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Family Holiday: A Prime Opportunity for 'Quality Time'

March 17, 1985|BETTY HUGHES | Hughes is assistant travel editor of The Times

Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older, When did they? "Sunrise, Sunset," From "Fiddler on the Roof" 1964 Alley Music Corp. and Trio Music Co. Inc. All rights administered by Hudson Bay Music

All young parents always find it difficult to believe, but take it from those of us with grown families: Time passes far, far too quickly. Upon recall, those toddlers of yours, now sitting rapt in front of the TV, will be away in college more quickly than the dizzying blur generated by the fast-forward on your VCR. And it's then, when the youngsters are gone, that so many parents look at each other wistfully and sigh: "I wish we had spent more time with them." Because life styles have changed so dramatically during the last few decades, and because more youngsters are being cared for by nannies, au pair girls and housekeepers, it's more important than ever to share time-- quality time--with your offspring. There simply don't seem to be enough hours in a day for family togetherness--doing things with the kids and getting to know their dreams, gripes, fears and problems. A vacation can be prime time spent together. It was for us. Religiously, our family would escape on a shared holiday whenever schedules permitted; a week here, two weeks there, a long weekend now and then. We fondly remember Sun Valley, joining a horseback trip into the Big Horn Crags in August and waking up to an unexpected three inches of snow on top of the mountain; the Captain's Gala on a cruise ship from Barbados to Surinam, all of us resplendent in black ties and long gowns; setting up housekeeping in Florida at Key West's Pier House, fishing from the bridges, barefoot, brown and perpetually hungry. They've all become happy memories that are the most precious of inheritances that we can leave our children--a legacy that will be enjoyed for many tomorrows.

Today, resorts that cater to families are everywhere, providing social directors, children's counselors and activities for youngsters of all ages, from toddlers to teens. Here is a selection of some of the top favorites.

SOUTH SEAS PLANTATION

In southwest Florida, in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is a pair of islands where pirates hid, shipwrecks were frequent and buried treasure is still to be discovered, so legend says.

A barefoot kind of place, Sanibel, 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, is lauded by conchologists as the best shelling grounds in the Western Hemisphere and one of the top three in the world. Connected to the mainland by a toll-road causeway and merely minutes from Fort Myers, it's a perfect hideaway for a Swiss Family Robinson holiday, 1980s-style. Resorts abound, but the queen of the crop is at the northern tip of Captiva, the smaller of the two islands, hooked onto Sanibel by bridge.

Meandering over 330 acres of this barrier-reef island that appears to be straight out of the South Pacific, South Seas Plantation has received many accolades and earns our Oscar for a family escape. Guests can choose from among more than 500 one- to three-bedroom villas, cottages and condominiums; spacious 2-, 3- or 4-bedroom beachfront homes, or 20 rooms in the antebellum-style Plantation Inn.

Sentries are posted at the resort gates to ensure privacy, and the resort offers a 2 1/2-mile beach, 20 tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, 15 swimming pools, whirlpool baths, fishing, windsurfing, water-skiing, bicycling, a yacht basin, a sailing school, charter boats, three restaurants, a social director, a children's counselor and a playground. You'll also find lawn games, shops and a Mississippi-style excursion boat that carries guests on explorations to such places as Cabbage Key, the winter home of novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Useppa Island, a restored private luxury resort that's open to visitors on a get-acquainted basis.

Nearby recreational facilities include the 5,000-acre J. N. (Ding) Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which offers canoe trips and superb shelling, and Fort Myers across the causeway with Thomas Edison's Winter Home plus Everglades Jungle Cruises.

Rates for South Seas Plantation include a package (April 14 to Dec. 19) for eight days/ seven nights from $448 to $672 per person double. Children 12 and under (maximum of two) are free when sharing a villa with parents, using existing bedding. Rates are lower after mid-April. Telephone (813) 472-5111. For information on Sanibel / Captiva, write to Lee Island Coast, 2126 1st St., Fort Myers, Fla. 33902-2445 or telephone (800) 237-6444.

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C.

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