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Detsin Florida For A Family Vacation

Updated on February 19, 2009

Family Vacations In Florida

The Destin area is one of our favorite places in Florida. I discovered this gem while searching for a state park where our daughter and her family could camp and we could rent a cabin near them. I found Topsail Hill Reserve State Park and loved it! We drive from Michigan, and stayed on Captiva Island in the past and loved it. However, we decided to try the Florida panhandle area last year because it cut our driving time by about five hours! It is also much more affordable. Even during spring break it is more of a family oriented area. While checking out the area on the internet I found the Gulfarium located in Destin. Our Grandson is autistic and I was thrilled to discover a special program there just perfect for him and all eight of us!

Topsail Preserve State Park is located ten miles east of Destin. It was once a private RV park, so has many amenities, such as bike trails, swimming pool, shuffle board and a wide variety of wildlife and three fishing lakes. It is very clean and well maintained. Cabins are available for rent on a weekly basis at a very affordable $700. Security is also unobtrusive, but quite vigilant so we felt very safe and took moonlight strolls. The cabins are more like little homes and are very new. Ours had one (large) bedroom, bathroom, a fully quipped kitchen and dining area. The large living room (with TV) accommodated ten people. Four of us slept there comfortably. Each cabin has screened in back porch a beautiful and unique landscape in the front.

We spent a lot of time at the beach, which is three miles long and very private. The sand is wonderful white stuff perfect for building sandcastles or just strolling and sunbathing. We saw less than a dozen people on each beach visit. A tram arrives at a central location from the camp/cabin area and drives beach goers to the wood boardwalk to the beach. The tram arrives every twenty minutes on the dot and makes taking all those pails, shovels and beach chairs along much easier. A boardwalk protects the beautiful dunes and their vegetation and wildlife while providing a comfy walk to the beach (dune climbing is rough and also forbidden).

The kids loved the swimming pool and we all had great fun playing shuffle board. There are also hiking trails and you can observe of become part of a ‘turpentine’ crew. All the features in the park are included in the entrance fee.

Cabins and campsites are booked fast, so I recommend you check availability six months in advance for the best choices.

Gulfarium: This is a wonderful place. It was founded in 1955 and offers both entertainment and education. Friendly Dolphins and other sea creatures both entertain and teach visitors about their needs and habits.

The highlight of our visit came in the form of a “Dolphin Encounter.” Cameron, our grandson (age 14), is autistic and loves Dolphins. I called ahead (a must) and arranged a private encounter for him. The encounter takes place in a large enclosed pool enclosure separate from the rest of the Gulfarium. Two trainers were in the pool and gently introduced Cameron to Kiwi, a rescued bottle nosed dolphin who loves to play and perform. The one-on-one experience was magical for Cam. The trainer taught him how to use hand signals that invited Kiwi to dance, jump and give him a kiss. I highly recommend this for any special needs child. It was a tad expensive for our budget at $125 for the twenty minute encounter, but I feel it was worth every penny. I’ve rarely seen Cameron smile so much or interact with a person (the trainer) and Kiwi for such a long time.

We stayed in the Destin area in March, so the water park was not open at the time. Locals told us it is a wonderful place however and highly recommended it. The Track Recreation Center offers go-carts, an arcade and much more to keep the kids entertained, while the many art galleries and shops are available for the adults.

We are returning to the Destin area again this March (2008) and have rented a three-story duplex townhouse right on the beach. We are renting the whole place for $1800 and are really looking forward to our family ‘reunion’ there. I highly recommend the Destin area as it is less crowded than other beach front places in Florida and has a lot to offer folks from age one to one-hundred and one!


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