SIX OUTSTANDING FLORIDA KINDER-KIND RESORTS -- Our Florida Editor rattles up kid's activities.

by Chelle Koster Walton, Florida Travel Editor


Oceanfront Cheeca Lodge in the middle Florida Keys consistently wins awards for its overall environmental responsibility. So when it came time to design a children's program, the great outdoors naturally became the focus.

Camp Cheeca restricts its participants to ages 6 to 12 because its activities require skills and a long attention span. They may include, for instance, a morning of fishing. Of course anything hooked is released -- after an on-the-spot quiz session reviewing what the children were taught earlier in the Camp Cheeca Treehouse.

Nature walks, snorkeling and swimming are supplemented by more conventional calendar items: sand sculpture, scavenger hunt and tennis.

Field trips take participants canoeing at Long Key, snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and sight-seeing and touching at the Dolphin Research Center and Theatre of the Sea.


The two Disney World area Holiday Inns -- SunSpree and Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites -- recently unveiled their brand-new family-designed arrangements. Family suites and rooms are based on the belief that parents and children need their separate space -- and beds -- while on vacation. Bunk beds and media centers are part of cubby rooms separated by walls -- decorated as forts, circus tents, igloos, and such -- from the rest of the room.

The entire staff at the Holiday Inn SunSpree is urged to attend Clown College. The resort is all about fun. A raccoon character sits on top of the hotel to catch the eyes of little ones. Inside, kids have their own candy house check-in counter, where they receive a bag of goodies. A castle playroom in the lobby does the final sell job on kids. And parents. Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites has a similar set-up in the lobby. Both do character tuck-ins free upon advance request.

SunSpree's kids center functions as day care for children of employees at both properties, so each staff member must be HRS-licensed -- one of the few resorts in Florida to require it. This permits added flexibility. An all-day program allows you to enroll your child for one-hour time slots. Another advantage: There are always other kids enrolled. No matter the time of year or week, SunSpree ensures playmates 365 days a year.

Both Holiday Inns practice the ultimate in kid protection techniques. Locked gates bar entrance to the indoor play complex. Parents are issued a special I.D. for reclaiming their charges. If they are leaving the property, they must rent a beeper.

Kids eat free in Holiday Inn restaurants when an adult dines at the resort. Both have darling gingerbread houses in the dining room for kids only, or they can eat with their parents.


Kids can enjoy the largest hotels -- given enough beach and attention.



The Ritz-Carlton. It's a name that often intimidates parents. Dress codes. Afternoon tea. Nineteenth century antiques.

In Florida, the Ritz makes strident efforts to fit children into this portrait of stiff upper-lip propriety and refinement. Staff is thoroughly receptive to the pitter-patter of little Weeboks. Kids can attend half-day sessions of activities that range from dipping strawberries into chocolate and touring the lobby art collection, to a beach nature walk and sailing.

Children's activities are available for 3-year-olds to children age 12. Hour long activities, such as sandcastle competition, critter crafts and nature walk, are available daily at no extra charge.


On ecologically aware Sanibel Island, it follows that a great children's program would key in on the environment. An Environmental Coastal Observatory Center (ECO) is the crowning touch to Sundial Beach Resort's innovative, nature oriented kids vacation.

Besides the typical crafts and games schedule, Sundial's longstanding tot programs revolve around its 12 tennis courts, shell beach and ECO Center, where a 180-gallon touch tank allows families to interact with live tulip shells, horseshoe crabs, seastars and other creatures of the deep.

Discovery Club members -- children and adults -- wear environmental t-shirts, attend a shell symposium, and are privy to Dolphin Discovery, Feeding Frenzy, Alligators and Crocodiles bike tour, and other educational sessions.

Themed Kid's Night Out parties are scheduled every Saturday, and family fun nights are sometimes scheduled for free after-dinner, interactive entertainment.

Sun-Dial-A-Story helps put kids to bed with a two-minute bedtime tale accessible by telephone.


Young guests at Palm Beach's Breakers indulge in more than fun and games. Reflecting the high social mores and financially correct standards of Palm Beachers, this age-old bastion of the privileged is known for its more serious minded programs, including summer Money Management Camp, Etiquette Camp and Culinary Camp.

Throughout the year, The Breakers offers a more typical slate of supervised children activities. Christmas time usually means a circus or theater theme, with children working toward the presentation of a dramatic finale.

Summer also brings nine weeks of Sports Camp for kids 12 to 18, with professional instruction in snorkeling, sailing, golf and tennis.

Field trips takes participants to Lion Country Safari, Water Rapids Park and other local kid attractions.


Childproofed suites and a macaw named Lisa make the Radisson Suite Resort on Sand Key, at the West Coast's Clearwater Beach, a favorite choice for grown-ups and growing-ups alike.

The Radisson recently dedicated family designed suites, which allow parents to leave at home some of the heavy artillery needed to keep kids safe and happy.

The special suites come equipped with safety latches on the doors, a safety net on the balcony, childproofed electrical outlets, a convertible crib-playpen and high chair. Strollers are available upon request.

Rad Tots (3 to 5) and Rad Kids (5 to 13) -- that's Rad, as in Radisson, not radical -- can participate in one hour of complimentary playtime.

Rad Kids Club convenes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A la carte specialty activities (crafts, bikerides, etc.) are offered in the afternoon.

Lisa, the talking macaw, entertains the 4-to-12 crowd at Friday Ice Cream Social, and is available for bedtime tuck-ins, photos, birthday parties and other special events.


  • Cheeca Lodge, P.O. Box 527, Islamorada 33036, (800)327-2888 or (305)664-4651. A full day Camp Cheeca session costs $26; half-day $14, with discounts for third and more children. Maximum kid-counselor ratio: 8/1.
  • Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort, 13351 S.R. 535, P.O. Box 22184, Lake Buena Vista 32830, (800) HOLIDAY or (407) 239-4500. Up to four hours costs $3 per child; five to eight hours costs $5; over eight hours cost $10.
  • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, 5678 I. Bronson Memorial Hwy., Kissimmee 34746, (800) HOLIDAY or (407) 396-4488.
  • The Ritz-Carlton, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd., Naples 33963, (941)598-6667. Other Florida Ritz-Carltons are located at Palm Beach and Amelia Island. A full-day session costs about $30 per child.
  • Sundial Beach & Tennis Resort, 1451 Middle Gulf Dr., Sanibel Island 33957, (800)237-4184 or (941)472-4151. Discovery Club membership costs $20 per person, good for the entire stay. $15 for half-day and $20 for full-day sessions, including lunch. Discovery Club membership costs $20 per person, good for the entire stay.
  • The Breakers, 1 S. County Rd., Palm Beach, (407)655-6611. Summer camps cost $775 plus accommodations. Sports camp costs $200 a week, Monday through Friday, with a six-week special price of $900.
  • Radisson Suite Resort on Sand Key, 1201 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach, 34630, (800)333-3333 or (813)596-1100. Family friendly suites cost $10 above the rate of a normal suite. Bedtime tuck-ins with Lisa the macaw cost $5 per suite. Ask about the Family Magic per night package.

Chelle Walton bar