NAPLES, Fla. — When we think of Florida with the kids most of us think of Orlando. Yet southwest Florida, and Naples in particular, is a perfect winter escape for families.
From the endless white beaches to the alligator-filled Everglades, from the lush Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens to the recently opened Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples (dubbed ‘C’mon’), not to mention an average February temperature of 68 to 76 degrees, Naples is a fun, low-key alternative to Mickey and his pals.
And with JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit airlines flying directly from Boston to Fort Myers (20 minutes from Naples) in 3 hours, your little ones won’t have too much time to put up a fuss.
Here are ways to keep the kids entertained:
NAPLES ZOO AT CARIBBEAN GARDENS This is a 52-acre tropical paradise featuring giraffes and fosas of Madagascar, Alligator Bay, and a 20-minute primate expedition cruise, where your catamaran captain leads you past islands of lemurs, monkeys, and apes. Daily entertainment includes the open-air Safari Canyon theater show, a Snakes Alive presentation, a Meet the Keeper series, and an alligator feeding. Two play areas with benches allow parents to relax while the kids climb, balance, and slide away their energy. 590 Goodlette-Frank Road, 239-262-5409, www.napleszoo.com, adults $19.95, ages 3-12 $12.95, 65 and over $18.95, under 3 free
NAPLES BOTANICAL GARDEN With six gardens spread over 170 acres of meandering trails, this is a world-class paradise. Families can play bocce on the Caribbean lawn, hop across rice paddies in the Asian Garden, explore the Children’s Garden with water features (bathing suits or a change recommended), go on a scavenger hunt, explore the butterfly garden and chrysalis house, play in a child-size cottage with watering cans at the ready for the herb garden, or climb up the two-story treehouse with rope bridges and standing platforms. On the weekend, the garden has a children’s program with nature-themed stories and related crafts. 4820 Bayshore Drive, 239-643-7275, www.naplesgarden.org, adults $12.95, 4-14 $7.95, 3 and under free
EVERGLADES EXCURSIONS Hop on a bus in Naples and head to Big Cypress State Preserve where you will embark on an airboat ride as the kids keep their eyes peeled for alligators, dolphins, and manatees in their natural habitats. Next up is a jungle cruise through the Everglades and, not to be missed, a gator-wrestlin’ show. Half- and full-day tours available. 1010 6th Ave. South, 800-592-0848, www. everglades-excursions.com, adults $130/$92, 3-12 $89/$65
GOLISANO CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF NAPLES With 12 hands-on exhibit galleries, the accessible museum invites kids to journey from the swamps of the Everglades to the far reaches of the galaxy; climb a two-story-high banyan tree; become a farmer, engineer or veterinarian; experience all four seasons in Mother Nature’s House; and at closing time, march in a parade around the complex banging on an instrument or waving a colorful streamer. 15080 Livingston Road, 239-514-0084, www.cmon.org, adults and children 1 and older $10
CORKSCREW SWAMP SANCTUARY A stroller-friendly 2¼-mile boardwalk weaves visitors through the largest cypress forest in the country. Your kids can count the alligators and gopher turtles while you try to impress upon them that you are passing through four distinct environments: a pine upland, a wet prairie, a cypress forest, and a marsh. Pick up a children’s scavenger hunt booklet at the admissions desk for the kids to fill out along the way. There is also a 1-mile boardwalk. 375 Sanctuary Road West, 239-348-9151, www.corkcrewsanctuary.org, adults $12, students 6-18 (and college students with ID) $6, under 6 free
DELNOR-WIGGINS PASS STATE PARK With over a mile of pristine shoreline and calm turquoise water, this park on the Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail offers a wondrous backdrop for strolls rich with shorebirds, snowy egrets, and the elusive bald eagle. Many come to snorkel the reef, hike, fish, or build sand castles. Naples Beach Adventures rents paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes (and umbrellas and beach chairs). Five parking lots make for easy, stress-free beach access. 11100 Gulfshore Drive, www.floridastateparks.org/delnorwiggins; Naples Beach Adventures, 239-597-6196, www.naplesbeachadventures.com
CLAM PASS RECREATION AREA To reach Clam Pass, you can either walk on the three-quarter-mile boardwalk over a mangrove estuary or take the free golf cart shuttle. We walked in and shuttled out after a day of shelling, chasing birds, sand-castle making, and lunch at the al fresco restaurant next to the beach run by the Waldorf Astoria Naples. 410 Seagate Drive, 239-252-4000
THE NAPLES MUNICIPAL BEACH & FISHING PIER No stay is complete without a stroll down the 1,000-foot-long pier, lined with tourists, families, and fishermen. Spot manatees and dolphins as you wait with a growing crowd for the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.