PLAYguide: Travel

Cancun Classroom

Balcony view at Marriott Cancun Resort

A Mexico getaway delivers more than a beach vacation for contributing PLAYGROUND writer Megan Padilla and her 9-year-old daughter Ailigh, who were invited on a media trip to stay at Marriott Cancun Resort. Here’s the story of their educational and exotic mother/daughter summer adventure.

Words and photos by Megan Padilla

Our 15 minutes is counting down as I chop fresh fish and squid while my daughter plucks cilantro leaves off their stems and squeezes limes into our ceviche. We are competing against two other families in a friendly cook-off on the lawn at the Marriott Cancun Resort. Our aprons are damp from our swimsuits and the hair beneath our chef hats is post-swim crazy. JW Marriott chef de cuisines Arturo Parra is circling our stations, checking on our progress. He will judge our creations.

Ailigh gets the idea to halve a pineapple and scoop it out to use as a bowl for our dish. A hotel sous chef jumps in to help her and it’s game on! So far, our shared adventure has delivered all I’d hoped for and more.

Family ceviche cook-off at Marriott Cancun Resort

As my daughter’s 9th birthday approached, I wanted to plan a getaway for just the two of us, a chance to spend a few days giving her my undivided attention. I envisioned some indulgences we’d both enjoy: snorkeling, pedicures and ordering room-service breakfast while watching the Royal Wedding from bed. But I also wanted to take her out of her comfort zone. I’ve learned that that’s where the unforgettable happens.

Having traveled throughout Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I set my sights on Cancun, precisely where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet. It’s an affordable and direct two-hour flight on JetBlue from Orlando. Plus, this destination would deliver my daughter’s first passport stamp and expose her to conversational Spanish outside of her classroom. Several years ago, I stayed at the upscale JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa, so I knew that its next-door sister property, the Marriott Cancun Resort, is a family-friendly beach resort that would guarantee the “vacation” part of our trip while also promising security and peace of mind.

To kick off our getaway, we spend our first morning in the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Marine Park snorkeling over the artificial reef made with hundreds of submerged sculptures – many cast from local people – that form Cancun’s Underwater Museum of Art. This environmental art gallery has been on my “must do” list for years, and I’m so excited to experience it for the first time with Ailigh.

Heading out to snorkel at Cancun’s Underwater Museum

After lunch, Ailigh is desperate to exchange her U.S. dollars for pesos. A teachable moment! If $1 U.S. is worth about 18 Mexican pesos, how many pesos will $40 buy?

A trip to the open-air Coral Negro Flea Market becomes a lesson in math, negotiating and assertiveness. I redirect the shopkeepers, “Talk to her. She’s the one who is shopping.” No way is Ailigh about to deplete her cache of $720 MXN by spending $500 MXN on a bracelet from the first vendor she meets. Each time she says “no,” the price comes down, until she proudly walks away with that bracelet for $200 MXN (about $12 USD).

Mexican chocolate at Ah Cacao

Emboldened by our interactions with locals, we don’t hesitate to board a public bus pulling in directly across the street from the market. Busses run all day up and down the strip along the Hotel Zone and cost only $12 MXN (about $0.60 USD per person).

On the ride back to the hotel, we spot the Ferris wheel in front of the mall called La Isla Shopping Village and spontaneously decide to pull the cord to signal our stop. We’d heard about a shop here called Ah Cacao that exclusively sells Mexican coffee, chocolate and vanilla. After a few mornings of unlimited Mexican hot chocolate served in child-sized mugs made of glazed pottery at La Capilla’s breakfast buffet at the Marriott, Ailigh wants to bring home the hockey-puck shaped discs of spiced chocolate to recreate the drink at home.

Dessert in a cup at Las Hijas de la Tosdada

At the tiny storefront, she also selects a molinillo, a carved wooden whisk traditionally used to make the drink. Afterward, we confidently hop on to another bus, exchange “hola,” “por favor” and “gracias” with the driver and return to the air-conditioned comfort of our hotel, feeling accomplished.

A family visit to Cancun isn’t complete without at least a little exploration of Mayan culture, history and ruins. A day trip to the spectacular pyramids and ruins of Chichen Itza is bucket list-worthy, but we didn’t have time for the all-day excursion. Instead, we visited the excellent Maya Museum of Cancun. This museum is open from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. every day except Monday. Cost is $70 MXD per person (about $3.70 USD); kids 13 and under are free. Note: They only accept Mexican pesos. It is a one-mile walk, door to door from the Marriott Cancun Resort, but you can also ride the public bus.

Maya ruins at San Miguelito Settlement

The modern structure is built high off the ground to protect the priceless collection of Mayan artifacts sourced from throughout the Yucatan from hurricanes. I tasked Ailigh to photograph the objects that most caught her attention as a way to give her visit some purpose. The best-kept secret is to explore the excavated ruins along a shaded, jungle path of the ancient San Miguelito Settlement, whose entrance is at the far end of the gardens beneath the museum and is marked only with a sign that says, “Zona Arqueologica.”

Though most of the ruins are simply stone foundations, there is one small pyramid. You’ll also hear tons of birds and see lazy iguanas wherever there’s a patch of sun. It is a poignant reminder that before this barrier island was loaded with hotels, it was the home of the ancients whose language, culture and beliefs still form the bedrock of this most-eastern tip of Mexico that juts into the Caribbean Sea.

One day, I long to climb with her to the top of pyramids that rise above the jungle and swim side-by-side, deep into the cenotes (natural pools, caves and caverns that have formed within the limestone substrate), where together we will experience more of the mysterious Mayan magic.

Las Hijas de la Tostada


Every single mention in this story is located on Kukulcan Blvd., Cancun. It’s the main drag along which the entire Hotel Zone is situated.

Where to Stay

  • Marriott operates two resort properties that sit side-by-side in the Hotel Zone. Marriott Cancun Resort (formerly known as Casa Magna but recently rebranded) is great for families and offers a full-slate of daily programming from outdoor movies to friendly cooking competitions.

Peekaboo views of the Caribbean from the pool-deck at the Marriott Cancun Resort

Where to Eat

  • Guests at the Marriott Cancun Resort and the JW Marriott Resort & Spa can choose from nine on-site international restaurants offering everything from pizza slices (and $2 bottled beer) in the gift shop to the energetic entertainment of a hibachi steakhouse (my daughter loved the interactive experience, and being able to have her meal prepared simply as grilled chicken, broccoli and rice). The kitchen at Sedona Grill creates a nightly Mexican buffet made of many traditional dishes, such as Chile en Nogada, a poblano chili stuffed with spiced ground beef and smothered in a walnut cream sauce (I remembered it from one of my favorite films, Like Water for Chocolate). We celebrated Ailigh’s birthday dinner with a special ice cream bomb prepared by the chef and an unforgettable serenade by mariachis with mad skills.
  • Off property, I recommend Las Hijas de la Tostada, an open-air casual restaurant that overlooks the lagoon’s mangroves and whose menu is loaded with fresh seafood and spicy salsas. If your kid’s palate is limited to quesadillas, they’ve got you covered, too. I’ve also really enjoyed La Destileria reachable by bus or taxi. It has a dining room with a nice vibe and a large covered deck overlooking the lagoon that is perfect for sunset. Start with the delicious house cocktail, the Tequilibrio, combining tequila with fresh juices and a salted rim. Take the edge off with tableside-prepared guacamole and tequila cheese, served flaming with—what else—tequila.

Beautiful architecture at the Marriott Cancun Resort

Getting There  

  • Central Floridians have terrific access to Cancun on JetBlue. Direct daily flights out of MCO are two hours long, and there is a one-hour time difference (Orlando time is one hour ahead of Cancun time).
  • Every traveler must have a passport that is valid for a minimum of six months beyond the entry date.

About Megan Padilla
Megan may live in Orlando, but her friends know she and her family are gypsy nomads at heart. Follow her on Instagram @travelswithmeg.

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Orlando’s Most Affordable Holiday Staycation

B Resort

B Resort & Spa Orlando

Labor Day should be at the top of the list for Orlando locals that want to maximize their paid time off on a budget: it’s the perfect time for a staycation.

According to Visit Orlando, Labor Day is the most affordable holiday in Orlando, based on hotel prices. Labor Day weekend savings range from 10 percent to more than 40 percent in comparison to other holidays such as Memorial Day and Christmas. In addition, more moderate temperatures, fewer crowds and thrilling new attractions make it an enticing time to explore and appreciate the area from a tourist’s perspective.

This year, visitors and locals alike can score up to 35 percent off hotel stays, up to 50 percent off select attractions and even free frosé! Best of all, purchases on will be an extra 5% off with promo code “Save5” from Aug. 6 – Sept 4, saving even more on some of Orlando’s most popular attractions, including the world famous theme parks. 


  • Sheraton Vistana Villages & Resort – Save up to 35 percent off best available rates, plus receive a $25 Resort Credit. Use booking code: GUESTENL
  • B Resort & Spa: Get 15 percent off a 1 night stay, 25 percent off a 2 night stay and 35 percent off a 3+ night stay. Must book by Aug. 31, 2018.
  • Mission Inn Resort & Club – Get the third night free after two consecutive paid nights, starting Friday, August 31 through the extended Labor Day weekend (ends on September 4).
  • Hilton Orlando  “Breakfast Before the Parks at Hilton Orlando” package: Fuel up and go! Enjoy daily breakfast before exploring Orlando’s theme parks. The special includes overnight accommodation and breakfast for two guests each day. Children five-and-under eat free.
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites International Drive Convention Center– “Book Early and Save” special: Until July 31st guests can receive 15 percent off of the best available rate for Labor Day weekend.


  • Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows – Florida residents receive $10 off and non-Florida residents receive $7 off for up to 6 guests.
  • Capone’s Dinner Show – Enjoy 50 percent off all tickets, for a night of entertainment including dinner, drinks and dessert.
  • Orlando Watersports Complex – Receive 37 percent off a Beginner Wakeboard Lesson with 4-Hour Cable Pass at Orlando Watersports Complex. Book this offer online with code “VOGUG“.
  • Sak Comedy Lab is offering a “Pre-Labor Day Show” on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $18 for General Admission, $15 for Florida residents.


  • Food lovers can experience Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, sponsored by American Express, celebrating Orlando’s emerging culinary scene and offering prix fixe dinners at more than 100 of the area’s hottest restaurants for just $35 per meal. Participating restaurants can be found across Orlando, including International Drive and close to theme parks.
  • Wine Bar George – Enjoy a free frosé with the purchase of a Wine Bar George Corkcicle for $30 plus tax while supplies last.

 Check out for more information

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Discover this Uncrowded Paradise

Bathtub Reef Beach is special, due in large part to this reef system just offshore, home to more than 500 marine creatures.

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When you have children, planning a family trip can be a job in itself. This year, give yourself a break and avoid the theme parks, skip the crowded beaches, and escape the smoggy high-rises. Instead, hit the road and discover a more naturally quaint family vacation in Martin County, Florida. This charming hidden gem along South Florida’s Treasure Coast boasts 22 miles of gorgeous Atlantic shoreline, quiet beaches, crisp blue waves, and welcoming communities full of shopping, dining, and sight-seeing opportunities.

Family Surf Lessons

Finding that perfect balance between entertainment for the kiddos and R&R for mom and dad isn’t always easy, but Martin County is here with an irresistible solution: call it “Camp-cation.”  The concept is simple: the kids get to spend their day at one of Martin County’s many supervised camps while the parents escape for some much-needed alone time. Brilliant, right?

Boating in Martin County

The area’s eclectic daytime summer camps run the gamut from water sports and aquatic studies to wilderness adventures, farming and horseback riding. Whether your children are more athletic or cerebral, whether they love to play in the ocean or prefer to frolic inland, Martin County has the camp for them.

Horseback Trail Riding

But enough about the kids. They’re at camp, which means you have the day to yourself. How are you going to spend it? Options abound. Lounge in the warm sand and blue surf of an uncrowded beach on Hutchinson Island or explore the shopping, culture, and historic downtowns of nearby Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, Hobe Sound or Stuart—voted Happiest Seaside Town of 2016 by Coastal Living magazine.

Kayaking the Indian Rive Lagoon

At the end of each day, the whole family can come back together for a dinner al fresco or an outdoor concert on the Riverwalk and compare notes on the day’s adventures.

That’s Camp-cation in a nutshell. Camp for the kids, vacation for the parents and an uncrowded paradise for the whole family.

Plan your summer Camp-cation today at

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Martin County, Florida

You won’t find high-rises or city smog — just warm sand, blue waves and a naturally quaint community.

Summer vacation is just around the corner, which means it’s time to plan that big family trip. The choices are always difficult, but what if there were a place that combined the quiet solitude of an undeveloped beachfront with the amenities of a destination spot? A place where the beaches were uncrowded, where just a few miles inland wilderness adventures awaited? A place where the kids can have a supervised blast while the parents escaped for some well-deserved alone time?

Great news: This paradise exists. Martin County, Florida is the ideal place for a family summer trip. With 22 miles of Atlantic shoreline, this charming hidden gem of the South Florida coast offers activities for the whole family. Let the camp-cation begin.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

For the kids, daytime summer camps ranging from water sports and inland retreats to horseback riding and natural education will keep them occupied and entertained.  Meanwhile, parents get away for some much-needed alone time. Visit one of Martin County’s many galleries, museums and historical sites in Stuart, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, and Hobe Sound—there’s even a scuba/snorkeling tour of a shipwreck site—or spend the day relaxing on the beach or shopping at the locally owned boutiques and shops scattered throughout Martin County’s historic downtowns.

At the end of each day, the whole family can come back together to taste the local flavors at one of Martin County’s oceanfront restaurants.

Plan your summer camp-cation today at

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9 Reasons to Visit Four Seasons (Orlando)

Four Seasons Resort Orlando boasts major Disney perks to enhance overall guest experiences.

1. Disney Planning Center
The Disney Planning Center, conveniently located near the front desk on the lobby level, provides the perfect spot for guests to meet one-on-one with a Disney Cast Member and plan some wonderful details of their stay. Guests can receive assistance with their ticket arrangements for the Disney theme parks and dining reservations at Disney restaurants. The Disney Planning Center is a one-stop central hub that seamlessly organizes a guest’s entire Disney experience—even supporting the planning process before guests walk in the door.

2. Disney Character Breakfast
Four Seasons Resort Orlando offers the “Good Morning Breakfast with Goofy and his Pals” character breakfast, twice weekly at Ravello restaurant. The buffet-style breakfast is offered on Thursdays and Saturdays, and also on Tuesdays during peak school break periods, featuring a wonderful assortment of traditional breakfast offerings and an omelet station. A photographer captures the memories of the families with the stars of the breakfast, the always entertaining Goofy & Pals.

3. Disney Event Group
For guests who wish to host events incorporating Disney, Four Seasons Resort Orlando works closely with the Disney Event Group to offer access to events in some of the Disney parks. Events held at Four Seasons Resort Orlando can feature Disney décor, entertainment acts, character appearances, and more.

4. In-Room Celebrations
It’s always the little details that give a guest that over-the-top impression and special welcome, and one way Four Seasons Resort Orlando can “wow” guests is through Disney In-Room Celebrations. The Resort offers themed in-room welcome gifts, so that upon a guest’s arrival, a surprise can be waiting in their guest room. The “Presenting Your Royal Princess” In-Room Celebration, for instance, includes a banner hanging outside the door of the room, a personalised royal princess proclamation, a letter from the Fairy Godmother, and a large pink box filled with princess treasures, including a tiara and magic wand. From princesses to pirates, there are several options of In-Room Celebrations available for Four Seasons guests.

5. Transportation to the Disney Parks
Guests of Four Seasons Resort Orlando have complimentary transportation to Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Luxury motor coaches transport guests every 30 minutes to the Magic Kingdom Park and every hour to the additional parks.

6. Merchandise Delivery
Due to the Resort’s special location and proximity to the Disney Theme Parks, guests of Four Seasons Resort Orlando can arrange to have park souvenirs delivered directly to the Resort, instead of carrying purchases around all day. Same day delivery is offered conveniently at all four of the Disney parks.

7. Room with a View
Many areas of Four Seasons Resort Orlando have a perfect vantage point for the night time spectaculars.  All of the Park View Rooms offer a view of the Magic Kingdom Park special fireworks displays. Select rooms offer views ofIllumiNations:  Reflections of Earth at EpcotGuests can enjoy the show from the comfort of their furnished balcony. In addition, Capa restaurant on the 17th floor rooftop offers al fresco dining on the terrace, and views of the fireworks.

8. Extra Magic Hours — NEW!
The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort now offers the Extra Magic Hours benefit to guests, with valid theme park admission. The Extra Magic Hours benefit means that each day Four Seasons Resort Orlando guests can enjoy select attractions early or extends later — and during select dates — the Extra Magic Hours benefit may also be offered at a Disney Water Park. Guests can view the Extra Magic Hours calendar at, or request a copy of the printed Times Guide, available in the resort lobby.

9. Florida Resident Discount
Four Seasons Orlando offers special rates for Florida residents during select dates in May and June, and also August and September. Florida resident rates are not published online, they are bookable by phone only at 1-800-267-3046.

To make a reservation at Four Seasons Resort Orlando, call 1 800 267 3046 or book online.

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All Things New Aboard the Disney Magic

A Tangled-themed family restaurant, a fresh space for teens and a redesigned café for adults means something new for every member of the family aboard the Disney Magic

Photos by: Matt Stroshane

Exciting new spaces and new experiences designed for guests of all ages are onboard the Disney Magic. From family dining in an enchanted kingdom, to a transformed teen club, to a sophisticated café exclusively for adults, the ship’s newest highlights include:

An Enchanting Dining Experience for Families

At Rapunzel’s Royal Table, families delight in an all-new dining experience inspired by the beloved story of Disney’s “Tangled.” The first table service restaurant themed to “Tangled” that features characters and live entertainment transports Disney Magic guests to the kingdom of Corona for an evening of music and interactive fun featuring Rapunzel, Flynn Rider and the mischievous Snuggly Duckling Thugs.

Guests step inside a regal ballroom in the royal castle, lit by glowing wish lanterns and adorned with colorful drawings that reflect Rapunzel’s artistic talents. Here, the King and Queen of Corona invite everyone to take part in a festive celebration of Rapunzel’s birthday and the anniversary of her return to the kingdom.

Throughout dinner, guests of all ages are treated to live entertainment, including spirited singing and dancing led by the maître d’, a merry band of musicians, the mischievous Snuggly Duckling Thugs and of course, Princess Rapunzel herself.

The family fun is complete with themed menus, special activities and a lively parade to cap off the evening in Corona. The charm and enchantment of “Tangled” in Rapunzel’s Royal Table is the perfect pairing to “Tangled: The Musical” – the spellbinding original production that delights guests during each Disney Magic sailing.

Redesigned Retreat Just for Teens

Vibe, the space on the ship reserved for teens ages 14-17, is transformed into a trendy urban loft environment. At Vibe, teens can enjoy a new coffee and smoothie bar, play video and virtual reality games, and check out other cool activities like a DJ spin-off and movie making. Activities at Vibe are organized and hosted by trained Disney counselors who facilitate the fun and interaction among teen guests.

Refined Escape Exclusively for Adults

Adults can relax at Cove Café, an adult-exclusive retreat redesigned in a sophisticated tropical style. It’s the perfect place to sip a specialty coffee or tea throughout the day, or indulge in wine or a cocktail and light bites during the evening hours.

In this serene setting by the Quiet Cove Pool, adult beverage tastings are also available at select times for an additional fee. Just steps away, the adjacent Signals Bar is transformed with a similar look.

Elsewhere around the Disney Magic, other enhancement highlights include the addition of Club Disney Junior in Disney’s Oceaneer Club for children and a redesigned Rainforest Room with steam and hydrotherapy in Senses Spa for adults.

The new enhancements debuted on the Disney Magic starting March 9, 2018, on sailings from Miami, Fla. The four- and five-night Disney Magic sailings from Miami visit Key West, Fla.; Nassau, Bahamas and Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. Beginning on May 14, 2018, the Disney Magic repositions to Europe for the summer season.

To learn more about Disney Cruise Line or to book a vacation, guests can visit, call Disney Cruise Line at 888-DCL-2500 or contact their travel agent.


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Themed Home Decor

Be inspired by Reunion Resort’s most unique rental home. From a vintage drive-in movie theater to a bedroom on the moon, the sky’s the limit on decorating inspiration.

Words by Amanda Keefer 

Transforming your home into a wonderland can be easy and fun. Just ask Michael and Nicole Mendicino. After getting their feet wet in the vacation rental world in both Virginia and Pennsylvania, they decided to buy and renovate a place where an ultra-themed magical escape would be most appreciated. Of course, Orlando was the obvious choice.

This vacation rental sleeps 12 to 18 people, so it’s perfect for a multifamily vacation or reunion. You’ll want to arrive first to get dibs on your favorite room.

Moon Bedroom

Don’t worry about finding your way around the house. Simply reference the clever directional signage at the front door.

Sleeping in a real boat carefully crafted into a bed in the Castaway Master Suite seems like a super choice, but it’s a toss-up between that room and the Hot Air Balloon Room, where you might just float off into dreamland. (And that’s just for the adults!)

Boat Bedroom

Boat Bed


Beach Bedroom

Boat Bed & Beach Bedroom


Hot Air Balloon Bedroom

Hot Air Balloon Bedroom


Hot Air Balloon Bedroom

Hot Air Balloon Bedroom


Hot Air Balloon Bedroom

Hot Air Balloon Bedroom

The kids will have a hard time deciding whether they want to sleep on the moon, in a tree house or in an old-school arcade. No quarters required.

Tree House Kids Bedroom

Tree House Kids Bedroom

Tree House Kids Bathroom

Tree House Kids Bathroom

Arcade Kids Bedroom

Arcade Kids Bedroom

Arcade Kids Bedroom

Arcade Kids Bedroom

Arcade Kids Bathroom

Arcade Kids Bathroom

While this particular home is a rental property, Michael and Nicole believe that anyone can make a home transformation vision happen with a bit of planning. They advise starting with a plan. Sounds simple enough, right? Nicole used Pinterest for inspiration (don’t we all?) to create an individual vision board for each room.

After they crafted vision boards, it was time for the Mendicinos to buy a mix of ready-made, stand-out furnishings, such as the moon man, a taxicab pool table, an old-school game console, themed lighting and bathroom fixtures. Once these initial pieces were ordered, they added the final details.

Nicole’s tip: Don’t get caught up shopping in a bunch of stores for bits and pieces. It’s better to stick to your plan and order what you can online to stay within budget.

Drive-In Theater Bedroom

Drive-In Theater Bedroom

Drive-In Theater Bedroom

Drive-In Theater Bedroom

This type of themed decor calls for some custom pieces.Michael and Nicole are fortunate to be surrounded by talented family members to help with everything from sewing sandbags for the Hot Air Balloon Room to positioning stars in the Moon Room and spending days creating a bathroom floor made of 9,000 pennies.

Walking through the rental space and talking to this vibrant couple brought to light how to create an amazing space. Find your creative passion, take some time to plan, and by all means make the journey fun. The outcome is a space where families from around the world will make lifelong memories.

NYC Loft Billiard Room

NYC Loft Billiard Room

NYC Loft Billiard Room

NYC Loft Billiard Room



Living Room

Living Room

Living Room & Pool

Living Room & Pool




For rental information, visit

Check out the video tour of the house here:

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Summer Road Trip to Martin County, Florida


Picture this: You’re driving down the Florida coast along the pristine Atlantic shoreline, bright tropical colors greeting you from all sides. You impulsively decide to stop for lunch on the immaculate uncrowded beach. You grab the picnic basket and slip your shoes off, the warm sand pleasantly greeting your toes as you lead your family down the beach. The sun’s heat is tempered by a cool sea breeze, and you and your spouse smile at each other, both thinking the same thing— Can it get any better than this?

Welcome to Martin County, Florida. Home to Stuart, the sailfish capital of the world and “Happiest Seaside Town” of 2016 according to Coastal Living magazine, this charming hidden gem of South Florida contains myriad wonders to please the sensibilities of any roadtripper.

Looking to absorb the local culture? You can visit one of the many galleries, museums and historical sites in Stuart, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, and Hobe Sound—there’s even a scuba/snorkeling tour of a shipwreck site—or you can spend the day shopping at the local boutiques scattered throughout the historic downtowns.

For those looking for a more rugged experience, the area offers no shortage of natural wonders begging to be explored. Hike, kayak, bike, birdwatch—or just find a remote spot on the beach and nap the day away.

Check out one of the area’s thriving Green Markets and stock up on produce, fresh dairy, and local honey for that next beach picnic, or peruse the local artisan booths for handcrafted gifts and mementos. Visit one of the U-pick farms and pluck your own fruits and vegetables straight from the earth, or tour a farm to witness the latest sustainable practices and green technology.

Martin County is also an equestrian lover’s dream—with thoroughbreds, polo clubs, ponies, players and rodeos, there’s no shortage of equestrian events, and miles of riding trails.

At the end of each day, taste the local flavors—the most delicious fresh-caught fish and locally grown natural produce can be found as you enjoy the cool ocean air at one of Martin County’s oceanfront restaurants.

If you have your children with you, there’s plenty of family friendly activities: Observe the area’s logger head sea turtles or feed the stingrays; marvel at the grace of the dolphins; go fishing or lounge on the beach; hit a waterpark or enjoy an outdoor concert on the Riverwalk along the St. Lucie River.

But back to that beautiful beach, untarnished by overcrowding: the warm sand, the radiant sun, the refreshing breeze, the gentle lull of tide, the chirping seagulls, the picnic, the good company.

Can it get any better than this?

Yes, it can. Because you’re in Martin County.

Plan your summer road trip today at

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Exploring Spain with Kids

Words by Amanda Keefer

Our journey to Spain, Northern Spain and France was inspired by my significant other, Marcus. After traveling to the region twice in the past 10 years, he couldn’t wait to show off the destination to our family. As with all of our family adventures, we hoped that our children, Madison (17), Mia (10) and Charli (6), would return home with a greater appreciation of a new culture and deepen their appreciation for exploring the world.

Because we were planning our trip ourselves, Marcus and I split the research duties and had weekly planning sessions leading up to the trip. We had a solid itinerary nailed down (albeit written on the back of a Publix receipt) prior to our departure. We had a lot to do and see, but we weren’t afraid to steer from the itinerary if we came upon a hidden gem. The goal was to ultimately land in Pamplona for the San Fermín Festival’s opening ceremony.


Our first stop was Madrid. We jumped right into the bustling, multicultural city where English is frequently spoken among other languages from around the world. We stayed at the Luxury Suites Madrid, a boutique hotel in the city’s center ( This hotel has apartment-style accommodations with a kitchen and laundry area. Plus, it was reasonably priced and perfect for the five of us.

In San Sebastian, the second city we visited, we stayed at the Tryp San Sebastian Orly Hotel (, which is a hip, modern property nearby La Concha (the beach) and walking distance to everything in the city. We booked two rooms at this hotel to accommodate our crew.


It’s hard to describe the energy and atmosphere of the coastal town of San Sebastian, recently named the Cultural Capital of Europe. With the second-most Michelin ratings for dining in the world (next to Paris) there was no shortage of amazing food to try. We enjoyed the local seafood in pintxos style (a Basque word for snack-size portions of delicacies), which is a style regarded as the culinary cornerstone of the local culture and society. We had lots of fun trying the different varieties of pintxos as we wandered in and out of small taverns along the street. Yes, we had our children in taverns, but we were right at home with the local families of San Sebastian, who were also enjoying the delicious assortment of pinxtos with kids in tow. Most restaurants, taverns and even stores close from 2 to 5 p.m. each day for siesta, so it is important to plan meals accordingly. Our favorite breakfast spot in Madrid was Faborit (, a Spanish chain restaurant stocked full of fresh fruits, smoothies, coffee and fresh breakfast sandwiches.


Our favorite location in Madrid was Retiro Park ( nearby our hotel. Our favorite spot was a circular ride where we had to balance each other to keep up. Retiro Park has food stands, mimes, puppet shows, huge grassy areas for lounging, play areas and a magnificent lake where visitors can rent canoes. All of this is located in the shadows of the historical architecture and beauty of Madrid. We spent a morning at the colorful El Rastro (, the city’s largest flea market, which takes place every Sunday in the oldest section of the city. We also visited the Royal Palace ( and roamed in and out of breathtaking cathedrals. Finally, we visitedthe National Museum of Natural History of Spain (, where admission is free, children are always welcome and the exhibits are outstanding. At the museum, we were given a list of the top 10 things to see and interesting facts about each. The girls loved the scavenger hunt to find the exhibits.

After a few days in Madrid, we rented a car and traveled to San Sebastian, located on the Atlantic coast of Northern Spain. The four-hour drive through the Spanish countryside was breathtaking. San Sebastian is located in Basque Country, an area of Spain known for strong cultural traditions, cuisine and a distinct language that pre-dates the Romance languages. Their primary language is Spanish, but many people speak Basque. Marcus is a fluent Spanish speaker, which was helpful.

Once we arrived, we all loved swimming out to the ocean platforms to take advantage of the slides and diving boards. However, the pinnacle of our trip was the San Fermín Festival. Its opening ceremony is in Pamplona, which is about 45 minutes south of San Sebastian. The San Fermín Festival features the Running of the Bulls, but the first day does not include any bull running. We arrived bright and early to the festival, which originated in the 1500s. Our family was surrounded by thousands of people from around the world dressed in traditional white and red clothing. There was something special about the moment the mayor of Pamplona appeared on his balcony to officially kick off the weeklong festival. The singing, the dancing and the overall cultural experience of being a part of a tradition that has been taking place for so many years was an experience of a lifetime.

PLAY Tip: Just like at any large event, beware of pickpockets.

We also took a quick trip to Biarritz, France (only a 45-minute drive). Each year, the city hosts a surf competition that coincides with the San Fermín Festival. On the way, we briefly stopped off in Bayonne, a small town known for chocolate and World War II history, to visit L’atelier du Chocolat ( We also explored Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, a Roman Catholic church located in the town of Auch in the Midi-Pyrénées, France ( We packed a lot into our journey, and it was hands down the greatest trip I’ve ever experienced. Plus, we all came back feeling more connected to each other and the world. Goal achieved!

AMANDA KEEFER is a Lake Nona mom and the author of the travel blog She spends her days at Produce for Kids ( educating families on the importance of a healthy diet full of fruits and veggies.

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Summer Camp-cation in Martin County


Fun for Parents and Kids alike.

What if you could have the best of both worlds—a memorable family vacation with the kids and a romantic holiday without them? Martin County, Florida can give you both. With 22 miles of Atlantic shoreline, this charming hidden gem of the South Florida coast offers activities for the whole family. Let the camp-cation begin.


For the Kids:


There are a variety of daytime summer camps to keep the kiddos occupied, from water-sports camps on the beach to inland retreats focusing on nature and horseback-riding.

Like all great summer camps, there’s a unique educational component to each experience: at the various surfing and snorkeling camps, kids learn about water safety and the ocean. They can learn the basics of navigating sea vessels at sailing camp, or how to bait a hook and identify different water species at fishing camp. There’s even a nature camp for land-faring children who prefer to stay away from the ocean. For the budding artists, Martin County hosts a variety of arts-oriented camps, from photography and painting to music, dance and theatre.


For the Parents:


Meanwhile, mom and dad can have some much-needed alone time while enjoying everything Martin County offers: outdoor adventures, beach relaxation, art galleries, and shopping.

Parents looking to absorb the local culture can visit one of Martin County’s many galleries, museums and historical sites in Stuart, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, and Hobe Sound—there’s even a scuba/snorkeling tour of a shipwreck site—or they can spend the day shopping at the locally owned boutiques and shops scattered throughout Martin County’s historic downtowns.

For those looking for a more rugged experience, the area offers no shortage of natural wonders begging to be explored. Hike, kayak, bike, birdwatch—or just find a remote spot on the beach and nap the day away.


For the whole family:


At the end of each day, the whole family can come back together to taste the local flavors at one of Martin County’s oceanfront restaurants.

There’s also plenty to do with the children after camp ends. Observe the area’s loggerhead sea turtles or feed the stingrays; go fishing or lounge on the beach; hit a waterpark or enjoy an outdoor concert on the Riverwalk. In Martin County, it’s all for the taking.

Plan your summer camp-cation today – Click Here.

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Exploring Canada with Kids

Words by Diane Jennings

The Jennings clan welcomes exploration. My husband, Kevin, and I have been on the voyage of marriage for 16 years. We have two curious young men, Noah Samuel (15) and Sawyer Finn (11), who count the days until our next adventure. After all, they’ve been traveling since birth in planes, trains, automobiles and campers.

As a family, we have been to 57 national parks in the United States. We are park junkies and have the stamped passport and patches to prove it. Alberta, Canada, was the 2016 summer destination winner. After Noah showed us a photograph of Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, we were all sold on the location. We planned the tour ourselves about a month in advance. As a summer vacation destination, Alberta may not leap immediately to mind, but this western province is truly Canada’s hidden star. From the shimmering waters of glacier lakes and mountaintops of the Rockies to the grasslands of the prairies or the desert-like Canadian Badlands, Alberta’s landscape is diverse and picturesque.


To score good deals on flights, my husband uses Google Flights and signs up for alerts. This tool provides daily price fluctuation in one dashboard. To prevent being overwhelmed from the overabundance of online information, I called a local visitor center. Initially, we wanted to stay in the heart of Banff National Park, but the visitor center representative recommended we stay in Canmore, the next town over. It was about 24 miles from Banff National Park, but it saved us from crowds and traffic. We caught a good karma break through a cancellation at the Falcon Crest resort ( What made this place perfect was the exquisite view, full kitchen, hot tubs, private bedroom for mom and dad and the on-site Pho restaurant. You can’t go wrong with any place you choose in Canmore, so check out the directory for other options.


My family loves to eat, so we take a blended approach to indulging when we travel. We have one golden rule: No chain restaurants found at home. We sizzled breakfast ourselves every morning at the lodge. It was easy, cheap and just as tasty as any diner. With our lengthy itinerary, dining out for three meals every day was not a sensible option. On hiking days, we packed our lunches. Picnicking was one of the highlights of this trip — after all, how often can Floridians picnic on the side of a mountain? We also chose to treat ourselves by dining out on several occasions.

Check out the places we discovered:
Mexican food:
Amazing views:
Delicious food:
Indian food:
Best coffee:

Culture Tip: A few Canadian must-eats are maple syrup, butter tarts and Poutine (French fries generously slathered in gravy and cheese curds). So good!


Hiking // In Canmore alone, there are hundreds of miles of trails. The entire area is a hiker’s nirvana. Our favorite trails were Ha Ling Peak, Grassi Lakes and Grotto Canyon ( Ha Ling Peak is a difficult hike, but the view of the alpine meadow carpeted with wildflowers provided a breathtaking picnic stop. Grassi Lakes is more popular and offers both an easy and difficult route. Either way, it is an uphill hike, but the jewel-toned lakes and waterfall are gorgeous. Grotto Canyon offers climbing, and the trail has the largest stacked rock garden we’ve ever seen. We took several more hikes located closer to Banff National Park, including a hike at Sulfur Mountain on my husband’s 40th birthday. We rewarded ourselves by taking the Banff Gondola down. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in Banff National Park were the center of our trip’s universe. Take advantage of the trails around these brilliant lakes. Finally, Johnson Canyon was a gem and an easy family hike. The photography options on this jaunt are stellar. We hiked over 50 miles during our stay and have the worn boots to prove it.

PLAY Tip: If you travel to Canada in 2017, Parks Canada is offering the Discovery Pass free of charge ($150 value). Alberta has five national parks and many more monuments and landmarks your family can visit using the Discovery Pass (

Whitewater Rafting //  Whitewater rafting is a rite of passage in the Canadian Rockies. Our boys chose Bow River Horse Shoe Canyon, and it was perfect! This run had cliff jumping and several thrilling rapids. We used the Canadian Rockies Adventure Centre to book, which I highly recommend. They even gifted us a free photo package (

Jasper National Park // Our next destination was Jasper National Park. To get there, we took Highway 93, which is ranked as one of the top 10 most scenic drives in the world. Icefield Parkway has many icefields and is home to one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. We chose to stop at the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest mass of ice in the Rocky Mountains ( After reaching Jasper National Park, we encountered several gems: Sunwapta Falls and Canyon, Angel Glacier and Athabasca Falls.

Calgary // We spent the last two days of our trip in Calgary. The highlight was riding the Skyline Luge at Olympic Park ( This fast-paced family experience is a must-do. Tracks like this are built for Winter Olympic runs around the world. We also took a two-hour excursion to Dinosaur Provincial Park, also known as the Canadian Badlands ( It was like stepping back in time! The park is known for being one of the richest dinosaur fossil locales in the world.

Alberta is the fourth largest province and home to some of the Canada’s most spectacular scenery. Temperatures during the summer typically range from 60°F to 73°F, so grab your boots and layered clothing and get on some happy trails with your family.

Diane Jennings is a Lake Helen mom and an executive partner in client success for IBM. When she’s not traveling with her family, you’ll find her driving her two boys everywhere, volunteering in Take Stock in Children mentoring program, kayaking, ballroom dancing, going on date nights with her husband, gathering with friends and planning the family’s next getaway.

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LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Photo Tour

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Bookings Now Open

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat bungalow interior LEGOLAND® Florida Resort just announced that bookings are now open for its second on-site accommodations, the eagerly anticipated LEGOLAND Beach Retreat. Reservations are available for stays beginning June 1, 2017 through Sept. 4, 2017.

New images released today reveal even more of the brick-tastic, beachy details that guests will discover at this recreational paradise #BuiltForKids. LEGOLAND Beach Retreat combines the fun of surf and sand with the creativity of LEGO® building sets, and will offer picturesque lake views from nearly every sun-kissed corner.

To make a reservation at LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, visit Room rates start at $182 and vary by season, date and availability. Packages including theme park tickets are also available.

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat amenities include:

  • 83 beach-themed bungalows offering 166 separate rooms
  • Whimsical LEGO décor inside and out
  • Spacious rooms that sleep up to five, including a cozy area designed just for kids with a bunk bed and trundle bed
  • Shaded patios where parents can put their feet up, kick back and relax
  • Multiple outdoor play areas where kids can slide, jump and climb in view of bungalow patios
  • Large themed swimming pool with an expansive sandy play area
  • Centrally located clubhouse featuring a restaurant, pool bar and LEGO building area for kids
  • A bountiful breakfast buffet included with each night’s stay
  • Early access to the nearby theme park

Announced in March 2016 as part of the largest period of growth and expansion in the resort’s nearly five-year history, LEGOLAND Beach Retreat will join the 152-room LEGOLAND Hotel, more than doubling on-site accommodations and giving guests even more reasons to play-and-stay — at LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

Grand opening festivities and additional amenities will be announced at a later date. To be among the first to receive the latest news about LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, sign up at

For more information about visiting LEGOLAND Florida Resort, including savings on advance purchase of admission tickets, multi-tier annual passes, special events, VIP experiences, educational programs, services for guests with disabilities, on-site accommodations and much more, visit



LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)






LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)


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11 Kid-Friendly Things To Do in NYC

intro page art

Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
Words by Tracey C. Velt

New York City
11 Kid-Friendly Things to Do in NYC
Navigating “The Big Apple” Can Be a Fun Adventure For You and The Kids. 
Afraid that New York City (NYC) is too adult for a family vacate? No way! After spending the last six
months hauling my 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, around to her big brother’s football camps and college visits, it was time for a mommy-and-daughter trip. So, I persuaded a friend, Suzi McClain of Clermont, to come along. We had a jam-packed schedule with a ton of walking and shockingly few complaints from our kids, Sofia, Gracie (8) and Connor (10). The first order of business is always finding a hotel that is convenient. I like The Westin New York at Times Square (43rd Street and 8th Avenue) because it’s just off the beaten path, but close to the action of Times Square. We upgraded to a roomy suite so all five of us could stay together. After that, it was adventure time. Here are the top 11 things to do:
  1. American Girl Place
    A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the American Girl (AG) store. It’s three floors of “Mommy, can I get this?” happiness. We had reservations at the American Girl Cafe ($26-plus per person) for a late lunch. We showed up about an hour before to do some shopping. Even Connor found a goody—Meatloaf, the AG dog. Lunch was in a perfectly pink cafe, where they set the dolls in special chairs at the table. I had a veggie sandwich, while Sofia noshed on chicken fingers. Both regular and children’s menus are available. Have a birthday to celebrate? Pay a little extra for the birthday package, and you get a cake and singing. Not in the frame of mind to drop big bucks on a meal? You can make an appointment to get your child’s doll’s hair done at the AG Salon. Kiddos can choose from tons of different styles. Prices range from $10 to $20 per hairstyle.
  2. Top of the Rock
    If you want beautiful views of the city, Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza) is the place to be. I think it’s better than the Empire State Building because there are three viewing levels with clear plastic barriers, rather than the walls and railings at the Empire State Building. Give the kids a history lesson by pointing out famous buildings and bridges. Plus, there are some great photo opps here. Prices range from $27 per adult to $17 per child.
  3. Serendipity 3
    Dining in the city is always a challenge. Many of the best restaurants for adults aren’t great for picky kids (or don’t even have kids menus!). While a bit touristy, Serendipity 3 is a perfect place to bring the kids. The décor is kitschy, and the menu is full of kiddie faves, such as mac and cheese and burgers. Or, skip dinner and go for dessert. While the frozen hot chocolate is a well-known favorite, I prefer the hot fudge sundae. Plan to share, as the portions are humongous.
  4. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

    Another touristy place well worth the trip is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We chose to go there for breakfast. Portions are large, and the place is loud, in a good way. It’s a blast to see your waiter jump up on the back of the booth and belt out a show tune. Seriously, the waiters are super talented and take turns singing during your meal. Sofia and Gracie squealed with joy when a waitress sang Let It Go from the Disney movie Frozen. Did I mention that the wait staff members are all trying to make it big on Broadway? Quite a few of them succeed.
  5. Central Park 

    No trip to NYC would be complete without a trip to Central Park. At the entrance to the park, on Columbus Circle, there’s a huge park, so the kiddos can swing, slide and climb. Our kids had a ball navigating the huge rock at the end of the playground. If you want to spend a small fortune, take a

    carriage ride around the park.
  6. Brooklyn Bridge
    From Central Park, walk to 59th and Lexington to catch the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge. A subway ride is always an experience for the kids, and the train drops you off right at the entrance to the bridge. About a mile long, the bridge is a fun walk. The cars running under our walkway fascinated our kids. The walk will generate a robust appetite, so plan to eat. Just over the bridge, in Brooklyn Heights (about a 10-minute walk), are some great eateries. Try the organic goodies at Siggy’s Good Food (76 Henry St.).
  7. Broadway Show
    My favorite part of the whole trip was the Broadway play we saw—Matilda. Based on the book by
    Roald Dahl, this fast-paced show featured lots of children singing and dancing. I recommend you carefully select a kid-friendly show and try to see a matinee, if possible. Evening shows start at 7:30 or 8. After a full day, the evening shows can be a bit late for little ones. Spring for the more expensive seats so the kids can really get in on the action. If possible, have your child preview the movie before you attend. My daughter watched the movie Matilda so she would have a better grasp of the show. It’s not vital, but it is helpful. In the past, we’ve seen Mary Poppins and Spider-Man. Our tickets in the front, center orchestra cost about $200 per person.


  8. Statue of Liberty
    Everyone I talked to told me the kids would be bored with this. They were wrong. We took a taxi down to Battery Park and hopped on the ferry—a fun 15-minute ride to the statue. For $18 (per adult) and $9 (per child 4 through 12 years old), you can take the ferry and walk (or ride the elevator) to the pedestal. For $3 more per person, you can access the crown. Access to “Lady Liberty’s” crown recently reopened after renovation, so we paid extra to walk up to the crown. Warning: There are no elevators up to the crown. It’s a very narrow, steep, winding walk—almost 300 stairs to the top. Our kids bounded up the stairs with just a few “Are we there yet?” comments. The crown is a very small area, big enough for the five of us to crouch together for a picture. After about two minutes, the kids were ready to walk back down. However, Sofia has announced that
    it was the best part of our trip. Don’t forget to go to the information booth and grab a junior ranger worksheet. Kids can fill out the worksheet, turn it in and get a junior ranger badge.
  9. Doughnut Plant 
    If you’re looking for a quick snack or after-dinner dessert, then hit up Doughnut Plant, with locations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. The doughnuts are heavenly. I prefer the crème brûlée doughnut, while the kids liked the chocolate and glazed doughnuts.
  10. FAO Schwarz
    Not into American Girl dolls? Then head to the FAO Schwarz toy store. Say hello to the toy soldier at the front door; then head to the second floor to jump on the big piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Big. Gracie decided on a stuffed lamb from Build-a-Bear with an adorable Statue of Liberty outfit. Connor bought a box of crazy and disgusting-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans and begged us to try such hideous flavors as baby wipes and barf. Sofia bought a Frozen Anna doll. Good times.
  11. American Museum of Natural History 
    Have your own night at the museum, and check out the dinosaur skeletons in this famous museum. Connor was our Indian specialist and told us all about the lifestyle of the American Indian. It’s easy to get lost in this huge museum, and the dioramas are incredible. Admission is free, although a donation is requested, generally around $12.50 for kids and $22 for adults. For an additional fee, I recommend a walk through The Butterfly Conservatory.



Best Breakfast Sarabeth’s Kitchen: I’m a sucker for the lemon and ricotta pancakes, while my daughter loves the eggs Benedict. Connor and Gracie both had the kids pancakes,w which are fluffy and delicious.

Best for Celeb Spotting: While not necessarily kid-friendly, this East Village restaurant is great for a parent night out. When I was there last, Jake Gyllenhaal and his girlfriend were dining at the table next to us. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux had been in just a week before. The food is out of this world. Try the risotto; it’s to die for.

Best Pizza: John’s Pizzeria. With several locations, including one in Times Square, which was converted from a church, John’s Pizzeria had delish pizza and is close to the theaters. Great for an early dinner before heading to a show.



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Hidden Gems

We go off the beaten path to give you relaxing Gulf of Mexico beach vacations.
Words by Brittany Perry. 
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There’s something for everyone on the white sand shores of Sarasota. Whether you’re looking for the No. 1 beach in the United States (Siesta Beach on Siesta Key), amazing art museums or the worlds’ best pancakes, you can fi nd it all in this quaint Gulf town. It’s the small crowds, welcoming community and laid-back vibe that will keep you coming back for more. Start your vacation with giant pancakes, stuffed French toast, fresh omelets and homemade biscuits from Yoder’s, a traditional family favorite ( Featured on Food Network for their amazing pies, Yoder’s also stands out for its seasonal breakfast options, like

cinnamon roll pancakes. The Amish market right next door sells handmade goods, local honey and fresh produce.
Siesta Key beaches rank No. 1 in the United States, trumping even Hawaii’s postcard-perfect beaches. The powder white sand is unbelievably soft, the walkways and restrooms are clean and the water is crystal clear. Arrive early to get good parking, which may be limited during peak season, or take a short walk from one of Siesta Key’s many hotels and condos. Rent a bike to explore, enjoy the incredible sand sculpting competition every November or just kick back and enjoy the beach.
Beat the heat wi Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.42.36 PM th a visit to Mote Aquarium, a marine research facility, animal hospital and interactive aquarium in one. Shark lovers will enjoy the open-water Shark Zone and budding marine biologists will love the touch tanks and other interactive marine life exhibits. Finish the day with a meal at Owen’s Fish Camp, a quirky establishment with live music, a tire swing for the kids and colorful, delicious Florida eats. Or do some shopping, strolling and dining at St. Armand’s Circle, which offers superb exotic boutiques, art galleries, beach shops, sophisticated restaurants and nightlife.
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Known as the tarpon fishing capital of the world, Boca Grande is the ultimate old Florida
hidden getaway. From kayaking through mangroves with manatees and exploring lighthouses
to enjoying fresh-caught, mouth-watering seafood along the shore, this charming town at
the fringe of Gasparilla Island is the perfect fit for a relaxing, no-fuss, tourist-free weekend
on the Gulf.
The Outlet at the Inlet kicks off your day with some of the best Belgian waffles, home fries and custom-order omelets on the coast. Then, head to the miles of beaches along Gasparilla Island State Park for a unique, secluded experience. Tour the local Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum or the historic Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, which has been used in both Delaware and Florida. Miles of bike paths wind through Boca Grande around historical streets and under shaded trees, making bike rental a fun and easy activity to enjoy.
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.54.39 PM Book a fishing trip with a local charter service hailed for kid-friendly guides, such as Reel
Intense Inshore Charters, so you don’t miss out on the catches that make Boca Grande one of the most popular fi shing destinations in the world. Some charters will even clean and cook your fi sh for you. If DIY dinner is not on the menu and you’re looking for a hearty meal, stop by what many locals consider the best establishment in town, The Temptation Restaurant. The fresh seafood from this small, quiet eatery rivals the flavors of some of the fanciest restaurants on the Gulf but in an easygoing atmosphere.
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Nestled in Florida’s Panhandle, Destin is a definitive blend of upscale charm and southern
spirit. Not only does Destin boast some of the most secluded and well-kept beaches in
Florida, but it also has a thriving community and outstanding restaurants everywhere you
turn. Nightlife in Destin scales up in the summertime when in-the-know travelers escape to
Destin for resort-style relaxation and weekly fireworks lighting up the night sky over the Gulf.
No visit to Destin would be complete without a taste of its eclectic, award-winning restaurants. Kids will enjoy feeding gators at Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grillright after a tempting meal of seafood and burgers. Don’t forget to add your name with Sharpie to the colorful walls as a reminder of your trip! If you’re looking for the best BBQ in Northwest Florida, look no further than the award-winning pulled pork, ribs and brisket at the Buck’s Smokehouse. 
Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.05.55 PM Destin’s Henderson Beach State Park lets you enjoy preserved Florida nature at its finest while still keeping close to world-class resorts and culture. Pay a small fee (per vehicle) to drive on the beach and enjoy the gentle waves and seashells of Henderson Beach State Park. Or, pack a picnic to enjoy on the sand. End the day at the Destin Harbor Boardwalk with a line-up of boutiques and side attractions. If you’re in Destin on a Thursday night in summer, you may be in luck. Starting June 2, fireworks will light up the sky when Emerald Grande at Harbor Walk Villageputs on a spectacular summer show you can catch from the docks or harbor.
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Escape to Asheville


Run through the flower garden at North Carolina Arboretum

Tucked into the palm of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tiny town of Asheville, North Carolina, never ceases to amaze visitors looking for an action-packed getaway in an unforgettable setting. From zip-lining to hiking to white-water rafting, Asheville’s adventure offerings are as seemingly endless as its options for amazing farm-to-fork dining. The area is filled with excellent parks. The welcoming downtown boasts a bevy of whimsical independent boutiques and family-friendly cafés, and nearby towns, including Black Mountain and Brevard, make for perfect side trips for those who like to wander.

Words by Kristen Manieri


Allegiant Air out of Sanford offers direct flights to Asheville with a schedule that’s ideal for long weekends away and at prices that are easy on the wallet. For those looking to drive, expect a straightforward nine-hour trip.


Anchor a weekend or weeklong stay by checking into either Aloft (from $150 per night) or Grove Park Inn (from $199 per night). Aloft is centrally located downtown, and its colorful modern decor and floor-to-ceiling chalkboard at check-in are popular with the kids. That being said, the palatial Grove Park Inn will give your brood the sense that you’ve checked into a colossal stone castle, complete with mammoth fireplaces, a sprawling golf course, a lavish spa and some of the best sunset views in the city. Both properties offer outdoor pools with stellar views of Blue Ridge’s shadowy peaks.

Aloft Asheville Downtown

Aloft Asheville Downtown


Families with kids under 7 years old will enjoy the dozens of kid-friendly hikes Asheville offers, including the 0.75-mile Natural Garden Trail, located at the 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum. Check in at the Education Center, where you can borrow Discovery Day Packs, which come with binoculars, nets and laminated cards detailing the trail’s flora and fauna. These are free to borrow and only require a driver’s license to reserve.


Kids as young as 3 years old can tackle the Lookout Trail, located in the quaint town of Montreat, about 18 miles from downtown Asheville. While the latter part of this 45-minute, 0.57-mile hike climb is fairly steep, the moderate exertion will be well worth the effort, as unforgettable views of the summit of Lookout Mountain await. While you’re in the area, don’t miss a visit to Robert Lake Park, loved by kids for its ample playground space and a winding creek that is ideal for splashing in.

Robert Lake Park

Robert Lake Park

A few other spots for the younger set include the free splash pad at Pack Square, the gemming experience at Elijah Mountain Gem Mine and the Western North Carolina Nature Center. This smallish zoo showcases such animals as bears, wolves, deer and foxes, and is easily tackled within a few hours.


Pack Square Park Photo courtesy of

Pack Square Park
Photo courtesy of

Those traveling with kids 4 years old and up won’t want to miss Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, where a course comprised of 50 climbing, zipping, walking, jumping, swinging and rappelling challenges sits just minutes from downtown Asheville. It’s also home to the area’s only kid-friendly zip, which features nine zip lines and four challenging, but surmountable, climbing elements.

Asheville Treetop Adventure Park

Asheville Treetop Adventure Park

Rafting on the rapids of the French Broad River is easy, thanks to a handful of outfitters offering everything from gentle floats to heart-pounding white-water rides. The faint of heart may opt instead for river tubing, often offered by the same outfitters. Try Blue Heron Whitewater.

Finally, be sure to set aside a day to explore the Biltmore Estate, George W. Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre retreat, which continues to leave guests awestruck. Besides getting tours through the 175,000-square-foot French Renaissance chateau, guests can wander through 75 acres of gardens, visit the working farm and winery, and dine at the numerous restaurants that dot this stunning, sprawling acreage.

America's Largest Home, the Biltmore, is one of Asheville's most popular attractions and the historic home of George W. Vanderbilt.

America’s Largest Home, the Biltmore, is one of Asheville’s most popular attractions and the historic home of George W. Vanderbilt.


Asheville’s farm-to-fork food culture is a hugely flourishing cornerstone of this city. Nearly every restaurant touts its allegiance to the scores of local farms and breweries, so it can be tough to sift through the choices. Following are a few suggestions.

For date night: Blink, and you’ll miss The Admiral’s unassuming cinder block building. Don’t let the hole-in-the-wall veneer fool you. Chefs are cranking out culinary magic inside the very tiny kitchen. The ever-changing menu features dishes bolstered by creative flavors, lots of indigenous fare and a decadent series of cocktails that make the experience of this “gastro-dive” all the more delightful. Reservations are strongly recommended.

The Admiral  Photo courtesy of

The Admiral
Photo courtesy of

For family night out: Asheville’s Mellow Mushroom is a site to behold. Inside the downtown dining room, a plethora of colorful objects—from airplanes to Cheshire cats—dot the interior for a kaleidoscope of color. The result is one of the best places to play I Spy with your kids while you wolf down delicious cheesy pizza and sip root beer by the pitcher.

For your most memorable meal: If you’re looking for an unforgettable place for a late Sunday morning repast, the Grove Park Inn serves up the area’s best Sunday brunch. Spread across three entire buffet rooms, the feast features multiple carving stations, made-to-order omelets, eggs Benedict, freshly made chicken and waffles, chilled salads, bacon, sausage and more. There are also bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys, as well as an entire room devoted to desserts.

The Dessert Room at Grove Park Inn's Sunday Brunch

The Dessert Room at Grove Park Inn’s Sunday Brunch


Kristen Manieri is the founder and editor of The Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll find the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide.

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Hawk Cay Resort's Mermaid Academy

The Mermaid Academy at Hawks Cay Lagoon

The Mermaid Academy at Hawks Cay Lagoon

Available select days in November, December and January–Hawks Cay Resort’s Mermaid Academy brings the mystical and magical creatures to life with mermaid tails and swimming lessons for kids

Have you ever wanted to swim like a mermaid?  Think back to the 1980s when Splash was released and I bet you did.  Or if you’re younger, maybe it was The Little Mermaid that got you thinking.  Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone 50 years old and under has probably thought about life as a mermaid.

Well, now kids of all ages (and those who are just young at heart) can see what it’s like to swim like a mermaid at Hawks Cay Resort’s Mermaid Academy. Available over Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 29, then again during the holiday break, on Dec. 26 and 27 and January 2 and 3, Hawks Cay Resort’s Mermaid Academy brings the mystical and magical creatures to life with new, affordable and comfortable mermaid tails and swimming lessons.  The classes include the tail rental (or a shark fin for boys) and an hour-long mermaid swim lesson in one of the resort’s five swimming pools. A one-hour session with the mermaid tail is $25 and $15 with the shark fin.

Managed and created by the official Orlando-based Mermaid Academy, Hawks Cay’s school is a natural fit with the resort’s setting and family-friendly environment. Guests interested in dipping their tail in the water can call 305.289.4906 or visit to make a reservation. For more information about the Mermaid Academy, please visit

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Zoology Class



I’m not a big planner. I prefer to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, so when my husband had to work in Crystal River for a few days, I decided to take the kids and join him. I knew we would have fun lounging at the pool and hoped we would get to swim with the manatees. What I didn’t realize was what an incredible learning experience it would be.


Since I’ve been labeled the “hotel snob” by my family, I’m not ashamed to say that the typical discount hotel my husband opts for on work trips was not where we were going to be staying. Even though he insisted there wasn’t much luxury in the little town of Crystal River, I proved him wrong when I found the Plantation on Crystal River. It looked like the only resort in town, in a great location, with a beautiful pool, restaurants and a golf course to boot. Bonus: The resort has its own marina and dive shop, so we could easily schedule a manatee boat tour.


We had to get up extremely early to make it to the Adventure Center at 7:30 a.m. for our manatee pontoon boat tour. That’s crazy early for a mom with a toddler and a grade-school boy who both have to get dressed and eat before we head out. Trust me, it was worth it! We were greeted by Captain Sandman. He quickly got us outfitted in wet suits so we would be comfortable in the 72-degree spring water. Then, we watched an informative video on the Florida manatees. They are federally protected animals, so there are a lot of rules on how humans are able to observe and interact with them in the wild.

Next, we were on the boat heading to the famous Kings Bay (only a few minutes by pontoon boat from the Plantation). Captain Sandman was a wealth of information regarding the manatees. He talked extensively about why they are protected, how important it is for tourists to obey the rules of engagement, and everything else about the cute little sea cows — like their preferred habitat, migration rituals and curious personalities.

I was a little anxious about getting in the water with my son, Kai, who is a mediocre swimmer. And he was donning fins, snorkel gear and a wet suit for his first time. Thankfully, the wet suit provided buoyancy, which was a help, but we quickly had to replace the mask and snorkel with regular goggles (thank goodness I brought those!). It was just too much for him to try to figure out while in deep water.

Captain Sandman mentioned that a manatee boat tour is not a good time to try to snorkel for the first time. He also frequently mentioned that to invite a manatee encounter, you must be quiet and swim horizontally — with your feet and head up toward the surface of the water. I thought for sure that this was not going to go well. You see, my son is one of the loudest kids I know, and he only swims vertically — with his head above water and his feet toward the bottom. (I know, I know, he needs more swim lessons.)

But to my surprise, he did everything exactly the way he was instructed. It was amazing! It was like seeing a whole new side to my child. He was listening, engaged, and following directions and swimming horizontally! So, he had manatees swimming up to him constantly. The first one that came up to see him was a baby. He was very playful and kept rolling on his back, so Kai and Captain Sandman could rub his belly. His mother was close by our boat, and the baby would frequently go over to her to nurse. Yes, I saw a wild baby manatee nursing right next to our boat! After that, another adult female came up to say hello. She kept getting chased away by two males that were pursuing her. Later, we saw a few others that were relaxing in protected areas.

We soon moved on to the Three Sisters Springs, which had crystal clear shallow water and was beautiful. We were able to see the leftover fences from where Jacques Cousteau had created a manatee hospital years ago. Kai was able to try out the snorkel again there to get a little more practice. Apparently, in the winter, the manatees all flock to the small Three Sisters Springs area, as that is the warmest area of water that time of year.


I can’t speak highly enough about the amazing educational experience that we had. The combination of the informative video, knowledgeable captain and hands-on interaction with these large, but gentle, mammals was a real learning moment for my son. I highly recommend this trip, as it’s not far from Orlando, moderately priced and so darn exciting! It was just one of those moments with nature that humble you, inspire you and connect you to this beautiful planet that we all share.

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Boys Trip


Father-Son Bonding in Montreal

Written by Brant Muekeley

The birth of my baby girl left me contemplating just how much our family dynamic had changed. I spent more than a few sleep-deprived hours thinking about our new normal — for what was previously a family of three was forever changed as we became a family of four. My 6-year-old son, Kai, soon realized that he would have to compete for mom’s and dad’s attention. Our dance parties and Lego builds, and his comedy routines would now be interrupted by “little sissy’s” diaper changes and feedings.

I wanted to do something special for my little man, who had just gone from being numero uno to the older brother. It’s tough on those older siblings, as they can quickly begin to feel as obsolete as a VHS tape at the Blockbuster store. A boys trip could provide us the chance to explore together and enjoy each other’s company, but where to go? We needed a destination that would be fun, safe and new to both of us.

Timing couldn’t have been better when I was invited on a kid-centric media tour to the French-speaking metropolis of Montreal by the Ministère du Tourisme Quebec. A boys trip out of the country would be a great adventure. Mom gave us her blessing, and we were off to an exciting foreign land. This was just the opportunity to place my son in the captain’s chair and have him decide on our excursion options.


While I’d be happiest in a downtown hostel, I was well aware that Mom’s taste for the finer things in life had taken root within my young son. So, he was very happy with our modern accommodations at the Delta Montréal hotel. It was obvious that our hosts were showing us the best they had to offer. Delta Montréal is located in the downtown entertainment district. That was a definite plus, as we explored the surrounding streets several times during our stay and found surprises on each trek.

Summer in Montreal means festivals. Our trip coincided with the Juste pour Rire (or Just for Laughs) annual comedy festival. A walk through the Quartier des Spectacles placed us in the middle of the interactive laugh-out-loud comedy acts. Most of the street performances needed no interpretation because despite the fact that they spoke French, the slapstick humor was international. Did I mention it was free? Trying to explain this festival would be like trying to tell you about a dream. There was everything from art projected onto buildings and trapeze acrobatics to a live band walking through the festival dressed in alien costumes. It was a unique experience.

The next day, we took the Montréal Métro (subway) north and explored the Biodôme de Montréal (four separate ecosystems and the flora and fauna all under one roof) and the Montréal Insectarium. We marveled at the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 summer Olympics, and walked through residential neighborhoods and Chinatown. We admired the fantastic graffiti art throughout the city. I was impressed by the amount of art everywhere. From large landscape paintings that scaled entire apartment buildings to video wall art installations in the underground city, Montreal has successfully fused art into daily life.


A highlight of the trip came on the third day when we rented a bicycle-built-for-two to tour the St. Lawrence Riverside. The bicycle ride inspired my son to lose those training wheels as soon as we got home. We finished the day with a visit to La Ronde, a Six Flags-style amusement park located along the waterfront and close to downtown.
Since our daily activities were unplanned and proceeded based on my son’s interests, I must admit that I was surprised by some of his choices. He declined to visit the riverfront at night to watch the annual international fireworks competition and instead wanted to stay in the hotel and lounge in the cushiony bed, exhausted from the day’s events. Also surprising to me was that he opted to swim in the hotel pool instead of shooting the rapids of the St. Lawrence on a jet boat.

This trip created memories that I will keep with me forever. Yes, we missed Mom and baby, but it was worth it.


Day 1: Arrive at the Delta Montréal hotel. Dinner in the Quartier des Spectacles and after-dinner laughs at the Juste pour Rire festival.
Day 2: Subway ride to the Olympic Stadium. Tour the Biodôme. Tour the Insectarium. Fancy French lunch at Le Valois near the Joliette station. Walking tour of residential and downtown neighborhoods. Souvenir shopping.
Day 3: Bike rental and tour of the St. Lawrence Riverside. Lunch on Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montréal. Hotel pool time. Rides and games at La Ronde amusement park.
Day 4: Graffiti art walk. Travel home.

Because what kind of boys trip would it be without getting to learn some fun little facts?

• Montreal is the world’s second-largest French-speaking city, after Paris. Bonjour!
• Montreal is built around Mount Royal (hence its name) and is located on an island in the St. Lawrence River.
• The French word for “states,” as in the United States, is “etats,” or the word “state” backward.
• Montreal is the capital of the Quebec province and home to approximately 1.6 million people.




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Escape Orlando in 90 Minutes or Less


Hop in the car, crank the tunes and take a trip back to your dating years when getaways were simpler and required much less “baggage.” Road trips are the perfect escape from the everyday (and who are we kidding … the kids). Orlando is surrounded by many quaint and quirky towns just waiting to be explored. So book Grandma, tank up and hit the highway.

Written by Kristen Manieri of Great Dates Orlando

Eccentric Excursion: Cassadaga . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 40 minutes
Did you know we live in very close proximity to the “Psychic Center of the World?” Cassadaga’s old-world streets are where you’ll find more than 40 mediums, psychics and healers. With roads named Séance Circle and Metaphysical Street, this is a very interesting corner of the world to get lost in.

MUST DO  Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you’ve been wondering what the future might hold (or what your stock portfolio might do), perhaps it’s time to consult the experts at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. Check out their website ahead of time to pre-book a session with one of their world-renowned spiritual healers and psychic mediums.

MUST SEE Legend has it that spirits can reveal themselves to us as glowing balls of light called “orbs.” Experience this phenomenon during the 90-minute Orb Photography Tour, each Saturday beginning at 8 p.m. $25/person. RSVP by calling 386-228-2880.

MUST EAT  If your psychic experiences put you in the mood for some food and liquid enlightenment, head over to the Lost in Time Cafe (located in the Cassadaga Hotel) for some “Spirit” burgers and real-life characters sure to entertain you.

MAKE IT SPECIAL Arrange a couple’s astrology consultation through the Cassadaga Hotel and Psychic Center. In this one-hour session, local astrologists will consult the stars to chart out your fate. Uh oh… is that another bambino on the horizon?

Rural Ride: Clermont . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 35 minutes
In the heart of Lake County amidst (yup, you guessed it) more than 1,000 lakes, Clermont might seem like an unlikely destination for us city slickers. But we think you’ll be surprised to find a ton of delightful day trip diversions on and off the water.

MUST DO  Ever dream about hitting the open road on a Harley? Stormy Hill Harley in Clermont runs a weekend motorcycle course in this ideal locale, thanks to its hilly terrain and lack of traffic. Once certified, easy riders can rent gear and bikes onsite. Class is $250/person.

MUST SEE  If you do one thing this summer, take a trip to Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards on the weekend of August 22 and 23, when you can squash grapes between your toes at the annual August Stomp. Also enjoy complimentary tours and wine tastings at this 77-acre vineyard.

MUST EAT Shop the huge gift boutique at Lakeridge Winery for your gourmet picnic provisions, then sip your freshly purchased Pink Cresendo sparkling wine at a picnic table or shady spot amidst the vines.

MAKE IT SPECIAL  If wine isn’t your thing, you can enjoy some peace and quiet on one of the area’s namesake lakes on your very own pontoon boat. Half-day rentals are $129 and a full day will cost you $199, including fuel.

Old World Outing: St. Augustine . . . . . . . . . ETA: 90 minutes
Discover America’s oldest city during one of the many popular tours offered in this historic community. The cute cafés, artisan shops and character of St. Augustine’s Colonial Spanish neighborhoods have been luring romantics for centuries.

MUST DO Don’t miss the hilarious (and informative) St. Augustine Haunted Pub Tour departing every day at 8:30 p.m. Although you’re not likely to see any actual ghosts, bartenders will be serving up plenty of spirits.

MUST SEE  Take a self-guided wander through Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine’s most notable historic landmark. Ancient dungeons with cavernous corners provide ideal secret make-out spots.

MUST EAT  Catch your breath at one of St. Augustine’s famous bakeries such as the Bunnery Bakery & Café on St. George Street, where notorious sticky buns are finger lickin’ good. 904-829-6166

MAKE IT SPECIAL  Schedule your trip to take part in the First Friday Art Walk. Evening tours begin at Rembrantz on King Street, and you can stroll hand-in-hand enjoying art exhibits, music, entertainment and great food.

Small Town Spin: Mount Dora . . . . . . . . . . . . ETA: 45 minutes
Cafés, antiquing and nature walks are all great reasons to visit Mount Dora, a small town dripping with charm. Thousands of people visit each year during its many famed festivals, like the Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

MUST DO Sail Lake Dora’s pristine waters with Captain Doolittle’s Eco Tours offering day and sunset cruises (352-434-8040), or explore Mount Dora’s picturesque downtown streets, historic B&Bs and scenic nature trails during a 60-minute Segway tour.

MUST SEE Anyone with the slightest interest in antiquing needs to check out Renningers Antiques & Farmers Market, open Saturdays and Sundays. Make a game of it by deciding on one particular item to seek out at more than 180 shops.

MUST EAT  Lake views and live music make Pisces Rising a popular dining option. Do not – we repeat – do not leave Mount Dora without devouring a frozen key lime pie-on-a-stick, found at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

MAKE IT SPECIAL  Snuggle up with your honey in the back of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Mount Dora’s scenic streets. Departing from the corner of 4th and Alexander, private rides are available. Don’t forget your bottle of bubbly.

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3 Days In (Kid-Friendly) Paradise

3 Days In (Kid Friendly) Paradise

If you’re like us, canceling your summer retreat this year is NOT an option (recession or no), but spending money wisely is a definite must. We have an idea: Skip the airfare, shorten the time away from work and take a long family weekend in paradise. Clearwater Beach is only a two-hour drive, but a world away from it all. Written by Heather Reneau

No, we wouldn’t recommend you go to just any beach town. This little community along the Gulf Coast has it all when it comes to family fun: Unique activities, restaurants and shops are all within walking distance. You can even jump on the beach trolley for a faster ride and a great adventure for the kiddies. Either way, for a laid-back beach town, Clearwater is the PLAYGROUND destination of choice for a great extended weekend getaway this summer.

Hands-down, the only place for you to stay is the Sandpearl Resort. This brand new property is the only one of its class in the area. Seriously, don’t even bother researching other places. Just stay here. Not only is it the nicest resort for families, it has THE BEST spa in the area, a chic restaurant, a beach bar & grill, the most impressive service we’ve experienced, the perfect location along Mandalay Avenue, and (wait for it…) childcare. We’re telling you, IT ROCKS!

So, you can have a killer three days in Clearwater Beach, however, here’s the rule: Traveling time isn’t included. Figure in one travel day on each end of your itinerary and you will have a great little vacation that will be relaxing for you and a blast for the kids.

Day 1
Kids Highlight:The “fire eater” at the Sunset Celebration
Parents Highlight: The Starbucks that’s in the lobby of the resort

3 Days In (Kid-Friendly) Paradise We recommend getting your bearings the first day. Explore the hotel, enjoy the totally kid-friendly pool, bond with that other family you’re sure to befriend during your stay, take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, just let the sand settle in between your toes and start living in the “now.”

We know the best part of vacation is the food. And remember we’re on a limited time frame here, so drag the kids out of the pool and head over to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill for lunch. It’s easily accessed by taking a quick stroll down the beach (heading north). It’s conveniently located next door to the Sandpearl, and is a local favorite. (All savvy travelers know to hang out where the locals go.)

Your evening activity is a toss-up, since there are two really cool options. The SandPearl has a killer fire pit right on the beach where families can gather around to cook s’mores and take in the vibrant West Coast sunset. Then there’s the nightly Sunset Celebration (Key West-style) at Pier 60 that is NOT to be missed during your stay. Pier 60 has the biggest sandy playground that we’ve ever seen, and it’s covered by a giant pavillion. Street performers, Captain Jack Sparrow, Jamaican-style hair braids, great chotchkies to browse and live music make this a really great (and free) family activity.

TRAVEL TIP: If your kids are still at napping age (lucky you), make arrangements to rent a poolside cabana for the day. These luxurious indoor/outdoor living spaces are a great spot for the kids to take a siesta while you enjoy the poolside amenities.

Day 2
Kids Highlight:The ferry ride to Caledesi Island
Parents Highlight: The pure white “sugar” sand

3 Days In (Kid-Friendly) Paradise A trip to Caledesi Island will be a unique activity for your day. This Florida State Park was rated the best in the United States in 2008. (Seriously, look it up on You can only access this natural wonder by ferry or kayak. We recommend letting Sandpearl Resort coordinate the excursion for you, which will include a picnic lunch and your transportation from the hotel. (Sweet!) While you’re there, it’s easy to play “castaway” or enjoy the three-mile nature trail running through the center of the island.

After a full day on a secluded, primitive island, it will be nice to go back to the resort and enjoy an awesome dinner at Caretta on the Gulf. This isn’t just any ol’ resort restaurant. It’s been highly ranked as one of the best places to dine in the area, and is trés chic!

TRAVEL TIP: Opt for outside seating at dinner, with a bird’s-eye view of the Gulf at sunset.

Day 3
Kids Highlight:Touching the sea urchins in Camp Ridley’s aquarium
Parents Highlight: The complimentary beer & wine on the pirate ship

3 Days In (Kid-Friendly) Paradise You might want to cash in your “Kid-Free Card” and let them enjoy a half- or full-day experience at Camp Ridley, another awesome amenity at the Sandpearl. They will love the underwater- themed kids’ lounge, and enjoy coastal activities with camp counselors. (Shh… Don’t tell them, but it’s educational too.) Not only is Camp Ridley available during the day, they are also open on weekend evenings. Score!

We highly recommend that you take this opportunity to get in some Spa-Ahhh time for both of you. This very relaxing (and romantic) experience will start with a dip in the co-ed hot tub that’s nestled between the men’s and women’s lounges. It’s complete with a plunge shower, if you’d like to take it to the extreme. Then, follow up with a treatment together in the couple’s room. It will be a bonding experience like no other.

We’ve saved the best for last. Your evening activity will blow your kid’s mind (and ease your guilt for sticking him in “daycare”). Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Your family will become true buccaneers when the pirate crew hands out hats and (squirt) guns upon boarding. There is pirate face painting, treasure hunting, pirate stories and dancing during this two-hour sail. By the end of the cruise, everyone will be acting like pirates and having an awesome time.

TRAVEL TIP: We recommend going on the Sunset Cruise that sails from the intracoastal out to the Gulf of Mexico. You will have front row seats to the sunset and the added bonus of a champagne toast to a great vacation, PLAYGROUND-style.

Somehow, Fit It In:


Island Way Grille
This Sunday Brunch is the best that we have ever experienced. No, really … ever! It’s a true dining extravaganza and a hop, skip and a jump from the Sandpearl Resort.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium
The Sandpearl can arrange a VIP behind-the-scenes tour to make your family feel special. Kids will fall in love with “Winter,” the resident dolphin.

Freaky Tiki
This über-rad little surf shack is a nice change from the usual “cheesy” tourist trap. You’ll find custom Freaky Tiki brand clothing items that are all limited designs. Couture surf shirt, anyone?

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