Defying gravity as our plane lifts off the runway at LAX, a chill runs from the base of spin up to my neck causing to me to immediately regret my decision to get on this death trap. I am terribly afraid to fly and in this moment I am forced to recall the reason I would put myself in such emotional turmoil. Then images of white sandy beaches invade my mind and I can almost feel the hot sticky Florida heat on my skin and my heart-rate returns to a quasi-normal pace again. I’m traveling to Naples with kids.
I first fell in love with Southwest Florida five years ago when I tagged-a-long with my husband to a conference. Every year, vision scientists from all over the world step out of their labs to gather, work and play in the Florida sun and every year I come along for the fun. This time I’m traveling with my husband, my two toddlers, my father and my mother (from whom I most likely inherited my fear of flying), so I plaster on the biggest smile my tight face muscles will allow and pretend flying is just one big bumpy ride at Disneyland. Rum and coke please! Off to Naples with kids we go.
Two flights, some turbulence over Texas and seven hours of travel time later, we had finally landed safely at Fort Myers Airport. The instant we stepped outside, the hot night air tickled our faces and we all squealed in excitement. Okay, my husband didn’t squeal, but he was pretty jolly and practically skipped to the rental car. We quickly loaded that Dodge caravan, snapped our babies into their rented car seats and made our way down Highway 75 to the Naples Waldorf Astoria. Operation Family Fun was officially underway.
Keep Cost in Check
When heading off on a big trip, it is easy to spend money. Preparation is the best way to find the best deals and save the most money. We travel to Florida the first weekend of “off-season” which allows us to take advantage of some amazing price drops. Most the time the weather is perfect, minus occasional humidity.
Drop your bags!
1. House Rentals: On past trips to Naples, my husband and I have gone in with friends and rented houses for the week. It is definitely a more cost effective way to stay, because beach houses are pretty reasonable to begin with and if you split the cost with others, well you pay nearly nothing. A perk to renting a home is that you can stock the kitchen with food and save by making dinners and having BBQ’s poolside. I recommend VRBO.com and book your next stay!
Hot Mama Picks:
• Mermaid Cottage: Pretty much my dream home, this southern dream of a house sleeps 10 comfortably. With kids you can definitely fit more people. There is a pool, three full bathrooms and amazing space to party the week away.
• Big Bunny: Another huge house that slept about 8 people, pool and walking distance from Vanderbilt Beach. The cute pineapple porch lights sold me!
2. Hotels and Resorts: There is no doubt that hotels come with a certain level of ease. Sure they may cost more than renting a home with others, but sometimes the convenience is worth a little extra out-of-pocket.
Hot Mama Picks:
• Waldorf Astoria Naples: Synonymous with class and glamour, The Waldorf Astoria was the perfect home-base for a tired mama in desperate need of a relaxing vacation. No clean up, no laundry, no preparing meals, no making of beds. The pool and beach, which provide hours of outside enjoyment, just steps away. Yes, the hotel was the ideal choice for visiting Naples with kids.
Get your Grub on!
When on vacation, I just don’t do three full meals a day. First off, there just isn’t time and second, I have usually packed cute outfits and don’t want to feel over-stuffed. This pattern has some side benefits like saving me money effortlessly. What meals we choose to eat depends on what is planned for the day.
Typically, we take our time sleeping and snack on fresh fruit and pastries in the room while we get ready for the day. Then we will have lunch and dinner out. When in Naples with kids, I always pack plenty of snacks to keep everyone happy while on excursions. On out last day we always have breakfast at the restaurant as a kind of a grand finale.
Hot Mama Picks:
Honestly? Just go Downtown. There are so many amazing options along Fifth Avenue South. Italian, Irish, Indian, Thai, French, fusions and much more! Oh boy is my tummy rumbling! All of the ones listed below are great family restaurants and perfect if you are in Naples with kids.
• The Beach Bar & Grill: Located on the beach, its perfect for lunch or beer break.
• Fernandez the Bull: Best Cuban food in Naples!! Love, love, love the vaca frita! I recommend the red sangria to wash it all down. Muy Delicioso!
• The Dock: The best food coupled with the best view. Amazing Paella. Amazing Filet Mignon.
• Café Luna: Delicious Italian cuisine and they offer a great deal with the purchase of two meals you receive a bottle of wine.
• Steak N’ Shake: Just a yummy diner, but the food is ridiculously inexpensive. Everything is under $4. It’s great if you are just hungry and need some comfort food. The kids will love it.
• Seafood Depot: If you take a trip out to Everglade City, try this establishment located directly on the Everglades. Take in the gorgeous views while nibbling on gator-nuggets.
Whether I travel with kids or not, I always make sure to stock my room or house with libations. Yes, it saves an extraordinary amount of money, but honestly it’s just fun. I love having a balcony or patio so when the babies crash after a long day in the sun, Mama makes a little cocktail and enjoys the hot night air.
Just because I’m out of town, doesn’t mean I forgot about happy hour. Look up menus and reviews before you go on a trip to find where happy hours are located. Something usual that I don’t usually see in California is drink specials accompanied with meals. Many restaurants in Naples offer bottles of wine or specialty cocktails with certain menu selections.
Hot Mama Picks:
• Café Luna: Dinner for two and a bottle of wine for $29.99.
- Pincher’s Crab Shack: Everyday 2 for 1 drinks!! Whoop. Whoop!
After a refreshing night’s sleep, some morning coffee on our balcony overlooking the Gulf and a “pinch me am I really here?” moment, it was time for some family fun. We travel with a diverse group and try to think of things to do together that everyone will enjoy, not just entertaining the kids. My parents are good as long as they have nice view and a cold drink, my kids need a little more stimulation and my husband and I need to bring it all together. We kept our days a happy mix of busy and laid-back to ensure everyone had memorable family vacation. Honestly, it is pretty easy to do, because there are so many things to do in Naples.
1. The Beaches!
The Waldorf Astoria Naples’ private beach looks like something out of a postcard. It’s too beautiful to be real with sand, white in color and powdery to the touch. The water is a gemstone turquoise and is as warm and inviting as it appears. Sea shells wash upon to shore in nearly perfect condition, making it easy to fill bucket after bucket with treasures from the sea.
The walk-way leading the beach from the hotel is truly enchanting with its rustically laid wooden boards, lush mangroves offering cooling shade and sounds of Florida wildlife echoing from deep within the tropical landscape.
Whether you choose to walk or ride the chauffeured gulf-cart to the beach, The Beach Bar & Grill is a welcomed site. Breezy white canvas chairs, umbrellas and ceiling fans beckon visitors to relax, eat and drink while gazing upon the picturesque Gulf. The Beach Bar & Grill is where my parents resided most the day, while my kids splashed in the water and played in the sand just steps away, burning up all that excess energy.
2. Pool Time:
Both the hotels and most house rentals will offer pools. This is must in the Florida heat! It’s easy to take the kids out for a swim any time of day. The kids (and husband) loved the water-slide at the Waldorf Astoria. It was a major source of entertainment for our family! Since Florida is hot all night we would take the kids we would take the kids for a late night swim before bed to burn off that extra energy and make it really feel like we were on vacation!
I’m from Southern California and we have some pretty big zoos like the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, but I have to say my best zoo experiences have been at the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens. First of all, the price is reasonable; about half of the cost of visiting the San Diego Zoo and even less if you purchase your tickets online. The animals are much more accessible, which my babies loved because they could actually see the lions and tigers and bears. Oh My.
Although we enjoyed the primate boat cruise, where primates live freely on various islands within the zoo, the highlight of my daughter’s day was feeding the giraffes. It would cost too much at home in California to get up close and personal with these graceful creatures, but at Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens the experience was so reasonable that Firecracker feed the giraffes four times.
Despite my parents’ not so subtle reservations as we drifted further from the comfort of Naples and deeper into the swamps of the Everglades, we were off to experience an air-boat adventure. Sighing loudly and continually asking if I am sure that it is safe for the kids, was nothing compared to the reaction of my mom when we pulled up to Totch’s Everglades Island Tours and saw the actual air-boat.
Being the sweet, understanding daughter that I am, I kindly forced my apprehensive parents onto the vessel. “Get in the boat, this is happening.” To their credit, there were legitimate concerns. Would it be a constant battle to keep my rambunctious toddlers from jumping ship? Would the swamp be captivating enough to hold their attention for an hour through the swamp? How fast does this thing go?
That being said, it was a safe and fascinating journey, despite almost being attacked by a brazen pelican. Our captain held our group’s attention by intermixing mild cruising with daring high-speeds, beckoning wildlife to approach our boat and ensuring great photo opportunities. We were even allowed to pet, hold and take pictures with a baby alligator. Over lunch at the Seafood Depot, taking in the view of the Everglades and nipping on gator nuggets, we all agreed this one of our favorite memories from the trip. Read more about our air-boat adventure, HERE.
4. Downtown Naples:
On one of my first trips I was told by a local that Naples was the town of the Newlywed and Nearly Dead. Although this was meant to indicate that nothing exciting happens, I quickly found that to be false.
True, it is not where young party-people would flock on Spring break, but for family it is perfect. Naples attracts a more mature and dare I say classy crowd, which makes the downtown area is not only bustling with activity, but beautiful and safe, perfect for family travel.
Downtown is made up five distinct sections: Third Street South, Fifth Avenue South, Tin City, Crayton Cove and Bayfront . Some are more upscale like Bayfront and Fifth Avenue South, while others offer a more laid-back vibe like Crayton Cove, Tin City and Third Street South. My family enjoyed our day at Tin City, shopping for quirky souvenirs, then chowing down on the day’s fresh catch and sipping two for one beer at Pincher’s Crab Shack while we sat on the covered patio watching the boats float by. By night we frequented 5th Avenue South for amazing culinary experience with a touch of whimsy. The avenue is lined with lighted palms and sparkling floating orbs, perfect for enjoying those hot Florida nights.
It’s a Wrap!
In my busy life as a working mother, I sometimes forget to just stop, but when I am in Naples with kids all senses are engaged. I am reminded to take the time to touch, smell, see and taste all the things that make life pleasurable. Perhaps that is what intrigues me most.
In California, we have beauty, but Naples offers something else. Maybe it is the southern charm, the slower pace or the kindness and sociability of everyone we encountered. Whatever it is, I have not only grown love it, but need it. I think of the trees that grow native in Southwest Florida, how they have branches that grow down to support the roots. It is hard to convey the wonder of Naples, Florida in words for there is something intangible about this place that even the trees can’t seem to grasp. Naples it meant to be experienced and I am thankful to have experienced it with my family.
Have you ever been to Naples, Florida?
What is that one travel destination you need to visit over and over again?
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Author: Hot Mama
I’m a busy working mama, who understands the importance of taking a time out to enjoy life. Always ready for an adventure, this mama will not hesitate to pack the family up and go. Family vacations are a great way to bond with your kids and create wonderful memories that they will carry with them throughout their life. A fabulous getaway doesn’t have to break the bank! I’ll give you the tips and tricks you need to make every trip memorable, reasonable and HOT!