FUN IN THE SUN: A Florida Spring Break primer
With Spring Break on the horizon (at last!) and many Canadians preparing to escape the trenches – not to mention the snowbanks – to head south for heaping helping of sunshine and warm weather, many Florida destinations are gearing up for the annual migration of students and families with a host of happenings throughout March and April.
Starting in the Florida Panhandle and heading to The Keys, here are a few highlights, activities, and accommodation tips for some of Florida’s most popular spring break destinations:
• Along Pensacola Beach, families can embark on a racing trimaran with Condor Sailing Adventures, while hanging their feet off the boat, watching for dolphins, enjoying the sunset views, or flying on the bows.
• In late April, the Flora-Bama Lounge will host the annual Interstate Mullet Toss & Greatest Beach Party. Open to all ages, participants in the Mullet Toss will throw a dead mullet over the state line of Florida and Alabama to see who gets the farthest. Families can also dine at Laguna’s Beach Bar + Grill or Red Fish Blue Fish for some of the best local flavours.
• Keep kids thinking with a little historical walk down America’s First Settlement Trail, a new, free five-km. marked path that traverses Historic Downtown Pensacola. Along the trail are 20 stops and more than 70 sites from as early as 1756, when the Spanish built Fort San Miguel in what is now downtown Pensacola.
DESTIN FORT WALTON BEACH
• Destin-Fort Walton Beach serves as the perfect playground for the ultimate spring break getaway with tons to explore for everyone in the family. From charter fishing and Gulf-to-table cuisine, family-friendly accommodations and natural historical sites, the destination inspires all to get outside, learn something new and find adventure in “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”
• Visitors can stay in style at The Island Resort in Fort-Walton Beach, where guests staying in the pool deck rooms can relax with their own private pool deck with direct swim-up access. Additionally, Hilton Homewood Suites features spacious suites with full kitchens and separate living areas, complimentary evening socials, outdoor grills, and recreational areas ideal for families. Dining is easy for families at spots like Dewey Destin’s Seafood, a long-standing favourite, and Lulu’s, which allows families to check in online to join the waitlist for this kid-friendly restaurant.
• Watersport enthusiasts can rent a pair of jet skis or captain their own pontoon boat with Island Watersports Company. Little Adventures offers bite-sized adventure packages, which provide endless outdoor activities for families to enjoy, such as watersports, dolphin pod excursions, surf lessons, fishing from The Island Pier and much more.
• The St. Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival is held in America’s Oldest Celtic City with cultural events to be held March 11-12. Top Celtic bands, Highland Games, workshops, lectures, Celtic food, artisan crafts and a St. Patrick Day parade will be featured, plus a special whiskey tasting event on March 10. The Celtic Music & Heritage Festival and activities will be held at Francis Field in the historic downtown.
• Home of Ocala National Forest and other popular parks, Ocala in Central Florida invites visitors to explore more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs, including those in Rainbow Springs, Silver Springs, Juniper Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Paradise Springs. Dubbed “Horse Capital of the World,” Ocala boasts local horse farms offering horseback tours or carriage rides. Equestrian season runs from January to March, so early spring is the perfect time to watch a horse show like the HITS Ocala Tournament, Winter Spectacular Show Series IX and Ocala March Dressage.
• Ocala is also home to spring festivals, including Strawberry Festival, Santos Fat Tire Festival, Rainbow Springs Art Festival and Springs Fest. With so many events, families need to squeeze in some time for adventure on a zip line at the Canyons Zip Line & Adventure Park. Built around a reclaimed quarry, parents and kids who meet the criteria can soar on nine different zip lines, cross two rope bridges and conquer a rappel on a canopy tour.
Florida’s Sports Coast – aka Pasco County – is home to Epperson Lagoon – a massive man-made lagoon filled with stunning crystal-clear turquoise water and lined with bright white sand. There’s also Lift Adventure Park, designed with adrenaline-seeking families in mind. Sitting atop the Florida Sport’s Coast waters, the aqua park sports a full-size cable system for high-speed wakeboarding. The sizable park also includes a jungle ropes course suspended above the bay water, kayaking, paddle boarding and massive slides. Adventurous families will want to visit TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park for an aerial park experience, especially the Cosmic Night Climb, where nine courses light up.
St. Pete/Clearwater offers white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, perfect for the family member that wants to lay in the Florida sun for the week. The Salvador Dalí Museum provides some culture and is home to the largest collection of Dalí’s work outside of Spain. And for accommodations, families need look no further than the TradeWinds Island Resorts – the Island Grand and RumFish Beach Resort – which has added 141 guest rooms to its portfolio, along with a new a three-storey, dual-line zipline on the beach and a new Mexican restaurant concept at the Island Grand.
With nine theme parks and five water parks, Orlando promises a host of immersive experiences for travellers this spring. Among them:
• EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival (March 1-July 5) boasts impressive Disney-inspired topiaries and colourful gardens and delicious fresh flavours around the World Showcase.
• Universal’s Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval (through April 16) features Cajun and Creole dishes, and performances by some of the biggest names in music.
• SeaWorld Orlando’s Seven Seas Food Festival (thru May 7) features exquisite global cuisine, an ocean of local craft beers and diverse live entertainment.
• The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival (March 17-19) is one of the nation’s oldest, largest, and most prestigious outdoor art festivals, drawing over 300,000 visitors each year. Hosted in the heart of historic Winter Park, the juried art show features sculpture, paintings, digital art and more from hundreds of artists, along with live music, art activities and more.
Meanwhile, here are some Spring Break accommodation deals:
• Caribe Royale Orlando: Enjoy 15% off the best available rate on stays of two or more nights, plus a $25 daily dining credit when booking directly through April 21, for stays between Feb. 27 and May 31.
• Floridays Resort Orlando: Get a sixth night free when staying for five nights by May 31
• Avanti International Resort: Save 20% on the best available rate.
• Avanti Palms Resort: Save 25% on the standard rate for stay through May 31.
• The Point Hotel & Suites: Take advantage of the Spring Break 25% off deal when staying a minimum of two nights through May 31.
In Kissimmee, there’s no shortage of things to do for spring break, but it also offers vacation homes that let the whole family congregate together without trying to squeeze into a hotel room. Nearby, world-famous theme parks and unbelievable natural beauty await. Kissimmee also boasts chic shopping centres and golf courses for parents, while kids can feel engaged at educational attractions like SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, WonderWorks, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
• St. Lucie on Florida’s east coast, halfway between Miami and Orlando, offers pristine beaches with more public beach access points per square mile than any other coastal community in the state. With exception of the Florida State Park beaches, all beaches in St. Lucie are free admission and free parking and many are equipped with amenities such as bathrooms, pavilions, dune walkovers and more. And as one of the only places to ride horses on the beaches, a slow-paced ride down Fort Pierce’s natural, isolated sandy shoreline is the kind of memory families want to create.
• Treasure Coast Kids Quest is an interactive and educational passport program where participating locations provide a stamp after the children have completed their activity at each stop. Once all the passport stamps are collected, a goodie bag is provided at the Fort Pierce City Marina gift shop. There’s also the Nature & Wildlife Digital Pass, which invites visitors to explore nine locations to digitally “check-in” and enjoy the nature-based adventure and education at each spot. Passholders receive prizes as they complete the pass and passholders who complete the trail by March 27, will be entered to win the Ultimate Eco-Giveaway – a custom hammock, two vouchers for a local wildlife boat tour, two vouchers for a guided kayak tour through the mangroves, and a one-night stay at local accommodations.
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, families can spend hours playing in the sand at Holmes Beach, get up close to bottlenose dolphins taking a ride with the Anna Maria Island Dolphin Tours, or take in a show during the evening at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
• This spring, Florida’s fizziest festival, the annual Sebring Soda Festival, takes over in April. Families can also check out the Sebring Area Geotour, a free geocaching scavenger hunt that will guide families throughout the greater Sebring area to find treasures and learn about this special area of Florida.
• Highlands Hammock State Park offers nine trails, an elevated boardwalk, and a tram. Families might be lucky enough to spot a Florida alligator, deer, or black bear among all of the other wildlife in the park. For indoor experiences, visit the Children’s Museum of the Highlands to allow kids to learn about Sebring through arts and crafts, science, and games.
• Families won’t want to skip Sebring Soda and Ice Cream Works. Home to more than 300 craft and vintage sodas and an array of more than 20 ice cream flavours, this soda shop is great for adults and children looking to reach for an old classic soda or try something completely new, such as cucumber, peach cobbler or chocolate soda.
• Known for its many offerings of beaches, Sarasota County is the place where families can hunt for shark teeth in the Shark Tooth capital of the US. Venice, play on the white sand of one of America’s top-ranked beaches of Siesta Beach, or simply relax on Longboat Key Beach. Serious students can keep their education going at Suncoast Science Center, while the Faulhaber FAB LAB offers hands-on activities for kids. The Ringling Museum of Art and Circus Museum offers several programs for families and kids, including ROAR! Storytime that connects art and literacy, family art-making and stroller tours. Myakka State Park offers a Junior Ranger program and teaches kids about the park by completing six CORE activities to earn their Junior Ranger badge.
• For pure adventure, Tree-Umph! Adventure Park has courses for all skill levels, from easy to adventurous.
PUNTA GORDA/ENGLEWOOD BEACH
• Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach is the place for outdoor fun, with Babcock Ranch Eco-Tours inviting families to see alligators, wild hogs, and turkeys, as well as the historic Cracker Cattle. Visitors can collect seashells or take a discovery walk through nature at Englewood Beach and Stump Pass Beach State Park, where manatees, gopher tortoises, snowy egrets, least terns and magnificent frigate birds call home. Outfitters near Englewood Beach offer activities such as jet ski, kayak, stand up paddle boarding, boat, and parasailing packages for the whole family.
• Tire little ones out on Punta Gorda’s Harbor Walk along the beautiful Charlotte Harbor shoreline. The Harbor Walk is a fantastic location to take advantage of the Free Bike Loaner Program that is unique to Punta Gorda. Bike stations include Fishermen’s Village, Laishley Marina, Bayfront Punta Gorda’s Wellness Center, Sheraton Four Points and SpringHill Suites.
THE PALM BEACHES
• Animal fans can explore the many wildlife attractions in the Palm Beaches. Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, for example, doubles as protection of Florida’s wildlife and natural resources where visitors may see Florida Panthers, bobcats, and black bears, among other native wildlife. There is also Lion Country Safari, Florida’s largest drive-through safari, which displays 900 animals roaming in wide-open habitats within inches of your car! And Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society invites guests to go wild with koalas, tigers, macaws and more.
• Loggerhead Marine Life Center promotes the conservation of the ocean’s ecosystems with a special focus on sea turtles. The perk here (besides the many sea turtles) is that this centre is located just steps away from some of the most densely nested loggerhead sea turtle beaches in the world.
• There’s also the Snorkel Trail at Phil Foster Park, where blue waters are home to a variety of marine life including sea turtles, tropical fish, sailfish, goliath groupers and dolphins. Manatee sightings are frequent in the winter and springtime, while sea turtles are common year-round. For the best snorkeling conditions, visit at high tide.
• The beachfront town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, on the southeast coast of Florida, offers beautiful white sand beaches, low-rise hotels (literally on the sand!), shopping and many dining options. Families should take note that many hotels offer free bikes, and bike rentals are available along with free “around town” Pelican Hopper bus. Take a stroll to the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway to discover marine sculptures, locally owned shops and eateries, as well as ice cream shops and bakeries. The Town Walking Map is a handy guide for your family’s visit to our small seaside town.
• Recognized as “Florida’s Beach Diving Capital,” Lauderdale-By-The-Sea teems with marine life less than 100 yards off the white sand beaches. The whole family can enjoy snorkelling, diving, kayaking, and paddle boarding right off the beaches’ shorelines. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is also a designated “Blue Wave Beach,” a distinction given to clean and environmentally responsible beach communities.
• With the Discover JW Miami Turnberry package, guests get entrance to Tidal Cove, an award-winning waterpark with seven water slides, a 370-sq.-m. kids pool and the first-ever FlowRider Triple surf simulation pool in the nation. There’s also Acqualina Resort’s newly enhanced AcquaMarine Kid’s Club, which provides educational adventures for the resort’s youngest guests and is complimentary when booking accommodation at the luxury resort.
• The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, located in downtown Miami sparks wonder and investigation across 1.6 hectares that house the Frost Planetarium, Aquarium and the North and West Wings. Families can geek out over exhibitions about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in an experiential setting with interactive exhibitions and unique shows all year-round.
• Foodie families in Miami can also drop in at the Deering Seafood Festival on March 26, at the Deering Estate. Fresh seafood, chef demos, live entertainment and activities for the kids await.
The famed Sanibel Lighthouse re-opened on Feb. 28, five months to the day after Hurricane Ian nearly toppled the iconic structure, symbolizing the town’s ongoing recovery. Gasparilla Island beaches, Tarpon Bay Beach and Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel Island are open and other beaches and parks are coming back in stages.
Islamorada Resort Collection, comprised of four premier resorts located in Islamorada, a village in the Florida Keys, offers four private beaches to relax on as well as boating, fishing, snorkeling, and diving excursions. New to the collection this spring is the Islamorada Spearfishing Adventures at Amara Cay, which invites families to embark on an excursion with a local captain to find Florida Keys’ spiny lobster, participate in inshore and offshore fishing, or an underwater hunt.
Of course, spring training baseball continues throughout the state in March, including the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin (last game March 27).
First published at Travel Industry Today