By Joanna Citarella
The holiday season typically conjures up images of wintry scenes, log fires and family gatherings, and is generally far less synonymous with white sandy beaches than it is with snowfall. Yet every year thousands of people plan Florida vacations to enjoy the holidays, and if you are seeking a change of pace and some holiday sunshine this year, you won’t be disappointed. I’ve lived in Southwest Florida for the past 10 years, and I feel that it’s a great place to spend the holidays. So if you’re planning a Florida vacation, here are just a few of my suggestions for things to do.
The Florida Everglades
Southwest Florida is home to the Everglades National Park and some of the most captivating wildlife in North America. Last year on Christmas Eve I took my family on a day trip to Everglades City, an easy drive from the Naples/Fort Myers area. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the airboat tour — it’s not often you get to spend Christmas Eve skimming over the mangroves on an airboat while spotting alligators, deer and other weird and wonderful wildlife. Everglades City also offers an interesting guided kayak tours through the 10,000 islands and is an location for a fishing trip.
Whether you are looking to stay at a Florida hotel in Naples, Marco Island, Sanibel or Fort Myers Beach, Southwest Florida is an excellent choice for a family vacation. Spacious sandy beaches and the calm, warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico are perfect for building sandcastles along the shoreline and playful paddling. Many of the area hotels offer comprehensive childrens programs that will entertain kids for hours on end and allow parents to enjoy some rest and relaxation. The Pink Shell Beach Resort and Spa offers daily activities at KIDDSKAMPP, and the Octopool with its waterfall, giant shells and sponges is an instant hit with Kids. Other family-friendly Florida hotels include the Marco Island Marriott, Naples Grande Beach Resort and the Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island.
The quaint islands of Sanibel and Captiva are a unique place for a Florida vacation. Over the years the islanders have vehemently defended the area against overdevelopment, and the result is a peaceful sub-tropical island paradise where there are no stoplights, and where no building rises higher than the tallest palm tree.
Sanibel Island offers 25 miles of paved pathway, great for walking, jogging or a family bike ride around the island. The area is also renowned for its shelling, and some of the rarest shells can be found on the island beaches. (What a great way to spend Christmas morning — searching for treasures from the sea!) Hotel options range from intimate beachside inns (a couple of my personal favorites include Sanibel Inn and Song of the Sea) to South Seas Island Resort, a full-service Florida hotel on the tip of Captiva Island offering everything from water-view guestrooms to 2- and 3-bedroom beach villas and a wide range of activities to keep you entertained. If you are staying in the Naples or Fort Myers area, Sanibel/Captiva is an easy day trip and well worth a visit.
Concerned that with the dazzling sunshine and balmy temperatures, it just won’t feel like the holidays? Don’t be. Every year Florida hotels, shops and restaurants embrace the holiday spirit. Graceful palm trees wrapped in Christmas lights line the streets, hotel lobbies and driveways boast impressively decorated Christmas trees, and restaurants offer tempting seasonal menus with an innovative Floridian twist.
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Joanna Citarella is a market manager for Orbitz Worldwide. She grew up in England and moved to Naples, Florida 9 years ago, favoring the perpetual sunshine over the unpredictable British weather. Joanna likes to stay active and enjoys participating in races and triathlons in her free time.