Looking for a place to spend a kid-friendly summer vacation? Fort Myers, Florida, and the islands just off its shores have something for every member of the family.
Known as the “City of Palms,” this beach community was once the winter retreat for Thomas Edison, who built here in 1885, and his friend, Henry Ford. You can visit their side-by-side homes at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Plan to spend at least 2.5 hours on a self-guided tour of the homes, gardens, museum and Edison’s lab. Guided tours are also available.
Animal lovers won’t want to miss Manatee Park, where the park’s namesake aquatic mammal can be easily spotted from designated viewpoints, especially during winter. (The manatees migrate inland toward the park’s water, warmed by a nearby powerplant, when it gets cold outside.) If you don’t see the manatees there, several companies offer guided kayak tours and dolphin cruises throughout the greater Fort Myers area.
Only a portion of southwestern Florida is coastal. Discover what the interior is like with Babcock Ranch Eco Tours. The 90-minute, narrated tour of historic Babcock Ranch travels through four different eco systems, including Telegraph Swamp. Watch for alligators, snakes, birds, wild hogs and deer.
For an option with some local history, try the Railroad Museum of South Florida. Inside, you’ll find model trains and artifacts; outside, an Atlantic Coast Line Locomotive and a train-themed playground will keep kids busy. However, the real attraction is the mini train you can ride through a 100-foot tunnel, over a 20-foot trestle and past to-scale-sized villages.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly museum, try the IMAG History and Science Center with its more than 60 hands-on exhibits. Kids can learn what it was like to live at the city’s namesake fort 150 years ago using virtual reality technology, experiment with science concepts and explore sustainable initiatives in the outdoor exhibits.
Just off the coast, Sanibel Island is great for families to relax on the beach. Kids can spend hours splashing in the ocean, searching for colorful seashells or building castles with the white sugar sand found there. Sanibel Sea School offers daily and weekly programs for kids, teens and adults who want to learn more about the ocean and conservation at its main Sanibel and Sundial Beach Resort & Spa locations.
Families can also learn more about marine life at Baily-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island. Not only will you find shells on display, but its new living gallery, complete with touch tanks.
If you get hooked on shelling while visiting the museum, book a trip to Cayo Costa State Park through Captiva Cruises and spend two hours walking the park’s nine miles of beach searching for colorful specimens. Shelling not your thing? Captiva also offers cruises to Cabbage Key, the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s song “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and a dolphin cruise.
BOTANIUM SMART GROWERS Indoor gardening is a great way to grow your own food, improve air quality and add a touch of natural beauty to your living space. Botanium takes the hassle out of the process thanks to a smart hydroponic system that works without soil and is impossible to overwater, a great feature for those not blessed with green thumbs. You can even leave it alone for weeks while you travel, as it takes care of the plant for you. The growers work with a number of herbs and lettuce, vegetables such as tomatoes and chili peppers, and even orchids. Botanium also sells nutrient pipettes to give your indoor garden a health boost in order to grow more of your chosen produce. From $73. botanium.se
This summer, family travel at The Peninsula receives an upgrade with the debut of Camp Peninsula, a children’s experience that recreates the spirit of camping right in the heart of Beverly Hills. The journey begins with a special welcome from Peter Bear, the hotel’s lovable mascot, at check-in. After taking a picture with the life-sized teddy bear, kids will be whisked away by a Peninsula Camp Counselor to a luxurious guestroom where a charming teepee awaits. An afternoon of camp-themed games and activities, including a hotel-wide scavenger hunt, rounds off the family-friendly experience, fun for children of all ages. Whether it’s a luxe staycation or an extended holiday, Camp Peninsula is an ideal way to ensure the little ones are happy campers.
Virtually escape to beloved national parks with Xanterra Travel Collection’s new #RoamFromHome series. The travel hub allows users to check on weekly projects and park showcases by following #OneWeekdiscoveries, filled with all the sights and sounds of America’s national parks.
By Kimberly Krol
United Airlines is making its MileagePlus program more flexible for its frequent-flyer customers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and global travel restrictions.