of yellow cake with layers of almonds and brown sugar, dressed up in orange cream cheese icing.
After lunch, you can feed the docile manatees strawberries at the Jensen’s Marina or take a boat cruise to desolate beaches on North Captiva where glorious seashells and wave-surfing dolphins frolic in the surf. Collect sand dollars and a variety of other ocean treasures as it’s one of the best areas on the planet for picking up seashells. At sunset, residents and tourists, young and old alike, gather at the Mucky Duck—a boisterous British pub with incredibly mediocre food, but ideal for potent rum cocktails with live music to celebrate the sinking sun.
If you are feeling more adventurous or have a strong urge to leave the country, Anthony’s Key Resort on the glorious island of Roatan, off Honduras, just might be kid heaven. Not only do they have one of the best dolphin interactive programs, they offer 6-day dolphin camps for aspiring young biologists. Your kids can also opt to go horseback riding, boating, snorkel, or visit the iguana farm. Dive trips and nature hikes are also available to entertain Mom and Dad while the kids are at camp. The low-fi resort has a series of cool wooden cottages overlooking the azul sea with colorful hammocks swinging in the breeze, beckoning overtired parents or tots to take an afternoon nap. Kayaks and canoes are readily available for sunset paddles and exploration of the coves. The nearby town is an eclectic mix of bulging souvenir shops, funky eateries and dive shops.
Finally, while some parents may profess to be deathly allergic to cruise ships, we think there is something to be said about being on a giant floating playground with peppy people who will willingly volunteer to entertain and wear out your children while you imbibe frothy cocktails and catch up on that novel you’ve been meaning to finish. While Disney has a host of cruises for sails of the Magic Kingdom kind, how about a music cruise courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line that actually provides engaging entertainment for the parents while the kids wrestle in the foam pit? Cayamo, A Journey through Song, takes over the Norwegian Dawn on February 28 – March 7, 2009. Leaving from Miami, it navigates the Caribbean while Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, and The Indigo Girls perform on the high seas. Ports of call include St. Thomas, Tortola and Great Stirrup Cay for snorkeling, jeep adventures, and dolphin encounter programs. NCL’s Freestyle Dining program makes the trip even more palatable as you do not have to spend time lined up at the food trough if you are willing to pay a small cover charge to upgrade to their excellent alternative restaurants to escape the masses. Plus, the Kid Zone on board means supervised activities like face painting, pizza parties, arcades and late night childcare for kids ages 2-17, so you can sit back and rock out to Lyle Lovett.