Florida Family Vacation | Anna Maria Island | Family Photographer

Florida never fails me. Sure...this year's vacation to Anna Maria Island posed it's challenges. I'd never flown with two kids before and I'd never had one of my kids get hand, foot, and mouth disease while on vacation either. Until this vacation. It wasn't the easiest vacation, I will tell you that. But, Florida still didn't fail me. I enjoyed romance, I made new memories with people I love, I enjoyed the best sunsets I've ever seen, and my kids came back a little more mature and starting a new phase of life. Florida always has a way of making me see a lot of beauty and feel a lot of happiness and I thrive off of that. 

This was our 3rd trip to Anna Maria Island. I love this island. I've come to understand that I'm obsessed with islands, and that I need to change my career to full-time island-jumper. Anyone hiring?

Anna Maria Island is perfect for family vacations. We fly into Tampa International Airport, rent a car, and drive 45-60 min SW through Bradenton. There's a Publix on the island in Holmes Beach so we get everything we need for groceries for the week there. We've stayed in 2 different homes, rented through Island Real Estate, and have been within a 5 minute walk to the beach. There are a ton of amazing houses to rent on this island, and different areas of the island feel different. The best sunsets can be seen from the south side of the island where we have stayed. You have to have a pool, because all that salt water and no shade all day probably won't work for kids :)

We especially love to watch the lizards run around the pool and hot tub. 

We've seen manatees, dolphins, starfish, and turtles on the beaches of Anna Maria. We paddle board, jump in the waves, collect seashells, chase the birds, watch the sunsets while sipping a yummy beverage, play frisbee, boogie board, and twirl twirl twirl in the sunlight.

In the mornings we love to go for walks to our favorite smoothie/coffee place, Ginny's & Jane E's Cafe and Coastal Store. It's like an antique, bakery/coffee shop, and a souvenir shop combined into one. It's the coolest. This year, on our walk one morning we saw that a storm had caused a bunch of mangos to fall in a neighbor's yard so we grabbed a few and oh man they were delicious!! So much better than the store bought mangos we get here in Wisconsin.

We always split the dinners up amongst the family, so we aren't eating out every night. Tacos (turkey and fish), pizza, pulled pork sandwiches, and steak......it was all so wonderful and I love eating together as a family at home.

You can't come to the island without taking a pontoon or catamaran ride out into the ocean. There are a bunch of different captains but I highly recommend Captain Kathe's services. She's a 4th generation Cortezian so she is full of knowledge, humor, and is dead-honest. Skipper is her first mate (RIP Pup Pup), a cocker spaniel who has a deep relationship with the dolphins and when he barks, they come! Veda was feeling a bit sassy and beautiful when we went and wanted me to "take photos of her modeling" :)

Another place you NEED to visit, especially if you're a Packer fan, is the Bridge Tender Inn, a Packer bar with amazing Bloody Mary's. You can board a boat right off the pier here to parasail at YOLO Adventures

You also can't leave the island without visiting the North side. Here, you will find amazing ice cream at Two Scoops, the famous Anna Maria Island Pier where you can fish, see dolphins, stingrays and manatees, and eat at the City Pier Restaurant (mediocre food in my opinion though and not very good service), the Anna Maria Island Historical Society Museum, tons of shops including my favorite Pink & Navy, and places to rent bikes, equipment for water sports, and golf carts to zoom around the island.

We attempted to do a citrus grove tour with the kids in Bradenton (not Bradenton Beach....be prepared for a 30 min drive) at Mixon's Fruit Farm but it started pouring rain as soon as our tour took off which resulted in me being SOAKED and us getting a refund since we couldn't return another day.

The best part about Florida, and not just Anna Maria Island, is the sunsets. They bring me life. They complete me. They are the best way to end your day on vacation to this wonderful island, snuggled up with your loved ones, in awe of the creation in front of you that so many times we take for granted. Here are a few of the sunsets we witnessed this year:

There are many places to eat on the island, but the two I recommend the most are The Ugly Grouper (pictured below) and The Sandbar (not pictured). We usually always do a dinner at sunset at The Sandbar but this year, we couldn't make it happen and I was bummed. 

If you've been looking for a new vacation spot, whether with kids or without, and you're not stuck on a vacation with a resort-feel, I highly encourage you to visit AMI. I think it will be a couple of years before we are back and I will miss this island dearly. AMI will always have my heart!