OUT+ABOUT: Family-Friendly Holiday Retreats

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style , Oct. 2016.


PHOTOS: Mary Ann DeSantis+provided

Do you go north or south for the holidays—as in south to the Florida Keys or north to the Florida Panhandle? Either direction is within a half-day’s drive of Central Florida, and you will find family friendly options where everyone from children to grandchildren and maybe even an aunt or uncle will have fun.

Your entire family wants to get together for the holidays this year. What are you going to feed all these people and where are they going to sleep? More importantly, how are you going to keep all the generations entertained? We’ve got holiday getaway suggestions to make everyone happy.

Hawks Cay Resort, Florida Keys

Everything about this 60-acre resort on Duck Key near Marathon is about family. In fact, it’s so family oriented that my husband and his brother unexpectedly ran into their cousins in the lobby on a trip last spring. It seems those Atlanta cousins—along with their parents and children—have known for years that Hawks Cay is the place to gather for family getaways.

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Hawks Cay says even Santa Claus likes to rest in the Florida Keys before and after his big journey. Where else can he spend the cool months in shorts and flip-flops? If your family wants both warm weather and holiday spirit, then sun-drenched Duck Key could be the place.

December weather in the Florida Keys averages a perfect 75 degrees. Watch the dolphins at the on-site “Dolphin Connection” or take a Segway tour around the island. In the evening, mom and dad can get away for a Christmas-inspired cocktail by one of the fire pits overlooking the Atlantic Ocean while Mrs. Claus reads a story to the little ones and Santa’s elves arrive for a “tuck-in.”

Hawks Cay offers both large hotel-size guestrooms in the main building or two-and-three-bedroom villas, which have full-size kitchens. The villas also feature porches or balconies—great places for quiet family meals.

If you don’t want to cook, there are several restaurants from a casual pizzeria that delivers to the fine-dining Alma restaurant near the main lobby. The new Angler and Ale restaurant at the Hawks Cay Marina offers fresh Florida seafood or you can even bring in your own catch for the hook-and-cook option.

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Since you’re in the middle of the Florida Keys, go off property to visit nearby sites. Only 12 miles from the resort is the Marathon Turtle Hospital, the world’s only state-certified veterinary hospital for sea turtles. This acclaimed attraction rescues and rehabilitates injured and sick turtles. A nonprofit corporation, the Marathon Turtle Hospital offers three tours daily but requires reservations.

Drive just a half-mile farther south to Pigeon Key, one of Florida’s most historic islands. Chances are you have seen this tiny island lying in the shadow of the Seven-Mile Bridge and wondered how people got there. They either hiked the rugged 2.5-mile remnant of the railroad trestle or they took the ferry from the Pigeon Key Visitors Center. The five-acre island also will look familiar to fans of the 1994 movie “True Lies” because it was used extensively during the filming of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic.

Even Santa knows spending the holidays in the Florida Keys creates special memories. Take advantage of the holiday specials now being offered at hawkscay.com.

Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort, Florida Panhandle

Oh, what I would give to be a kid again and get to stay at the Hilton Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort where I could have my own bunk bed in a private alcove and go ice skating (even if the December temperatures average in the low 60s).

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Lucky for me, the Hilton Sandestin, the largest full-service resort (2,400 acres) on Florida’s Gulf Coast for 30-plus years, offers quite a few amenities for adults, too. It’s a great holiday retreat because there are so many ways for families to reconnect and relax, including a nearby waterpark and zip-line facility.

In addition to scrumptious holiday menus at on-site restaurants, the SunQuest SOLARIS yacht offers holiday dinner cruises. The SOLARIS conveniently docks at Sandestin’s Baytowne Wharf, a charming village filled to the brim with shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

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Baytowne Wharf is also the best place to enjoy a faux winter wonderland in the Sunshine State with its elaborate Christmas decorations and temporary ice skating rink. You won’t need a stocking cap and mittens as you would at New York’s Rockefeller Center, but in Sandestin you can play at the beach during the day and go ice skating at night.

You can also work off holiday calories with paddleboarding, kayaking, golf, tennis, bicycling, and, of course, shopping. The resort is located near the Silver Sands Premium Outlets. And when it’s time to relax, enjoy the newly expanded Serenity by the Sea Spa, which has been recognized by both Condé Nast Traveler and USA Today.

Parents who came here as children are now bringing their own kids to the property, which underwent a $30 million renovation last year.

“I love the fact that you can park your car and never have to leave the property,” says Linda Keng of Jackson, Mississippi. She and her husband, Randy, have visited Sandestin more than 30 times over the past 20 years.

“We particularly enjoy the off-season when crowds are smaller,” says Randy. “The beaches are the best, but our time on the beach is usually minimal because there are so many other things to do.”

Holiday rates are available at hiltonsandestinbeach.com/best-family-resorts.


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