It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason. Every year thousands of snowbirds flock to Florida to escape the cold winters that typically blanket the Northeast and Midwest section of the U.S. If you’re not familiar with the term, snowbirds are people, typically retirees, who have a second home in a warmer location. In other words, grandparents who seek sun.
It can be a dream come true for grandkids and oh yeah, their parents.
Florida with Kids
For years, I’ve taken my kids to Southwest Florida for Easter to see an assortment of relatives and get a much needed boost of vitamin D. For the typical visitor, most Southwest Florida attractions are in Lee and Collier county. Lee County is to the north, about two hours below St. Petersburg and includes well-known destinations like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. To the south is Collier County. It best known locales are probably Naples and Marco Island, but it also includes a good chunk of the Everglades and is an easy two hour drive from Miami.
When they were little, entertaining my girls was a no brainer. Playing on the beach and swimming the warm Gulf of Mexico always meant success. Throw in some ice cream and I was a hero.
But as my girls got older, the trip evolved. Orlando and all things Mickey are little more than three hours away. We’ve taken the road trip more than once with great success. If you can get past the crowds, Disney World offers something for all ages and the Kennedy Space Center is just truly, out of this world.
But this year, we wanted to stay in Collier County, closer to our home base of Bonita Springs. Having just returned from a kid-friendly Costa Rica adventure, we were still tired and truly hoped to do some relaxing. But could we relax without our 10 and 12 year-old daughters getting bored?
Get Wet and Sandy
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you probably know by now, I’m a beach person. I grew up on Long Beach Island, NJ (some of the best beaches around) and I’ve successfully passed on the love of sand to my kids. Bonita Springs sits on the border of Lee and Collier counties. Most folks walk onto the beach at the main entrance just after crossing onto Little Hickory Island. It’s tempting to drop your towel at the first patch of open sand. But if you can keep the family moving, head to the water and hang a left. In a matter of minutes you’ll leave the crowds behind.
Space to Spread Out
Once you’ve settled in you’ve got plenty of choices. The warm, mellow waves of the Gulf of Mexico are inviting and kid friendly. The shell-littered sand makes for great castle building material. Or grab that sand bucket and go hunting for sea shells.
If your kids are older, and are entertained by all the surprises a beach can give, head south toward Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park. You can decide when you want to turn around, but if you can walk the approximate 3 mile stretch to the end of the beach, the reward is huge. During one of our walks we came across a horseshoe crab, ray starfish and pounds of stunning seashells. Put extra sunscreen on your back, because you’ll spend lots of time bent over, staring down into the sand.
Don’t worry about getting lost, just follow the beach. You’ll know when you’ve hit the end, because you won’t be able to go any further. The end of the line and the beach is Wiggins Pass. This is also one of my favorite beach runs, the sand is level and not too squishy. So if you manage to get some time away from kids get out there and enjoy!
Get the Kids Wet
If you weren’t hot when you started walking, there’s little doubt you will be when you’re finished. The Gulf waves are warm and gentle. Don’t be surprised if you find a few sand dollars when you dive in. The only downside is there are no lifeguards on duty.
Vacation Water Toys
If you want a little more action, check out all the water toys you can rent at Bonita Jetski & Parasail, Inc. There’s jetskis, parasailing, Hobie Cat Sailboats, Aqua Cycles and a long list of other things to choose from. Everything’s out on the beach near the main entrance to the beach, so you can’t miss it and the guys that run it are fun and friendly.
Take a Dip
This is without a doubt one of the best kept secrets in Southwest Florida! A family gem. The Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is a must do on your Southwest Florida itinerary. It’s located in Naples, inside the North Collier Regional Park. The water park is a county park, and my kids had so much fun, one day wasn’t enough. We spent two entire days getting drenched.
The main attractions are the five water slides. I did them all with my kids and enjoyed every minute. There’s no death-defying drops or twisting out of control, just good, wet fun. Kids must be 48″ to ride. If you’ve got a little one who doesn’t make the cut don’t worry. This park was designed with all ages and sizes in mind. The Tadpole Pool has a slide, swings and plenty of other great features and is just for ages 6 and under. Turtle Cove is for kids 5-12. It has a jungle rope-style pool crossing, assorted floating animals kids can climb on and a number of creations that spray water everywhere. But wait there’s more. The park also has an oversize family pool, a dive and lap pool, interactive water fountains and a relaxing lazy river.
Did I mention there are lifeguards are everywhere, watching and talking to the kids. Both my daughters were asked how old they were. The snack bar is even impressive. Hungry families can order entire pizzas without blowing the entire vacation budget. I’m convinced the person who designed this park was a parent.
Kids Love Collier County Vacations
And so do their parents. When it was time to come home, even my husband and I felt like we had actually had a vacation. And we actually had the tan to prove it!
We spent most of our time this trip in Collier County, but there’s plenty to keep the family entertained in Lee County as well. Stay tuned.
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