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Paradise Coast for Families

Airboat ride

A family takes an airboat ride through the Everglades.

By Kara Chalmers

Whether it's alligators or kangaroos that make your kids smile, Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades is the perfect place for a family vacation.

Day 1: Naples

Start your visit in Naples, with trips to a must-see family attraction: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. Spend the morning with the rare and exotic animals at Naples Zoo, and check out the three children's play areas as well as two live-animal presentations, Planet Predator and Serpents: Fangs & Fiction. The Naples Botanical Garden also is a treat, with more than 600 plant species to behold.

Lunch at The Dock at Crayton Cove, a laid-back, family-friendly waterfront restaurant. Or, check out Tin City, which overlooks the working docks of Naples Bay, and which features tin-roofed shops and restaurants.

End your day with a stroll along the white sands near the Naples Pier, one of the best places in Florida to watch a sunset.

Day 2: Marco Island

Head south from Naples to the shores of Marco Island, since no family vacation to Florida's Paradise Coast is complete without spending some serious beach time. Tigertail Beach Park is popular with families because of its tidal pools, offshore sandbar, playground and full facilities.

To take your day at the beach a step further, schedule a shelling excursion to the outer islands off Marco Island's coast. Kahuna Katamarans, for example, offers trips including sailing, swimming and shelling. You'll likely see frolicking dolphins and you might just find the perfect whelk or conch shell. Or, take a guided WaveRunner® eco-tour of the mangrove jungles of the Ten Thousand Islands with Marco Island Ski & Watersports.

When you've had your fill of sand and surf, head to the Capt. Brien's Seafood & Raw Bar, a casual, New England-style restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining.

Day 3: Everglades City

If your kids love adventure, visiting the Florida Everglades will likely be the highlight of their vacation. But even the most timid of tykes find loads of fun in the Everglades City area.

One way to see the Everglades and its wildlife - alligators, wild boars and all types of birds - is by airboat. Kids love riding in these propeller crafts, which speed through mangrove tunnels and skim alongside the "River of Grass." Check out Everglades Island Air Boat Tours for a trip to Totch's Island or Speedy Johnson's Fun Cruise for a fast ride through mangrove tunnels. Eden of the Everglades offers both airboat and small boat tours.

For dining Everglades-style, head to The Oyster House Restaurant, which features frogs' legs and 'gator on the menu (as well as other less exotic fare) and a spectacular view of the Ten Thousand Islands and Chokoloskee Bay.

Before leaving Everglades City, drive south to Chokoloskee to see the Historic Smallwood Store, a general store established in 1906. When it closed its doors in 1982, 90 percent of the original goods remained, and the store was later reopened as a museum. Smallwood's celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2006.

If you go:

Naples:
. Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, 239-262-5409, Website
. Naples Botanical Garden, 239-643-7275, Website
. The Dock at Crayton Cove, 239-263-9940, Website
. Tin City, 239-262-4200, Website
. Naples Pier, Website

Marco Island:
. Tigertail Beach Park, Website
. Kahuna Katamarans, 239-642-7704, Website
. Marco Island Ski & Watersports, 239-394-4344, Website
. Capt. Brien's Seafood & Raw Bar, 239-389-6900, Website

Everglades City:
. Everglades Island Air Boat Tours, 866-626-2833, Website
. Speedy Johnson's Fun Cruise, 800-998-4448, Website
. Eden of the Everglades, 239-695-2800
. The Oyster House Restaurant, 239-695-2073, Website
. Historic Smallwood Store, 239-695-2989

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