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Finding Family Fun In The Florida Keys

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

Looking for a fun family vacation within easy driving distance of Miami or Fort Lauderdale? Head for the Florida Keys. This lovely chain of islands is known for its laid–back tropical vibe, family–friendly resorts, nature–oriented attractions, an expansive coral reef for snorkeling and diving, and much more.

Finding the right spot for a Florida Keys family vacation is critical. It’s important to travel far enough down the island chain to capture the true feeling of the Keys, but not spend too much of your limited time driving to your destination. That’s why Florida’s Upper Keys provide the perfect location.

Islamorada is the gem of the Upper Keys. Located just a quick 90–minute drive from Miami and Key West, Islamorada provides a centrally located home base for a family vacation. There’s so much for parents and kids to experience and enjoy in this area. Some family favorites include:

  • Snorkeling and Scuba Diving.Due to its location, Islamorada is fabulous for all types of watersports including diving and snorkeling. It’s situated north of North America’s only coral barrier reef, Alligator Reef, running 175 miles along the Keys. There are a number of great reef areas and state parks for snorkelers and divers to explore nearby, including San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park off Islamorada and Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Families will also enjoy learning more about undersea exploration at Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum.

  • Paddling Through the Mangroves.Kayaking around the Keys’ mangrove islands and shallow flats is a popular family adventure. Participants can kayak at a relaxed, comfortable pace and see some of the wildlife inhabiting this area. Tour operators provide information on this unique environment while kayaking through the Keys’ tranquil waters. Kayakers can also explore two popular Florida state parks, Indian Key Historic State Park and Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. The Kayak Shack offers family–friendly mangrove adventures in Islamorada and guests at hotels such as Cheeca Lodge have access to ocean–based kayaks as well. Make sure to bring a waterproof camera for taking pictures.

  • Catching Fish.Islamorada is also known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” Hundreds of different kinds of fish inhabit the waters in this area including tarpon, sailfish, tuna, grouper, wahoo, swordfish and more. Charter fishing excursions are available in the area for families, avid anglers and first–timers. Vacationers can also fish from bridges and piers, including the 525–foot wooden fishing pier available to Cheeca Lodge guests. Families also enjoy visiting Robbie’s Marina to hand–feed massive tarpon from their dock.

  • Sampling Delicious Delicacies.Families can’t leave the Conch Republic without tasting a few of its mouthwatering specialties. Key lime pie is Florida’s official dessert, so make sure to try some while you’re here. Ma’s Fish Camp in Islamorada serves some of the best key lime pie with meringue in the Florida Keys. Their fresh fish tacos and mahi–mahi sandwiches are superb, too. Blue Heaven in Key West is another top choice for key lime pie made with meringue. If you’d prefer your key lime pie without any meringue, make sure to stop at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.

  • Encountering Marine Life.Dolphin and other marine mammal encounters are also popular with families. The Florida Keys have a number of facilities where vacationers can swim and interact with dolphins and marine life, including Islamorada’s 17–acre Theater of the Sea. This marine park offers special programs with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays for children as young as three. Each of the Keys’ marine facilities offer slightly different programs and approaches, ranging from dock or shallow water wading encounters all the way to Trainer or Researcher for a Day experiences. Programs book quickly, so make your reservations as far in advance as possible.

Where To Stay

  • Great family vacation destinations offer activities for every age group and interest. That’s one of the many reasons why Cheeca Lodge & Spa is the perfect place to stay. Everything a family could want to do is provided in one convenient spot. Cheeca Lodge is a casually elegant family–friendly resort located on 27 beachfront acres in Islamorada. The property features world–class sportfishing, an extensive watersports program, tennis, golf, several pools, a great kids’ program, luxurious spa, and much more. Dining options are plentiful as well. Once your family has arrived at Cheeca Lodge, you’ll never want to leave.

  • Cheeca Lodge celebrated its 70–year anniversary in 2016 and has been the destination of choice for Presidents, Hollywood stars and sports professionals. It’s easy to get hooked on coming to this beautiful vacation spot. The resort served as a retreat for President Harry Truman and President George H.W. Bush, an avid angler who helped co–found the George Bush Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament. Celebrities including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Jack Parr, Ted Williams and Jack Nicklaus were often guests at Cheeca Lodge as well.

  • While the resort has a laid–back vibe, Cheeca Lodge’s accommodations and amenities are luxurious and well–appointed. The resort’s owners spent over $30 million dollars in renovations in 2005 and the Main Lodge was completely rebuilt and expanded in 2008. Although Cheeca Lodge is a top tier luxury resort, there’s no pretentious stuffiness here. Kids and parents enjoy relaxing around the pool, taking kayak trips together on the Atlantic Ocean, and playing together on the resort’s 1,100 foot palm–studded private beach.

  • Parents rave about the resort’s Camp Cheeca program, an environmentally–focused day camp for children ages 5–12. The fully supervised camp is offered from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. six days a week year–round and on Sundays over holiday weekends. Guests can sign up for either a half–day or full day. Activities include arts and crafts, swimming and snorkeling in the saltwater lagoon, scavenger hunts, nature walks, fishing off Cheeca’s pier, group games and beach exploration. Kids Night Out programs are available on Friday and Saturday evenings and Cheeca Lodge’s concierge can help arrange for babysitting as well.

  • Recreation options at Cheeca Lodge are extensive. The resort charges a daily per room resort fee which covers tennis courts and clinics hosted by a USTA pro, golfing at Cheeca’s 9–hole Jack Nicklaus–designed course, saltwater fishing rods (bait extra), beach cruiser bicycles, the use of sea kayaks and paddle boats/boards, 24–hour fitness center and much more. Families will also enjoy the free DVD rental library, Xbox arcade with an extensive game library, and Cheeca’s well–equipped game room. Free shuttle service within two miles of the resort is another complimentary amenity included in the resort fee.

  • Watersports are popular at Cheeca Lodge, including snorkeling trips and eco–tours, sunset cruises, custom boat tours and fishing charters. Spa lovers can be pampered at the Spa at Cheeca Lodge, which offers massages, facials, skin care therapies, and a wide range of other treatments. Adults will enjoy the oasis of tranquility at the spa’s adults–only pool and the resort’s tropical island water feature with its lounge chairs and palm trees.

  • To get a better feel for the Cheeca Lodge vacation experience, take a look at this Pinterest board. Then start planning your Florida Keys vacation. Once your family experiences Cheeca Lodge, you'll find yourself planning to return to this little piece of paradise.

If You Go:

For more information on planning a family vacation at Cheeca Lodge & Spa, visit their website at Cheeca.com.

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