When we decided (very last minute, I might add) we wanted to try and go on a family spring break vacation this year, we knew we needed to get somewhere warm. The past two winters in Kansas City have been beyond the norm (last year it snowed in May…MAY!) and since we’ve had about three or four months stuck inside, we really wanted to go someplace where we could go outside without 10 layers of clothing. Since we are in the middle of the country, there really isn’t anywhere close by that is both warm and beachy, so we knew we were going to have at least a few days of travel. We decided on Florida because we’d only be skipping one time zone (as opposed to the west coast, which would be two) and because we knew it would be warm. We have family in the Tampa area, and have been to the area beaches before, so that was our first choice as we knew what we were getting into. Clearwater Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the state, and is a great place for families, which was something we were concerned about on a spring break trip. You can get flights direct to Tampa from Kansas City via Southwest Airlines, which is also a huge perk.
Due to our long winter, we were fairly happy the first day and a half to just lay in the sun and soak it all in! We stayed at the Hyatt Regency and highly recommend it. They have an amazing pool area that overlooks the beach and lots of activities for adults and kids. They had daily activities Lucy loved, like limbo competitions, shell diving, dance parties, crafts and tons more. Their poolside bar and grill had good food and yummy drinks as well. They also offer easy access to the beach and towel service whether you’re poolside or on the sand, which was a huge plus for us, as it’s hard to lug around all your gear when you’ve got two excited kids in tow. Another awesome benefit of the Hyatt was their Camp Hyatt program for kids, which we utilized for an adults-only night out. Camp Hyatt runs days and weekend evenings, and for $50 per kid, we had four hours of beachy, toddler-free bliss. The price might seem steep, but it included dinner, a craft and a movie night. At home we pay by the hour for a babysitter, so this wasn’t too much of a stretch. And being able to get a romantic evening in the midst of a family trip was totally worth the cost. The kids had fun too, getting some parent-free time, and the camp had the same train table we have at home, so Tate was pretty much in heaven.
On our date night sans kids, Trent and I went to a beautiful restaurant called Caretta’s, which was in the Sand Pearl Resort down the beach from the Hyatt. The food was incredible, and the view of the sunset off the patio where we were seated was amazing. I had sushi and salmon, while Trent had the grouper. And to top it off, Hulk Hogan was eating at the table right next to us! I am so cool and calm around celebrities, I totally didn’t make a fool out of myself.
(The previous sentence is obviously a HUGE lie. I was super uncool.)
On a windy, cooler day, we decided to take the kids on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, a two hour cruise tour, which was a total blast! From the minute you board the ship, the staff makes it a real pirate experience for the kids, with a watergun fight, a mission to find the mean Captain Blackbeard, storytime, a hunt for treasure throughout the ship and a huge dance party. I can check “Do the Macarena with my kids on a pirate ship” off of my Life List!
We woke up one morning to rain, rain and more rain, which was a bit of a bummer. But a little rain can’t keep us down! We headed out to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for a day schmoozing with a few movie stars. This particular aquarium is the real life site for the film “Dolphin’s Tale,” about a boy who saves and works with a dolphin named Winter, who loses her tail in a crab trap and learns to survive with a prosthetic one. It was a huge hit amongst kids and families, and the real Winter resides at the aquarium. The thing I really loved about this place is it’s a rescue, rehab and release facility. The aquarium serves as a hospital for marine life, and the animals there are ones that would not have survived in the wild. They nurse as many as possible back to health and release them back into their natural habitat. It was a very educational experience, and I found it very moving to be there with Lucy. She was able to meet and touch a dolphin named Hope, who is Winter’s companion. She was also a huge fan of the sea turtles, many of which had been injured by boats and were paralyzed. She loved them and it was incredible to watch her interact with the animals.
A few other places and activities we loved:
– The Surf Style store, which was directly next door to our hotel. This facility serves a huge beach store/grocery store, with pretty much everything you could imagine. We bought sand toys and a kite to fly on the beach here, and the prices weren’t too high. The full grocery store was a huge benefit, since our hotel room had a kitchen. We were able to get snacks, water and mac and cheese (for our picky guy) and save a ton of money instead of eating out for everything. Surf Style also has a Flowrider (an indoor surfing tank), which is totally fun! Trent went one day and not only did he have a good time, we all had a blast watching him.
– Sunset at Pier 60 is a must-do if you’re staying in Clearwater Beach. There are tons of vendors set up on the pier, along with entertainers, musicians and one night they even had a movie playing on a big blow up movie screen.
– We ate at a ton of places, but we definitely had a few favorites. Frenchy’s South Beach cafe was right on the way back from mini-golf on the beach, so we parked our huge bike and enjoyed a yummy meal in the sun. I had the lobster roll and it was perfect. We ate at Clearsky Beach Cafe on St. Patrick’s Day, and they had great kids selections along with good adult food. The price wasn’t too shabby either. We asked one of our pedicab drivers where to get the best pizza on the beach, and he recommended King’s Pizza, which was right next to our hotel. I don’t know if it was the best (since we didn’t try any others), but it was tasty! Our last evening we ate at Tate Island Grill (Fun Fact: Clearwater Beach was once known as Tate’s Island, after Ernest Tate purchased a nearby island in 1896…our Tate didn’t seem to get the reference, but we bought him a t-shirt anyway), which is also in the Sand Pearl Resort. It is right on the beach, so while we waited for our food, the kids made sand castles and hung out in hammocks. After the sun set, they set up fire pits and s’mores on the sand and on the other side of us they had the movie “Frozen” playing over the pool area. The kids were fans, to say the least!
– We didn’t rent a car for our trip, so we depended on a few modes of transportation. Florida Free Rides is a cab service in the area that works exclusively for tips. The Jolley Trolley also runs up and down the beach, and has golf carts to get you where you want to go. We also got a few cab numbers from our valet at the hotel, which helped us out when we got stuck out in the rain on a few occasions!
– One thing I’m VERY glad I did was call ahead of time and get on a friendly, first-name basis with the concierge at our hotel. He made recommendations for restaurants, transportation and activities. He also made reservations for me on several occasions, and provided coupons and discount codes for activities like the aquarium.
This was BY FAR the most enjoyable trip we had as a family. I believe this is because we came prepared, but flexible. While it’s more expensive to travel with older kids, it was incredible how much easier it was not having to worry about a crib or diapers. We packed the travel bags with lots of new chapter books for Lucy, coloring packs for Tate, and they took turns using the iPad Mini and our smart phones. The iPad was a life-saver, since our hotel didn’t have free kids movies or television. I have a case for the iPad I purchased from Target, and it keeps the iPad safe and easy for Tate to handle. We also had a loose schedule, which could be easily changed if one of the kids was tired or the weather was bad. After only one night, Trent and I were discussing how we need to do a trip like this on a yearly basis. It was so fun, and I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who helped make it happen!