For More Details
For more information, call TradeWinds Island Resorts at 1-800-237-0707, or visit online at www.tradewindsresort.com. Contact St. Petersburg/Clearwater at 1-877-352-3224 or click on www.FloridasBeach. com. For information on Busch Gardens, visit www.buschgardens.com.

Before You Go
To plan your trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides. Or, go to our online Auto Travel section.

Guiltless getaway
Florida resort answered the call for family vacation fun

Published: May/Jun 2002
By Deborah Reinhardt
Managing Editor

Building sandcastles on the beach is an activity children–and parents–can enjoy./ TradeWinds St. Pete Beach photos
A balmy evening breeze passed over the group of diners, who were enjoying a full-bodied red wine and light conversation. Candles warmly glowed atop tables of starched white linens. Small lights twinkled in trees that surrounded the patio. For the first time in months, I was having a perfectly adult dinner, served without guilt.

My 5-year-old was happily playing pirates and enjoying dinner (pizza and soda) at the KONK (Kids Only, No Kidding) Club. Welcome to the world of resort vacations.

There are two kinds of vacations: the “just do it” kind (camping, adventure travel, trekking across Europe) that often result in priceless memories and a sore back; or the “do it for me” kind that involve a beach and a cabana boy named Rico. Same priceless memories, but travelers return much better rested because they have been waited on for a week.

This getaway was a do-it-for-me vacation at TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach, Fla. Comprised of three resorts–Island Grand, Sandpiper and Sirata Beach–TradeWinds will appeal to anyone who wants to be pampered without being hasseled. No matter what resort is booked for a stay, visitors enjoy the amenities--such as pools, restaurants and activities–of each of the three. This variety can be appealing, especially during extended stays.

For folks who travel alone with children, a resort vacation is completely convenient. Varied dining venues, the KONK Club, babysitting services and suites that feature separate bedroom and living areas, plus a kitchenette, made TradeWinds a great base for a Florida vacation.

Three resorts in one

Our resort, the Island Grand, was a small world unto itself. After checking out the resort’s private beach, my daughter and I tried out one of five pools, including an adult-only pool and one for children. While sunning and sipping a cold drink, two energetic young staffers approached and asked if my daughter wanted to do a craft at the KONK Club, a bright child care center near the child’s pool. The club is equipped for everything, from finger-painting to scavenger hunts. She was eager to join the resort’s staff, and came back 30 minutes later with a painted starfish treasure and a proud smile.

Dinner that night was at the resort’s casual pool-side eatery, The Flying Bridge, a floating Florida cracker cottage. We took a short walk to our room, listening to the frogs sing an evening ballad to us. The critters that call the Island Grand’s waterways home were a source of fascination for my daughter throughout our stay. Frogs, fish, ducks, swans–not a one escaped her scrutiny.

My little one fell asleep with the promise of tomorrow morning’s chance to cook in the resort’s kitchen with other children, under the direction of Executive Chef Jeffrey Frederickson. I needed a good reason to wake her at 7 a.m. on vacation, and this experience was just the thing.

The children and “Chef Jeff” prepared a full breakfast for parents and learned a bit about the long hours and countless details that go into meal preparation at a resort. Chef Jeff is an energetic, patient teacher for the children, and he didn’t miss a beat juggling his many tasks in the kitchen. As a woman who is challenged by boiling pasta, answering the phone and helping my daughter find a missing stuffed animal, I was impressed with Chef Jeff’s talents.

The Kids in the Kitchen demonstration is a fun behind-the-scenes experience that’s probably best-suited for children aged 7 and older.

The KONK Club (for children 3–11) offers a range of activities, including nature bingo, crafts, sandcastle sculpting and shark tooth hunts. Evening theme parties allow parents a peaceful opportunity to enjoy resort amenities.

Beaker, the TradeWinds toucan mascot, has breakfast with the little ones, joins them for crafts and even tucks them in at night.

TradeWinds Action Zone was created to provide recreational activities for all ages. TradeWinds staff members coordinate everything from family swim meets to family movies for children and adults to enjoy together.

Teen-agers have the option to participate in several off-property activities, including Internet Cafe, Laser Tag and shelling and snorkeling excursions.

Activities to enjoy on the 35 acres of pristine St. Pete Beach water trikes, volleyball or simple sandcastle building. Water sports offered nearby include parasailing, snorkeling, water skiing, boating and shelling. Families staying at TradeWinds can do as little or as much as they choose, which is one of the pluses to a resort vacation.

What can parents do while the little tikes are busy with their activities? In addition to the beach stuff, the resort has a few shops, a fitness center, spa, or excursions to area attractions.

Sightseeing around Tampa/St. Pete

A family vacation to this area will likely include a visit to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, located eight miles northeast of Tampa. A package offered by the TradeWinds includes admission to the park, or it’s about a 40-minute drive from the resort, should you have a car. Remember that AAA members can purchase discounted tickets (helpful, considering a one-day ticket is about $50 for adults) before leaving home by calling 1-800-222-7623, ext. 7707 or visiting www.aaa.com online.

I liked the park’s African and Middle Eastern themes. The zoological park adds something most theme parks are missing. The Serengeti Safari experience will make lasting memories for your family. My daughter saw animals up-close and fed a giraffe, who licked her with his long, black tongue. The fun, educational truck tour–for anyone older than 5 years–lasted about 30 minutes and cost $29.99 per person.

If thrill rides are your passion, there’s plenty to feed the desire at Busch Gardens. Gwazi is the largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster in the southeast.

But I don’t go near roller coasters, and there was plenty to see, including great shows. Find more than the usual T-shirts and keychains at the shops here. Checking out all of the stores will take several hours.

Busch Gardens really had something for everyone, including a ride section for the younger set called Land of the Dragons, which my daughter loved.

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can pet a ray at Stingray Beach (a touch tank), see dolphins and take an ecological boat tour onboard the Seal Life Safari. There’s a chance for hands-on education– the children squealed at the chance to touch slimy sea creatures carefully caught by marine biologists. After a short time for us to say hello, it’s back in the water for the animals.

Although the 5- and 6-year-olds were fidgety through most of the boat ride, the aquarium is a fun, informative stop for families. But as biologist Terrie Weeks said, the aquarium is foremost an animal hospital.

“We try to re-release the animals back into the wild. Sometimes this is possible, sometimes not,” she said.

The aquarium is also known for its loggerhead turtle program.
At the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, rescue, repair, recuperation and release is the motto. Home to about 500 seabirds, the sanctuary can accommodate up to 800.

“We never turn away any bird or animal,” said Cathy Costa, an outdoor aviculturist for the sanctuary.

The birds visitors can view at the sanctuary have been permanently disabled and can’t be released. Several talking crows visited with us, and a bluejay, who was staying with an elderly woman with cats, meowed as we passed.

Guests will also see pelicans, owls, wading birds, such as egrets, and hawks. Go out on the beach with a staff member and feed the pelicans and gulls.

Free sanctuary tours are conducted biweekly; call (727) 391-6211 for information. The sanctuary is located on the gulf in Indian Shores, northwest of St. Petersburg.

Are resorts right for your family?

The TradeWinds offered variety, a good beach location, safe and entertaining children’s programming, spacious accommodations (try and get the suite) and good restaurant choices. The biggest factors to consider when choosing this resort getaway are the activities–including the children’s programs–food and drinks are extra. In all-inclusive resorts, food, beverages, some water sports, and children’s programs are included in one cost.

Ask about available packages that might include some admissions to area attractions and discounts for dining and other activities. Remember a suite may be a little more per night, but the kitchenette will allow your family to have breakfast and lunch “at home,” saving expensive restaurant bills. And a Florida resort is accessible via a unhurried two-day drive from the Midwest, another plus.


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