Prince George’s County students will be on spring break in less than two months, and this year’s vacation is 11 days long. Why not spend that time in the Florida sand and surf? The following three coastal destinations offer Florida sunshine, fun activities for all ages, and trip itineraries to fit any budget.
Spring break vacationers will find beautiful beaches, a wealth of outdoor and kid-friendly activities, and Southern hospitality in this historic panhandle city.
Nicknamed “The City of Five Flags,” Pensacola has a unique history dating back more than 450 years, during which time it has been governed by Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederate and the United States. The rich history of America’s earliest European settlement can be seen at the Historic Pensacola Village’s 27 homes and properties on the National Historic Register, the Seville Historic District and the T. T. Wentworth, Jr., Florida State Museum.
Pensacola is also steeped in military heritage and is home to historic landmarks including Fort Pickens, a pre-Civil War fort where visitors can take guided tours, and the Pensacola Lighthouse, where families can climb to the top for stunning views of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The lighthouse is also one of the best vantage points for watching the Blue Angels, according to Brooke Fleming, Visit Pensacola communications manager.
The Blue Angels — the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron — flies at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, kids can meet the naval pilots afterwards at the National Naval Aviation Museum. The world’s largest naval aviation museum features flight simulators, an IMAX theater and free admission to its aircraft exhibits.
“I’ve gone with kids before, and the boys especially love seeing the planes and war memorabilia,” said Lucy Spann, public relations representative at VISIT FLORIDA, about the museum.
Kids will also enjoy the dolphin show at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, the waterslides and games at Sam’s Fun City & Surf City Waterpark, go-cart racing at Fast Eddie’s Fun Center, seeing the animals at the Gulf Breeze Zoo, and cruising up to 45 mph on a trimaran racing vessel with Condor Sailing Adventures.
In downtown Pensacola, families can stroll down Palafox Street, named one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association in 2013, to trendy boutiques, fine dining options, casual local eateries and historic 1800s homes. Diners will find traditional Southern cuisine in downtown’s Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood and at one of Florida’s finest restaurants, Jackson’s Steakhouse, named for President Andrew Jackson. The restaurant is located in an 1860s-era building that overlooks Plaza Ferdinand, where Jackson accepted the state’s transfer from Spain to the United States and raised the American flag. A fun way for families to learn more about Pensacola, Fleming said, is on a Segway tour of downtown’s historic and perhaps haunted sights.
Of course, a coastal Florida vacation includes time at the beach, and Pensacola offers visitors two options along the Gulf Islands National Seashore — the tranquil Perdido Key with 16 miles of beaches and Pensacola Beach with sugar-white sands for sandcastle building and a variety of recreational activities, including kayaking, parasailing, jet skiing, and paddle-boarding across the Santa Rosa Sound.
“There is a lot to see and do for all ages,” Fleming said.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
About a 45-minute drive from Tampa International Airport, the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is an authentic Florida roadside attraction. This nature-centric coastal location is especially well suited for families seeking an outdoor adventure.
“The park has something to offer for all age groups, male or female,” said John Athanason, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park marketing and public relations manger.
One of Florida’s oldest attractions, the park offers a guided riverboat cruise to see local wildlife, swimming and snorkeling in the clear spring waters, educational reptile shows, kayak and canoe rentals, SCUBA diving, thrilling flume waterslides and a lazy river at Buccaneer Bay waterpark, and the park’s claim to fame, the underwater performance of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid.”
“You find the mermaids captivating” at any age, Athanason said.
At $13 adult admission and $8 for ages six to 12 per day, visiting Weeki Wachee is a budget-friendly vacation. Within a five-mile radius, lodging options include a Mitcotel Inn and Suites, a Holiday Inn Express and local campgrounds.
This southwestern Florida city sits along the Gulf of Mexico coast between Tampa and Fort Myers. It’s best known for its soft white-sand beaches including Siesta Key, but the circus activities are what make Sarasota such a uniquely entertaining destination for families.
The Ringling Circus Museum is a hands-on museum full of the infamous Ringling circus’s history. Visitors will see a 3,800-square-foot mini model of a big top from the circus’s heyday in the 1920s-1940s. The model is outfitted with 44,000 pieces including circus performers, the performers’ living quarters and their dining tent. Kids will also become circus performers, climbing inside clown cars and walking a wire in the museum’s interactive exhibits.
In addition to the circus activities, Sarasota has a variety of active-learning experiences. At the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, visitors will see 100 marine species in touch pools and interactive exhibits. The Sarasota Jungle Gardens has 150 animals — both exotic and native to Florida. At the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden at Marie Selby Botanical Garden, kids can play in a wooden fort with swinging bridges and a 12-foot waterfall atop a century-old Banyan tree.
“It’s very easy to get around with kids in Sarasota because everything is accessible,” said Lynn Hobeck Bates, Visit Sarasota County public relations manager. “You can do as much or as little as you want and still have fun.”