Perhaps I had never heard of Captiva Island on the western coast of Florida because I spent the last 12 years of my life in California, but it’s a well-known escape for many in the Northeast. Located on the Gulf of Mexico west of Ft. Myers in Southwest Florida, South Seas Island Resort on Captiva was once a Key Lime Plantation before opening to guests in 1946 as a fishing resort.
Today the 330-acre destination beach resort on Captiva Island (near sister island Sanibel - a result of the 1921 hurricane dividing the land) feels Caribbean-like with miles of natural soft pristine white sand cascading full of seashells and numerous bird species. Bottle-nosed dolphins quickly become a common site so close to shore while “snowbirds” or older retirees wade in the ocean with a Sand Dipper known as the Beachcomber Scooper collecting pearly perfectly shaped shells – some 400 types found here.
The resort village, a protected wildlife sanctuary, has no buildings taller than the trees. Each morning and at sunset we observe manatees in the harbor, apparently attracted to freshwater. As I cruise the mangrove-lined streets on my pink golf cart, I swing into a neighborhood filled with colorful pastel homes all with their own names like yachts – Lollipop, Aloha Baby, Green Flash, Pelican Anchor. Rich in natural beauty, it is hard to believe this safe tropical oasis exists in America – so ideal for families who want to deeply relax but also have many easily accessible recreational activities available.
With more than 20 miles of bike paths, fishing experiences galore, watersports, and 20 pools total (including 3 main pools and waterslides), South Seas Island Resort is a playground for all ages. You may wish to just rest in your Harbourside guestroom balcony or spacious South Seas condo complete with peaceful waterfront scenery.
Half a mile from downtown Captiva, find shops and restaurants, including the festive colorful Bubble Room known for decadent desserts and Mucky Duck neighborhood pub and just a short drive away, is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Lighthouse Beach, and the spring training facilities of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Here are ten reasons South Seas Island Resort is the ideal family vacation.
Here are Ten Reasons Captiva Island's South Seas Island Resort is the perfect Florida family getaway
1. Collect seashells on the white sandy beaches
Known for its shelling beaches, this is the first trip I’ve taken in years where it is OK to take the shells home. Two and a half miles of beach with warm gulf waters tout 400 species of shells. Shell-seekers doing the “Sanibel Stoop” or “Captiva Crouch” is a typical site as young and old search for the perfect shell. Shells are dashed all over the beaches and just a few feet in the water, visitors scoop and easily find natural unique seashells – often mini conchs. Scoops of seashells like Banded Tulips, Lightening Whelks, Turkey Wings, Cat’s Paws and worm shells seem to be the norm. We also found a sand dollar and if you want to learn more about shells and mollusks, a short drive away is the only museum in the U.S. devoted to the beauties – the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
2. Manatees, dolphins, beautiful birds, oh my!
Wildlife encounters are everywhere on Captiva with 230 species of birds. You can be sure to spot white ibis, snowy egrets, great egrets, little blue herons, spoonbills, osprey, cormorants, and pelicans; the nearby J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge preserve is a prime spot for bird watching.
No matter what beach I took a walk or nap, dolphins frolicked so close to shore as if they were just floating and feeding. Kayaking is a nice way to see wildlife up close and personal too, especially if you can spot a manatee since a subspecies of herbivorous West Indian Manatees exist here. The funny creatures surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe.
3. Book a water adventure
Water experiences are endless with fishing opportunities, paddle boarding through the back bays and parasailing over the islands. Take a wave runner tour with Sunny Island Adventures to Cayo Costa and explore the many mangroves, smaller islands, and fishing shacks that aren’t accessible any other way. The 75-minute tour is only a bit more cost-wise than renting a wave runner on your own and includes informative education on the many sights off the Captiva coast.
A morning Eco Kayak tour through mangroves let us really connect with nature as birds soared and we parked near a sandbar to discover shells with creatures inside, a turtle vertebra, a polka-dotted crab, a sea anemone sucking nutrients from shells, and a starfish. If you are lucky, gliding dolphins, manatees, and stingrays may be part of your paddle.
Sailing lessons are offered with the on-site Offshore Sailing School aboard Colgate 26 and 40 – 50-foot yachts for 2 and 5-day courses or 7-day liveaboard or resort based courses for certification.
4. Up your tennis game with a fun lesson or clinic at Blackwood Tennis Academy
Lessons, camps, and daily clinics for adults and teens are designed for all levels from beginners to pros on the resort’s 7 hard courts, 4 lit for evening play. We had an hour-long informative and fun lesson with Nick Blackwood who not only made us feel at ease but helped us improve our game with some quick pointers from stance to racket placement.
5. Cruise around on a golf cart or bike
Rent a fun cruiser from Sunny Island Adventures on the property for easy access from your resort to the beach or a sunset ride near the golf course and ocean. The resort property is quite large and while trolleys come through every 15-20 minutes, more freedom is possible with a cart or bike.
6. Buy local products and produce at the weekday farmer’s market
On Tuesday from 9 am – 1 pm near the parking lot by the tennis courts you can catch this seasonal open-air market offering produce, baked goods, seafood, smoothies, jewelry, Italian pasta, coffee from Jimmy’s Java, and more. One truck was selling the fresh catch of the day – red grouper, red snapper, yellowtail snapper, Jumbo Gulf pink shrimp, Stone crab, alligator point clams, and beyond. I couldn’t resist admiring the Tunisian towels and taking home a fancy colored hat made from palm leaves.
7. Dine out at numerous restaurants
At the resort pool complex, all food can be charged to your room. Dine casually at The Pointe with a grouper sandwich, fish tacos, fresh salads, fried coconut shrimp, and Captain Al’s cheeseburger plus frozen drinks are aplenty with names like The Lava Flow made with Cruzan rum, pina colada, strawberry, and a Myer’s dark rum floater.
Overlooking the Yacht Harbor and Marina, South Seas’ signature restaurant Harbourside Bar & Grill Patio serves seafood risotto, charred octopus, a tuna poke tower, crab cakes, and a $45 cracked lobster pasta with black truffles. The menu is not inexpensive but the portions are huge and we enjoyed every dish, even the second evening with blackened grouper and corn and crab chowder. If you hook it, they will cook it but you can also just sidle on in for fresh-caught fish like Cajun snapper, pan-seared tuna, and Florida Gulf grouper. Try the Lemongrass Mule. The best way to end any evening was making S’mores in their firepit under the stars.
Harbourside Restaurant right on the marina also offers breakfast in massive portions with scrumptious choices like shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, and corned beef hash. For a quick pizza slice or ice cream cone, stop by the 1950s themed diner Scoops and Slices that even boasts a floor to ceiling candy wall.
8. Sip Sunset drinks at Attitudes Beach Bar
Sidle up to the brightly colored beachside shacks for a frozen sunset cocktail on the resort’s west-facing Sunset Beach. Order a Guava Mamma with mango and guava puree and guava Cruzan rum.
9. Swing your golf club beachside
The resort’s 9-hole, par-27 executive course is designed by Chip Powell along the Gulf of Mexico while on nearby Sanibel Island golf lovers can play at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, which provides an 18-hole championship golf course, driving range, and lessons.
10. Find your Zen – from yoga to painting to spa
Get your creative juices flowing on vacation with South Seas’ extensive activity list.
While your kids participate in one of the resort’s numerous activities (Magic Show, Water Balloon Toss, Bingo, Flag Football, Hula Hoop contest, Kids Night Out), parents can escape for hot yoga, mindfulness, and meditation classes offered regularly.
Painting classes can be booked through the resort’s artist in residence program with Sissi Janku and photography classes and professional portraits are offered through the resort’s on-site photography center, Sebrie Images, for beginners, novices and experienced photographers. Resort guests can sign up for a nature photography tour and lessons on smartphone cameras. Certain days of the week complimentary portrait sitting is offered.
Need more pampering? Book an appointment at the spa and salon for a facial, couples’ massage, hairstyle, or group service.
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Written by Melissa Curtin
Read more posts by Melissa Curtin