It’s Playtime!

written by | Posted on March 26th, 2013

Sunset Key Family Time

Peek into the treasure trove of family attractions that Florida has to offer and you’ll find gems of all kinds. This state is the jackpot of family-friendly vacations, with high-energy theme parks, museums showcasing shipwrecks, pirates, clowns and dinosaurs, up-close encounters with wildlife, and opportunities to delve into Florida’s unique history orlook to the future through the eyes of an astronaut. If it’s family fun your clients are looking for, Florida’s got it!

ST. AUGUSTINE

This, the oldest continually occupied city in the United States and where 50 percent of the visitors are families, is a wonderland for travelers who want to walk in the footsteps of Spanish conquistadors, listen to pirate tales in old forts, go in search of ghosts in the Old City, or hang with some gators (this is Florida after all). “Our biggest appeal is our history,” says Barbara Golden, communications manager, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches VCB. “Very entertaining and unique history presented in an authentic and memorable setting that is more Mediterranean than American.”

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, which is over 340 years old and the largest reminder of the colonial Spanish presence in the U.S., offers a Junior Ranger Program that allows children to learn about the area’s history while discovering the monument in a fun way (think treasure hunt in an actual fort!). While “digging around,” tell clients to go deep inside the fort, where they’ll find a long narrow room and low doorway that was hidden until 1932. At the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, there are Native American villages to explore, cannon firings to view in action, and, of course, there’s the call of the legendary waters for those seeking eternal youth. At The Old Jail, kids can watch as dad gets arrested by a costumed deputy who’ll march him by the creepy gallows, throw him in an iron-barred cell and threaten to leave him in the maximum-security area complete with shackles, while at The Oldest Drugstore—the oldest in the nation—the whole family can create their own concoction surrounded by shelves of antique bottles, elixirs, lotions and cosmetics. A don’t miss is Treasury Street, which connects the waterfront Bay Street to the Royal Spanish Treasury and is known as the narrowest in the country at only seven feet wide. Or, for families on the hunt for more exhilarating thrills, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Museum offers a zipline tour that has participants zipping through the treetops with live crocodiles and alligators snapping at them right under their toes. Then there’s the relatively new St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, which, Golden says, “has received rave reviews from family travel publications.” With nightfall come the shadows of bygone St. Augustine residents lurking in the dark, making it the perfect time for a ghost tour with visits to cemeteries, haunted B&Bs and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

TurtleTrek exhibit in SeaWorld Orlando

Sleeptime: For true history buff families, recommend the 72-room Hilton Historic Bayfront (hiltonhistoricstaugustine.com), the smallest Hilton in the world and ideally located in the city’s downtown bayfront area. Approximately 25 minutes from St. Augustine, Hammock Beach Resort (hammockbeach.com) is the perfect place for families looking to combine a beachside resort stay with sightseeing in town. There’s an array of accommodation options, from 1-bedroom condos to multi-room beach homes equipped with full kitchens and with great water views. On site, there’s the 2-story Water Pavilion that features six pools, a 65-ft. slide, 30-ft. waterfalls, a 300-yard lazy river, two zero-entry splash pools and a children’s pool. For kids-focused activities, the Kids Crew club offers kids 4 to 12 everything from scavenger hunts and beach games to special weekly events such as CSI: Hammock Beach for children who love detective work.

ORLANDO

It goes without saying that this is the state’s central hub for family fun. This is where families can find seven of the world’s top theme parks, all of which are constantly upgrading and enhancing their offerings. Last year saw a plethora of new attractions, with more in store this year. “Orlando’s theme parks are always adding new and innovative attractions that can only be found in Orlando,” says Danielle Courtenay, CMO, Visit Orlando. “But it’s not just the uniqueness of each individual theme park or the attractions within, it’s that they are all found in one destination. From theme parks and sunshine to world-class cuisine, Orlando is the only destination where everyone in your family can do it all and enjoy it all together.”

SeaWorld Orlando, for example, opened TurtleTrek, featuring a first-of-its-kind 3-D/360-degree dome-shaped theater immersing viewers in the journey of a sea turtle, complete with a natural turtle habitat. This year will see the debut of Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins, what the theme park is calling “an all-new realm.” It features a ride—the coldest theme park attraction in the world—a penguin colony, a gift shop and a restaurant.

TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D Attraction at Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando, too, opened a new 3-D attraction at Universal Studios based on “Despicable Me,” which puts thrill-seekers in the middle of a hysterical adventure with Gru, Agnes and the complete cast of characters from the film. In the summer of 2013, it’s the Transformers that will take center stage at Universal Studios with the all-new TRANSFORMERS: The Ride – 3D. Riders will come face-to-face with Megatron; dodge explosions and attacks by the Decepticons; and fight to save mankind alongside Optimus Prime and the Autobots.

And of course, Walt Disney World Resort had a grand opening of its own in 2012—Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland expansion including the new Storybook Circus area with dueling Dumbo attractions and the Great Goofini coaster, The Barnstormer. Other attractions include Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Be Our Guest Restaurant, as well as Enchanted Tales with Belle. This year, there are even more goodies in store with Princess Fairytale Hall as the new home for visiting royalty, while 2014 will see the opening of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which will take guests on a rollicking, musical ride into the mine “where a million diamonds shine.”

Disney's Art of Animation Resort

Sleeptime: With more than 115,000 rooms and 450 hotels, Orlando offers more lodging options than nearly any destination in the world. One of the newest properties is Disney’s Art of Animation Resort at Walt Disney World Resort (disneyworld.disney.go.com), which features 1,120 suites designed after “Finding Nemo,” “Cars” and “The Lion King,” and 864 rooms inspired by “The Little Mermaid.” In fact, themed rooms, says Visit Orlando’s Courtenay, “are a significant trend, with other properties offering options that make it more comfortable for families, including Nickelodeon Suites Resort (nickhotel.com) with rooms themed after Nickelodeon characters such as “SpongeBob Square Pants” and “Dora the Explorer”; Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando (loews.com) with Dr. Seuss-themed kids’ suites; and Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando with “Jurassic Park”-themed kids’ suites, just to name a few.”

In Downtown Disney, B Hotels & Resorts will add to its collection in Fall 2013 with a new property, B Resort Lake Buena Vista (bhotelsandresorts.com). Guests of the resort, which will have a number of guestrooms featuring bunk beds and gaming consoles, will have access to complimentary shuttle services to the Walt Disney World theme parks. In 2014, meanwhile, a fourth hotel will open at Universal Orlando, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, operated by Loews. It will feature 900 family suites and 900 standard guestrooms.

For clients headed to Orlando a little sooner than later, recommend the Kessler Collection’s Bohemian Hotel Celebration (celebrationhotel.com), set within the town of Celebration and providing a unique upscale homey feel. Or point them to another Kessler property, Holiday Inn Resort Orlando–The Castle hotel (thecastleorlando.com), where kids will find fun around every corner, from the poolside Dive-In Movies to the signature scavenger hunts, with castle creatures and all.

GOODIES BEYOND ORLANDO

For families visiting Orlando and looking for things other than theme parks, recommend indoor sky diving, Fantasy of Flight in Polk County, wake boarding and skiing at Orlando Water Sports, ziplining and swamp buggy tours at nearby Forever Florida, and Dinosaur World, which is inexpensive and kids will love because of the life-size dinosaurs and new animatronics.

LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven

In Winter Haven, a must is LEGOLAND Florida, ideal for children ages 2 to 12 and showcasing more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, as well as LEGO models throughout 10 themed “lands.” In May 2012, the park opened LEGOLAND Water Park, with a bevy of water-based attractions. Fantasy of Flight reaches for the skies with 40 rare and vintage aircraft. Here, visitors can take a biplane or hot air balloon ride, or view an aerial demonstration. At the Safari Wilderness Ranch, which opened in March 2012 in Lakeland, visitors can tour through large herds of exotic games on 260 acres of pristine wilderness in customized safari vehicles. At Dinosaur World, located in Plant City, there are more than 150 life-sized dinosaurs in an outdoor museum, and 12 new acres were added in spring 2012 for the animatronics exhibit. Kids can take home authentic fossils at the Fossil Dig and even unearth life-size dinosaurs in the Boneyard, among other fun enticements.

Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

TAMPA & ST. PETERSBURG

Nearby Tampa is not shy about showcasing some pretty amazing theme parks and family-friendly attractions of its own. Says Doug McClain, vice president of marketing & communications for Tampa Bay & Company, “Tampa Bay’s attractions provide experiences found nowhere else in the state, or the world. Whether you’re at the No. 1 zoo in America for kids (Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo), the largest science center in the Southeast United States (MOSI), one of the largest zoos in North America and home to Florida’s only triple-launch roller coaster (Busch Gardens), or any others, they provide families and visitors with unique, exciting adventures.”

The much-celebrated Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the state’s oldest theme park, is a must, as it not only offers some of the state’s most hair-raising rides—the Cheetah Hunt, for one—it also allows for an up-close encounter with wildlife. On the Serengeti Safari, for instance, visitors to the park hop on an open-air touring vehicle and trek across the Serengeti Plain, a 65-acre recreation of life on the home of the last great migration on earth. Located right across the street is Busch Gardens’ water park, Adventure Island, 30 acres of water-themed rides, all set within a Key West atmosphere. For families in search of more wildlife encounters, the Big Cat Rescue offers an opportunity to stand three feet from a 750-pound tiger at the country’s largest accredited big cat sanctuary.

For families who want to go a little bit high-brow, visit the world-renowned and stunning new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Dali’s works of art are wonderful eye candy no matter the visitor’s age. The aforementioned MOSI, incidentally, is not only huge at 300,000 sq. ft., but is also home to the only IMAX Dome Theatre in Florida and its Kids in Charge! The Children’s Science Center at MOSI is the largest children’s center in the nation.

Sleeptime: One of the area’s best resorts for families is the 20-acre beachfront TradeWinds Island Grand Resort (tradewindsresort.com), located on St. Pete Beach and just off a fresh $20 million renovation project. The resort is located about 45 minutes from Busch Gardens, but the drive is worth it for families who want to complement a theme park vacation with a beach resort stay. While on site, kids will be entertained with the resort’s water park, located right on the Gulf of Mexico, just off the white sandy shore behind TradeWinds Island Grand Resort. It features Summit Express, a tall slide straight into the water, along with a climbing wall and a bounce cave; Super Tramp & The Rebound, large trampolines in the middle of the sea; Jungle Joey, with mini-slide, climbing apex and ladder log; Rockit, a huge inflatable island with seating for four and other goodies. There’s also KONK (Kids Only, No Kidding!), the resort’s kids’ club; the 3-story, beachfront High Tide Water Slide; bungee trampoline; and paddleboats for cruising along the resort’s waterways, among a bevy of other kid-focused activities. Another good option is Saddlebrook Resort (saddlebrook.com), with 800 rooms and suites, four restaurants, golf, tennis and a spa, offering teen spa amenities for kids ages 12 to 17. One of the resort’s top amenities is its Superpool, a half-million gallon freeform pool with two volleyball nets, basketball hoops, and training lanes.

Atlantis exhibit, courtesy of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism

FLORIDA’S SPACE COAST

Visitors to Florida should not step foot out of the state without taking a detour to the Space Coast, 35 miles east of Orlando. In fact, this is Orlando’s closest beach, but it’s the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex that will dazzle every member of the family. This complex showcases the nation’s space history and the destination’s space legacy. Here, visitors can explore the Rocket Garden, showcasing historic NASA rockets; the Apollo/Saturn V Center, featuring rockets and equipment from the Apollo missions to the moon, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, where the sights, sounds and experiences of famed astronauts are captured and the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia is located. In addition, the center is the home of the space shuttle Atlantis, with a multimillion-dollar exhibit slated to open this July. Visitors can opt to have lunch with an astronaut, have an astronaut training experience, have an astronaut encounter and there’s even the Children’s Play Dome.

A new Space Coast initiative, the Hidden Gems program (spacecoasthiddengems.com), is a good source for travelers to the area as it “takes the expertise and insights of our local experts and residents and presents it to our visitors so that they can discover some true highlights of the destination that they might not have uncovered on their own,” says Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism. The program features self-guided destination adventures themed for wildlife encounters, history and space adventures.

Sleeptime: “The Holiday Inn Titusville-Kennedy Space Center (holidayinn.com), Crowne Plaza Melbourne Oceanfront (cpmelbourne.com), Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach (fourpointscocoabeach.com), and Courtyard by Marriott Cocoa Beach (courtyardcocoabeach.com) are just a few of the great hotels and resorts throughout the Space Coast,” says Varley.

Your clients can also take day trips to the Visitor Complex from North America’s only all-inclusive resort, the 216-acre Club Med Sandpiper Bay (sandpiperbay.clubmed.us), on the shores of the St. Lucie River and located about a 2-hour drive from the complex. The resort caters to families with deluxe family rooms that offer separate bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms; several dining venues, including Latitude 27, the junior lounge designed for kids 11 to 17; and countless children-friendly activities, including everything from petit tennis, golf and sailing to circus school and creative art programs at the BRITTO Art Center. Onsite excursions, meanwhile, run the gamut from a river tour to look for wild dolphins in their natural habitat to an afternoon of family river fishing.

Circus Museums, courtesy of Visit Sarasota County

SARASOTA

What’s a family story without clowns, especially when it’s associated with the iconic Ringling name. And it’s in Sarasota where you’ll find the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which, yes, houses art masterpieces, but with a name like Ringling there’s got to be some circus fun thrown in and it’s there at the aptly named Circus Museums, which celebrate the American circus, its history, and unique relationship to Sarasota. Here, visitors can see colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, and memorabilia and artifacts documenting the history of the Ringling family circus, including the circus movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” filmed in Sarasota. Also on exhibit is the Wisconsin, the private rail car of the Ringlings built in 1905, as well as a terrific collection of circus posters. Kids will love to try squishing into a small clown car or trying their hand at walking a tight rope. But going back to the Museum of Art itself, it was built by John Ringling to house his personal collection of masterpieces and today features paintings and sculptures by Rubens, van Dyck, Velazquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more. And as if that weren’t enough, architectural buffs, too, will find delight in the Venetian Gothic architecture of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringlings’ palatial mansion that’s been described as “the last of the Gilded Age mansions” to be built in America, with 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings. This is a delightful museum complex that really does cater to every member of the family.

Sleeptime: When it comes to the best accommodation options for a family, the area features some choice resorts, including the 11-acre, 266-guestroom The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota (ritzcarlton.com), near the city center of Sarasota, with its famed Ritz Kids program, onsite spa, a beach club on Lido Key—located three miles from the resort—golf club, and tennis courts; and the beachfront Lido Beach Resort (lidobeachresort.com), with many accommodations featuring kitchenettes, a family pool, beach volleyball and cabana rentals. Or, you can book clients at the AAA four-diamond Longboat Key Club & Resort (longboatkeyclub.com), with 218 newly renovated rooms and suites with private balconies, including the deluxe 2-bedroom suites with complete kitchen, a Kids Klub, golf, tennis, spa and marina. Another alternative is the Hyatt Siesta Key (siestakeybeach.hyatt.com), featuring beachfront resort condo rentals with multi-bedroom layouts that are ideal for family vacations. There are also weekly swim-up movies at the pool, s’mores around the firepit, private chef service and a bevy of other activities, both off and on the water.

Lion County Safari, courtesy of Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau

PALM BEACH

The attractions in the Palm Beaches offer unique experiences and fun, innovative takes on family favorites. Lion Country Safari, for example, is Florida’s only drive-through safari experience and offers the chance to interact with more than 800 animals. Several attractions, including Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which has a special sea turtle rehab center, and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center offer educational aspects as well, making the experience fun for adults and children alike while learning about Florida’s marine life.

But it’s the Lion Country Safari that is the real area draw here, with its drive-through wildlife preserve that’s divided into seven sections: Las Pampas, Ruaha National Park, Kalahari Bushveldt, Gir Forest, The Gorongosa, Serengeti Plains, and Hwange National Park. It’s a little bit of Africa and a sprinkling of South America in North America’s own backyard. The park also features a walk-through safari, the Safari World Amusement Park, with options for visitors to go on a boat ride on the Safari Queen or if they prefer, grab their own paddleboats. There’s also Safari Splash, with 23 interactive water functions and a waterslide; the giraffe feeding area; a petting zoo and even mini-golf.

At the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, meanwhile, whose mission is to increase public awareness of coastal and marine ecosystems, visitors can explore the nature center, take a walk through a preserved hardwood hammock—which shows what Florida looked like before modern development and industrialization—and play among butterflies at the butterfly garden, which attracts many species of butterflies including monarch, sulphur, and zebra longwing (Florida’s state butterfly).

Sleeptime: Tell clients with very deep pockets to head straight to the Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (bocaresort.com). This is fun central with a multitude of family-geared activities. Let’s start with the perfect accommodations, because there are many options, although we’d book clients at the Boca Beach Club, with 212 deluxe guestrooms and nine suites that come in a bevy of styles and located on the resort’s half-mile stretch of beach, just footsteps from the sand. For the perfect family vacation, the resort offers a professional “Family Fun Staff,” providing educational planning and supervision for participants; Camp Boca, with three distinct age groups; a golf academy; a tennis clinic; and a Random House Dr. Seuss-inspired library at the Boca Beach Club (yet another great reason to book there), which launched in May 2012 with more than 100 titles including books from the Dr. Seuss and Stepping Stones collections catering to kids aged 3-12 and available to families at no cost during their stay at the resort. There’s also story time, volleyball, life-size chess, ping pong and croquet.

Another top-notch area resort is the iconic The Breakers Palm Beach (thebreakers.com), which in 2011 completed a 5-year, $80 million renovation and redesign of all guestrooms and offers up its own long list of family activities (think everything from nature walks to historic bicycle tours, family fun golf and eco walks, even a glittery tattoo session and a glow in the dark scavenger hunt). There’s also an entertainment center, a kids’ camp, and options for tweens and teens (maybe even glow in the dark volleyball).

MIAMI

For those clients who are tired of the usual family vacation suspects, Miami offers a surprising and refreshing alternative. Miami has, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau declares, evolved into “a best-kept secret for family travelers, offering more intimate-sized attractions—many in tropical settings—without the long lines.”

The Miami Seaquarium is one of the hottest tickets in town, with shows featuring Lolita the Killer Whale—and that famous splash zone—and TV superstar Flipper. There are also countless exhibits focusing on tropical fish, stingrays, sharks and manatees, and kids will love Sharky’s Sky Trail, a ropes course adventure and the newest interactive attraction to be introduced at the park. It’s a multi-level aerial obstacle course in which guests climb three stories in the air to encounter 18 challenges including rickety bridges, suspended ropes and other balancing obstacles. Families can also opt for a dolphin encounter, although highly recommended is the very cool Sea Trek Reef Encounter, an underwater walking journey through a 300,000-gallon tropical reef in which clients wear a state-of-the-art dive helmet that allows them to breathe freely while “under the sea.”

Jungle Island in Miami

Another must is Jungle Island, which has a few unique adventures of its own, including coming face-to-face (sort of) with royal white tigers and snow tigers, which started calling the park home this past year. To get a real feeling for the “island” and its offerings, recommend the VIP Safari Tour, a 90-minute, behind-the-scenes tour that includes one-on-one sessions with red kangaroos from Australia, aldabra tortoises from the Seychelles, and capuchin monkeys from South America.

Two other area attractions that are must-visits are Zoo Miami, which in 2014 will open Florida: Mission Everglades, an exhibit showcasing some of Florida’s most amazing and treasured natural wonders, and the Venetian Pool in historic Coral Gables. It’s an 820,000-gallon pool complex created in 1923 featuring two historic lookout towers, two waterfalls and cave-like grottos. History buffs will love perusing the myriad photos lining the walls in the entrance, which showcase 1920s beauty contests that took place at Venetian Pool.

The Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

Sleeptime: We’ll put the focus on two resorts that are far from the maddening crowds and party-hectic scene of South Beach. There’s the historic The Biltmore (biltmorehotel.com) in Coral Gables, with 275 guestrooms, including 130 spacious suites (some even said to be haunted), a culinary program for kids and teens (as well as mom and dad, of course), kids’ club, kid-focused spa activities (what girl wouldn’t love a runway model mini-makeup session), delightful poolside cabanas that are a must-book, a golf course (also available for the juniors in the family) and tennis options. Over on Key Biscayne, meanwhile, there’s the dazzling beachfront The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami (ritzcarlton.com), with 450 guestrooms, including 113 suites, 64 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms and suites (these are the ones to book!) and one Ritz-Carlton Presidential Suite. Kids will love this resort, with its famed Ritz Kids program including treasure hunts, pool and beach games, and fishing, among other activities, as well as a teen/tween spa menu that’s a must if your clients want to enjoy one of the area’s top spas. But one of the best things that both these resorts bring to the table is out-of-this-world Sunday brunches—it’s a sin to be a guest at either one of these resorts without indulging.

For families heading to Miami with Fido in tow, recommend the Mandarin Oriental Miami (mandarinoriental.com/miami), with its MO Pets program. Other resorts might welcome dogs, but this hotel treats them like royalty. There are special menus, pet turndown service, a keepsake golden Mandarin Oriental collar tag given to your client’s furry companion upon arrival at the resort, a plush pet bed, a bone-shaped place mat with food and water bowls, special edible treats and bottled water in their room upon arrival. There’s even doggie boot camp with a certified dog trainer, a beauty day and doggie bathrobes and stylish doggie shirts available for purchase.

Sunset on Mallory Square, courtesy of Florida Keys & Key West

NAPLES, MARCO ISLAND & EVERGLADES

If it’s the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park, a World Heritage Site, that families want to explore, then it’s a stay in Naples or Marco Island they are after. In this area of Florida, says JoNell Modys,
PR and communications manager,
Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB, “the outdoors is readily accessible.” The Gulf Coast Visitor Center for the Everglades National Park is located in Everglades City, offering educational displays, orientation films, informational brochures, and backcountry permits. Visitors can take naturalist-led boat tours available throughout the day that will take them out into the Ten Thousand Islands portion of the park, with its maze of mangrove islands and waterways that extends to Flamingo and Florida Bay. Here, bottlenose dolphins are frequently spotted, along with many species of birds and even manatees and sea turtles. The possibilities for communing with nature here are endless: families can spend the morning photographing birds and an afternoon hiking and observing alligators sunbathe.

Beyond the Everglades, Modys points to the Naples Zoo, where a major new Coastal Africa exhibit is in the planning stages; and the Naples Botanical Garden, which she says, has a Children’s Garden “where play is encouraged and nothing is off limits. Children can climb a tree house, water plants in the herb and vegetable gardens, or explore the butterfly house.” A new attraction to the area is the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, which opened in February 2012 “and brings,” Modys says, “wonderful opportunities for both learning and playing.”

Sleeptime: There are quite a few options when it comes to choosing the right hotel for families. There are a couple of Waldorf Astoria properties—Edgewater Beach Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel (edgewaternaples.com) and Waldorf Astoria Naples (waldorfastorianaples.com)—the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (naplesbeachhotel.com), and the beachfront and intimate LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort (laplayaresort.com), among others, but a top recommendation to really get a feel for the Everglades is the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort (poiresort.com), part of the SunStream portfolio of hotels and resorts. Located on the doorsteps of the Everglades, this resort offers only 32 suites and an array of adventure excursions such as the Grand Swamp Buggy ECO Excursion that takes guests safely into the Everglade’s Big Cypress National Preserve; hiking and bicycling adventures (think close encounters with the Florida panther); and birding/photography outings.

Also accessible to Everglades adventures is the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa (coconutpoint.hyatt.com), located on 26 acres overlooking the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve in Bonita Springs. It’s a great family resort with a 5,000-sq.-ft. Adventure Pool complex complete with a 140-ft. corkscrew slide that leads into an expansive lagoon-style pool, as well as a 2,700-sq.-ft. Waterfall Pool with water cascades. The kids’ club Camp Hyatt is also a big winner here, with myriad activities for kids 3 to 12. There are shark tooth hunts, contests in the pools, and water balloon toss, all while learning all about the area’s flora, fauna and native Calusa Indians. And while the kids are off doing that, mom and dad can indulge in some golf, for which the area is famous, and a bit of downtime at the spa.

KEY WEST

If you’re thinking Key West is only an adult-centric party central, think again. This is the place for kids who are awed by shipwrecks, pirate tales, and even 6-toed cats. Ok, there is lots of merry-making, but it’s all part of the ambiance that makes this part of Florida so utterly unique. First stop should be the Key West Shipwreck Museum, with re-creations of the area’s salvage and wrecking era through live actors, film and artifacts from the wreck of the Isaac Allerton, which sank off the Keys in 1856. There’s even a 65-ft. lookout tower where kids can watch the reefs for any wrecks. Over at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, which houses the richest single collection of 17th century maritime and shipwreck antiquities in the Western Hemisphere, children will thrill at the tales of pirates and shipwrecks.

And no trip to Key West is complete without a visit to the Hemingway House and Museum, a stunning property where the famed Noble Prize winner penned many of his novels and home to those legendary 6-toed cats. It’s a charming place that we promise will delight even the youngest of kids. Tell families, with little ones especially, to make a detour to the Key West Toy Factory, with hundreds of nostalgic toys, and definitely recommend a late-afternoon on Mallory Square for the sunset celebration with its tightrope walkers, jugglers and animal acts, and with Florida’s gorgeous sunset as the backdrop. Once nighttime falls, families who like to get spooked should join one of the many ghost tours.

Sleeptime: Right in the middle of all the action, the Pier House Resort & Caribbean Spa (pierhouse.com) offers an authentic Key West ambiance located on a 6-acre compound at the corner of the Gulf of Mexico and Duval Street. The resort, your clients will want to know, has a private white sand beach (that’s key in Key West) as well as 116 guestrooms and 26 suites. Set on its own gorgeous private island, and only a few minutes by boat from Key West, Sunset Key Guest Cottages, A Westin Resort (westinsunsetkeycottages.com) offers cottage accommodations in 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom configurations that are ideal for clients who want to experience everything Key West has to offer, but want to get away to their “home-away-from-home” at the end of the day. For another delightful family-geared resort, tell clients to head north and book a stay at Hawks Cay Resort (hawkscay.com). It’s a little bit of a drive to Key West, but definitely worth it. This resort offers a plethora of kid-focused activities as well as villa accommodations that are the perfect option for families. The various pools alone, including the Saltwater Lagoon, a family favorite, will lure families, but there is also a dizzying array of kids’ activities (fish feeding and snorkeling in said lagoon are just some of the cool to-do’s), as well as plenty of time for family quality time when they are not off exploring the inimitable Florida Keys.

ZOOMING IN ON FLORIDA’S FILM FESTIVALS

Papparazzi, bright lights, glittery parties, movie stars… There are a dizzying number of film festivals to choose from for visiting film buffs interested in getting out from under the Florida sun, even if just for a little while.

South Florida offers some of the most celebrated, including the internationally acclaimed Miami International Film Festival, celebrating its 30th year in 2013 (March 1-13, 2013) and which during its three decades has introduced filmmakers from more than 60 countries to audiences in South Florida. A bit farther north, The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, taking place in the fall, is not only in the Guinness World Records book as the longest film festival in the world (it’s almost a month long), but is, according to Variety, one of the top hot festivals in the nation. For travelers heading to Palm Beach April 4-11, 2013, it’ll be easy to get lured to the cinema during the Palm Beach International Film Festival, which has hosted more than 150 world premieres and more than 1,100 films from 55 countries.

What’s great about the film festival circuit in Florida, however, is that it’s not just about celebrating movies with Academy Awards written all over them. Here, filmophiles can head to Key Largo to check out the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival from May 2-5, 2013, which will screen Bogart movies and other iconic films from the film noir genre. Or delve into the horror genre at the Freakshow Horror Film Festival, taking place in the Fall in Orlando and claiming to be one of the largest horror genre film festivals in the country. Also in Orlando, the Global Peace Film Festival, taking place Sept. 17-22, 2013, was established to utilize the power of the motion picture to further the goal of peace on earth.

The LGBT movement is well represented with a variety of film festivals, including the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (Fall); Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Spring); and The Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Fall).

MIAMI BOOK FAIR INTERNATIONAL

This year marks the 30th anniversary for the highly esteemed Miami Book Fair International, which takes place in November. From its iconic street fair, with those colorful exhibitor booths, to the literary geniuses that hit the stage during the much-touted Evenings With, this is one of the most coveted events in South Florida.

Beyond the author readings, there’s Twilight Tastings, a precursor to the evening presentations and during which visitors can sample cuisine from some of Miami’s fine eateries; The Kitchen, a veritable gastro-literary experience with cookbook authors discussing their culinary philosophies; and one of the fan favorites, Children’s Alley, brimming with an assortment of kid-, tween- and teen-focused entertainment.

ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH: ART CORNUCOPIA

Clients hungry for a bit of art culture will want to be in Miami the first week of December, during the world-renowned Art Basel Miami Beach, a contemporary art show that’s a sister event to Art Basel in Switzerland. It’s one of the most exciting times to be in the city as the events that have spun off the official show, which takes place at the Miami Beach Convention Center, spill out all over the city. The energy is everywhere, with galleries—both pop-up and traditional—museums, hotels, even building facades turning into canvases for both local artists as well as some of the artists most highly regarded in the art world. Visitors should head to Miami Beach for the main event and the countless other ones hosted throughout the area, and then take a detour to the up-and-coming Wynwood District and the neighboring Design District. The crowds, the music, the impromptu dancing, the open-air exhibits—for a few days in December, Miami becomes party central for art aficionados and their entourage.

Hotels do get busy during this time of year, so tell clients to plan well in advance if they want to get away and play in the South Florida sand with the rest of the art world. Recommend a stay at a trendy, boutiquey Miami Beach hotel, such as SLS Hotel South Beach (slshotels.com/southbeach), Suites of Dorchester (suitesofdorchester.com), Lord Balfour (experienceindie.com) or Lords South Beach (lordssouthbeach.com), which caters to the LGBT market.