ROAD TRIP

Florida for Families

Florida's northeast coast has plenty to thrill kids, but you don't have to be a youngster (or sip from the Fountain of Youth) to have a blast.

www.stgeorge-inn.com" target="_blank">stgeorge-inn.com, from $109

Food

  • Cap's on the Water4325 Myrtle St., Vilano Beach, 904/824-8794, capsonthewater.com, fish sandwich $9

Activities

  • St. Augustine Alligator Farm999 Anastasia Blvd., 904/824-3337, alligatorfarm.com, $20, $11 kids
  • Castillo de San MarcosSt. Augustine, 904/829-6506, nps.gov/casa, $6, kids free

DAY 3
"Have you seen any ghosts yet?" a man sweeping across from our hotel asks Will. Jessica quickly says that the man is just being silly. "Oh, no," responds the man, who clearly either doesn't have kids or is a total sadist. "They're out there. You just have to keep your eyes open."

I jerk Will's hand and we continue on down St. George Street to eat breakfast at theBunnery Bakery & Café, which we'd passed--or, to be honest, drooled in front of--the day before. After eggs, pancakes, and French toast, I order a cinnamon roll to go, which comes with its own little container of icing.

Even though our children aren't old enough to take part in most of the interactive programs atMarineland, the park is worth a visit. At the dolphin preserve, we watch as grammar-school-age kids hold canvases over the pool and tell the trainers which color they'd like next. The dolphins, with brushes in their mouths, spin and nod to produce artwork that the kids can keep as a memento.

We drive through pouring rain alongside the seemingly never-ending stretch of grandstands of the Daytona Inter­national Speedway before pulling up to theDaytona 500 Experience, an exhibit dedicated to auto racing. Will's shouts of "Wow!" and "Lookit!" draw stares from a family reverently viewing a Daytona 500 highlight reel. Our admission includes a 3-D IMAX movie, and it's a great--if rather loud--spectacle. Will, in goofy 3-D glasses, gropes the air in a fruitless attempt to touch the driver hovering in front of him. I come away with a deep respect for pit crews.

After a few nights of the whole family's sharing a room, Jessica and I are ready for our two-bedroom condo atAtlantic Plazain New Smyrna Beach, a low-key town south of Daytona. We head directly to the beach. The waves are nice and small, and the water remains shallow hundreds of feet from the shoreline.

Lodging

  • Atlantic Plaza425 S. Atlantic Ave., New Smyrna Beach, 386/427-4636, atlanticplaza.net, from $100

Food

  • Bunnery Bakery121 St. George St., St. Augustine, 904/829-6166

Activities

  • Marineland9600 Ocean Shore Blvd., St. Augustine, 904/471-1111, marineland.net, $5, programs from $65

DAY 4
As we drive down Route 1, lovebugs--so called because they fly in pairs--fill the sky, sounding like hail as they splatter on the windshield. Every car atJohn F. Kennedy Space Centerhas a five o'clock shadow of lovebug guts on its grille.

I figured that since the Center charges for kids 3 and up, there'll be stuff for Will to do. But we make it through only 10 minutes of an IMAX movie, and checking out the shuttleExplorerdoesn't take long. No way can we deal with a two-hour bus tour.

The new Shuttle Launch Experience is off-limits to kids under four feet tall, but it's included in my admission, so I decide to give it a go. After a former astronaut on a video screen preps riders with astro-jargon, the ride turns us on our backs and I feel a pressure on my cheeks reminiscent of being on a roller coaster. The launch ends with a peaceful view of the earth.

Will, Owen, and I pose for a photo with our heads poking through a cutout that makes us look like astronauts, and then we walk toward the Rocket Garden, where real rockets are standing upright. Will has been completely jazzed about the rockets from the moment he spied them. But first, we make an important detour: There's a fantastic playground on the way.

Activities

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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