Epic Family-friendly Summer Destinations

With summer right around the corner, sometimes a quick trip with the family is the best way to recharge our batteries from our overscheduled lives. Thankfully, with a little creative effort, a mini-escape can easily fit within the family budget. 

The Florida Keys  $$

Key Largo, the northern most Key, is known as the dive capital of the world and features the United States’ only living coral barrier reef. Dive enthusiasts can explore century old shipwrecks, underwater cities of coral and the sunken, 4,000 pound bronze Christ of the Abyss statue (located at John Pennekamp State park – the oldest underwater park on earth).In the Lower Keys, with ten state parks to choose from (around $36 a night per campsite), nature lovers can enjoy oceanfront camping, kayaking and observe free-roaming, endangered Key Deer. Be sure to tour Hemingway’s home in Key West, or stand at the southernmost point in the continental U.S. Maybe stroll the infamous Duval Street filled with eclectic shops and dine on savory fare at places like El Siboney (off Catherine Street – rated the best Cuban food by locals and food critics alike). One thing is certain: the 126 mile stretch of chained islands offer a tropical paradise without leaving the country. Check for family-friendly events before planning a trip at: www.fla-keys.com.

Miami  $

For families looking for a quick outing, The Miami Children’s Museum (www.miamichildrensmuseum.org) offers free admission every third Friday from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. And the first Friday of every month at 8:00 p.m., the Miami Science Museum (www.miamisci.org) presents complimentary Planetarium star shows at The Weintraub Observatory. Peer through the telescope to view the planets, four moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn and deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulas and double stars.To get the night rolling, take the family to Bowlmor (www.bowlmor.com) located inside the Dolphin mall in Miami. This state-of-the-art bowling alley boasts glow-in-the-dark lanes, arcade and gourmet cuisine. Monday night offers unlimited bowling for $16.For discount tickets to most Miami venues, check out the Go Miami Card (www.smartdestinations.com), where you can save big on attractions like an Everglades Eco Adventure Tour, Miami Metrozoo, Jungle Island, Miami Seaqurium and much more.

Peanut Island  $$$

An  eighty – acre tropical park accessible by private boat or water taxi, this West Palm Beach popular retreat hides President Kennedy’s 1960’s Cuban Missile Crisis Bunker beneath the island. Explore the shelter, enjoy white sandy beaches and snorkel or camp overlooking Lake Worth Lagoon. For a tranquil camping experience, book during the weekdays (avoiding holidays) and you will be relaxing on a secluded island underneath the palms. Pack everything you need for the excursion – there are no concessions on the island. For information, visit www.pbcgov.com/parks/peanutisland/

Walt Disney World  $$$$

From dining in Cinderella’s castle, to a fun-filled day at the park, young and old alike enjoy the fantasyland Walt dreamed up over fifty years ago. Fairy Godmothers-in-training will transform little girls into little princesses at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Mickey Mouse and friends dance around tables, sign autographs and pose for photos during breakfast at the Contemporary Resort’s Chef Mickey’s, saving mom and dad from waiting in long lines later at the park. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, an old-fashioned foot-stompin’ comedy show, features all-you-care-to-eat at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. For elegant dining, the California Grille showcases the best fireworks view atop the Contemporary Resort away from the crowd on Main Street. But the best deal on Disney property is at the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds and cabins. Cool off at the meadow swimming hole, or attend the complimentary Chip ‘n’ Dale “Sing-a-Long” and marshmallow roast for campers, followed by a classic Disney film around the fire at night. Visit www.disneyworld.com for pricing information.

The Holy Land  $$

Travel 7,000 miles away, 2,000 years back in time when the family enters this living biblical museum and park which simulates Jerusalem in A.D. 66. Explore a replica of the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. Visit the Scriptorium Center for Biblical Antiquities Museum (built in fourth-century Byzantine architectural style), which showcases private collections of authentic biblical artifacts from around the world. Walk through Calvary’s Garden Tomb for a chance to pray and reflect all that Christ surrendered for our sins. For a fraction of the cost of Disney, this life-changing experience is worth the $31 ticket price (youth: $18, children: $7). For more information for this Orlando-based park, visit www.holylandexperience.com.

West Palm Beach  $

McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Royal Palm Beach, is the top rated West Palm attraction on tripadvisor.com. For only $20 per ticket ($10 per child), the family will embark on a private guided tour to experience up-close encounters with animals like: White Tigers, African Lions, Black Panthers and West Palm BeachRuffed Lemurs.For an array of shopping, head to CityPlace. With outdoor dining, nightly Culture on the plaza and complimentary trolley service around the downtown area, the family will enjoy a variety of things to do. In Jupiter, walk the beautiful beaches along Carlin Park and be sure to dine at the finest hidden seafood dive around: the Food Shack, named, “the best little food shack in Florida” by Southern Living magazine.For more information about these activities, visit www.wpb.org.

Busch Gardens   $$$Busch Gardens

From SheiKra, the first-ever diving coaster, to the train dangling Montu, die-hard thrill-seekers travel to Busch Gardens to quench their coaster thirst. Coaster junkies are in for a treat–Busch is adding a seventh thrill-ride opening spring 2011: Cheetah Hunt. Using the force of repelling magnets, this coaster launches riders, simulating a cheetah sprinting across plains, up to 60 mph along a 4,429-foot track. For the kids, don’t miss the Sesame Street Safari of Fun filled with kids-sized rides, water fun and a chance to dine with Elmo and Friends. Located in Tampa Bay, Busch Gardens is not only a theme park, it’s one of America’s largest zoological institutions, caring for more than 2,700 animals. The best part? Florida residents can pay for a day, and come back all year. Visit www.buschgardens.com for ticket pricing.

Palm BeachPalm Beach  $

The best kept secret on the island, besides the immaculate beaches and endless Atlantic Ocean views, is the Palm Beach Lake Trail. For a leisurely day, pack the bikes or rollerblades and enjoy the track Henry Flagler built in 1984 for his hotel guests to meander in the afternoon. With mansions on the east, the Intracoastal on the west, this beautiful, somewhat hidden trail, is worth the search to find. Be sure to pack a lunch and relax under an oversized kapok tree with its unusually large roots just outside Flagler’s first house, Seagull Cottage. No time to pack a lunch? Then head to the Hamburger Heaven, a 50’s style diner. Afterwards, cool down with a creamy treat at Sprinkles on Royal Poinciana Way. People Magazine voted their triple-chocolate supreme the best in the country. Before departing the island, take a tour of the sculpture gardens at The Society of the Four Arts. The center is home to exquisite art exhibits, concerts, lectures, films and children’s programs–all free to the public.For bike trail directions or rentals, check out: www.palmbeachbicycle.com; for all other locations: visit www.palmbeachfl.com. Before any outing, be sure to check out www.groupon.com, www.livingsocial.com and www.southfloridadines.com for great deals on attractions and restaurants throughout South Florida.

If you have summer ideas that aren’t listed here, we want to know about them! Email your ideas to: [email protected]. Dabney can be reached at: [email protected]

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