Relaxing Getaway: Fort Myers and Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island in Lee County, Florida

A few months ago, my dear friend Kara Williams, travel writer for The Vacation Gals and much more, traveled with her husband, Quent, to Florida’s Sanibel Island and Fort Myers for the first time.

What they found were white-sand beaches, a hazy, pink early-evening sky and a relaxed, fun couple’s getaway…especially when a couple leaves their beloved children at home, with grandma.

Together since 1998 and now living in the Colorado mountains with their two kids, Kara and Quent had previously only traveled to Florida to visit friends — and Mickey Mouse — in Orlando. Being utterly landlocked leaves the couple craving an ocean fix a couple times a year, and an invitation to Fort Myers and Sanibel from the Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau fit the bill just perfectly.

While the area had initially experienced a nervous slowdown in tourism immediately following last summer’s BP oil spill, by the Fall, tourists had begun to realize that the area’s white-sand beaches were safe (having been protected from the spill by the West Florida continental shelf), and were starting to return.

In late September, the Williamses flew off to Lee County. The area’s closest airport is Southwest International Airport (RSW), served by direct flights from many American cities, as well as Toronto. However, there are no direct flights from Kara’s home airports, Aspen (ASE) and Eagle County (EGE); they had to fly from EGE and connect to a direct flight on Frontier from Denver (DEN) to RSW.

They were lucky enough to stay for four nights: two in Fort Myer’s Cape Coral suburb, at the Resort at Marina Village, and two on Sanibel at the romantic Gulf Breeze Cottages. Kara especially loved the latter’s chill vibe and rustic cottage beach scene.

On Sanibel, one of the most popular activities is shell collecting. With the help of a laminated shell guide (The Ultimate Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Shells and Beach Life), Kara (and a only-halfway-interested Quent) sorted out the sandy shell blanket of the Sanibel shoreline; this guide helpfully divvies shells into “Common” (e.g., scallops, sailor’s ears and lettered olives), “Good Finds” and “Rare Treasures.”

Shelling is apparently best during the hour before and the hour after low tide, but Kara saw one dedicated family scouring the beach after dark, buckets and flashlights in hand. It’s ideal to hunt at the surf line (where waves are breaking) and trash line (the high tide marker), and to bring a container to store your sandy loot. Kara’s poor hubby, already questioning the need to bring home a gajillion shells, was forced to carry her mollusk-y booty in his pockets.

(Thankfully, there’s a “shell washing” sink outside at the Gulf Breeze Cottages.)

While they didn’t find the calm Gulf waters good for boogie boarding, they did find them warm enough for a dip. They also enjoyed a sunset catamaran cruise, courtesy of Captiva Cruises; they “caught the boat” at the huge, upscale South Seas Island Resort on neighboring Captiva Island (about 30 minutes’ drive from the Gulf Breeze Cottages). The catamaran for their cruise was designed to accommodate 24 passengers, but they were happy to find only 12 on board, all couples traveling without kids. Captiva also offers shelling cruises, as well as lunch cruises to Cayo Costa (a state park, accessible only by boat) and Cabbage Key, which features an historic inn and nature trails.

One day, the couple borrowed beach cruisers from the Gulf Breeze Cottages (these can also be rented from Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel) and took the flat, paved bike trails out in the direction of the Sanibel Lighthouse. Unfortunately, just as they took off, clouds started moving in. They thought they’d be fine, but no. Big, big no. They were caught in full-on pelting rain, the kind where drops are so hard they actually hurt. To avoid the danger of zero visibility, they pulled into an old gas station to wait out the storm; not much later, it passed as though it never happened, and they carried on…straight to an ice cream stand. Suitably stuffed, they lost motivation and never did make it to the lighthouse. But, well, such are the perils of vacation.

Their favorite excursion was a peaceful, self-guided kayak tour through the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, courtesy of Tarpon Bay Explorers. While kayaking through the mangroves, the couple were happy to spot birds like the White Ibis, Little Blue Heron and the Double-Crested Cormorant…as well as five other kayaking couples. Even with all the human traffic, this quiet outing still felt romantic and secluded.

Kara warns that in September, at least, the weather is sweat-dripping-off-your-back hot and humid during the day; however, the nights cool down quite nicely. Out and about, she wore sleeveless tops and skirts, and her husband was most comfortable in shorts and t-shirts. It’s not a particularly dressy part of the world, so there’s no need to pack lots of finery. Kara was happy to always have a sweater or sweatshirt on hand for too-cold air conditioners, and when dining, the couple opted for outdoor seating whenever possible.

Cost-conscious when traveling, the couple was glad to find full kitchens at both the Gulf Breeze Cottages and the Resort at Marina Village; it was a pleasure to be able to shop at local supermarkets for breakfast and picnic fixings. But when they dined out on Sanibel and Pine Islands and in Cape Coral, they didn’t think the food was particularly expensive, and certainly cheaper than most Caribbean resort vacations.

Their favorite meals out were sandwiches at Pine Island’s out-of-the way, down-home local favorite, The Waterfront; sushi at Marker 92 at the Resort at Marina Village; and the seafood-a-palooza at Nervous Nellie’s in Fort Myers Beach. The couple’s one dining disappointment: when trying to have a romantic, upscale meal at the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island (highly recommended by the Lee County tourism folks), they found it closed for a private party.

Quent and Kara Williams in the soft glow of Lee County, Florida

Here are some other area pursuits that the couple missed:

Deep-sea fishing, for which there are approximately one million local outfitters
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum
The Sanibel Historical Village and Museum
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Sailing courses at the Offshore Sailing and Power School
October to May, flying in an open cockpit bi-plane with Classic Air Ventures
Various nature, wildlife and bird preserves

Kara advises not to plan too many excursions, though. Even with four nights, the couple didn’t find much time to sit on the (gorgeous) beaches.

They preferred Sanibel to Cape Coral, and (with or without their kids) would opt to return there for at least three nights for an opportunity to simply chill out and explore more Sanibel/Captiva restaurants. Kara might also spend some time in bustling Fort Myers, where our mutual friend Mara Gorman of Mother of All Trips had a great stay at the Pink Shell Resort, right on the beach.

Either way, if Kara and her husband were to return to Lee County, they’d consider taking the Key West Express boat to Key West for an overnight.

After all, it’s almost impossible to have too much Gulf of Mexico in your life.

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<All photos by Kara Williams>
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See also

Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau

and

A Drive Through the Florida Keys
Key West: Slowing Down to a Meander
TWT Travel Binder: Florida

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Comments

  1. Wow! I’ve heard the wonderful Kara talk about her romantic trip to Sanibel before, but seeing it all laid out so well in this post makes it clear that there is so much more to do there than just…you know, romance.

    A great write up on Travels with Two!

  2. Visited Sanibel Island many years ago.
    A Diamond in the Rough!
    A beautiful hide a way in Florida!
    Thanks for the memories!
    holidaysforfamily

  3. Hi
    My name is Amy and I’m with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Sanibel Island to share on our site and I came across your post…If you’re open to it, shoot me an email at amy(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!
    Amy

Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Travels With Two. Travels With Two said: Antidote to winter: @karasw's relaxing getaway w/ her husband in #Florida's Sanibel Island & Fort Myers: http://bit.ly/emO5ER […]

  2. […] Shelling is apparently best during the hour before and the hour after low tide… ~Melanie Wynne from Travels with Two […]

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