Of the many questions I am asked by friends and fellow parents, the one I hear the most is: “What’s a good Florida resort we can visit with the kids?” As easy as that question is to ask, the answer is far more complicated, especially right now. Families all over the U.S. are undoubtedly trying to decide how to spend their kids’ upcoming week of Spring Break, so even an idea as simple as “We just need a fun place to stay” still has a lot of layers to peel back.
For starters, what is the budget? Do you want beach, pool, or both? Do the parents love golf, or would they rather get a couple’s massage? The one aspect I’m never too worried about is food, because the most exceptional resorts in Florida have something for even the pickiest eaters. But it’s still never easy to find just the right place.
So, for the families who need to book rooms yesterday and hit the road tomorrow, here are some great places to begin.
JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes
Just when you think one of the best resorts in Central Florida can’t be any more exciting and fulfilling for kids of all ages, the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, unveils a new water park concept that once again reminds the competition that creativity never sleeps. First and foremost, parents are going to love the new private cabanas, as they serve as secluded base camps for those of us who need to take a break between water slides.
And speaking of the main attraction, the new Headwaters Slide Tower offers a trio of slides for kids to display their bravery, while the more laidback loungers will be absolutely head over heels for the lazy river. All new elements were designed to blend seamlessly into the resort’s beautiful gardens and trees, offering a sense of separation and adventure.
As far as dining, the poolside options have always been top notch here, but this resort always outdoes itself. Chef John Tesar, whose Knife & Spoon concept at neighboring Ritz-Carlton Orlando recently earned a Michelin star, opened Knife Burger at the JW with the goal of cooking the best burger in town, and the reviews are stellar. There’s also a VIP firepit lounge area because there’s no such thing as too much exclusivity.
Best of all, in addition to upgrading the 1,010 accommodations, the resort also introduced seven new executive family suites with one- and two-bedrooms, as well as bunk bed settings that will earn all the stars a child can count.
One of the more common misconceptions about people who live in Central Florida is that we spend all our free time hanging out at Walt Disney World. While that would be fun, it would also be insanely expensive, and the steady stream of Dole Whips would have my waist size comparable to Hyacinth Hippo. But my fellow golf writers have a similar belief that because I live so close to Streamsong, I must play there all the time. Boy, I wish.
Located in Bowling Green, Florida—roughly 30 minutes south of Lakeland—Streamsong isn’t a family resort in the traditional sense (you won’t find thrilling waterslides here), but it is a great choice when you have some young, aspiring superstars aching to get away from the home courses. Here, a trio of golf courses serves as a bucket list experience for players of all levels. Nowhere else can you play a design from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, another from Tom Doak, and one from Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner. All three are considered among the best in the state, if not the entire country, and the whole package is nothing short of Valhalla for traveling golf buddies. And a Spring Break trip is also a great chance for kids to prepare for the Family Cup.
There’s another important thing to know, however: this is also a phenomenal resort that offers way more than golf. For starters, anyone looking to relax and unwind away from the Sunshine State’s busier beach and coastal destinations will be just fine with the magnificent pool and especially the AcquaPietra Spa offerings. But as we have experienced in other destinations like Reynolds Lake Oconee and Silvies Valley Ranch, golf pairs quite well with outdoor adventure, and Streamsong has that covered with archery, sporting clays, and guided bass fishing excursions.
Plantation on Crystal River
The best time to visit this exceptional riverfront resort is probably in the winter, because that’s when the resort offers guests the once in a lifetime chance to swim with the West Indian Manatees in the only location in the world where this is legal. However, that doesn’t mean the fun ends when the adorable sea cows conclude their incredibly slow migration to Crystal River’s spectacular network of springs.
Located in Florida’s Nature Coast, north of Tampa, Plantation on Crystal River is a full-service resort that combines traditional Sunshine State charm with modern amenities and enthralling outdoor adventures. What makes it an especially great choice for families is the flexibility offered in the 196 accommodations, as the classic rooms can connect for when parents need to keep their eyes on the kids (while also enjoying a little privacy), but the 12 golf villas will add an extra level of privacy while feeling like a home away from home.
Obviously, a “golf” villa means there’s a course waiting to be played, and the links at Plantation on Crystal River showcase everything we love about playing in Florida, from the natural beauty to the creative challenges. And the massive pool will undoubtedly be a hit with young guests, but the aspect that will keep the whole family coming back year after year is the Adventure Center, located at the resort’s docks, where guests can rent boats or enjoy guided tours and fishing excursions, as well as swimming with those adorable manatees.
The Marker Key West Resort
Spring Break dates tend to vary, and sometimes it’s just a loose, convenient term we use to describe a March/April getaway. Vacation flexibility is especially great if your heart is set on a tropical Florida experience, because there’s always something great on the calendar at The Marker Key West Resort, and this exceptional team keeps travelers of every age in mind.
For example, we all have wellness on the mind this time of year—the endless quest to achieve an ideal beach bod—so why not engage in a poolside workout? On March 18, Flex Key West’s professional instructors are swinging by for a free poolside class, and expert tips for staying vigilant in our fitness routines always make for a great souvenir. Or, for those travelers who just want to have fun, wait another week and stop in on March 25 for the Suenafro Live Pool Party and Concert, featuring !Suenalo!, a Miami-based Afro-Lat 9-piece band.
But the youngest guests might want to book a trip the week of April 8, as the resort will be hosting its charity Rubber Ducky Hunt, which helps the Key West Police Love Fund. More than 500 rubber ducks will be thrown into the pool, and 100 of them will include special prizes, so guests can pay $5 a pop for a chance to win, all while enjoying music and mermaid performances.
These are just an example of the Marker Key West Resort’s creative, fun event planning, so travelers should always keep an eye on the calendar.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa
By now, you’re probably wondering what happened to Florida’s legendary beaches, and I apologize for focusing so much on non-coastal properties and hidden gems. If it’s sand you seek, then Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa is the place to be. Heck, if you look up “family-friendly” in the dictionary, it should just have the above image, because there is simply so much that parents and children will love.
In fact, few resorts go above and beyond in maximizing the entertainment for kids while also making things way easier for the adults. Worried that the crib and pack-and-play will take up too much space in the car or, even worse, flying hundreds of miles with no ability to bring them? Don’t lose a second of sleep. The staff here has it all covered. That includes childcare services for when it’s spa time, or even nighttime entertainment programs for the young ones so the parents can enjoy a special meal and maybe even a few creative cocktails.
All before hitting that beautiful beach again first thing in the morning.