The Frugal Traveler: Sarasota well suited to family and pet travel
The Ringlings' dazzling palatial mansion is a tribute to the American Dream and reflects the splendor and romance of Italy. Described as "the last of the Gilded Age mansions" to be built in America, Ca d'Zan has 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings. With its Venetian Gothic architecture, the mansion is a combination of the grandeur of Venice's Doge's Palace, combined with the gothic grace of Ca d'Oro, with Sarasota Bay serving as its Grand Canal. (Ringling.org)
-Parks: Multiple restaurant meals in succession can mean toddler meltdowns are in your immediate future. Take a break from indoor behavior overload and indulge in a food truck or takeout treat in one of the city's shady municipal parks. This will provide children with the freedom to roam and adults time to relax. Sarasota also boasts a number of paw parks, including one with beach access where both dogs and cats are allowed to romp and splash. Additionally, canines are welcome on leashes at many of the human parks in town, making a sunset picnic possible for the entire family.
-Support: Speaking of dogs, the community has a fair amount of canine infrastructure available to support those traveling with four-legged friends. At Yoder's restaurant, we opted to dine outside on the patio near the sturdy pole fence where we could secure our pooch. While my husband and I enjoyed a slice of homemade rhubarb pie, a dish of hard vanilla ice cream kept our overly-rambunctious Labrador entertained long enough for us to eat in peace. Similarly, at O'Leary's bar we experienced a casual waterfront meal with Maggie in tow by opting to sit at one of the outdoor picnic tables. An extra order of fries, fed to her one at a time, distracted her while we listened to live tunes over veggie burgers and iced tea.
-Accommodations: Roughly a block from the beach, the Hotel Indigo provides a boutique atmosphere and pet-friendly hospitality with a dog wing that's just steps away from the wine bar, bistro and fitness center. This proximity to the venue's amenities allowed us to make major progress with our dog's separation anxiety and actually enjoy cocktails together as a couple. While we normally have to tag team any time we spend away from the room when we travel with her, by the end of our visit she was comfortable being on her own for up to 35 minutes. If she got nervous and started to bark, we could literally be back to the room in seconds, avoiding any true disruption for other guests. While the $85 pet deposit is a tad steep for those staying only one night, the cost per day feels a bit more incidental when staying for a longer period of time.
-Activities: When exploring activities where pet participation may not be appropriate, doggie day care is available at Bayside Pet Resort for $20 per day, with half-day rates ringing in at $12. Fun family outings in Sarasota include dolphin cruises, the science museum and an afternoon at the Mote Aquarium. Not to be missed is a day of circus history at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The venue is well-suited to traveling with the grandparents as well, with plenty of rest benches, bathrooms and a tram that runs between the museum's three main attractions. Highlights include the miniature circus exhibit, a collection of vintage costumes, the ornate Ringling mansion and the family's private train residence known as the Wisconsin Car. It's pure steampunk on steroids. Also on display is the miniature clown car used by the legendary Lou Jacobs himself.
Theriault is the best-selling co-author of the book "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget," and founder of TrekHound.com, a website for independent travelers. She also founded TheLessonMachine.com, a website for teachers.