Family-Friendly Florida Resorts on a Budget
Ahh, the family vacation... Where to go? What to do? Where to stay? Spending quality time with the offspring shouldn't be so complicated. That's why God invented Florida: almost year-round sunshine, blue skies and powder soft sand. Throw in a few iconic characters (Mickey, SpongeBob), crafts, wacky games and a stunning pool or two and you've got a recipe for vacation success. Here, a handful of Sunshine State resorts that deliver fun without breaking the bank.
LAKE BUENA VISTA
Check In: Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
The Setting: Spread on 200 lush acres and surrounding the white-sand beaches of Barefoot Bay are pastel-colored guest buildings arranged in six villages named after Caribbean islands (Barbados, Aruba, Jamaica). Plus, it's a stone's throw to Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Boardwalk.
Best Room: Book one of the pirate-themed rooms, which are outfitted with pirate ship beds, buccaneer accessories and swashbuckling decor from stem to stern.
For the Kids: Soak in the fun at the expansive Spanish fortress-themed aquatic complex complete with towers, antique cannons and an 82-foot-long waterslide that zips through the inside of the fort. Tweens and teens can test their skills on video games and pinball in the arcade. The Marina rents everything from sailboats and pontoon boats to canoes.
For the Whole Family: Take the footbridge across Barefoot Bay to Caribbean Cay, home to a meandering nature trail and playground. Or make it a date night (the hotel can arrange for a babysitter) and explore the resort's famed waterways aboard a luxurious cruise.
Check In: Nickelodeon Suites Resort
Rates: From $160;
The Setting: The wacky Nick Hotel (pictured) is close to Orlando's top attractions (Disney World is just a mile away) and a courtesy shuttle takes guests to Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores. Most of the 777 suites are outfitted with bunks and video games for kids, fully equipped kitchens, living rooms with flat screen TVs and free internet access.
Best Room: Huge murals of Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob, Cosmo and Wanda grace the walls of the theme suites.
For the Kids: The crazy antics are endless, including two water playgrounds with giant spiraling waterslides, live participatory game show, and character breakfast starring Dora and friends. Don't miss the daily group "sliming" that takes place poolside.
For the Whole Family: Studio Nick presents laugh-a-minute live performances and Nick-inspired games in a 180-seat theater.
Check In: The Shores Resort & Spa
Rates: From $170
The Setting: Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway on the shores of Daytona Beach, this AAA Four-Diamond property offers a historic beach-house ambiance -- think four-poster beds, sheer canopy curtains, Italian marble showers. The 212 guestrooms are outfitted with oversize windows and spacious terraces or balconies as well as 42-inch flat screen TVs and iPod docking stations. A personal check-in ambassador takes care of all the details, such as reserving your private poolside cabana and booking a signature Sonya Dakar treatment at the spa. There's also a fitness center, a Tiki Bar and heated oceanfront salt water pool.
Best Room: The Oceanview Balcony Guestroom features Intracoastal Waterway views, king-size bed and sitting area with sleeper sofa.
For the Kids: Most activities (shell crafts, art projects, movie nights) are free during the week at the Kid's Club. The $25/kid Saturday night theme parties (Pirates & Princess, Luau and Superhero) include dinner, snacks and activities.
For the Whole Family: Gather around the Oceanside firepits for S'mores at the Shores, where the perfect recipe fuses salty sea breeze, crunchy graham crackers, toasty marshmallows and gooey chocolate while the crashing waves provide the soundtrack.
Check In:Hilton Key Largo Resort
Rates: From $169
The Setting: Located on 13 acres of tropical forest along the southern boundaries of the Everglades National Park and just three miles from downtown Key Largo, this resort recently underwent a $12 million renovation that includes Italian tile floors and soothing palette of taupe and teal. There are also two outdoor heated pools, a boat marina, two lighted tennis courts, a fitness center, nature trails and more.
Best Room: Key Rooms offer 300 square feet of space with marble bath, sitting area with sleeper sofa, and private balcony.
For the Kids: The resort's Dolphin Cove offers educational programs about marine life and a special area for swimming with the dolphins.
For the Whole Family: The nearby John Pennekamp Coral Reef, otherwise known as the Diving Capital of the World, offers glass-bottom boat tours, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Check In:Omni Amelia Island Plantation
Rates: From $149
The Setting: Located 29 miles north of Jacksonville, this AAA Four Diamond resort sits on 1350-acres overlooking century-old Like Oaks, green salt marshes and its very own 3.5-mile private beach. There is also a golf course, tennis courts, fitness center, nature programs, shopping boutiques and a spa.
Best Room: Ocean rooms at Amelian Inn feature one king or two queen beds as well as a furnished balcony or patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
For the Kids: Poolside activities range from volleyball to shell and shark tooth hunts and t-shirt tie-dyeing. Kids can choose a movie from the extensive DVD library and kick back at the Beach Club's Game Room, which is outfitted with a 52-inch widescreen TV as well as arcade games, billiards and foosball tables
For the Whole Family: Sign up for a Safari Segway Experience, which takes parents and kids on a naturalist-led tour of the resort to explore the golf course and marsh.
SUNNY ISLES BEACH
Check In:Marenas Resort
Rates: From $149
The Setting: Situated on a 2.5 mile stretch of beach in Sunny Isles Beach, a barrier island just north of Miami, this chic property fuses sophisticated resort amenities (think luxurious spa, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, beach club) with individualized attention (a personal concierge takes care of every detail, from stocking the refrigerator with breakfast items or favorite snacks for kids to reserving beach cabanas complete with age-appropriate beach toys). The 26-story stainless steel and glass hotel tower features 159 one- and two-bedroom suites, each with fully equipped gourmet kitchens and spacious contemporary interiors.
For the Kids: Get your budding sculptor to build a sandcastle with one of the friendly (and skilled) cabana servers.
For the Whole Family: Head over to nearby Oleta River State Park, which features miles of off-road biking trails as well as sea kayaking and canoeing (rentals available). Splurge on a little something for everyone at the Bal Harbour Shops, which features high end boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Or show up for a complimentary yoga class on Bal Harbour Beach.
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