One of the balancing acts for travelers who happen to have a kid is finding a destination where they can feel relaxed and pampered while keeping the fun level up enough to entertain their children. We are big fans of the Grand Dame resorts, but sometimes the historical aspects and atmosphere of such hotels aren't conducive to a relaxing stay when you have exuberant little ones in tow.
On a recent trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast, my son heard that Babe Ruth’s daughter had recently visited the The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club to throw out a pitch, and used to attend dances in the hotel ballroom (the same hotel MLB teams often use when playing the Tampa Bay Rays). A look at the fascinating history dating back to 1925 and we were sold. I sipped a frosty mango mojito watching the boats bob the marina across from the Vinoy while Nakoa played a ring toss game by the pool; I pondered the old “If mama ain’t happy…” saying and decided whoever came up with that had it backwards. Anyone traveling as a family knows if the kids aren’t happy, then no one is. Sure, many hotels offer child-sitting services—but it would be hard to really feel at peace and fully enjoy yourself knowing that your good time came at the expense of your child’s.
Luckily in St. Pete, there's a perfect blend of sophisticated family fun to balance out the grown-up good times.
Saturday Morning Market
Farmers' markets tend to be a somewhat frustrating affair when traveling, as the wonderful produce is a little tough to fit in a carry-on. But St. Pete’s open air affair features live bands, fire jugglers, group tai chi, handcrafted artisan goods and products, and endless rows of every kind of authentic ethnic eats you can imagine. (For us, an ahi taco plate with a Mexican lime soda chaser, from “The Taco Lady," and a gourmet Salt Caramel Creamy ‘sicle, from a Pop Craft cart, were too tempting to pass up.)
These are offered by more and more hotels with their own pools lately and can be enjoyed as a family, as a unique and splashy spin on the old drive-in movies. Trade in the scratchy speakers and mosquitoes buzzing around your window for a cushy pool lounger and drink service under the stars at The Vinoy. We were even able to order kid-friendly munchies to enjoy as we watched Frozen and Despicable Me 2.
A Modern Look at Art
Kids can put aside dollies to go check out the Dali paintings at the architecturally impressive Salvador Dali Museum. Family events like DillyDally with Dali and the monthly Breakfast with Dali keep kids engaged, while those preferring to go it alone can visit the education center with DIY activities or pick up a scavenger hunt to use in the galleries to earn prizes. Kids five and under get in free and there's no free for visiting the unique shop, theatre, outdoor spaces, and wishing tree (and 30-foot-long mustache) for those just having a stroll along the marina. Another artist-specific option on Beach Drive is the unique and jaw-dropping Chihuly Collection, filled with wildly imaginative glass sculpture creations, free for kids five and under and offered with a combo ticket to a hot shop where kids can see glass art being born or even try it themselves.
Afternoon Tee: Links for Less
One area that is often thought of as a No Kid Zone is the golf course. Having a little golfer of my own, it’s hard to feel at ease amongst the serious fairway crowd, no matter how well that little golfer knows the etiquette. The Vinoy Golf Club makes sure kids, and their parents, feel welcome through the Kids Play Free program. After 3 p.m., kids under 16 can play a full round of golf free with their parents. (The deal even includes free club rentals.)
We might have first thought of the Gulf Coast for the beaches; St. Pete and Clearwater top endless lists for best beaches in the country, including Parents Magazine’s Top Beach Destination for Families list. But to be honest, there was so much going on downtown we didn’t have time for the beach. (But we did do a sail on the bay from the marina to spot dolphins and manatees on the Pitch and Roll III, and had the opportunity to hop in the water there.)
Picky, No More
Most people have a certain image in mind when they think "hotel food." This was not it. The Vinoy’s creative culinary team at farm-to-fork Marchand’s Bar and Grill and Fred’s members-only steakhouse (overnight guests may dine) and impressive pastry chef delights honestly blew me away, and made it hard to leave and check out the wide variety of eateries along Beach Drive. The “pick three” Sunday Brunch options served in courses (try “Eggs in a jar” with cornmeal fried rock shrimp, local cheese grits, and roasted chili hollandaise sauce) were almost as dangerous as the bottomless fresh-fruit-puree Bellini bar. (The Kids Eat Free Package, where up to four children under thirteen eat free with their parents, makes this an incredible deal for large families.)
Gaming, Old School
While you certainly need to use common sense and pick your timing, a blast can be had at local brewery and warehouse o’ fun, 3 Daughters Brewing. Owners Mike and Leigh Harting, who named the place after their own three daughters (check out the girls' handprints in the bar), are happy to host those sipping responsibly with kids-in-tow. The massive warehouse houses not only the equipment producing some very nice brews; but shuffleboard tables, giant cornhole games, a basketball hoop, foosball tables, numerous darts set-ups, and an entire room dedicated to ping pong. The atmosphere is very laid back and fun and there were several of the short set in attendance when we visited (when my friend Jonathan and I became Cornhole Champions of the World!).
Work Off Those Amazing Meals and Brews
Having kids along makes for an easy excuse to skip the workout, but the Vinoy offers Kid Fitness Classes timed to coincide with the grown-up spinning and cardio versions. (Hula-hooping, Aqua Fit, and a “Kids Fitness” that looked like an amped-up PE class with music made me a little jealous.)