Q: My husband and I have been going to Florida every winter for the past 25 years. This winter we were thinking of taking our grandchildren (ages 5 and 7) with us for a week. What could you suggest for children's activities? Please no theme parks. We try to control the amount of commercialism our grandchildren are exposed to. Thank you.
-- H. O'Brien, Oshawa
A: I have fond memories of family trips to Florida. During one particularly memorable trip, we made Sarasota our home base. My brother and me spent many sun kissed days at the beach, amusing ourselves swimming in the warm waters off the Gulf of Mexico, building sandcastles or role playing as pirates. A family visit to the extraordinary Ringling Museum -- with its circus memorabilia and posters of the Bearded Lady and other interesting acts -- made for some fun moments (ringling.org).
But every corner of The Sunshine State has activities for children of all ages. In St. Petersburg and Clearwater area, you'll find a long pier that is great for walks, a seabird sanctuary, an aquarium, dolphin viewing and more. If you want to mix education with nature, there are reserves in the vicinity as well. Try Brooker Creek Preserve, Weedon Island Preserve, Sawgrass Lake Park and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. For information, visit FloridasBeach.com.
Just outside of Tampa, children with a fascination for dinosaurs might like to visit the 150 life-size figures at Dinosaur World (dinoworld.net.). Kids can follow a trail, roll up their sleeves in a fossil dig, visit the museum, drop by a boneyard or hang around the playground.
For a look back at Florida's earliest inhabitants, drop by the Big Cypress Reservation in south Florida and venture into the land of the Seminole Indians (seminoletribe.com/safari). Options include a swamp buggy eco-tour through the Everglades, recreated scenes of wild bison and tusked boar, native cuisine such as catfish and frybread and plenty more. The kids will learn about the fragile environment and catch views of alligators, snakes, turtles and other local wildlife.
In Fort Lauderdale, a new interactive entertainment complex called Wannado City allows kids to step intp the limelight. Although it bills itself as a theme park, the $40-million indoor recreation area is designed to promote creative play for children between the ages of 3 and 13. Here they can role play in up to 250 careers from TV anchor to banker to doctor. For details, visit wannadocity.com.
For a list of other children activities, the Florida Tourism office has lots of information online. Go to visitflorida.com and follow the Family and Kids link to a list of children activities available in the Sunshine State.