A new waterpark and lazy river, access to a private island beach, large, well-appointed rooms and incredible foodie-friendly dining make the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point resort a great option for families looking for something a little different in a Florida vacation.

The secluded lazy river at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point.

The secluded lazy river. Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point

Located just about 20 minutes from the Fort Myers, Florida, airport, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point resort is a convention and meeting hotel with a family friendly twist. A new $7.1 million dollar water park with three twisty, turny slides and a 1500X-foot lazy river entertain kids onsite. (Note: kids must be at least 42 inches tall for some slides, 48 inches tall for others.) A private beach accessed via a free 15-minute ferry ride across the bay offers the beach experience families expect from a Florida vacation.

Fort Myers is an easy direct flight from Chicago. In January, I flew Southwest Airlines for a very affordable $79 each way. The tiny airport also has direct flights from Toronto and Germany!

This charming resort was built in 2001 and upgraded last year to include the waterpark and lazy river. It’s a relatively small place, with fewer than 500 rooms. When I visited in mid-January, I was surprised to learn that it was 95 percent full. Nothing felt crowded. I never waited more than a minute or two for an elevator and there was never noise in the hallways.

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point photos, clockwise from top: The view from the balcony, the comfy bed, the well-apoointed bathroom, the coffee and tea service.

Hyatt Regency Coconut Point photos, clockwise from top: The view from the balcony, the comfy bed, the well-apoointed bathroom, the 62-inch TV, coffee and tea service. Photos by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

The Rooms

This is a Hyatt, so the rooms are fairly standard convention-hotel-style rooms. But mine felt large—plenty large enough for a family of four to stay in one room with two queen beds. The bathroom was very big. I was surprised to find a full bath tub—an uncommon feature in a hotel that was built within the last 15 years, but a really nice feature for families with younger children.

The rooms have small balconies with two comfy chairs and a small table. Mine offered a front row seat to the brilliant sunsets for which the Gulf Coast of Florida is known.

While I always worry about balconies and babies, this one is smartly designed in a way that would make it tough for a child to climb. Still, the whole point of balconies in family hotels is for parents to have a little quiet time, sharing a bottle of wine and adult conversation while the little ones sleep inside.

The newest feature of the hotel is a 62-inch TV in each room. That is sure to be popular with the kids. There’s even an HDMI cable to connect to your personal devices if you want to watch the kids’ movies you downloaded to your laptop on the big screen.

The Bed

Mine was a comfy king-sized bed with soft sheets and five pillows I had all to myself. (I would have had to call down for more if hubby had been with me. I’m a pillow hog.)

My first night there, I had one of the best night’s sleep I can remember in a very long time. I slept from 11pm to 8am thanks to the comfy bed, 0 hallway noise (despite the hotel being 95 percent full), and black-out drapes that overlapped so they didn’t allow that annoying slit of sunlight that always manages to hit me right on the eye at sunrise.

The automatic night light tucked under the bedside table that clicked on when I got up in the middle of night to use the bathroom was a really nice touch.

Family Rooms

The rooms can sleep up to four. If you have a bigger family, you can book a “family room.” That’s two adjoining rooms, with the second room purchased at half price.

Another option for families is to book a room on the concierge floor. There are no adjoining rooms on that floor so you have to fit into one room. The cost is an additional $125 per day. That fee includes constant snacks and sodas, breakfast and lunch. If you’re traveling with ravenous teens, it’s a bargain.

Freebies at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Florida.

Most hotels will give guests a free toothbrush or razor. All of these things are the freebie list at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Florida. Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Free Stuff

Most hotels will give you a razor or a toothbrush if you happen to leave yours at home. But I have never seen a hotel that offers so many freebies. There are toothbrushes and razors, of course. But there also travel-sized bottles of hairspray, deodorant, shave cream, a really nice brush, a full complement of Johnson’s baby products (from shampoo to diaper rash cream) and more.

Then there is another long list of things you can borrow—from phone chargers to bath robes.

What to do

The hotel has just finished a multi-million upgrade to its pool facilities. That includes adding three water slides. The two blue ones are so speedy that they took my breath away as I zipped around the curves and hurdled out the end. The beige one offers a calmer ride atop a single or double inner tube. It conveniently shoots you out the end of the slide, which doubles as the beginning of the 1500-foot lazy river.

I spent an enjoyable 80-degree January afternoon floating around the lazy river. Unlike similar features at most other hotels, this lazy river is not lined with chaise lounges, so there are no other guests watching you float on by. This somehow made it feel more secluded and restful.

Big Hickory Island, the private island beach for Hyatt Regency Coconut Point.

Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Activities offsite

The biggest downside to this hotel is that it is not a beach-front resort. But there’s a fix for that. It’s called Big Hickory Island. In many ways, it’s better than any beachfront resort I have seen. Why? Because it’s secluded, private and reachable only by ferry from the hotel.

The free 15-minute ferry ride itself is fun for kids. On our passage over, we saw a family of dolphins cavorting in the waters of the bay while the captain offered commentary and a safety warning with a twist: “We don’t expect anyone to fall off, but if you do, don’t panic. Just stand up. The water is only about three feet deep.”

When you arrive at the beach dock, it’s a short walk over to the beach, where we found chairs for sunning, bright blue beach umbrellas for shade and an impressive structure that includes clean restrooms, indoor spaces for quiet moments and an expansive deck with picnic tables.

You will not find concessions, however. So if you plan to stay for a while, you’ll need to bring everything with you—sand toys, drinks, snacks, towels, etc. (Cool Beans sells all of that and rents small coolers for $15/day to keep them chilled.)

The best thing about the beach on Big Hickory Island: the solitude. It’s a huge beach and we felt very much as though we had it to ourselves. Which we pretty much did. Only guests of the Hyatt and a neighboring resort (which operates its own ferry) are allowed to use the beach.

Big Hickory Island, the private island beach for Hyatt Regency Coconut Point.

Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

More Active Activities

The Hyatt has an exclusive watersports partners, AWE (All Water Excursions). I was treated to two tours of the Cocohatchee River, one by jet ski, the other by kayak.

The jet skiing excursion is a tour in name only. We did “tour” through the river and out into the Gulf of Mexico, but we did it at speeds that made it tough to watch the scenery or spot the wildlife.

I don’t recommend this if you are a first-timer driving a jet ski. They are powerful machines and it can be a little intimidating bouncing over the waves. We had five in our group. Two were thrill seekers who were happy to crank the throttle and glide across the water. Two were nervous, bordering on terrified. They never got their machines past about 15 mph. And then there was me. I hit 50mph a few times, but 35mph seemed more like my happy place.

With such a wide spread of skills and comfort levels, we weren’t able to cover the 40 or so miles the tour is supposed to cover. That would have included covering about 10 miles of Gulf waters at speeds averaging 40mph. Twice. The tour guide soon gave up trying to get the two timid skiers to power through their fear and came up with a new plan. That involved spending a little time in the Gulf and a little more time zipping around the mangrove islands.

AWE also offers a nature tour by kayak. I found that one to be calm, relaxing and much more in tune with the idea of a nature tour. We paddled some, floated some, looked for birds (and saw some beautiful ones), soaked up the sunshine and generally chilled. We were thankful to have Captain Don along as we headed back to the dock. All of those mangroves looked eerily alike. Without Captain Don, I’m fairly certain I would still be paddling somewhere in the Cocohatchee River!

Dining at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, from top left: The cheery Corkscrew restaurant near the pools, the highly-recommended grouper sandwich, fast snacks at Cool Beans and the generous portions of the paella at Tarpon.

Dining at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, from top left: The cheery Corkscrew restaurant near the pools, the highly-recommended grouper sandwich, fast snacks at Cool Beans and the generous portions of the paella at Tarpon. Photo by Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Dining at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point

Tarpon

This the fine dining restaurant. Its charming white-washed walls and blue accents give it a nautical feel. The almost-all-seafood menu (there’s a filet for beef lovers and a chicken dish, just in case) includes a delectable sea bass that my dining partner raved about.

I ordered the paella because it was recommended and included scallops, tiger shrimp, muscles and lobster. Two large but oh so tender scallops. Two huge tiger shrimp. Two of the biggest muscles I’ve ever seen. And one large, sweet, beautiful lobster tail. It was all nestled atop a very generous helping of paella rice with small chunks of tasty sausage. And it was far, far too much food. Even the “small house salad” I ordered was large enough for two people. It was filled with slightly bitter greens, cucumber crescents and halved grape tomatoes covered in the house dressing—a “young coconut” vinagerette that added just a hint of sweetness.

If I come back with hubby, I would order one appetizer, one salad and the paella to split between us. That would ensure we had just enough room left over for one of the delectable desserts. The choice was tough—flourless chocolate cake that was like eating the lightest chocolate bar ever, rich ice cream in interesting flavors, and the lightest, creamiest key lime pie ever. I ordered none because I was so stuffed from eating half of the paella, but my generous dining partners each offered a bit of theirs. I tried (and very much enjoyed) all three. But it was the key lime pie that made me swoon. On a return visit, I might be willing to share the salad and entrée. But I’ll order my own key lime pie, thank you very much.

Corkscrew

This colorful outdoor café is near the pools. There are even tables behind the waterfall that might be fun for a romantic lunch. I choose the regular seating area at a table under a cheery blue umbrella. Then I ordered the grouper sandwich.

Why? Because everyone I passed as I walked up the stairs said, “The grouper sandwich is amazing.” They were right. It was a large piece of grouper, perfectly cooked with a nice blackened spice, tomatoes, lettuce and aoli sauce (just enough—too much would have easily overpowered the light flavor of the grouper) on a chibatta bun. Again, a huge portion. I vowed to eat only half but I couldn’t stop myself. At least I only ate half of the bread.

As a side, I ordered the plaintain chips, which seemed like the thing to do at this restaurant with its Caribbean feel. I had never had them before, so I can’t say whether they were good or bad. But they were not to my taste. They seemed bland. The cole slaw, another side option, however, was fab. Cabbage in a slightly sweet but still light creamy dressing.

Cool Beans

This spot wins for the cutest name. It’s the carryout option where you can get a great cup o’ morning joe (Starbuck’s brand and Starbuck’s drink options, but not a Starbuck’s franchise), sandwiches to go, a scoop (or three) of ice cream, a bottle of wine… You get the picture. It’s also the spot that rents the cooler you’ll need for a day at Big Hickory Island.

This is also the place to check out a free DVD to take back to your room. That’s right. In this age of movies on demand (which are still an option in your room), you can get an old-fashioned DVD to pop into the DVD player in your room! I checked the selection expecting to find mostly kids’ fare and was surprised to find it was more drama, action and adventure. Perhaps the kids’ stuff was already checked out on a day when the hotel was nearly filled.

Who loves a waterpark that isn't crowded? The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Florida is primarily a conference hotel, so the water park is nearly empty, even on a day when the resort was 95 percent full.