Sometimes it seems our kids are more demanding travelers than we are. When it comes to getting away with the whole family to the Florida Panhandle, it helps to stack the deck with wow-factor pools, daily activities for kids, and easy access to the wide, soft beaches this area is famous for.
And, if the property also has a few extras for the parents, that’s just fine by us.
Margaritaville Beach Hotel
This 162-room hotel set right on the white sands of Pensacola Beach caters to kids—and kids at heart. We love how many activities are available to keep families and groups entertained. Choose from beach crafts, seashell hunts, painting parties and beach bingo, as well as sports for all ages, including bicycle, kayak and paddle board rentals.
The property also offers a poolside tiki bar, as well as the LandShark Landing Beach Bar right by the water, so no matter where you set up for the day, the adults can relax with a beer or five choices of margarita, and the kids stay fed with snacks. We especially like the appetizers for adults—the smokehouse nachos with pulled pork and the lava lava shrimp with Asian aioli sauce are standouts in our book.
With five towers and 765 suites, Portofino Island in Pensacola Beach is large enough to offer big options for the little ones. For starters, the resort features junior tennis lessons, as well as daily programming for guests ages 4 to 12—think crafts, pool movies, and kids’ night out babysitting that includes themes like scavenger hunts and pizza parties.
Plus, their lineup of gear for rent includes everything you might need to enjoy sand and sea: paddleboards, surfboards, and kayaks, plus beach games such as cornhole, bocce, ladder golf, and volleyball. We also like that you don’t have to leave the resort to rent bicycles, golf carts, and two-seater open-air mini cars.
Waterscape Condos by Vacasa
Does this sound familiar—you finally get set up on the beach when your kid tells you he forgot to eat breakfast. This is not a big deal when you opt for condo living, like the 157 units at Waterscape by Vacasa in Fort Walton Beach. With a condo, you can pop back up to whip up a smoothie or scrambled eggs and then it’s right back to fun in the sun.
Beyond just the convenience, we also love the pool that caters to little ones with zero-entry and lots of water features that rain and sprinkle. And who could forget the 10-foot waterfall and nets for pool games?
WaterColor Inn and Resort
Sophisticated and timeless, this is the sort of resort that might conjure up memories of your own childhood escapes to the beach—and it is certainly where any parent would be happy to have their kids make new memories. The 60-room resort occupies 500 acres, so there’s plenty of beachfront and pine forest to explore.
We especially adore Camp WaterColor, a resort amenity much like an upscale water park. Here, you’ll find three pools—two of which are zero-entry—along with slides, a lazy river, food cantina and more. WaterColor also offers in-room dining, and has dedicated treat suites, with ice cream, snacks, coffee, and more up for grabs, accessible 24/7 with a room key.
The Grand Complex, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort
The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a compound—with more than 16,000 rooms across a variety of accommodations. The property occupies 2,400 acres and more than seven miles of white sand beach. By the numbers, it impresses. We like this pick because it offers the amenities of a hotel—including 19 pools with pool games—but also packs the convenience of condominiums, so meals and snacks can be made in your suite.
Our pick for condo living is the Grand Complex, set in The Village of Baytowne Wharf with access to shopping, dining, a game arcade, lawn games, playground, and a marina.
Emerald Grande at HarborWalk
You know your family, and if yours is the type that wants to go out and do something different every day, then the Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village is a good choice. It’s located marina side, with vendors a short walk away that can take you and your brood parasailing or banana boating. Or you can rent a pontoon or speedboat for the day to explore sandbars and the local coastline.
Of course, you can’t take your family to Destin and not devote ample time to sun and sand, which is why the resort runs a free shuttle to the beach. It’s a six-minute boat ride; during season, shuttles run every 30 minutes.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the massive pool set-up at The Island, a Fort Walton Beach hotel located Gulf side on Okaloosa Island. The edge of the pool abuts a lineup of poolside rooms, so you can awake and be steps from playtime and relaxation. A rock grotto sits center, with waterfalls for cooling off. Inside the grotto, a bar offers the chance to sip on island lemonade, painkillers, and other tropical drinks. Oh, and the hotel has a resident mermaid who performs.
For families who prefer playing in the ocean, you’ll appreciate the white, soft sand ideal for sandcastles and other games. Plus, the hotel also has beachfront rooms opening to the shore, so you can set yourself up steps from the water. With three onsite restaurants, a market, and several attractions—including an aquarium and a mini theme park—within walking distance, the hotel has everything you need so you can park once and settle in for the week.