Florida: a chance to relax, or go wild


January 10, 1993|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Contributing Writer

first-rate children's program, complete with arts and crafts, picnic lunches and smiling counselors. Matthew and Regina would have nothing to do with it.

"Let's just go to the beach," they begged. So that's what we did, and they couldn't have been happier. They jumped the waves, hunted for shells, built intricate moats and castles, and buried themselves up to their chins.

Even the baby had fun, toddling around, picking up shells, splashing in the water. She didn't eat as much sand as I feared. The children were so busy they forgot about their stomachs, for once. (Until they noticed the waitresses who came around with hot dogs and sodas, of course.)

Despite my concerns that they'd be bored, all they needed was sunshine, sand and ocean. Wherever you go in Florida, you'll find plenty of that. So give yourselves -- and your children -- time to enjoy it. Mine even forgot to fight for a few days.

Sure, everyone goes to Florida to see Disney World (Splash Mountain, a log-flume ride boasting the world's longest flume drop, is among the newest attractions.) There's also Universal Studios, Sea World and Nickelodeon. And don't forget the Kennedy Space Center, Busch Gardens and an array of smaller amusement parks, museums and water parks.

You can stay busy from morning until night. But you'll also have a good time if you opt for a different kind of trip.

Maybe you're visiting the grandparents at their condo near a quiet beach. Grab the beach pails and enjoy the respite. Your children will be happy splashing in the pool or the waves, and so will you. Don't feel as if you have to see something -- or do something -- every minute.

Remember, after a few months of school and after-school activities, your children are as ready as you are to "do nothing" for a few days. They need time to relax, too.

So go ahead, loosen up. Let them sleep late and skip breakfast. Don't say "no" as often as you do at home. Let them have a few more candy bars. Isn't that what vacations are for?

If the idea of total nothingness makes you nervous, there is an array of resorts and hotels that are geared to families. You can stay as busy -- or as free -- as you like.

For instance, there's Sanibel Island, three miles out in the Gulf of Mexico and eight miles southwest of Fort Myers. It's touted as the world's best shelling beach, with more than 400 kinds of seashells and a 5,000-acre national wildlife refuge. At Sanibel's bird rookeries, endangered species are seen daily.

Accommodations include the Sundial Beach and Tennis Resort,

for example, which offers a variety of family packages with children's activities. There's even an international Pen Pal club, where youngsters are matched with a former young guest from another part of the world.

This fall, Sundial will offer a midweek special: Arrive Sunday or Monday, stay four nights and pay for three. For more information, call Sundial at (800) 237-4184.

Another kick-off-your-shoes kind of place that gets high marks from families -- especially those with young children -- is Club Med's Sandpiper Family Club. It won't break the bank either. Youngsters 2 through 5 stay free at Sandpiper for many weeks during the year. There's a Baby Club too, where infants as young as 4 months are welcome at no charge.

The advantage to a family Club Med vacation is that you can do as little or as much as you like -- with the children or without them. And you don't have to pay every time they order a drink or burger either. Call (800) CLUBMED.

Hyatt's Key West Resort also is courting the family market with its Camp Hyatt program. You also may book a second room for the children for half-price. Call (800) 233-1234.

Holiday Inn's Lake Buena Vista and Main Gate East near Disney World go a giant step toward helping parents enjoy the trip. There's regular day care, and children eat in their own restaurant adjacent to the main dining room. Their meals are free when parents are eating in the hotel. Children's activities are free, too. Call (800) HOLIDAY.

Florida's Space Coast, on the state's east coast between the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway, touts itself as an affordable family destination with more than 70 miles of dunes, beaches and wildlife preserves. For more information, call the Space Coast Office of Tourism at (800) USA-1969.

If tennis or golf are your games, try the Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs, Fla., offering 63 holes of championship golf on 600 acres and many tennis courts and programs. Children 17 and under may join in golf and tennis clinics. Call (800) 456-2000.

Wherever you go, ask about family packages and kids-stay-free deals. You're bound to find bargains. Just don't forget the sunscreen -- and the beach toys.

Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Taking the Kids, c/o The Sun, 2859 Central St., Box No. 119, Evanston, Ill. 60201.

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