By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: We try and control the amount of commercialism our grand children are exposed to. My husband and I have been going to Florida every winter for the last 25 years. This winter we were thinking of taking our grandchildren (five and seven) with us for a week. What could you suggest for children’s activities?

A: As a kid, our family used to embark on road trips across Canada and the United States. One of the many memorable trips occurred the year we drove to Florida. Sarasota was our home base and from here we swam in the warm saltwater off the Gulf coast, built sand castles and made our way to an extraordinary museum, home of the “Greatest Show on Earth,” the Ringling Museum ( This was the place where pin-up posters of the Bearded Lady, Tom Thumb and a host of other circus members made for some real jaw-dropping moments.

Recently The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota is undergoing an incredible Renaissance. The Ringling Museum has completed a five year plan to build four new buildings on its 66 acres with the final building opening in early 2007.

The history of the renowned circus company and this mansion is fascinating. Built by John and Mable Ringling during the 1920s John Ringling was one of the original Ringling brothers and Circus Kings. He wanted to build a museum and home as grand as the great American circus.

The showman brought masterpieces from throughout Europe to Sarasota setting the bar for culture and luxury in the community. When John Ringling died in 1936 he left his estate to the people of Florida. The museum saw some hard times from 1946 into the late 1990s and many weren't sure if it would make it.

Florida State University took over the estate in 2000 and has transformed the Ringling Museum into a thriving, internationally competitive, world-class destination.

If the circus isn’t your thing, interactive programs are very popular. Swimming with the dolphins and other natural treks like hikes are always good fun. For a list of ideas, the Florida Tourism Office is available online. When you visit them at, a hyperlink Family and Kids will lead you to a list of children activities and options available in the Sunshine State.


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