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Wiser Wanderlust
Naples & Marco Island Family Vacation
Most people think of Naples as a sleepy society snowbird resort, but as a portal to the Everglades and Marco Island, little eco-tykes will squeal with glee watching gators or dolphins, chasing gulls, building sandcastles on pristine beaches, hunting seashells and that's just before lunch.

Naple is  mecca for wealthy scions complete with expensive Pelican Bay golf course, MIllionaire Row's gracious seaside mansions and Vanderbilt Beach in honor of its patrons, its preserved charm and old-world serenity. It  may not be your first choice for a family vacation but Naples commitment to preserving the environment and safety go a long way to keeping mom and dad happy with their choice. As for your anklebiters, running after lizards or canoing through six miles of Clam's Pass winding streams and birdwatching will keep them thrilled.

Family-friendly resorts offer all sorts of children's programs, from the high-end Ritz Kids at the tony Naples Ritz-Carlton (scavenger hunts, pasty making, beach walks) to The Registry Resort's nature camp, tumbling for tots and bubbles on the beach. Charming motels with efficiencies dot the beaches, including The Tides Inn where children under 11 stay free or Lighthouse Inn MOtel. Just south of Naples is Marco Island, once home to the warrior Calusa Indians, a low-key alternative when visiting Naples.

Want to wow your kids without spendng a fortune? Plan on having breakfast at your lodging. Pour the kids some cereal, cut up some fruit and eat breakfast on your verandah while watching the frigate birds flirt overhead and the heron or egret on the front lawn.  Pack up the backpacks and coolers and spend the morning at one of these kid-pleasing attractions or beaches, then head back to the hotel or your efficiency with a Boars Head sub and chips from Publix.  A quick nap, some hijinks in the pool and you're ready for an early bird dinner topped off with an ice cream and stroll. Videos for the kids at the hotel, a glass of wine for mom and dad, and it's a perfect family vacation day in Naples just right for your young family.

Dining Out
Breakfast:  For inexpensive pancakes and eggs, check out Buzz's Lighthouse Cafe. A Florida tradtion,  First Watch serves up healthy entrees as well as waffles and pancakes from chocolate chip to blueberry and some of the best veggie omelettes this side of Iowa.
Lunch: Cheeburger, Cheeburger lets you choose your burger size, toppings and coupled with a chocolae milkshake and slab of fries, it's heaven. Silver Spoon American Cafe's Dagwood-sized sandwiches, salads, gourmet pizza, pasta and kid-friendly appetizers is another inexpensive, tasty alternative to picnics.
Dinner: Get a taste of Old Florida at Marco Island's Snook Inn for seafood, steaks, chicken, burgers and a salad bar. If you caught your own fish that day, the will fry it up for you. In Naples, The Palm Restaurant's homecooked meals and fresh catch of the day satiates even the pickiest eaters.

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Attractions & Beaches
Briggs Nature Center, Naples: On Shell Island Rd. , this Florida scrublands teems with birds and tortoises, and you can choose between canoes and a nature tour with the park ranger for two hours of outdoors fun along the 1/2 mile boardwalk.
Caribbean Gardens, Naples:  Naples Zoo is the only one in Florida with rare Indochinese tigers as well as the usuual monkeys, apes, spotted hyenas, lions and leopards. You can take a boat ride and get up close and personal with a kangaroo or python. Gardening parents will enjoy the amazing flora.
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park: Located at the west end of Bluebill Ave., and named as one of America's top ten beaches, this haven features bathhouses, hot dog and ice cream concessions, beach chair and umbrella rentals and more. Take the kids on a short nature tour with the park ranger and if its June through October, you can see the loggerhead turtle nests.
Everglades City: Mesmerizing airboat rides and jungle boat tours reveal alligators, crocodiles, panthers, jaguars, sea turtles, ottes and snakes but heads up: The airboat rides are extremely noisy and may be frightening to young children.
Everglades Wonder Gardens, Naples: Just 10 miles north of Naples, you can see what Florida was like in the old days and see bears, performing otters, deer, Florida panther and Everglades crocodiles being fed.
Marco Island Trolley Tours: Take a historic trip around 11 historical markers, including a 3,500 year old Native American artifact site and Calusa Indians burial mounds. If the kids get antsy, you can jump off the trolley and board it again after exploring the island.
Naples Nature Center: www.conservancy.org Take a guided boat ride along the Gordon RIver, walk the nature trail and explore the aviary complete with bald eagles. Don't miss the gift shop's educational toys and games, perfect for stimulating future naturalists.
Naples Pier: Watch the sunset at the historic 1,000-foot-long pier, or spend the day at the adjacent beach fishing, walking, swimming and grabbing lunch at the snack bar.
The Teddy Bear Museum, Naples: Kids under four are free at this nostalgic museum featuring 3,500 teddy bears and bearapenalia, from teeny tiny to giant huggies as well as a Three Bears house for exploring and a Saturday morning storytime.
Tigertail Public Beach, Marco Island: At the end of Hernando Drive with no admission charge except a small parking fee. You'll find restrooms, showers, children's playground, watersports rentals and a snack bar, but best bet is to bring a picnic from Subway or Publix.
Two websites to check out before you go are www.napleschamber.org
and www.marcoislandchamber.org