Post-Newtown Priority: Family Time

The past week has been a profoundly sad and somber one for all, but perhaps more so than for the parents of young children. If something positive could possibly be taken away from the Newtown tragedy, it’s that we’re probably hugging our kids a bit tighter and appreciating them just a little more.

Though the shocking incident has shaken us to our core, the importance of “family” has been reaffirmed as our top priority.

Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer with his grandson. (Photograph courtesy Replay Sports Management)

It’s this sentiment that made attending the PNC Father/Son Challenge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando that much more poignant.

First played in 1995, this event celebrates family as much as it does championship golf. So it was with extra reverence that I watched the likes of Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer share their love for the game and their children on the green.

It seemed only appropriate that a tournament pairing golf’s greatest legends with their sons (and daughters) be held in Orlando. After all, the sunny city is renowned the world over for bringing families together.

Traveling to Disney World with the kids has been a right of passage for generations. When my parents first took me to the Magic Kingdom in the mid-1970s,  Sea World had just opened, but construction on Universal Studios wouldn’t begin for another decade.

Animal Kingdom, Discovery Cove, and Hollywood Studios have since been added to the long list of attractions. Couple that with the proximity of the Space Coast and the the the Everglades, and suddenly a week in Central Florida may not be enough.

With so much for families to do in and around Orlando, the question becomes where to take up residence. Booking a room at one of the Disney properties is convenient if your sole purpose is visiting the parks. But if you’re planning for an extended stay, my time at the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes confirmed they’d make  a wonderful home base.

Spending time with nature at the Ritz Carlton Orlando. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Inspired by watching some of the best players in the world, I signed up for a private golf lesson at their Golf Digest School. After spending just an hour with my instructor, Todd Casabella, I had a clear understanding of how to correct some of my mistakes. Todd shared with me that he often works with families, which I can appreciate since I wouldn’t want my boys picking up dad’s bad habits.

The resort’s location between the major theme parks guarantees you’re never too far away from the action. But there’s so much for families to do together, it’s tempting to stay on the hotel grounds.

Besides golfing, you can ride Surrey bikes, go fly fishing, play lawn games, float along a lazy river, or tackle their new adventure course. And for parents for a little alone time in the spa, Ritz Kids programs will take care of children ages 5-12 with a range of fun activities (including ice-cream making).

What’s more, the 300+ acres of native habitat that surrounds the resort invite you to spend quality time in nature. Since it’s easy to forget what Central Florida looked like before the theme parks and the fast creep of Orlando’s urban sprawl, I really appreciated their two-hour Eco Tour on Shingle Creek.

After spending a few minutes quietly paddling our kayaks along the headwaters of the Everglades, admiring dozens of native bird species and watching for gators, my guide and I started chatting about what’s kept him at the resort for more than four years. He told me he’s just as fascinated with the guests as he is with the tranquil surroundings.

“I’ve had some pretty high-powered executives completely open up to me about their lives while out on this river,” he confided. “How being on the water just listening to the sounds of wildlife reminds them of what’s really important.”

I responded by telling him how traveling with my children and sharing the world with them is what really matters to me.

We both smiled and continued paddling up river without saying another word.

Follow Rainer’s travels on Twitter @JenssTravel.