With a wide range of activities and attractions, the Sunshine State is the perfect all-ages getaway.
By Megan Padilla
“We are family. I got all my sisters with me.” The stage is abuzz with a high-energy performance and the audience goes wild, but Sister Sledge has not made a guest appearance at Hammock Beach Resort on Florida’s Palm Coast. Tonight there’s a family lip-sync battle and the whole group is in on the action. They have practiced for days, rehearsing choreography and selecting choice wigs and costumes from the prop box. Now, three generations who have gathered for this family reunion are making memories to last a lifetime.
With more than 600 miles of beaches, temperate winters that promise long, sunshine-filled days, and iconic theme parks and attractions, Florida is one of the world’s top travel destinations for all ages. Salamander Hotels & Resorts have fine-tuned their offerings, delivering three distinct experiences across Central Florida, plus a brand new property, Henderson Beach Resort, in northwestern Florida on Destin’s powder-white beach. Together, these four upscale resorts have raised the bar on the family vacation, creating endless ways to relax, recharge and reconnect—including providing a wide selection of songs to inspire a live performance.
Less than 15 minutes from the heart of Walt Disney World—and by heart, we mean the main transportation terminal to all four theme parks, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and the newly expanded shopping, dining and entertainment-palooza that is Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney)—is Reunion Resort, designed to provide resort experience hand-in-hand with Disney’s magic.
Reunion is situated southeast of Disney World and its main tower gracefully dominates an airy landscape that comprises 320 multi-room suites and villas, three signature golf courses, a spa, six restaurants and 10 pools.
The best way for your family to dive in to Reunion is to join a scavenger hunt. Teams head out in golf carts to seek hidden clues, bringing them back to win prizes. Along the way, you’ll get a glimpse of all you can experience during your visit, from riding bikes on the golf trail to spot creatures (there’s even a map to guide you), to scouting out the the perfect reading nook beside a tranquil pool.
The resort’s water park is perfect for a break from the theme parks. Enter the lawn area and the games begin with cornhole ready for all ages and giant checkers raring to go. This is also where the recreation team stages water balloon tosses and tug-of-war, and a DJ spins upbeat tunes.
“Guests tend to do things on vacation they wouldn’t do otherwise,” says Water Park Operation Manager Alexandra Solano. “We try to get them outside their comfort zone, like recruiting dads to compete in a belly flop competition [at the pool].” In addition to new adventures, the outdoor fun includes water slides, a lazy river and zero-entry pool, along with a mix of shaded and sunny spots to lounge in. With poolside food and beverage service, you don’t even have to leave for lunch.
For those who want to dive into nature, swing from the treetops and test their climbing skills in a Florida pine forest, there’s the nearby Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. There are plenty of courses designed for kid and adults, each of them loaded with obstacles and activities like balance bridges, giant zip lines and tree climbing. Each takes about two hours to complete and the youngest in your group must be age 7 or older.
It’s a beach day that’s calling to you, Clearwater on the serene Gulf of Mexico is a little more than an hour’s drive west. Or, consider a stay Hammock Beach Resort on the Atlantic coast, where all your beach needs are met without a drive at the end of the day.
Situated between Daytona Beach and historic St. Augustine, Hammock Beach Resort is the perfect “vacation from your vacation,” an approximately 90-minute drive from Reunion (and 40 from the Daytona International Airport). It offers the full beach experience, complete with complimentary chairs, umbrellas and towel service. Dolphins are often seen by the early risers who walk on the beach from fall through spring. In the evenings, families can reserve their own fire pit overlooking the 18th green and the ocean for a night of outdoor room service, s’mores and laughter.
The beach here has always been less crowded, unlike neighboring Ormond and Daytona, where cars have been racing near the sand for more than a century. At Hammock Beach, you can experience the luxury of true relaxation, minus the buzz from the usual crowds.
Holidays, spring break weeks and summer are especially suited for families at Hammock Beach, when the resort’s recreation team, headed by Recreation Manager Catrina Vargas, dream up all manner of fun, from family glow football during the summer to campfire guitar sessions for teens. Unique events are planned for every holiday, whether that means a Halloween maze, a Thanksgiving petting zoo, cookies with Santa or a New Year’s Eve party for young adults that lasts until around 1 a.m.
If golf is what brings you all together, there’s a 9-hole professionally manicured putting green that bridges the gap between children and parent golfers and provides that first feeder into playing on a real golf course. No equipment is required—clubs and scorecards are provided.
The 91,000-square-foot water pavilion pulls out all the stops with a three-story water flume, a lazy river, zero-entry pool with powder-fine sand and poolside food and beverage service . An indoor pool is also available for those wanting to take the party inside.
When you’re ready, explore the kid-friendly surrounding area. Half an hour north is St. Augustine, a cobblestone town filled with pirate lore and impressive museums befitting the nation’s oldest city. The hop-on, hop-off trolleys are the best way to take in all the sights. The Holly Jolly Trolley is a must during the holiday season to see the impressive Nights of Lights displays that get bigger and better each year.
Thrill-seekers can sign on for a ghost tour for a spooky way to learn about the town’s 400 years of history. Vargas recommends the Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure because “the guides tell you how to spot ghosts in your photos and they give you an special equipment that goes off if there’s a ghost nearby.”
While golf is a focus at all three Central Florida Salamander properties, only Innisbrook Resort, north of Tampa, offers a PGA course: Copperhead is played on each March for the Valspar Championship. Copperhead is one of four courses that make Innisbrook a top-rated golf destination in the U.S., but it’s the eleven Har-Tru clay tennis courts, raquetball and volleyball courts, six pools, proximity to some of America’s best beaches, and tranquil, spacious accommodations situated across 900 wooded acres that make Innisbrook a top-pick for family vacations.
Innisbrook specializes in summer camps for kids, with three unique programs. Camp Nessie is a day camp for kids ages 4 to 12 and parents can book by the day or by the week. Activities change with the daily themes, such as Make Something Monday and Flashback Friday. Summer Junior Tennis Camps are for ages 4 to 16 and combine serious time on the courts with certified U.S. tennis professionals, with downtime at the pool. Three golf camps address all levels: Young golfers will learn the fundamentals of the game with six hours of instruction spread over four days during summer Aim Clinics, while Swing School and Score School are half-day programs designed to advance established junior golfers.
Frequent tram service connects guests to all of the resort amenities, including the Loch Ness pool. Stake your claim at one of the lounge chairs and stay all day. Roving servers cover the pool deck so you only have to gather your kids from the water long enough to eat lunch—no drying off required.
There is also complimentary transportation to off-site attractions, such as Honeymoon Island State Park, where you can stay and explore or take a ferry to Caladesi Island, a world-renowned beach. Walk away from the ferry dock to find your own patch of paradise featuring white sand and emerald green water.
Another unique outing is nearby Tarpon Springs, which is features authentic Greek food and culture as it is home to the largest population of Greek Americans in the country. This waterfront town was built from the sponge fishing industry and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy an alfresco Greek meal featuring fresh catch at one of the restaurants on the sponge docks, then taste-test your way through the many bakeries to find your favorite baklava, flaky layers of pastry baked with honey and walnuts.
Spectacular white sand beaches and crystalline blue-green water define the Emerald Coast in northwest Florida on the Panhandle, the perfect setting for the newest jewel in Salamander’s portfolio, Henderson Beach Resort.
A stay at Henderson is defined by the beach, nature, fresh seafood and endless opportunities for family time. Located directly adjacent to Henderson Beach State Park and on scenic Route 98, the original highway that borders the beach, to the lively Destin Harbor, the area provides everything you could want in a beach vacation—including restaurants, shops and even a water park.
At the Henderson, nature is king. Every guest room has a balcony and the Gulf View rooms provide unobstructed views of the forest preserve and beach. The fitness center offers boot camp on the beach and when kids spend time at Poppy’s Club—Henderson’s own children’s activity center—they will mostly be outdoors, experiencing the coast and its critters: seeing turtle nests in-season and joining park rangers for nature walks to learn the names of the plants, animals and birds that live in this unique ecosystem.
Two pools provide tranquility and good times. One is geared to adults and the other for children (or your inner kid), featuring a splash pad, a lazy river and a poolside restaurant, Sea Level, serving pizza for them and popsicle cocktails for you.
Whether it’s the natural wonders, world-famous theme parks or historic cities that draw you to Florida, a family visit to the Sunshine State is sure to leave every member with lifelong memories.