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A happy place

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Start with a wide, white beach that stretches for miles fronting a calm surf along Florida’s Southwest coast. Add a swimming pool with slide, waterfall and interactive water features, plus a cool camp and game arcade for kids. Top it off with a world-class spa and golf courses for mom and dad and you’ve found a place ideal for families — the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa.

Recently named the No. 1 island in the U.S. and No. 4 in the world (just after Bora Bora) in TripAdvisor’s 2014 Travelers’ Choice awards, Marco Island, via the Southwest Florida International Airport, also happens to be a three-hour nonstop flight from New York City.

A recent $275-million renovation and redesign of the Balinese-styled resort creates an “island within an island” feel. Step inside the property and you immediately feel like you have escaped the stresses of the outside world for a better place, one filled with genuinely happy and super family-friendly people.

The Marco Island Marriott doesn’t just welcome kids, it goes above and beyond for them. While lounging at the family Tiki Pool one day, I saw resort staff handing out child-sized pool floats to moms and dads playing with their kids in the water. Our request for an ice cream sundae not found on the menu at 400 Pazzi’s, the resort’s pizza place, was granted with the question, “Do you want Oreos, M&Ms, and sprinkles with that?” My 11 year-old (and my) answer was “Yes, yes, and yes!”

The Tiki Tribe Discovery Camp is available from 10 am to 3 pm for kids ages 5 to 12 for a cost of $70 per child, including lunch. The focus here is on incorporating lessons about the environment and nature with such activities as crafts, an animal of the day, shell hunting, and viewing shell casings through a microscope.

In addition to the camp, the resort offers daily scheduled activities for the whole family to enjoy together such as crafts, dive-in movies, family bingo, noodle races, and more depending on the time of year. There are Ping-Pong tables and a game arcade, too.

Watersports equipment can be rented at the beach, but for something truly special, families should experience the 2.5 hour Sailing and Shelling excursion. You set sail from Marco Island Marriott’s beach on a six-passenger catamaran piloted by a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain who takes you along the Gulf of Mexico to one of the small uninhabited Ten Thousand Islands to hunt for seashells. Our trip resulted in a large baggie filled with treasures that we now have on display in a tall glass jar. The captain also points out different birds, and any dolphins, manatees, or sea turtles that she sees and tells the story of Marco Island’s creation into a resort community. (For sailors ages 5 and older.)

The large spa is the perfect place for parents to escape while kids are in camp. Spa guests can work out in the private fitness center (there is another one in the resort open to all), take fitness classes, or just relax in the sauna, steam room, whirlpool, and cold plunge pool indoors or indulge in the quiet of the spa pool deck, which has a new, holistic mineral pool.

There are many choices for body and facial treatments, as well as salon services. The new Sleep spa treatment is perfect for sleep-deprived parents and includes a 50-minute massage followed by a 20-minute restorative nap with soothing sound waves helping to lull your mind into a deeper sense of relaxation. Following my spa treatment, my traveling companions actually noted that I looked calmer and more rested.

Spacious rooms

Set in two towers, the majority of the 726 spacious guest rooms feature full walls of floor-to-ceiling windows with glass doors leading to spacious balconies. Request a room with direct ocean views, and you will be treated to the “green flash” sunset each night. Another option for families are the one- or two-bedroom Lanai Suites, with separate living and dining areas and microwaves and refrigerators. These two-story accommodations are located next to the low-key Quinn’s pool and are steps from the beach.

The magnificent sunset and location of the resort is celebrated a few nights a week with a Fire Dancer, who gets wide-eyed gasps from kids and adults alike when he performs an authentic Polynesian dance while juggling fire and blowing a ceremonial conch shell on the sands in front of Quinn’s on the Beach, a family-friendly spot for lunch or dinner.

Menus with traditional, kid-friendly food are available at all the restaurants, from Korals lobby bar, for sushi and appetizers, to the upscale and truly fabulous cuisine at Kurrents. There is also 400 Pazzi’s, casual dining at Tropiks (with a great buffet breakfast among its offerings), Café San Marco for coffees, pastries, salads, sandwiches and desserts, and the Tiki Bar by the pool for grill and light fare. Off-property, the resort’s two golf courses, The Rookery and Hammock Bay, also offer dining choices and another place for parents to do their own thing if they enjoy the greens.

The happy place feel of the resort is so prevalent that other guests not even traveling with children go out of their way for kids. While walking on the beach with my daughter, one woman gave her a sand dollar she had found and another woman gave her a star fish. The greatest windfall for my daughter took place on day one, when two men gave her two fists full of tokens — at least $20 worth — as they were leaving, and we were entering, the game arcade. Throughout the trip, she aptly summed up the Marco Island Marriott in five words: “Everyone is so nice here!”

Discover more on the property at marcoislandmarriott.com.

Stacey Zable is an award-winning veteran travel writer and family travel expert who has written about destinations, resorts, and cruise lines around the world. Her favorite trips are those that she shares with her husband and two daughters. Send travel questions and comments to info@familytraveltrails.com.

Updated 5:31 pm, December 9, 2016
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