We have always been a tent-camping family, and our kids are used to schlepping their sleeping bags and backpacks, and setting up our tent for the weekend. Now that we have Mario, our 20 month old, we haven’t been camping yet with all 7 of us together. Although I heard that the facilities at KOA were family-friendly and comfortable, I was hesitant to head out and camp on South Padre Island. Would our littlest guy sleep at all!? Would our 7-10 year olds get to have fun while we are still entertaining our active toddler? We booked our first stay at KOA Kampgrounds and our getaway exceeded all of my expectations. Not only did we have an fun and relaxing weekend, we also had unique animal encounters that entertained all of us.
As we first pulled up to the KOA campgrounds looking over Laguna Madre Bay, we caught a glimpse of these huge royal blue cylinders. We checked in, and discovered our condo was inside these refurbished water tanks. To say we were camping is a stretch: these condos had air conditioning, real beds, and a fully loaded kitchen with fridge and dishwasher make this “camping” experience even better than a hotel. When traveling with a toddler, I love when we have accommodations that allow us to keep milk cold and make our own meals.
Mario and my husband took a nap while my other kids and I explored the grounds: our condo was right in between the sandy playground, the pool, and the fitness and rec room, outfitted with a TV, movies, games, and a ping-pong table. Sliding down the slide, my oldest daughter looked out onto the water for dolphins. “Is this really where we’re camping?” We all smiled and enjoyed the salty breeze until late.
The next day we explored 4 separate animal encounters for our budding naturalists:
South Padre Island Animal Visits
1) The Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center is a small but fascinating center filled with tanks and information about the sea life on the Gulf Coast. It was hard to pull my kids away from the touch tanks of crabs, starfish, and shells. At the same location you can book a dolphin boat tour to see their tricks and turns up close!
2) At Sea Turtle Inc., we arrived at 10am to watch “Allison” the green sea turtle get her prosthetic flipper put on. The animal scientists working at Sea Turtle Inc. rescue, rehabilitate, and release hundreds of sea turtles every year, and visitors can see the current “patients” in action in the huge viewing tanks. With a focus on education for kids and adults, displays and volunteer chats highlight threats to sea turtles and conservation efforts around the world. Next time we hope to watch a public hatchling release: what would be sweeter than baby turtles swimming out to sea?
3) We were greeted by this stoic alligator, when we headed out on the boardwalk trail at South Padre Island Nature and Birding Center. Little kids will love running along the path to look at the colorful birds (spoonbills, sandpipers, pelicans, and more), crabs, and other wildlife hiding in the coastal vegetation. For bigger kids, try to find the newest, hidden geo-cache box during the hike. Don’t miss the scenic 360 degree views of the island from the tower- the aerial views are stunning.
4) Finally, it isn’t a trip to South Padre Island without a day on the beach. On Sunday, we spent hours playing in the waves, and making sandcastles for the little hermit crabs we found. Don’t forget to watch for playful dolphins in the Laguna Madre Bay (even out of your KOA condo room with binoculars!). The water is warm, the sun is hot, and the sandbars keep the wading shallow for little kids. What a treat!
Camping (and glamping!) is a great way to bond with your family in nature, without the distraction of screens. From sea turtles to sand castles to dolphins, the palm tree lined KOA was our base to explore South Padre Island as a family.
THIS IS A SPONSORED POST. I RECEIVED A COMPLIMENTARY 2 NIGHT STAY IN EXCHANGE FOR MY EXPERIENCE AND THOUGHTS ON THE CAMPGROUND. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN.