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Best Places for Kidding Around in the Naples Area

Despite its relatively high cost of living and vacationing, Naples is as family welcoming as cities come in Florida. A number of attractions that are either designed especially for kids or are attractive to all ages bring families to the great numbers.

In the first category, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples and adjacent Sun-N-Fun Lagoon Water Park are the newest additions to the family scene. Other, quintessential nature attractions such as Big Cypress National Preserve fascinate families with intriguing wildlife, hands-on interpretative centers and hiking, biking and paddling opportunities.

Then, of course, there are those oversized sand boxes to excite families – gorgeous white sand beaches with facilities that range from a fishing pier to playgrounds and a duck pond.

Within this list, your family will discover a full range of educational and just plain fun attractions and activities to keep even the hardest to please members of the family engaged and entertained. The list covers the breadth of the Naples region from the Everglades wilderness expanse in the southeast to the very heart of the city. For a fun and complete guide to Naples for families, look for the new colorful “A (mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & the Everglades” guidebook.

10 Wooten's Everglades Airboats
One of the few surviving alligator and airboat roadside attractions along Tamiami Trail through the heart of Everglades country, Wooten's has been operating since 1953. What started as an airboat tour operation, skimming visitors along the Everglades' skinny water ways in noisy jet-propelled boats once used exclusively by locals for frogging, has grown into an extensive wildlife zoo and swamp buggy tour. The big-tire swamp buggies drive tourists around Everglades habitat, past a few funky exhibits and a gator pond. Back at home base, visitors can choose to package their tours with a visit to the alligators, crocodiles, panthers, tigers and other native and exotic fauna confined in the animal park. Staff often does alligator and other animal presentations. (800-282-2781)

9 The Conservancy of Southwest Florida
The Conservancy's Nature Center, which underwent a major up-design in recent years, comprises an indoor and outdoor complex with many facets. The Dalton Discovery Center is an interactive museum where visitors can explore the eco system of Southwest Florida. It houses more than 100 live animals and hands on exhibits for all ages. Situated on the Gordon River, the Nature Center offers interpretive boat cruises and kayak rentals. Nature trails also explore local ecology and there are plans to develop a greenway project with nearby Naples Zoo and other parks. Birds and other local fauna come here to recover from injuries. A theater and seasonal programs complete the Conservancy's education mission. (239-262-0304)

8 Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Nationally accredited, the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is one of the best attractions in the city. Celebrated by locals and travelers, this 52-acre park features exotic creatures such as panthers, alligators, leopards, bears and lions. Guests pay one rate to enjoy lively multimedia animal shows and feedings and a boat cruise to the primate island to see monkeys and lemurs. For its size, it boasts some superlative exhibits. The Black Bear Hammock, for instance, is the largest such accredited exhibit east of the Mississippi. The grounds are attractively maintained with the lush vegetation of the zoo's once-called Caribbean Gardens. Play areas amuse toddlers. To take in all the sights and shows requires about four hours. (239-262-5409)

7 Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Recognized as one of the best beaches in the US, the sandy shore at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park is all-natural and devoid of the high rises and development of most of the other local beaches. A nature trail leads to an observation tower at the beach's north end. Fishermen head to the pass to hook into fish being flushed out of the Cocohatchee River. This is a popular park, but you can usually find parking in one of the many lots if you arrive early enough. The park posts a sign on the road leading to it when it is full, but there's another parking lot less than a quarter mile away if you don't mind walking. Picnic areas have grills, restrooms and showers. (239-597-6196)

6 Lowdermilk Park
Lowdermilk Park holds the most full-service facilities of any Gulf of Mexico beach in the Naples area, making it a good fit for families with children. They can gather for picnics in one of the two gazebo pavilions that the park rents out, go check out the duck pond, play on the two playgrounds and enjoy the calm and safe waters here away from any rushing pass waters. Other facilities include sand volleyball courts, restrooms and showers, handicap access and beach wheelchairs and a food concession stand. Its close proximity to the downtown area adds to its convenience for visitors of all ages. (239-597-6196)

5 Big Cypress National Preserve
For nature lovers traveling on a budget, it doesn't get any better than the land and water trails of Big Cypress National Preserve. This behemoth freshwater neighbor to Everglades National Park covers more than 700,000 acres and is home to such rare creatures as the Florida panther, Florida manatee and all the alligators you've ever cared to see. Begin your explorations at the new free Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. Its boardwalk trail lets you spy on manatees in the waters and anhingas in the trees. Inside, listen to the sounds of pig frogs, limpkins, thunder and rain and other 'Glades music. Drive Loop Road for the best wildlife sightings and stop at the free Oasis Visitor Center to learn more about the environment and free ranger programs. (239-695-1201, 239-695-2000)

4 Collier County Museum
While visiting museums is not a typical activity for visitors to Naples, Florida, this one is a must-see for those interested in the multi-textured bygones of Collier County. Impressive indoor vignettes and an outdoor historical park take you through eras of prehistoric animals and peoples, Spanish exploration, Seminole Indians and Seminole Wars, pioneer settlement, logging, the building of Tamiami Trail, pineapple farming, fishing, World War II and modern development and tourism. Highlights include a logging locomotive, vintage swamp buggy, recreated Seminole village and war fort and early homes. One of the latter contains a taxidermy collection of local fish, birds and other wildlife. (239-252-8476)

3 Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
While Naples is known for its pristine beaches, the city also has flourishing wetlands such as the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - known for its ancient cypress forest and colony of nesting American woodstorks. The Audubon facility is also the gateway for the South Florida Birding Trail, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Save an afternoon to meander down the park's 2.25-mile boardwalk, which is interpreted with educational signs that lead visitors along a self-guided tour. The walkway allows guests to travel through a wet prairie, a cypress forest, pine uplands and a marsh as they observe the native wildlife. (239-348-9151)

2 Sun-N-Fun Lagoon Water Park
Located adjacent to Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (CMON) in North Collier Regional Park, it provides a get-wet, splashy sequel to a museum visit. The family can kick back in the lazy river or wage water pistol war, dare the five steep 38 foot slides, swim in the dive and lap pool or snooze on the sand beach. The little ones love the Turtle Cove Pool, where they can play with others their size - ages 5 to 12 - amid colorful fountains and showers. A concession operation sells food, ice cream, sunscreen, swim diapers and other pool and beach necessities. (239-252-4021)

1 Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (C'MON)

A microcosm of Naples culture and nature in pint-sized stature, C'MON opened in 2012 in a park setting in North Naples. The Naples Trolley is the centerpiece as you enter the 30,000 square-foot hall of the colorful ship-shaped building. Inside the trolley, kids get their picture taken for a driver's license and punch buttons to go virtually to some of the museum's 12 different galleries. Behind it, a mammoth, very real-looking banyan tree has its 350 branches filled with stuffed animal toys. Inside, kids can step into a virtual pond and watch the fish flit away and water plants grow. The Journey through the Everglades exhibit's boardwalk winds up into the tree and overlooks the mangrove maze of pods with hands-on learning experiences. As visitors make the journey, lighting and sound effects mimic spending a day in the moody environment. At the Beach, kids can fish with poles and magnetic bait, then identify the fish they caught. Indoor and outdoor exhibits sneakily teach kids about the environment. There's even a space for teens and changing exhibits that appeal to adults. (239-514-0084) 


Spotlight On Children's Books 

and Author Karen T. Bartlett

As an author, parent and educator, I am a huge proponent of getting kids to read real books. Ebooks are fine, of course. But holding a real book in your hands and turning the pages is a precious experience that all children should have. You make a connection with a book and you savor the time spent with it. That being said, getting kids away from electronic games and other activities can present a challenge. 


The book a child receives has to be a funfest of color, excitement and interesting information. I found a book that speaks to children, enriches their curiosity and is just plain fun at the same time. The book is called,  A (Mostly) Kids' Guide to Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades and it is the first in a series of kids' guide books written by Karen T. Bartlett, an award-winning photographer, writer and author of 11 destination books for adults. 

An 80-page soft cover book, with more than 150 full color photographs, this beautiful info-laden book is a fun and humorous kids'-eye view of the beaches, nature preserves, attractions and experiences on land and sea. But while kids will most certainly love it, the book is definitely not just for them. A Kids' Guide to Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades is packed with tidbits of regional history and trivia that even parents, grandparents and all adults will enjoy. I recommended this book to teachers at my local elementary school and they, and their students, love it. As one teacher said, 

It not only provides children with a wealth of information about specific places in our country but also provides colorful photos and illustrations that visually engage the young exploring mind. I love the illustrations, the expert photography, and all the exciting places the book describes in detail.

Another great part of this book is that each colorful page stands on its own with fun facts. Karen T. Bartlett knows what piques the interest of children and she has masterfully crafted a wonderful book that satisfies a child's curiosity.

Ms. Bartlett did not start out writing books for children; she has had an interesting and varied career. Her first job was as a gofer and writer for a small magazine publisher. Later she ventured out and began her own ad agency, ("I was young and had no fear!"), which, according to the trade journal, PRWeek, evolved into one of the top seven PR firms in the Southeastern U.S. She garnered her a gold ADDY for this success. 

Karen's next career change was as a travel writer. This she did for 12 years until she was approached by a coffee table book publisher to write the text for a Naples, Florida destination photography book. That book became one of the publishers' top-sellers. Subsequently she went on to write, photograph, and edit several other books for that them.

In 2014, Karen made the commitment to herself to launch her own publishing business focusing on kids' guide books, a plan that had been in the back of her mind for quite some time. She took all the financial risk but was rewarded with having complete design and copy control. Karen went totally outside the box but, since she was the boss, there was nobody to say she couldn't! Talk about having no fear. Her commitment paid off in the form of a beautifully created book.

A (Mostly) Kids' Guide to Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades is one book that I highly recommend because it sparks those very precious commodities in the mind of children; their curiosity and imaginations.

There is one person in the world you really have to thank for having given you an extraordinary gift that lasts a lifetime and leads you to new and exciting worlds. That is the gift of reading. Take a fun journey with A (Mostly) Kids' Guide to Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades and enjoy!

Marco Eagle


Book review: Writer of SWFLA kids' guide visiting Marco

Arts & Entertainment News

Naples guidebook geared to kids colors facts with fun 



There’s nothing square about this 8-by-8-inch highenergy book. It’s the hip answer to youngsters who visit Naples and say, “I’m bored. What are we going to do?”

The book features snappy page design, a full color palette, lively text, plus attractive photographs and other illustrations. Mostly, it just explodes with delicious information about this corner of Southwest Florida with a focus on children’s activities. Feedback from the Naples tourism industry has been exuberant, and author-publisher Karen T. Bartlett already has plans for other regional Kids’ Guide editions.

The guide begins with a colorful burst of images tied to interesting facts about some of the area’s hallmark critters and plant life. Then we are off on a romp that samples fun at the beaches (all five of them) and continues with an exploration of places that make nature education and preservation fun: the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, The Naples Zoo, and Shy Wolf Sanctuary among them.

Everywhere, the text offers a childfriendly voice with good-natured wit. Ms. Bartlett bills herself as the “Adventurer in Chief,” and no child, parent or grandparent will deny the powerful appeal of her upbeat, lighthearted guidance.

What else is on the kids’ tour? Well, there is the Naples Bay-Tin City area, a cruise aboard the Naples Princess, the shops on Fifth Avenue South (with a lingering glance at Regina’s Ice Cream Pavilion), the dog-friendly Third Street Shops, various city and county parks, the Naples Depot Museum, Naples Botanical Garden, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, Florida Sports Park and many other close-in destinations.

Then the book opens to a wider view, introducing highlights in and near Immokalee, including Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Roberts Ranch. Ms. Bartlett teases her readers with fascinating bits of Native American history along the way.

¦ “A (Mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades” by Karen T. Bartlett. Mostly Kids’ Guides LLC. 80 pages, $18.95.  “A (Mostly) Kids’ Guide to NaplesMarco Island & The Everglades” by Karen T. Bartlett. Mostly Kids’ Guides LLC. 80 pages, $18.95. Marco Island receives attention for its shelling and other beaches, along with tempting descriptions of parasailing, helicopter trips and waverunner fun.

Readers younger and older are invited to visit Keewaydin Island and Cape Romano (look out for gopher tortoises and spiny-tail iguanas). Don’t miss the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the triangular fish that “looks like a bat with warts, with lipstick-colored lips.” Go on a fishing trip. Visit Mackle Park.

Then get ready for the Everglades.

Airboats on the river of grass, alligators, manatees, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, hammocks you don’t sleep in, Billie Swamp Safari, the Skunk Ape Headquarters, Everglades City and its historical museum, Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier Seminole State Park, Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery and countless varieties of beautiful birds — is there no end to this place for families to enjoy while they learn?

Depending on what time of year eager kids accompany their parents down here or eager grandparents lure their grandchildren for a visit, there are plenty of special events from which to choose, too. These range from the Marco Island Seafood Festival to the Great Dock Canoe Race (May 9) to the Fourth of July fireworks on the Naples Pier to the Swamp Buggy races to Christmas boat parades. 

To help you organize your youngsters’ visit, the author provides maps that show visitors where the various sights are in relationship to one another. She also provides an alphabetized list of the mustsee places along with contact information. 

The rest is up to you. And, if you’re not ready to guide those kids around yet, don’t worry. The book in itself is a most delightful and surprising trip. No kidding. See 

About the author

Karen T. Bartlett has lived in Naples since her now grown-up children were very young. For more than a decade she was travel editor and a columnist for Gulfshore Life magazine, and she has contributed travel features and photography to scores of publications throughout North America and the Caribbean. The author of 11 destination travel books, she has explored Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades from the point of view of a reporter, a storyteller and a mom. ¦ 

— Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English, is a poet, critic and freelance writer with 20 books to his credit, including several studies of war litera ture and a creative writing text.

Local kids' guide is treasure map for all ages

Gulfshore Life Magazine

Along the Gulfshore


Hot Dish: Bring the Kids to Chez Boët Tonight

Hot Dish: Bring the Kids to Chez Boët Tonight


Philippe and Lisa Boët are no strangers to change. Arriving here in Naples almost two decades ago from France, they’ve continued to better their labor of (culinary) love, Chez Boët in Crayton Cove, and the city’s dining scene. From being founding members of Naples Originals (an association raising awareness of local, non-chain eateries) to revamping their home away from home several years ago (the restaurant’s original name when it opened in 2003 was Bamboo Café), they’ve grown their business with the times.

Two new developments have caught our attention—a green business designation for their use of organic produce and heritage-bred meats plus the founding of a travel company for food- and wine-focused excursions throughout their beloved Gallic countryside—but what has intrigued us most recently was the addition of a unique and expectedly sophisticated children’s menu. Developed with the help of the couple’s daughter, Isabella, the selections include a wagyu beef Bourguignon in a mini-cocotte and a mixed brochette (skewer) of fresh Gulf seafood.

You can bring the kids or grandkids any night of the week for dinner starting at 5 p.m., and we suggest heading over tonight (March 26) to try out the menu. The restaurant is opening half an hour early for a book signing by author Karen Bartlett, featuring $6/glass house wines for the adults and fun foodie facts for the pint-sized gourmands from Bartlett's new work, A Mostly Kid’s Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades. Both you and the kiddos will be chiming bon appétit.