For many families, summer travel has become an overly-traveled path to mega theme parks, including hours standing on line in waiting for something to happen.
For those tired of the usual family vacation suspects, Miami offers a surprising and refreshing alternative. Formerly known primarily as an adult playground for trend-conscious travelers, Miami has evolved into a best-kept secret for family travelers, offering more intimate-sized attractions -- many in natural tropical settings -- without the long lines. A wide variety of resorts throughout Greater Miami and the Beaches, from hip indie properties to national hotel chains, offer family programs, from immersion activities together to kid day camps where parents can steal away for romance and relaxation.
From the Everglades and beaches surrounding the city, to quirky ethnic neighborhoods, family friendly museums and attractions, cool clans can find fun ways to connect in and out of the Caribbean blue waters.
Five-Star Family Fun
Family vacations can be seem more like a “business trip” for parents, with a lot of work and little rest. Those looking for a little break from family bonding have many options at Miami’s luxury resorts. Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne lets weary parents indulge guilt-free in signature spa services, such as an Everglades Grass Body Wrap, while their youngsters are safe and happy at the Ritz Kids pool and spa. At the Loews Miami Beach, a massive free-form pool and easy beach access are the primary lures, but the Loews Loves Kids program brings it up a notch with welcome gifts for children under ten, supervised recreational programs, lending game libraries and special children’s menus.
At the Mandarin Oriental Miami, children are greeted with a special welcome gift, their own bathroom amenities and bathrobes and complimentary in-room DVD players and discs. The Four Seasons Hotel offers a Kids for All Seasons activity center stocked with cotton candy and popcorn machines kids and offering arts and crafts, board game tournaments, computer games and more.
The Sonesta Bayfront Hotel - Coconut Grove offers a spectacular kid-friendly outdoor pool located on the 8th floor overlooking Biscayne Bay, the Marina and Peacock Park. Suites feature fully-equipped kitchens, with the opportunity for adjoining rooms great for families traveling together. Nearby attractions include Miami Seaquarium, Miami Science Museum and the village of Coconut Grove, which offers fun shopping for fashion forward tweens, family soccer games in Peacock Park, One Cool World skatepark, the new Paragon 13 Movie Theater and more.
Miami’s Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami has been the site for great family getaways for over 40 years and offers Camp Doral, a full-fledged daily program that will occupy kids. When parents are ready to see their kids again, there’s plenty to enjoy together as well -- from tennis to the water slide at the Blue Lagoon Water Park to just lounging around. At the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, the venerable resort offers Family Values, a program that rewards families with free dining from the children’s menus, nightly milk and cookie delivery, passes to area attractions and many other perks. The hotel offers a fun Cooking Buddies program, where parents can take a specialized class with the junior chef in their life. Armed with recipes and ingredients, parents can work together with their kids as a team to create culinary masterpieces. The famed hotel also offers great golf and tennis camps for athletic kids.
Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Resort, the Loews Miami Beach and others offer children’s camps, including Turnberry Isle Miami, which also offers a lazy pool. Noted by Fodor's Choice Gold Award as one of the Best Hotels for Kids and Families in the United States, Acqualina Resort & Spa has made it's children's marine biology inspired program, AcquaMarine available to hotel guests on a complimentary basis. Kids get to take part in various beach and aqua adventures while learning about various water-related subjects. Relay races, games, swimming, arts and crafts, eco-explorations, obstacle courses, building projects, trivia challenges, and scavenger hunts are all part of the many exciting children's activities offered by this exceptional program. Up in Bal Harbour, the luxurious St. Regis Kid’s Club offers activities such as sports, teambuilding games, swimming, outdoor adventures, arts & crafts and more.
For budget-conscious families, Miami offers many affordable accommodations, from motels and boutique hotels and lower-cost national chains such as Doubletree, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Homewood Suites, Travelodge. During the summer, when the temperatures are warm and the waters are cool, hotel and motel rates drop as much as 50 percent. Even if they don’t offer family-specific amenities, they offer convenient access to beaches and tourist attractions.
Go Wild in Miami’s Natural Wonders
With a year-round mild climate and unrivaled water access, Miami is the perfect international destination for families that like to spend their time enjoying the great outdoors. Whether it’s lounging on one of Key Biscayne’s family-friendly beaches, snorkeling in Biscayne National Park or canoeing through the Everglades National Park, visitors can escape artificial theme parks and get real in a wonder-filled natural paradise.
Covering 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S. National Parks system. Made up of sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps, subtropical jungles and the warm waters of Florida Bay, the park is home to a rare community of plants and endangered animals that inhabit the seemingly endless grassy waters. Visitors to the park can enjoy self-guided and ranger-led tours and activities from the Main Visitor Center at the Park's entrance, or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. Families may want to drive south to the town of Flamingo, 38 miles from the park's main entrance and featuring many rare birds and exotic wildlife. Exciting sites along the drive include Anhinga Trail and the Pahayokee Overlook, and great bonding experiences include naturalist tours and world-class fishing. To the north, the Shark Valley entrance offers tram tour and the chance to rent a bike and traverse a scenic 15-mile route. A 65-foot observation tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the River of Grass.
A rarity among national parks, Biscayne National Park offers 173,000 acres to explore, 95 percent of which are under Miami’s clear Caribbean blue waters. Teeming with colorful sea life and plants, the park encompasses Biscayne Bay, the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida's east coast, living coral reefs and 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys. At the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, visitors can enjoy glass bottom boat tours, snorkeling and dive trips and island excursions, as well as rent canoes and kayaks. Fishing is excellent, with snapper, snook and barracuda among the most common catch. Patch reefs provide a snorkeler's paradise. In shallow waters less than 10 feet deep, the living coral is home to a variety of sea life including tropical fish, sponges and the spiny lobster. Playful and curious manatees, dolphins and five species of sea turtles call the waters of Biscayne Bay home, as do moray eels, stingrays, squid, starfish and hundreds of varieties of fish, large and small.
Closer to the city, there are many other opportunities to get out on the Bay waters, from fishing charters and catamaran rentals, to jet skis and kayaks. Standouts include North Miami Beach’s Oleta State Park (which also offers bike trails) and naturalist-led Eco-Adventure Tours around the region’s unparalleled ecosystems, including sunrise/sunset/moonlight kayaking, snorkeling and canoeing in Miami’s many waterways. They also offer an inspiring sea turtle awareness program in the summer, where families can learn about these fascinating and vulnerable creatures and help hatchlings as they embark on their exciting journey into the depths of the ocean. The historic Deering Estate at Cutler offers canoe trips to Chicken Key as part of the county’s Eco-Adventures program, and hosts The Living Classroom, an environmental education stewardship center with hands-on curriculum on ecology, geology, marine biology, archeology, history and art.
Miami Beach is the stuff of legends, a beautiful barrier island stretching from the tip of South Beach to Sunny Isles Beach. With more than 15 miles of white sand, the community offers one of the nation’s consistently top rated urban beaches. On South Beach, kids can play on the beach with lifeguards watching over them from candy-colored Art Deco lifeguard stands. When it’s time to eat, they can wander with their parents over to any of Ocean Drive’s festive outdoor cafés. When it’s time to play again, teens and parents can rent jet skis, roller blade or join a volleyball game on the beach.
Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park offers some of the area’s loveliest beaches as well as a carousel and playground suitable for younger children. Here, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center offers hands-on marine exploration, coastal hammock hikes, fossil-rock reef walks, bike trips, local history lectures and beach walks to aquatic tourists. At Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, active families can enjoy the beach, bicycling, canoeing and camping, while Matheson Hammock offers a gentle lagoon area where toddlers can safely waddle.
One of Miami’s most historic sites, Coral Gables’ Venetian Pool is formed from an old coral-rock quarry and fed 820,000 gallons of spring water daily. Considered one of the world’s most unique and breathtaking municipal swimming pools, the non-chemical pool provides a nice break from the chlorine and salt water, and the beautiful coral rock keeps the water nice and cool even in the summer sun. Hailed as one of the best destinations for families by locals and tourist guides alike, the Venetian Pool is a great alternative to the beach for family fun in the sun.
Golf and tennis are also prime attractions for those traveling with older kids; in addition to courts and courses linked to resorts, there are more than 200 public tennis courts in Miami-Dade County including the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, home to the U.S. Tennis Association's Player Development Program and the National Junior Tennis Team and host for the Miami Open, one of the world's largest professional tennis tournaments. Some of the most challenging and beautiful golf courses in the world are found in Miami from the Miami Beach Golf Club to Doral Golf Resort & Spa Miami’s famed Blue Monster. There are also numerous public courses, including Crandon Park Golf Course, which is considered one of the most beautiful and difficult par-72 courses in the state and has been rated in the top ten courses by various recreational media outlets. Other public courses include International Links and Miccosukee Golf Club in South Dade and Greynolds and Haulover Golf Courses, further north.
Families who want to play with a mix of history and education will find many unique attractions in Miami. Jungle Island, located on the scenic MacArthur Causeway overlooking the Port of Miami between mainland Miami and Miami Beach, is a 18.6-acre tropical island theme park that is home to more than 3,000 exotic animals and 500 species of plants. Here, visitors enjoy animal stage shows, one-of-a-kind interactive aviaries, plant nurseries, jungle trails, a petting farm and educational exhibits, as well as world-famous parrot shows, a Serpentarium and Jungle Theater and an Everglades Habitat. Their VIP Safari Tour is an animal lover’s paradise, offering a privately guided, 90-minute behind-the-scenes tour that brings guests closer to some of the world’s most rare and fascinating animals. The Safari includes personal interactions with everything from red-ruffed lemurs, one of the rarest animals on earth, to the only tame Cassowary on the planet. Also included on the Safari Tour are one-on-one sessions with Red Kangaroos from Australia, Aldabra Tortoises from the Seychelle Islands, Capuchin Monkeys from South America and parrots from around the world. Jungle Island just debuted its Rare White Lion and White Tigers Exhibits, featuring a white lion, two royal white tigers and two snow tigers in a brand, new state-of-the-art home – the largest in the park. Visitors can walk right up to the glass and get an up-close view of these one-of-a-kind animals.
Nearby, the Miami Children's Museum features interactive exhibits, including a miniature supermarket, television news studio, cruise ship and a giant sandcastle slide. MCM is one of the ten largest children’s museums in the United States and destined to be one of the most successful.
One of Florida’s most popular tourist attractions, Miami Seaquarium, gained notoriety as the location for filming of 1960s hit TV show Flipper. Indeed, "Flipper" still has his own daily show at the Seaquarium, as does Lolita, the killer whale, and the other fascinating sea creatures who reside at South Florida's largest marine aquarium. Miami Seaquarium also offers Salty’s Pirate’s Playground, feeding sessions with sharks and manatees as well as many other educational programs. The Seaquarium offers swim with the dolphin programs that will have even the most moody teenager squealing with joy. For families who crave an undersea adventure but don’t have scuba certifications, the famous attraction’s new Sea Trek Reef Encounter is a great way to take an underwater walking journey through a 300,000 gallon tropical reef. While wearing a state-of-the-art dive helmet that allows kids of all ages to breathe freely, they’ll easily encounter tropical fish, sting rays and a variety of unique sea creatures.
Families also enjoy spending time with the rest of the animal kingdom at Miami's acclaimed Zoo Miami. One of the world's great zoos and the only one in the continental United States located in a subtropical climate, Zoo Miami offers a sweeping 27-acre Amazon & Beyond exhibit featuring jaguars, anacondas, giant river otters, stingray touch tanks and more. The zoo is also home to the American Bankers Family Aviary Wings of Asia exhibit, with more than 300 birds representing 70 species of exotic, rare and endangered Asian birds in a large free flight area that feels like an Asian jungle. Another popular attraction at the zoo is Dr. Wilde's World, including a new Wild Earth Jeep Simulator where guests can take a virtual African safari. For families who want to get up close and personal with wildlife, the zoo offers an intimate 90-minute Behind-the-Scenes Tour, where they can meet knowledgeable zookeepers and collect memorable experiences with incredible animals. The children's zoo lets little ones interact with small animals, from Stitch, the blue-tongue skink to Maggie, the blue and gold macaw and take a memorable photo astride a camel. If the kids don’t want to leave when the park closes, no problem. The park features Zoo-ins on weekends, a fun sleepover program including a personalized behind-the-scenes walking tour of selected zoo exhibits, pizza dinner, accommodations in an air-conditioned building, and a special morning activity.
Nearby Monkey Jungle, owned and operated by the DuMond family for three generations, is a rare place where the people are caged and the primates run wild. Home to 400 primates, most running free on a 30-acre reserve. It is one of the few protected habitats for endangered primates in the United States and the only one that the general public can explore. The iconic attraction recently introduced the behind- the-scenes Amazonian Rainforest Adventure Tour, which lets families walk over a large natural sinkhole and into a living laboratory. Here they can experience the unique thrill of being immersed within and hand feeding a large troop of squirrel monkeys and Black Capped Capuchin monkeys.
Another homegrown family-owned attraction, Everglades Alligator Farm invites visitors to enjoy an exhilarating airboat tour into the surrounding Everglades and a stroll around the farm to see the alligators, crocodiles, caimans and wildlife that reside there, as well as a great display of local and exotic snakes. Coral Castle probably wins the designation for "most offbeat" tourist attraction. Kids will love the quirky construction, built over the course of 20 years with homemade tools by one man in a seemingly impossible display of strength and obsession.
For lovers of planes, trains and automobiles, several Miami museums offer unique opportunities to explore all three. Weeks Air Museum, located at Tamiami Airport west of downtown Miami, lets visitors explore the fascinating history of aviation, reliving the events of World War II from a pilot's perspective while viewing a historic display of aircraft and aviation artifacts. At the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, the kids will be clamoring to play with wooden model train sets, including the beloved Thomas the Tank Engine, while everyone will want to climb on board displays of historic railroad equipment, including such treasures as the Ferdinand Magellan, Franklin D. Roosevelt's private railroad car. The Dezer Collection Museum and Pavilion is a car lovers’ paradise, featuring more than 1,000 of the most unique and eclectic vehicles in the world. Guests can trace the evolution of the automobile through exhibits showcasing American classics from all eras, rare European classics, military cars, electric cars, micro-cars, bicycles, classic motorcycles, and more. The museum’s Hollywood “Star” car exhibition showcases cars featured in some of Hollywood’s most celebrated movies. For those who like to see cars in action, head to Homestead-Miami Speedway, home to high-profile auto racing.
Families who seek insight into Miami's early settlers can visit the Miccosoukee Indian Village and discover centuries-old culture alive and well just minutes from downtown. Guided tours take you through the past, present and future of the tribe through craft demonstrations, a museum and alligator wrestling, while airboat rides through the River of Grass are available. Other nearby facilities offering alligator exhibitions, airboat rides and natural wildlife and plant tours also include Coopertown Airboat Rides and Florida Seminole Tourism and AH-TAH-THI-KI Seminole Museum Everglades Adventures. The Miccosoukee Tribe also operates a multi-service gaming and entertainment complex that offers plenty of video games and recreational activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Parents of stargazers and budding naturalists will also want to schedule a trip to the Miami Science Museum, which will relocate to a larger space at Museum Park in late 2013. Traveling and permanent exhibits are largely geared toward children exploring subject matter from dinosaurs to the properties of physics. Daily shows point out the stars of the season, while the Wildlife Center houses rare birds of prey and reptiles. While exploring this neck of the woods, everyone will want to check out nearby Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the lavish waterfront Italian Renaissance mansion built by industrialist James Deering in 1916. Perfectly suited for Miami's subtropical climate, Fairchild Botanical Tropical Garden draws thousands of horticulture lovers annually to the 83-acre botanical garden which boasts extensive collections of rare tropical plants, including palms, cicadas, flowering trees and vines. Children can enjoy a naturalist treasure hunt, identifying various plants, insects and animals as they wander the lush, expansive grounds.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) is an independent not-for-profit sales and marketing organization whose mission is to attract visitors to Greater Miami and the Beaches for leisure, business and conventions. For a vacation guide, visit our website at www.MiamiAndBeaches.com or call 1-888-76-Miami (US/Canada only) or 305-447-7777. To reach the GMCVB offices dial 305-539-3000. Meeting planners may call 1-800-933-8448 (US/Canada only) or 305-539-3071 or visit www.MiamiMeetings.com.