Thrill and Relax in Florida on the Ultimate Family Getaway | Travel

IIt was halfway through, October 2020, and we were at Peppa Pig World in the New Forest. It was raining. So much rain that I had to buy a name brand poncho. On the way home, I said, “Maybe we should go to Florida?” Kids love a theme park and Florida doesn’t do dark rain – just the sexy tropical stuff. And their beaches are better. It was obvious, so we started planning.

Then, of course, there was a lot more Covid. This sabotaged the departure dates. Then my wife Rosamund was diagnosed with breast cancer. It ruined everything. How long can holidays be delayed? Two years, apparently, with our children, Ezra, seven, and Eden, five, reduced to watching Disney World YouTube videos, while the world was mending its pandemic and their mother had the worst year of her life.

Then all of a sudden it was Easter vacation and we were on a plane. “Eden is watching Paw Patrol on an iPad and on the HQ screen!” Ezra gasped, beginning the longest flight of his life. They deserved a treat. Who knows how affected they’ve been over the past year, but excitement can cover a lot, much like gin. Rosamund and I had a couple and finally found time to watch House of Gucci.

Pandora – the world of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

DISNEY / HANDOUT

It’s hard to avoid the hustle and bustle of Florida, land of amusement parks, but in the planning we struggled to mix. Give the kids something to throw themselves into, while we find ways to rest. The cold to the chill of the state. It was a fragile time. Cancer can go away, but it never really goes away.

On the first day, however (sorry, recovering, jetlagged wife), we had to go to Disney World, an amusement conurbation twice the size of Manhattan. They call it “The Happiest Place on Earth”, but that’s only true if you shell out for a Genie+ pass – which, via an app and more dollars, puts you at the front of the queues. For example, if you want to go on the crown jewels, like the very enjoyable Millennium Falcon ride, but not wait two hours, you have to pay for the extras and, even then, hope for the best.

Top tips to avoid becoming the man I’ve seen in a BETTER STEPDAD! Disney, yelling at a toddler? Focus on the lush Animal Kingdom – a mix of zoo, national park and theme park, which includes the Avatar Flight of Passage ride, a stunningly zen-like 3D journey that, with a bird’s eye view of the invented planet of Pandora and a dive into the ocean to fight for space with a huge whale, ranks among the best three minutes of my life.

Also, leave before the 9 p.m. fireworks display at the Magic Kingdom; the ones you see at the start of every Disney movie. Tell the children that they are better supervised from the monorail. Lying is fine when you get hot kids out of a sugar-swimming park.

While in Kissimmee, an area of ​​Florida near the Orlando airport, we stayed at the Margaritaville Resort Orlando — 186 hotel rooms and cottages around a pool and restaurants. (Try the jalapeño margarita and the mahi fish sandwich on the sunny terrace of Euphoria restaurant.) Before going, I was just thinking of Kissimmee as a place with a funny name within reach of Disney World, but it was very useful for us, because a place that mixes animation and happiness.

Take, for example, the excellent Kennedy Space Center, about an hour away. It has, I’m not kidding, a bar serving IPA on tap in a soft play area so technically advanced I assume it was designed by the on-site brains of NASA. Never has taking the kids to the pub been so educational.

Kennedy Space Center

Then one day we went to the headwaters of the Everglades for an outing with Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures – 45 minutes from our hotel, past the malls to the wilderness. There, on a slow morning, we saw alligators and the surreality of cows in the swamps, before heading to the Island H20 Live! water park after lunch. Well aware that rapids aren’t the ideal post-op, I took the kids on slides, while Rosamund relaxed under an umbrella by the pool with a cocktail the size of her head.

After all that exertion, however, I also needed a break. So off we went to the sea. The three-hour trip was like a game of bingo in Florida. Billboards touting a range of machine guns. (“Can we go?” Ezra asked. “It says families are welcome.”) Posters from the pro-life group. Alligators on the road. Bumper stickers for Trump 2024. Lots of that very sexy sudden rain, how I realized I didn’t know how the windshield wipers worked on the rental.

Airboat rides are the best way to explore the Everglades

Airboat rides are the best way to explore the Everglades

ALAMY

Our destination was Palm Beach County and the Boca Raton – an upmarket, albeit sizable hotel that dates back to 1926, but with a £160m facelift meaning the original fixtures are more ornamental than structural. It has multiple pools, a golf course, a white-sand beach with high waves for kids, and a level of service that shows why Americans still tip people.

Palm Beach County stretches from the city of Jupiter all the way to Boca Raton and is colorful and relaxed. The region is called America’s premier resort destination because it has been attracting tourists from colder climes for 125 years. Wherever you look, you tend to see the ocean. It’s the kind of place in scenic Delray Beach where you close the streets on weekends for an art market.

● Best things to do in Florida
● The best beaches in Florida

But kids don’t care about art – they need food, and the hotel has the variety of a food court in much nicer settings. Sadelle’s has a grand, airy feel somewhere between New York and Paris and is best for brunch; Marisol is a beach place with Greek food and a breeze; Flamingo Grill is opulent, with steaks and a bright pink door. It is a hotel of simple ideas very well done. One of the pools has two water slides, the size of which is usually only available at water parks, which entertained Ezra for hours – a rare moment on vacation with children where you can just lay down and let have fun.

Frankly, Rosamund and I would have stayed there. Maybe finish a book. Visit the spa. Take our cocktail pompelmo (gin, tarragon, grapefruit, lemon) on an afternoon ride in the surf. Unfortunately, the children were still with us. They seem to need us to pay for stuff and think of things to do.

A tent at Westgate River Ranch

A tent at Westgate River Ranch

As such, we visited the Gumbo Limbo nature center, where injured sea turtles will feel better. Eden was laughing at a puffer fish while Ezra and Rosamund walked to a sheltered cove and sat on a bench, to watch the boats go by filled with local wealthy kids partying on the weekends. She looked comfortable, as if this part of Florida wasn’t just where the turtles go to recover.

Ask Ezra where his favorite place was all vacation, and he’ll say, “Westgate River Ranch!” How to describe it? A vast expanse of the Wild West-themed outdoors in the middle of nowhere in Central Florida, where the nearest store is a 20-minute drive away, and on-site you can try anything from catch-and-release fishing at a climbing wall via horseback riding and mini golf. We stayed two nights in a glamping wagon with significantly better features than the original pioneers were used to. It wasn’t quite comfortable though – we were about 20 feet from a river in which the kids spotted two alligators. Florida!

Rosamund and Eden spotted alligators on a boat trip in the Everglades

Rosamund and Eden spotted alligators on a boat trip in the Everglades

JONATHAN DEAN

But no wonder they loved it. They were free. We could sit while they played outside with board games and in a play area. Each night they gathered around a communal campfire to cook marshmallows under pointillist stars. Each morning they cast a quizzical glance at the buffalo grazing in an adjacent field and wondered which one had the bigger ass. Of course, we should have gone to a store first and bought at least one vegetable, since the products on sale were usually yellow and fried. And, yes, a lot of activities have been closed. But this is where we are most likely to return.

We finished at the Legoland Pirate Island hotel, back to the airport and the park of the same name, celebrating ten years of brick rides. Because, where would you take excited children the day before a night flight, than an apartment decorated like a child’s room with elevators that go “Arrr!

The thing is, something strange happened there. During dinner, in the restaurant called Shipwreck, we were left alone, while Ezra and Eden played in a Lego room. In the morning in the bedroom, they still played with Lego. At breakfast, Lego. It was like finally being on a date with my wife, who at the time was wearing an eye patch.

It was the greatest mix of thrill and relaxation we have found. Who knew? In a hotel designed for adults, you always think about preventing your child from getting bored. But in a hotel that looks like it was drawn by the silliest third-grade students, the building becomes a nanny and you, ironically, get an adult vacation.

Waterslides at Margaritaville Resort Orlando

Waterslides at Margaritaville Resort Orlando

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Rosamund and I had an uninterrupted conversation. We did Wordle. We barely mentioned the wrong thing and last talked about our vacation, two years after we first mentioned it. It was a good idea at the time. At the time it happened, it was more important than we could have imagined.

Jonathan Dean and his family were guests of Visit Florida (visitflorida.com). America As You Like It is offering a ten-night Florida family package in August from £11,180 for two adults and two children (ages 2-10). Prize includes return flights, ten-day car rental, stays at Margaritaville Resort Orlando, Boca Raton, Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo, and Pirate Island Hotel at Legoland Florida Resort (including park tickets); plus a Boggy Creek Airboat Nature Tour and tickets to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (americaasyoulikeit.com). Fourteen-day tickets to Disney World from £459 pp, if booked by August 31 (disneyholidays.co.uk). For more information, visit experiencekissimmee.com; thepalmbeaches.com; and visitcentralflorida.org

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