Natural Florida provides ideal backdrop for family vacations on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Endless sandy beaches filled with seashells, blue skies, warm Gulf waters, islands to explore, waterways to paddle, sandcastles to build, wildlife to view in natural habitats. This is just the beginning of a family vacation to remember. The destination: The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel on Florida's southwest coast.
With lots of fun and something for everyone to enjoy, the area includes Sanibel & Captiva islands, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Pine Island, Boca Grande & Outer islands, North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres.
Families are likely to run out of time before running out of things to do!
Traditionally, the most popular attractions throughout the area have been its 50 miles of unspoiled beaches, award-winning state parks and wildlife preserves. In addition to strolling, shelling, and bird watching along the shores of Sanibel, Captiva, Cayo Costa, and the area's other barrier islands, there are many places to explore local waters by sailboat, powerboat, canoe or kayak. Just a few of the most memorable family experiences that are unique to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel include:
Start a (really great) shell collection
Wandering beautiful beaches in search of sea treasures is a favorite pastime. Before they know it, visitors are doing the "Sanibel Stoop" in search of the area's most popular shells. Families may take a shelling cruise or charter with a captain who knows where to find the best shells. Another treasure is the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island (www.shellmuseum.org). With ties to the Smithsonian Institution, this museum is a must for shell enthusiasts. Shells from southwest Florida are displayed along with huge and rare specimens from all over the world. The museum also has a prized collection of Sailors' Valentines. Kids (and their parents) enjoy the popular undersea-inspired interactive children's section.
Explore this tropical paradise by water! Treat the family to a tour of some of the area's islands. Captiva Cruises (www.captivacruises.com) on Captiva Island takes visitors for lunch and exploring on Useppa and Cabbage Key. The Tropic Star (www.tropicstarcruises.com) on Pine Island has trips to remote Cayo Costa, recently named among the world's best "hidden beaches" on the online home of the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler magazine, Concierge.com. The island is mainly a state park with wide, unspoiled white-sand beaches, rustic cabins and tent campsites, along with outstanding bird and other wildlife to watch. Water taxis are available for island tours and boats are available to for rent for those who want a nautical adventure.
Learn about marine habitats
The Sanibel Sea School on Sanibel Island is dedicated to teaching children and adults about marine ecosystems using the setting of the barrier island habitats of Sanibel and Captiva as an opportunity to touch, feel and understand. Through their experience, students gain an intimate perspective of the ocean, its inhabitants and the tightly woven fabric of our global environment. The program includes the elements of a marine ecosystem: animals, people, plants, land, ocean and weather. Contact the school for information and schedules for adult and children's programs. (239)472-8585. www.sanibelseaschool.org
The Great Calusa Blueway, with nearly 190 miles of clearly marked waterways and trails, provides a chance to explore the area's back bays and estuaries. Here, visitors experience wildlife viewing at its best. Guided tours are available or paddlers may explore on their own as they go through aquatic reserves, wildlife refuges, creeks, bayous, rivers and mangrove forests. Many of the trails follow the course charted some 2,000 years ago by the area's earliest residents, the Calusa Indians. Recognized as among the best U.S. kayaking destinations by both Paddler and Canoe & Kayak magazines, the waterway provides outings that last from a few hours to week-long adventures. To enhance the paddling experience, the trail utilizes Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. Key points are marked along the trail to aid in navigation and detailed maps are available. Paddlers may stay in a resort along the way or camp at the Koreshan State Historic site, Cayo Costa State Park or Caloosahatchee State park. Bring your own craft or rent from local outfitters. For information, detailed maps and GPS coordinates, visit www.greatcalusablueway.com .
J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
One of the most popular canoe trails is located at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. The more than 6,300-acre refuge was listed among the nation's Top 10 bird watching spots by Dick Hutto, host of the PBS series, BirdWatch. Besides exotic birds, other wildlife species may be seen throughout the refuge. Visitors can explore the refuge on foot or bicycle, or by car or canoe. The refuge is open 7:30 a.m. to sunset, Saturday through Thursday, and closed Fridays (to give the wildlife a rest!). There is a $5 charge to drive through and a $1 fee to bike or walk. For more information, call (239) 472-1100. www.fws.gov/dingdarling. For visitors lucky enough to be in the area from May to October, there is an opportunity to witness 300-pound nesting loggerhead sea turtles lay about 100 eggs each that will hatch. The two-inch long hatchlings will make the dangerous journey from their protected underground nests to the Gulf of Mexico. For information on viewing these fascinating and endangered creatures call (239) 481-5566. www.turtletime.org. Take a step back in time at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Tour the 20-acre riverfront estate, complete with laboratory, experimental gardens, rare antique automobiles and other memorabilia from the genius inventor. A delightful blend of scientific fact and personal anecdotes will fascinate children and adults alike. Next door, Henry Ford's winter estate features several antique vehicles on display. For hours, information and admission, call (239) 334-7419. www.efwefla.org
The ultimate sandcastle
These intricate sculptures at the 22nd Annual American Sandsculpting Championship Festival Nov. 20-29, 2015, take "playing in the sand" to a whole new level. From nothing more than a beach of sand and 300 gallons of water, about 20 master sculptors erect monuments of elaborate complexity. This popular event attracts more than 65,000 visitors each year and the public is invited to stroll the beach free-of-charge to view this open-air gallery of sand creations that bear little resemblance to those you created as a kid! For more information, call (239) 454-7500. www.sandfestival.com Helpful tip: Assistance on planning a family vacation may be found at www.fortmyerssanibel.com. Check out information on accommodations, packages, attractions, recreation, dining, shopping and more. Additional family attractions at The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel include the following:
• The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation offers more than 1,800 acres of wildlife habitat and freshwater wetlands. The facility includes 4-1/2 miles of nature trails, along with a native plant nursery, nature center and gift shop. For hours and information, call (239) 472-2329. www.sccf.org
• The Children's Learning Lab at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is a major attraction for visitors of all ages. Features of the learning lab include a variety of touch activities and interactive displays, educational puzzles and games and a live shell tank. Each day on the hour, the museum shows a 30-minute slide program that explores the world of mollusks, discussing their habits and habitats. A museum store offers shell-motif items ranging from books to furniture. For more information, call (239) 395-2233 or (888) 679-6450. www.shellmuseum.org Captiva Island
• Take a cruise to an island or meet wildlife up close! Captiva Cruises, located on charming and quaint Andy Rosse Lane, offers trips to Cabbage Key (think "Cheeseburger in Paradise"), Useppa Island, Boca Grande and Cayo Costa State Park. Special dolphin, wildlife, sunset, shelling and sailing tours are also available. For details, call (239) 472-5300. www.captivacruises.com Fort Myers Beach
• Eco-attractions on Estero Island include Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve with 56 acres of unspoiled live oak hammock and 4,000 feet of mangrove shoreline along Estero Bay, as well as an elevated boardwalk, a canoe landing and viewing deck. The archaeologically significant Mound Key in Estero Bay is accessible only by boat. For more information, call Koreshan State Historic Site at (239) 992-0311. www.floridastateparks.org
• Just south of Fort Myers Beach, Lovers Key State Park is one of the area's most pristine parks. For the price of admission, a beautiful beach, scenic boardwalk, tram tour and picnic areas are available to visitors. The Travel Channel ranked this beautiful park fourth in the state of Florida. Call (239) 463-4588. www.leeparks.org
• Ostego Bay Marine Science Center features a touch tank, aquariums and other exhibits that teach the importance of protecting marine ecosystems. For tour information call (239) 765-8101. www.osteogobay.org
• Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a 2,000-acre wetland ecosystem featuring a mile-long boardwalk. Naturalist-led walks and self-guided tours are offered throughout the year. For details, call (239) 432-2004. www.leeparks.org/sixmile
• Manatee Park features three observation decks for viewing the endangered West Indian Manatee in their non-captive aquatic habitat when the Gulf water dips below 70° F, typically from November through March. Visitors also enjoy a butterfly garden,facilities for year-round picnicking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. For information on hours, guided tours, gardening workshops and other seasonal programs, call (239) 694-3537. www.leeparks.org
• The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium features three miles of hiking trails and nature exhibits with 100 species ranging from eagles to rattlesnakes. In addition, the facility offers educational programs, lectures, laser light shows, field trips and guided tours throughout the year. For hours of operation and admission, call (239) 275-3435. www.calusanature.com
• Baseball is another family favorite in southwest Florida, which hosts spring training for two professional teams. In Fort Myers, the Minnesota Twins make their home at the Lee County Sports Complex while the Boston Red Sox reside at Jet Blue Park. Each spring, fans watch them play in as many as 14 games per stadium. Ticket information is available by calling: (877) RED-SOXX/www.redsox.com. For Twins' tickets, call (800) 33-TWINS/www.twinsbaseball.com.
• Imaginarium Hands-on Museum and Aquarium is a fun-filled, interactive learning center that encourages visitors of all ages to explore the principles of science, the mysteries of the humanities and the geographical region. Visitors may experience a hurricane-simulator, fossil dig, puppet theatre and a marine touch tank. For information call (239) 321-7420. www.cityftmyers.com/imaginarium
North Fort Myers
• Take a ride on the wild side at Babcock Wilderness Adventures. Visitors experience the Telegraph Cypress Swamp and scenic woods on a 90-minute swamp buggy ride. View native wildlife, including panthers, alligators, deer, wild turkey, Florida cracker cattle and boars. Learn about native flora and fauna. Daily tours are available by reservation only by calling (800) 500-5583.
• The Shell Factory and Nature Park has something for everyone, including more than 5 million shells and shell-related gifts. Billed as the world's largest collection of rare shells, corals, sponges and fossils, this unique attraction also contains an aviary, miniature golf, a video arcade, food court, bumper boats and cars, and souvenirs galore. Call(800) 282-5805. www.shellfactory.com
• Everglades Wonder Gardens was established in 1936 and is one of the state's earliest wildlife attractions. Highlights are lush tropical tree gardens, wildlife shows, a swinging bridge, exhibits, a natural history museum and gift shop. Native residents includegiant alligators, deer, snakes, otters, hawks and bobcats. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with continuous guided tours. For information call (239) 992-2591.
• Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (southeast of Bonita Springs), a 11,000-acre ancient forest with a 2-1/4-mile boardwalk that meanders through mammoth 500-year-old cypress trees, alligator holes and lakes where colorful wading birds feed. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 1 through April 10 and 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 11 through Sept. 30. Call (239) 348-9151 for information and admission details. www.audubon.org/local/sanctuary/corkscrew
For kids only!
Many area resorts have developed creative programs that let mom and dad schedule play time with and without the kids. Programs provide daytime and evening activities led by qualified counselors that give parents time alone for adult activities. The area has even been recognized as "#1 Beach in the South" in FamilyFun magazine's Family-Friendly Travel Awards.
• The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa, Bonita Springs
The 454-room, full-service resort offers amenities that allow guests to experience the distinctive surrounding such as eco-tours, fly-fishing, bird watching and a secluded beach island. The resort also features an 18-hole championship golf course, a 19,000-square-foot full-service spa, salon and fitness center, three pools including a 5,000-square-foot lagoon with a 140-foot water slide, hydro-grid tennis facilities, six restaurants and lounges.
The resort's "Summer Splash Package" offers families a rate of $179/night and includes the room and a value card featuring more than $300 in discounts on select resort services. Components of the value card include: 20 percent off green fees at Raptor Bay Golf Club 15 percent off services and retail purchases at Stillwater Spa and Salon30 percent off Camp Hyatt sessions (morning or afternoon) 15 percent off breakfast buffet at Tanglewood Restaurant Kayaks: Get the second kayak free with one full-price rental 20 percent off any water activity with All Water Excursions. Valid May 26 through Oct. 31, 2008 Reservations: (239) 444-1234 or visit www.coconutpoint.hyatt.com
Camp Coconut is an exciting, year-round supervised program for children ages 3-12. The program focuses on the flora, fauna and culture of this unique part of Florida. Fun activities include: aquatic adventures, coconut painting, movies and popcorn, s'mores at the Fire Pit, face painting, water balloon toss, voyage to Big Hickory Beach, sand castle fun, hunting for seashells, Gasparilla's Treasure Hunt and arts and crafts. For prices, times and reservations, call (800)55-HYATT/(239) 444-1234 or visit www.coconutpoint.hyatt.com .
• South Seas Island Resort, Captiva Island
The newly renovated South Seas Island Resort is a sprawling resort nestled among 330 acres and situated on two-and-half miles of powder-white beaches. With a $140 million rebirth, the resort has redefined the luxury travel experience for guests. Tucked away at the northern end of Captiva Island, South Seas Island Resort is nestled in Pine Island Sound in the Gulf of Mexico, with more than half of the resort a dedicated wildlife preserve and estuary.
The resort's "Trading E-mails for Ecology Package" includes three-nights in a three-bedroom beach cottage, families adopt a manatee through www.saveamanatee.org, guided family shell walk, and kayak excursion through the resort. Cost: the program starts at $2,079 for a family of four and is valid May 28- Oct. 31, 2008.
The Tiva Kid's Club gives tots and teens a break from mom and dad with activities including teen kayaking, sandcastle building, coconut painting and beach B.I.N.G.O. The Tiva Kids' Club (ages 4-11) is offered year-round, Monday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Themes for camp and the evening programs include: Under the Sea, South Seas Scouts, a nature program focusing on the unique ecosystems of Captiva Island; Wacky Sports, Mad Scientists & Incredible Inventors, Creepy Crawly Day, a camp all about bugs; Pirates in Paradise and Around the World, an evening of global games and crafts. Cost: $40 per child including lunch.
For more information and reservations, call (888) 2-CAPTIVA or visit www.southseas.com .
• Pink Shell Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Myers Beach
The Pink Shell features a broad range of recreational activities, spacious and luxurious accommodations, fine dining, meeting facilities and a specialized children's program, Sparky's Kidds Kampp®.
The adult-supervised children and youth program is designed to offer fun, kid-friendly activities, while providing parents with free time to enjoy spa treatments, wave runner outings or an afternoon of fishing. Children ages 4-11 are encouraged to participate in activities that include lunch, crafts, beach games, pool games, exploring and more. Kids have the opportunity to learn about the local flora and fauna and scan the shoreline for dolphins. Program is available Tuesday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Thursday and Saturday 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Cost: $35 per child per session.
For more information and reservations call (888) 309-2911 or visit www.pinkshell.com.
• Casa Ybel Resort, Sanibel Island
Travel and Leisure Family magazine has rated Casa Ybel one of North America's Top 20 Family Resorts. Enveloped by lush tropical landscaping and breathtaking views of the Gulf of Mexico, Casa Ybel Resort is perfect for an extended family vacation. Guests are steps from a 14-mile stretch of pristine, white sand shell studded beach. The beachside, Olympic size swimming pool is the heart of the resort's year-round outdoor playground. Included among the activities are tennis, biking (23 miles of bike paths), basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard, bocce, boating, fishing, golf privileges and a kiddie pool.
The Casa Kids Club provides a fun place for children while parents enjoy a few hours of relaxation on their own. A themed event is presented each day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for kids ages 4 - 11. The cost is $45 per child per day and includes a kid-friendly lunch. Themes include Treasure Island Days and Island Fiesta Days.
In addition to the Casa Kids Club, the resort offers activities for children of all ages and designed for family fun: Tie-Dye, Shark Tooth Jewelry Making and Sand Dollar Painting. Tennis Camp is available with ages usually ranging from 5 – 12, depending on the child's ability.
For information call (800) 276-4753 or visit www.casaybelresort.com.
• Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, Fort MyersNamed one of the country's "Top 10 Family Beach Resorts" by Family Circle magazine and one of the "Top Five Family-Friendly Resorts in the Southeast" by FamilyFun magazine, the resort is situated on 85-acres overlooking Sanibel and Captiva islands.
The resort's award-winning Kids' Klub provides fun-filled adventures for kids from ages 5 to 12. In addition to Kids' Klub, Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa is filled with more activities for kids and teens. Dive-in (shown poolside) movies take place in the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day) at no charge and the entire family is invited! During holidays, special events and seasonal activities are planned for kids and teens.
• A Little Princess Spa Pampering Party is available for young ladies ages 4 to 11 years old. There is a minimum of six participants and the group must be accompanied by an adult. The party includes: Robes, Mini Manis, Mini Pedis, Pink lip stick application. (30 minutes). Cupcakes and milk are served in the Bistro. Pictures of the group are taken in front of the Spa in robes. Lip gloss is included in pink bags as a party favor.
Many water activities and tours are available for the entire family to enjoy. Fishing, dolphin cruises, sea life encounter excursions, shelling and snorkeling trips, lunch on a barrier island, kayak tours and complimentary trolley trips to nearby Sanibel Island may be booked through the resort's concierge. For information and reservations, call (800) 767-7777 or go to www.sanibel-resort.com .