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          A Florida Family Vacation On Marco Island

          By Lisa McElroy

          Florida family vacations are wonderful ?especially when they combine sun, sand, wildlife and adventure. That kind of family travel experience goes straight to the top of my daughter抯 family vacation wish list.

          Abby抯 nine now, but she抯 remembering way back to when she was in pre-K and her class 揳dopted?a manatee named Crazy Nick. Why? Well, because we抮e on a family vacation in Florida, visiting Marco Island and the Florida Everglades, and today抯 the day for our manatee sighting outing. Because our tour guide instructed us to look for the 揵aked potatoes in the water,?we抳e already spotted six or seven, including a nursing manatee calf and its mom. Abby抯 steering the boat, I抳e got my eyes peeled for more manatees, and the other kids on the boat are taking photos.

          But visiting the manatees is only one of the fun activities on our trip to Marco Island, Florida. We抮e staying at the lovely Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, a AAA 4-diamond resort right on the white sand beach. Our hotel room looks out over the pool and beach, and Abby takes full advantage of both, building sand castles and doing silly jumps into the pool while I 搄udge?her score. What抯 especially great about the pool is that I can see her wherever she is, even as I kick back in my beach chair with a fruity drink. . . . not that I don抰 love swimming with my kid, but still . . .

          When we抮e not swimming, Abby抯 anxious to try the activities in the area. First stop? Speedy Johnson抯 airboat rides, a ride through the Everglades in a special boat equipped with stadium-style seating. Abby loves looking through binoculars at the birds that live in the mangrove trees, and the wind feels great on my face as we zip along the water. Next up? A parasailing adventure with Marco Island Water Sports, right out the back door of the hotel. It抯 hard to believe, but Abby, who抯 the littlest kid on the boat, loves parachuting 350 feet above the ocean more than anyone. It抯 so peaceful up that high that we have a real mother-daughter bonding moment. Last, but not least? Our manatee tour with Captain Barry, something Abby will remember always (and not just because she thinks she spots Crazy Nick).

          Because it抯 just the two of us on this vacation, we decide that we have to have some spa time. Luckily, at the Hilton, kids are welcome in the spa, something that isn抰 true at many resorts. Abby decides on a mani-pedi; at first I抦 worried that the manicurist will be upset that she has to watch a kid while I get a massage, but she seems to delight in making my little one feel like a princess, and she gives her an extra coat of sparkly polish on her tiny nails. As for me, I can really kick back knowing that Abby抯 in good hands, and the massage serves to work out all of those tense parasailing muscles.

          Abby and I decide to celebrate a great spa day with a great meal, and luckily there are plenty of casual but good restaurants to choose from right on Marco Island. We head to Joey抯 Pizzeria and Pasta House for a huge but cheap thin crust pizza, then to Cold Stone Creamery across the street for a sundae to cap things off. On other evenings, we try out The Crazy Flamingo, a casual seafood joint, and Cocomo抯 Grill, a big hit with Abby because of its back room arcade. And for breakfast each morning, we hit the Paradise Caf? where Abby devours the homemade waffles.

          After our trip, when we get prints of the photos we took, Abby hugs the ones of 揾er?manatees and our parasailing adventures. 揜emember, Mom??she says. 揜emember when we were up high together? It felt like we were flying. And I think I could see baked potatoes in the water.? Wonderful memories ... of a wonderful family vacation on Marco Island.

          If You Go:

          * Rent a car. To get to Marco Island, you can fly to Ft. Myers or Ft. Lauderdale. Either way, you抮e looking at at least an hour抯 drive. Luckily, you抣l be routed through scenic Naples and over a lovely causeway.

          * Pack the sunscreen. The sun抯 quite direct here ?you抣l need to grease up the kids several times a day.

          * Keep the kids hydrated. We ended up in the emergency room with a dehydrated nine-year-old in the middle of our family vacation. While she was fine after a day or two, it was pretty lousy for a while there. Luckily, Naples Health Center has an excellent urgent care center right on the island.

          * Don抰 forget the buckets. And they抮e not only for sand . . . because of the currents, Marco Island is one of the best shell collecting beaches in Florida. We found several beautiful whole conch shells, among many others.

          * Turn in early. Or at least, close your blackout blinds. In early summer, sea turtles come onto the Marco Island beaches to make their nests and lay their eggs. If they see lights, they are scared away. Many of the hotels have after-9:00 p.m. blackout policies during the nesting season.

          * Walk the beach at dawn. Because the beaches face east, an early morning stroll along the beach is as pretty as you can imagine.

          * Budget for shopping. Marco Island is home to lots of cute boutiques; we shopped our cares away after our ER visit.


          Lisa Tucker McElroy is an attorney, writer, law professor, and mom. Lisa is the author of nine children's books, and she regularly publishes articles and essays about travel, marriage, parenting and family in national magazines such as Parenting, Mary Engelbreit抯 Home Companion, FamilyFun, Cooking with Paula Deen, and Golf Vacations. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two travel-loving daughters.


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