When you live in a coastal paradise like Sarasota, a short getaway to another Gulf of Mexico island may seem like unnecessary repetition. Should you splurge for a beach vacation so close? Yes. A thousand times yes, especially if the island is easily accessible and yet so completely isolated and unknown.
This spring, my sister and I were invited to spend four days and three nights in South Seas Island Resort on Captiva, an island about a 2.5 hour drive from downtown Sarasota. As someone who usually loves unplanned adventures and being away from people, I was surprised to discover how much I reveled in this island resort of neat amenities and activities and how different it is. of our own barrier islands.
Captiva is only five miles long. The resort occupies 2 ½ miles of the island on its northern tip, and the drive to get there is magical. You arrive via the Sanibel Causeway, a three-mile bridge ($6 toll) to Sanibel Island, Captiva’s sister island to the south. The islands have not always been sisters. They were created when a 1921 hurricane tore them apart, and today their only land connection is a small bridge over Blind Pass.
Both he is are famous for their natural beauty, which is largely the result of the locals’ fierce passion and political will to protect nature and resist overdevelopment. No building on these islands exceeds three stories (residents and real estate agents like to say “nothing taller than the tallest palm tree”) and two-thirds of the islands have been set aside for parks and conservation areas. JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Reserve, a huge irreplaceable treasure, is located on Sanibel. These islands retain the feeling of an older, quieter Florida when water, plants, and wildlife ruled and were respected. It’s a huge contrast to our overdeveloped keys with their towering condos and mega mansions behind the walls.
The road to the north of the resort is lined with mangroves, palm trees, and flowers, and most of the houses are hidden behind foliage. Golf carts and bicycles are popular, so expect to share the road and slow down. After walking through the front doors of the South Seas resort in the early evening, we headed to the visitor center and got our key cards and plastic wristbands (you’re not supposed to remove the bracelet the whole time you are on the property so I suggest keeping it loose enough that you can put it on and take it off) and made the two mile trek to the far north where we were staying . This place is huge (330 acres), but manages to keep a private, beachy feel with sandy paths, guests in flip-flops, and low-rise waterfront buildings.
South Seas has a long history, beginning as a Key lime plantation before opening to customers as a fishing resort in 1946. It has gone through several properties and renovations, including a major renovation after Hurricane Charley tore the property apart. in 2004. Last fall, Timbers The Company, Wheelock Street Capital and the Ronto Group bought it for nearly $50.4 million, and the property is enjoying another renaissance. The resort has 434 units, ranging from hotel rooms to private waterfront villas and homes.
My sister and I had a newly renovated three story room South Seas Harborside Hotel– which from the outside looks more like a motel or condo, with the parking lot in the front and the exterior walkways leading to the rooms. Our room was gorgeous, with the coastal chic vibe of earthy organic colors and materials. But it was the view from the balcony that captivated us. We overlooked Pine Island Sound and the resort’s long dock. Boats powered by motors, dolphins surfaced as they hunted for food and the blue water sparkled. We sat on comfortable outdoor chairs, opened a bottle of wine and smiled. We were on holiday.
And we were also hungry. Staying at a resort has its perks. Instead of an Airbnb where we had to shop and cook or drive out to find a restaurant, we walked the few stairs to the Harbor Bar & Grill on the marina. The setting is casual and the restaurant advertises itself as a taste of seafood. But this is not a fried fish and chips restaurant. The food is innovative. We liked the delicious Yacht Line Candied Bacon and Walter’s Crab Cake appetizers and the Chilean sea bass with corn risotto and Brussels sprouts. The restaurant also prides itself on its handcrafted cocktails; the smoky bourbon concoction is potent. Luckily we didn’t have to drive.
South Seas is family-friendly with plenty of pools and raving kids having fun, but it’s also a great couples’ getaway and a perfect spot for a wedding or birthday party. You can play tennis, pickleball and golf, cycle, kayak, hunt for seashells, book adventure programs for your kids, try yoga or book charter boat tours and learn to sail. Another attribute is service. Every employee we encountered was helpful and courteous and seemed genuinely eager to help. We discovered that South Seas offered a fourth night free (called “Fuel your memories“) if you stay three consecutive nights through September 30, 2022, and you will earn a $100 gas credit and $100 resort spending credit applied to your account to enjoy resort activities or experiences culinary.
After staying here I want to come back. I enjoyed the low-key resort experience and all the services (you’ll even see beach towel drop boxes so you don’t have to bring sand towels back to your room). There are so many experiences that I have not been able to try.
Here’s what we managed to pack and liked:
- Morning yoga. I don’t practice yoga so wasn’t sure I could follow. But this class was taught by the jolly Yali Zawady at Ambu Yoga. It was a fairly gentle hour-long session on a large lawn as the sun rose over Pine Island. The brunch with hot coffee, yogurt and fresh fruit, and the egg and sausage sandwiches were ready in the shade when we were done.
- The half-day excursion by charter boat to Cabbage Key and Cayo Costa, two islands only accessible by boat. Our tour ($45 per person) was led by Captiva Cruises. I would recommend this trip to everyone. The boat is spacious and the ride shows the beautiful coastline of this region and many undeveloped islands with expert narration on ecology and history by the captain. cabbagethere is owned and run by the Wells family, and they have preserved the historic structures and kept most of the island undeveloped. You can walk along the trails and even rent the few rustic cabins there, but most people drive there, dock and head straight for the Cabbage Key Restaurant and the famous Dollar Bill Bar. Try the smoked mullet, stone crab claws, beans and rice with blackened mahi mahi and, of course, the Cabbage Key burger (only half-cooked), said to have been made famous when Jimmy Buffet ate it with cheese and then wrote a song about it. Dollar bills with names and dates cover the walls and columns and are stuck a few inches thick and hang like long cobwebs from the ceiling of the bar and restaurant (our guide estimated up to $100,000), so we scribbled our names on dollar bills and added to the compendium.
- After lunch be sure to visit Cayo Costa, an unspoiled barrier island and state park, with only a few homes along the seven miles of wilderness. (A few of the empowered owners have unnecessarily placed “No Trespassing” signs in front of their sea oats, even though it’s one of the lesser-visited parks in the state). We docked, walked on a boardwalk through the mangroves and had a long view of the empty beach and reflected on what the barrier islands were like before development. We searched the beach for shells before getting back on board.
- Sunset on the beach. South Seas has 2.5 miles of beautiful beach, and Captiva is world famous for its shelling. Have a beer and a taco by the beach Latitudes Food Shack or, better yet, enjoy a buffet (if offered) and signature cocktails (I liked the Vibe-aloma with tequila, lime, sage simple syrup and a splash of grapefruit juice) , under the coconut palms and twinkling lights. Then watch the sunset. It’s a heralded tradition here, and parents with kids will love watching their kids dance to a guitarist on the beach who’s been playing here since the ’70s. Finish the evening by roasting some s’mores at the fire pit.
- The one-and-a-half-hour tram ride through the “Ding” Darling Shelter. Tarpon Bay Explorers operates the Wildlife Tram Tour; the rate is $18 per adult and $10 per child. Our driver was funny and informative and gave us an overview of the park. When I go back, I plan to spend more time there. This is considered part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the country and is well known for migratory birds and many places to kayak.
- Sailing lessons at Steve Colgate Sailing School. When the wind and the instructor are good this is a must for anyone wanting to learn something about sailing. Our instructor was patient and calm with his inexperienced crew (my sister, me and two others) and after a few hours on a Colgage 26 ($275 for a three hour solo lesson and increases by about $100 for each additional student up to reach five students), I came away with some of the basics of sailing.
- Bailey-Matthews National Seashell Museum. In Sanibel, about a 15-minute drive from the South Seas, this museum is all about seashells and molluscs. You’ll see fantastic seashells, aquariums (one contains a giant octopus) and a touch pool for children. The gift shop is great. Admission $23.95 for adults.
To take advantage of the South Seas summer offer, go to Fuel Your Memories | Deals (southseas.com). Prices start at $289 and increase depending on the type of accommodation you want and the date. South Seas Island Resort5400 Planting ROhd, Captiva, Florida, (888) 974-0885,