A Florida Family Vacation at Saddlebrook Resort

By Lisa McElroy

Abby has kept this kids’ club counselor running. So far, they’ve taken a nature walk, ridden bikes, gone swimming, and done about three different crafts. Even though Abby’s the only kid signed up for “camp” today, the counselor has been active and fun, treating Abby like a princess and showing her a great time. Even better? My husband and I have had the chance to play a round of golf, relax, and hit the spa. We’re on a family vacation at Saddlebrook Resort near Tampa, Florida, it’s summertime, and the living is easy.

Saddlebrook’s both a country club and a top-notch golf resort, so many of the people around the pool and on the links are locals. Still, the hotel portion of the property is luxurious and well located, making it a great family destination. Our suite is pretty much a condo, with two bedrooms, two baths, a huge living room, and a well-stocked kitchen. Throw in a nice porch off the living room (one with a great view of a tree where egrets nest), and you’ve got a home away from home.

If you’re into golf, you can’t beat Saddlebrook. Arnold Palmer designed the two pristine courses and his world-renowned golf academy is here, too. The pros offer twice-daily clinics as well as private lessons. My husband, who loves to golf, thought the courses were both beautiful and challenging, especially due to the many lovely water hazards (typical of a Florida course). The golf and spa package is a great deal, offering a choice between 18 holes and a bucket of balls, or a 25-minute spa treatment each day.

Tennis enthusiasts will love Saddlebrook, too, for its 45 courts, its complimentary twice-daily clinics, and its tennis package offering a one-hour lesson each day. The resort has been named one of the best in the nation for tennis enthusiasts.

If you’re like me, and you love playing in the pool with your kids, the gigantic pool is top notch, and the lifeguards supply plenty of noodles and pool toys. The only downside? It’s hard to get your kids to get out and dry off!

As for dining, we could get enough of the salad bar at Dempsey’s Steak House, a restaurant with a casual atmosphere but a fine dining menu. Even Abby, who professes to hate salad, found plenty to love here, as well as a great steak and some well-prepared fish; I loved the chocolate soufflé so much that we had to return for at least one on every night of our stay. At the more casual T.D.’s Snack Bar, we all enjoyed the nachos and the huge, juicy burger. And for breakfast, Tropics Restaurant offered a wide array of fruit, breakfast breads, and made-to-order omelettes.

If you visit Tampa, you’ll want to experience some of the area attractions, too. Busch Gardens routinely gets rave reviews from the thousands of families who visit each year. This safari-themed park offers the typical rides (from roller coasters to carousels), but also many animal-themed tours and exhibits, including an “animal keeper” experience where kids over 13 can assist zookeepers in caring for the park’s animals for the day. Adventure Island, a 30-acre waterpark, offers slides and pools for kids of all sizes; Abby entertained herself here for an entire day, while my husband and I surfed the waves in the wave pool and relaxed in our beach chairs.

We left Tampa and Saddlebrook relaxed, happy, and more bonded – everything you could want from a great resort vacation. Even better, we didn’t break the bank, and we didn’t have to go far. We’ll be back!

If You Go:

  • Consider the season. Rainy season is late spring and summer, but even then, it will only shower for a couple of hours in the afternoon – all the better for an afternoon siesta. Summer is hot, and the pool may be more crowded with locals.

  • Check discount airlines. We flew Southwest straight to the Tampa airport and saved a bundle over other airlines.

  • Rent a car. Saddlebrook has a terrific valet parking service (they’ll even put up or take down your convertible top), and you’ll want to get out and about to explore.

  • Check out Saddlebrook’s spa. My facial was perfect – calm, relaxing, and soothing. The massage treatments looked amazing, too – I could have spent the whole day relaxing!

  • Pack athletic wear, bathing suits, and one nice outfit. Everyone at Saddlebrook walks around in golf and tennis clothes, and Bermuda shorts seem like the norm. For Dempsey’s, men and boys might want a jacket, and women and girls might want to wear sundresses.

  • Take a break, and sign the kids up for kids’ camp. Even if Abby hadn’t had a one-on-one camp experience, I would have been impressed. Many resorts won’t let the counselors take kids swimming, and even when they do, the counselors mostly act as lifeguards. At Saddlebrook, the counselor played water volleyball and had kickboard races with my nine-year-old.

Lisa Tucker McElroy is an attorney, writer, law professor, and mom. Lisa is the author of nine children's books, and she regularly publishes articles and essays about travel, marriage, parenting and family in national magazines such as Parenting, Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, FamilyFun, Cooking with Paula Deen, and Golf Vacations. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two travel-loving daughters.

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