An important part of any perfect day, or any vacation for that matter, is that at the end of day, everyone should be happy. If you have a family and kids, or even just a significant other, that’s not always easy.

Port Charlotte, FL and the surrounding areas of the Gulf Islands offer a wonderful mix of activities that are relaxing and educational while staying stimulating enough to keep everyone entertained. Due to the current economic environment, there are some amazing luxury condominiums up for grabs at some sweet rates that allow your pocket book to stay happy too.

Port Charlotte is roughly a 3 hour drive from Miami, making it accessible for a regular weekend excursion.We decided to head out on a Friday night after traffic died down a little, landing us in Port Charlotte at roughly 10:30PM in pitch darkness (something we aren’t used to in light-polluted Miami).

Having made prior arrangements with, we had only to grab our key from a lockbox and soon we were drop-jawed while gazing at our palatial and elegant 3 bedroom, 3500 square foot condo overlooking the gulf waters.

It was so nice to feel like we were in a second home, rather than a hotel, and when we woke up Saturday morning with subtle waves crashing against the beautiful shoreline now known as our backyard, we were surprised to find a well-appointed breakfast basket with fresh baked quiche, fruits and breads waiting at our door (a standard courtesy of Conch Out Vacations).

I’m talking "Penthouse Suite at the Waldorf" style treatment for less than the price of normal chain hotel room. And remember, three bedrooms means room for sharing with other families or couples, making it super affordable and a great ‘get together’ spot. The balcony overlooking the water was bigger than our whole living room back home and made for great sunset/evening conversation over drinks with friends.

As tempted as we were to just stretch out and relax in our new palace, we had an appointment with Botanist and Marine Captain Kathryn Preston, for a pontoon boat/kayak tour of the Gulf Islands. The pontoon boat is luxury method of getting out to the islands where you can then kayak amongst the mangrove islands (versus spending an hour each way in the open harbor to get out to the good stuff), and is just the right speed for youngsters or dare I say, slightly hung-over adults, to enjoy this beautiful and ecologically diverse expanse of mangrove clusters and the wildlife they provide a home to.

Skipper Kathryn provides subtle and poignant information relating to the areas vegetation and wildlife, including blue herons, tarpon fish, snook, gulls, and pelicans, all of which made their presence felt regularly throughout our trip. Kathryn’s beautiful, piercing blue eyes and peaceful, loving nature, makes the trip a total joy. Her love and understanding of plants made me feel for the first time that I was amongst plants as living breathing creatures rather than future pieces of firewood or furniture. The voyage was really relaxing but interesting at the same time, even keeping our 4-year old daughter engaged over the course of a 2-hour trip (that alone deserves a medal outright). [img_assist|nid=1162|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=167]

Now chefs, listen up, because it’s time for a little ‘grilling heaven’. The pool deck of the condo backs right to the water, similar to Malibu, and has a nice grilling deck with not one, but two stainless steel propane grills. Fire them both up, and grill up some fresh fish, eggplant, baby green onions, peppers, potatoes and zucchini with olive oil, garlic, lemon, sea salt and cracked pepper.

The backdrop and sound of crashing waves, with that fresh ocean smell wafting amongst the grilled onions and fish, while your family enjoys the pool and ocean just feet away, makes for one the best grilling experiences you will ever have. It was so surreal that I honestly felt like I was the star of a ‘Weber Grill meets Thompson’s water seal’ commercial.

After some afternoon grilling and swimming bliss, it’s time for some fun with the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs, co-owned by the great Cal Ripken. I hadn’t been to a baseball game in a while, and it was nice to watch the game played at a hungrier and more down-to-earth level, while enjoying the usual Americana game-fare like hotdogs and peanuts/popcorn. The cool thing was that there are also two big age-specific playgrounds for the baseball disenchanted, and fireworks after the game to bring everyone back together at the end of the night.

On your way back home the next day, save a little time to stop in at the Muscle Car Museum in Punta Gorda, where in short time you can see 200 vintage ’50s to early ’70’s muscle cars of movie or popular fame all under one roof.

This trip in beautiful Port Charlotte and the The Gulf Islands had luxury, eco-education, relaxation and a little something for everyone, making it, in my opinion, perfect.

What & Where:
Conch Out Vacations at Manasota Key Realty (1927 Beach Rd, Englewood; 941-474-9536 / 800-870-6432; www.charlotteharbortravel.com)
Nature Education and Science Explorations "Nature By Boat Excursions" (Botanist and Marine captain Kathryn Preston; 941-626-7590; www.florida-secrets.com)
Charlotte Stone Crabs Baseball (Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd, Port Charlotte; www.stonecrabsbaseball.com)
Muscle Car City (3811 Tamiami Trail; Punta Gorda; 941-575-5959; www.musclecarcity.net)

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