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Amelia Island Plantation and Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Families can find great Florida resorts on beautiful beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the Sunshine State. Yet because of the popularity of Orlando, some of the best-known Florida resorts for families are inland.
Amelia Island -- in northeastern Florida just a twenty-minute drive from Jacksonville -- offers lovely beaches, boat outings, a historic fort to visit, a quaint town, and delicious sea-food.
Two notable family-friendly properties sit side-by-side on a long stretch of beach. The Omni Amelia Island Plantation covers 1350 acres and has nature walks, shelling and hunting for sharks' teeth fossils on the beach, and boardwalks in marsh ecology zones. Meanwhile at the nearby Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, families will find a Ritz Kids program, a kiddie pool, an indoor pool, fine dining, and big celebrations on July 4th and other major holidays.
Disney World Resorts: Introduction, and Animal Kingdom Lodge
Orlando has some of Florida's top resorts for families. To start with Disney World: visitors can choose from over twenty themed properties that range from Value to Deluxe.
- Value Resorts: busy places with fun decor; rooms sleep a family of four.
- Moderate: large grounds offer recreation such as kayaking or bike riding.
- Deluxe: extras include fine dining, evening kids clubs, concierge level, spa.
- Deluxe Villas: Disney Vacation Club suites (with kitchens) that can be booked by anyone, not just Club members.
Disney World resorts are priced by the room. At some properties a family of five can sleep in one room; meanwhile, some units in the Deluxe Villas can accommodate twelve guests. Guests at all Disney World properties get the same great set of perks, which include:
- Disney's Magical Express free airport shuttle and luggage delivery
- "Extra Magic Hours" in at least one of the four theme parks every day
- Disney's free bus system to and from the theme parks
- Dining Option: guests can add a meal plan to their park admission tickets
Sample Deluxe Resort: Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Features at this beautiful resort include astonishing African architecture and decor, a stunning six-story lobby, and best of all, the savannas outside where African animals roam. Animal Kingdom Lodge has a spa and fitness center, concierge floors, fine dining, large zero-entry pool with slide, kids pool, kids activities and an evening kids club.
- Read more about Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney World Resorts Near Magic Kingdom
Disney World is a giant place, with four huge theme parks and over twenty resorts. Driving time to a theme park can take fifteen minutes. Many families opt to stay close to their favorite park.
Staying Near the Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom is the top park for little kids, and with excited tots quick access to the theme park is especially valuable. Guests at several resorts can take a monorail to the Magic Kingdom and to Epcot; a free boat shuttle to the Magic Kingdom is another option at several properties. With easy access to Magic Kingdom, families can take an afternoon break for nap-time or pool-time, then return to the park for the evening parade and fireworks. Also, several properties have great settings on the Seven Seas Lagoon, with beaches and even watersports.
Another appealing area is the BoardWalk, where several resorts are just a short walk or boat ride from Epcot.
Read about the Disney World Resorts Near Magic Kingdom: Disney's Polynesian Resort, the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Disney's Contemporary Resort, and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
- Read more about Disney World Resorts, by Location
Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, at Disney World
Fort Wilderness is the only place to camp at Disney World, and campers get all the perks of staying at a Disney World Resort. Guests can also stay in cabins that can sleep six and have full kitchens.
Fort Wilderness has huge grounds with lots of recreation -- such as kayaking, water-skiing, and horseback rides-- and fun activities such as evening campfires and outdoor movies. Also on-site are the The Hoop Dee Musical Revue dinner show, and Mickey's Backyard BBQ, an all-you-can-eat buffet with a country band and line-dancing.
Another plus at Fort Wilderness: guests can take a boat shuttle to the Magic Kingdom.
- Read more about Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
Universal Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel
Universal Orlando has two great theme parks -- one of which includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- and also has three excellent family-friendly resorts. Resort guests can walk or take free shuttle boats to the theme parks, and once there, they get fast-lane access to popular rides.
Pictured above is the "beach" at the attractive Hard Rock Hotel. The resorts at Universal Orlando are Loews hotels, and offer "Loews Loves Kids" services such as game libraries, kids' menus, welcome gifts for children under ten, and supervised recreational programs. Kids under 18 are free and cribs and roll-away beds are available.
Guests at the Hard Rock can visit sister properties, Loew's Portofino Bay Hotel and Loew's Royal Pacific Resort.
Resorts at Universal Orlando: Loew's Portofino Bay Hotel
Modeled on the town of Portofino in the Italian Riviera, the photogenic Portofino Bay Hotel has beautiful architecture, a pretty harbor, multiple restaurants, three themed swimming pools, and some cute Italian details. Features for families include a large freeform pool with waterslide and sand beach, a kids club in the evenings, Kids Suites with a separate room for kids, and Dr. Seuss-themed suites.
More points to note:
- Guests can walk or take a free boat shuttle to the Universal Orlando theme parks
- Guests get fast-lane access to popular rides
- Each resort has a character meal with a personality such as Shrek
- the "Loews Loves Kids" policy means special perks such as kids' menus, welcome gifts for children under ten, and supervised recreational programs. Kids under 18 are free and cribs and roll-away beds are available.
The third property at Universal Orlando is the Royal Pacific Resort, which has beautiful South Pacific landscaping and decor, luaus, and a large beach pool with a waterplay zone.
- Read more about the Portofino Bay Hotel
Orlando: Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites Waterpark
This Florida resort sets a new standard for on-property fun in Orlando, with its two on-site water parks, plus Nickelodeon theming and characters, and pool games and evening entertainment designed by "Nick".
Other features include character meals, a teen lounge, and Kidsuites with themed room and bunk beds for kids, plus master bedroom and a sitting area with small kitchen.
- Read more about Nickelodeon Suites Resort
Other Top Orlando Resorts for Families
Orlando has many other great places for families to stay, ranging from budget-friendly all-suite hotels to luxury resorts. In the luxury department: The Ritz Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, above, shares 500 acres with the J.W. Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. On-site activities at Grande Lakes include golf on a championship course, a biking trail, fly-fishing, kayaking, and eco-tours. The Ritz-Carlton has plenty of grown-up pleasures (dining, golf, spa), but is also family-friendly and has a Ritz Kids Club.
Guests at the J.W. Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes have access to the Ritz Kids Club and to the spa at the Ritz-Carlton; meanwhile, guests at the Ritz-Carlton have access to the J.W.Marriott's heated lazy river pool.
Read more about these and other Top Resorts in Orlando.
Florida Resort on the Treasure Coast: Disney's Vero Beach Resort
Heading further south on the Atlantic side of Florida, the "Treasure Coast" --named for treasure found in shipwrecks in the area-- offers surfing, beautiful beaches, coral reefs in some areas, and a number of towns with revived downtowns.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort
Two hours southeast of Disney World, this Florida resort with inn and villas is built in the style of a grand old beach hotel. Fun highlights include a pool with a 163-foot water slide, a Pirate Ship wet-deck, and miniature golf. The resort also offers kayaks, Hobie Cats and other watersports, and perhaps a chance to see sea turtles.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay: an All Inclusive Resort in Florida
A Caribbean-style all inclusive resort within the US, this Club Med -- two hours from either Miami or Orlando airports-- has great ambiance and outstanding kids programs. Features include a Baby Welcome program with many amenities including a well-stocked feeding room, and Baby Club Med (at an extra charge.) Club Med Sandpiper Bay has kids programs for several different age groups, with active and creative itineraries. Resort activities include golf lessons, sailing, and trapeze (a signature feature at Club Med.)
Guests can take day-trips to Walt Disney World or to the Kennedy Space Center. Note that this Florida resort is on the St. Lucie River and not the coast, but guests will still find a sandy beach area.
- Read more about Club Med Sandpiper Bay
South Florida Resort: The Breakers, Palm Beach
Would a place that displays medieval tapestries in the lobby welcome kids? The answer is "yes" at this landmark hotel, which has a large Family Entertainment Center. The resort also offers four oceanside pools, 30 holes of golf, 140 acres of property and half a mile of private beach. Prices are reasonable.
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa
It isn't often that a resort draws praise as a romantic getaway and yet is a place where kids are welcome too. About.com's Guide for Honeymoons and Romantic Travel has a profile about Turnberry Resort, which she calls "a tropical paradise on Florida's Intracoastal Waterway", a place where the "grand-deluxe Mediterranean-style rooms all have private balconies overlooking a golf course or pool garden." (She notes that some guests arrive at the helipad.)
Meanwhile, the Turnberry Resort has a number of features that suit families:
- A lagoon-style pool with a lazy river, cabanas, and children's play area
- Supervised children's program
- Guests can request the use of a refrigerator, microwave, and rollaway bed*
Parents who favor the Fairmont brand may be pleased to find this sophisticated Florida resort where kids are welcome -- and the kids club may help parents get some couple time.
Location of the Turnberry Resort is north of Miami in Aventura (North Miami Beach), about half-way between Miami and Fort Lauderdale
South Florida Resort: Cheeca Lodge and Spa
This family-friendly resort in the beautiful Florida Keys is located in North America's only area with natural coral reefs; guests can snorkel or try snuba or scuba. Guests will also find kayaking, windsurfing, a kiddie pool, a saltwater lagoon, and Camp Cheeca kids' programs.
- Read more about Cheeca Lodge and Spa
South Florida Resort: Hawks Cay
Also located in the Florida Keys, Hawks Cay is another place where guests can snorkel on a coral reef. Boat trips take snorkelers to good local spots. Kids can also snorkel in a lagoon on-site, or play in multiple pools including one with a pirate play zone. Hawks Cay also has a playground, kids activities, and a sailing school.
- Read more about Hawks Cay, for families
Off the southwest coast of Florida are two beautiful spots for nature lovers: Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. Each offers miles of unspoiled beaches and shallow shores perfect for toddlers. Shelling is a popular activity on these islands.
On Sanibel Island, several properties that suit families have grouped together as the "Sanibel Collection". The Sanibel Inn has eight acres of tropical gardens, and the Sundial Resort offers condominium suites with kitchens, five heated pools, and a seasonal kids club. The Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort has four secluded acres and affordable rates; guests can explore miles of shoreline, and have free use of bikes they can ride on miles of paved trails.
The Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa, meanwhile, is not on Sanibel Island but overlooks it. This property does not have its own beach, but shuttles run to Sanibel Island. Sanibel Harbour has 85 acres, and accommodation includes suites, condos, and a premium concierge hotel with extra services.
St. Pete / Clearwater Beach
This affordable area on Florida's Gulf Coast is just two hours from Orlando and offers miles of top-rated beaches, plus nature outings and some cultural gems. Read about local attractions such as the (free) Seacoast Seabird Sanctuary, and about fun outings such as dolphin-spotting, shelling, and Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise.
For lodgings, the Sheraton Sand Key has a spot right on Sand Key Beach, in an area where sea turtles nest in summer and fall. On St. Pete Beach, the TradeWinds Island complex includes the TradeWinds Island Grand, a family-friendly property with large grounds, a kids club, multiple pools, and a 20,000 sq. ft. floating water park just offshore. Also on St. Pete Beach, the Don CeSar has presided since 1928 as the legendary "Pink Palace". Kids programs here might even include an etiquette lesson.
- Read more about the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort for families
Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
This giant 2400-acre destination has a beach side on the Emerald Coast and a bay side as well. Features include a Junior Golf Academy and putting course, the Jollee Island Nature Park and playground, and kids' programs that include sailing and tennis. Guests have access to kayaks as well as complimentary use of bicycles and boogie boards. The picture-perfect Village of Baytowne Wharf has many restaurants and is often a venue for special events.
Read a review of Sandestin and see many photos.