Monday, April 16, 2012

Sanibel Island vs. Captiva vs. Fort Myers

Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up [Book]Now that I am mostly recovered from bronchitis for a week and a half, I am ready to think vacation!  Pretty soon school will be out, and everyone will be talking about their summer plans.  Do you need some ideas?  Here's our next trip and the current travel research I'm doing.  Maybe you are wanting some sun and surf and will like the sound of this.  My family is taking a late spring break from May 5-12th.  We prefer Gulf beaches since they are warmer and have less undertow than the Atlantic.  Safer swimming for us non-Olympic athletes.   Now, you might think that Florida is the place to go in the winter, not summer.  But reconsider:  In most of Florida, the summer is considered "off season".  So the rates are better.  And the Gulf water is really warm by the summer.   In my favorite book 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up, Sanibel Island is chosen as one of thirty destinations on the topic "On the Water."  Sanibel Island is one of the little islands between Sarasota and Fort Myers with sugary sand, wildlife preserves, and limits on high-rise developments. The big draw here is 200 different species of shells.  The east-west position of the island in relation to the ocean currents is the reason for the large quantity of intact shells.  There is even a shell museum: Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.    Mr. Frommer himself has recently stated Sanibel Island is one of his favorite places on earth.  The beach houses on Sanibel rent for one month at a time by city regulation, though there are plenty of condos.  However, my husband has requested we stay in a house this time where we will have more space.  Space to get away from each other.  Though vacations are about being together as a family, I understood what he wanted.  Sometimes one needs a little elbow room, even on vacation.  So there is my dilemma.  We don't very well have a month to vacation on Sanibel.   Captiva , just north and connected to Sanibel, doesn't have the month rental regulation on their houses, so that is good, but there are fewer to choose from.  Here is a nice one:  But at $1700 per week, that is a little steep for a bargain hunter like me.  The house is awfully pretty though!  No calendar online so I can't check the availability without emailing the owner.  Sometimes even email takes too long, you know?  So now I've been thinking why not try Fort Myers?  Fort Myers has more rentals, so more choices; which for the traveler means a better deal.  It is really close to Sanibel, so it seems to me that the water temperature and water quality would be very similar.  Though not oriented east-west, so there won't be the huge quantity of shells.  We could stay in Fort Myers, enjoy the convenience, and drive over to Sanibel Island.  Heck, we could even drive to the Everglades.  Fort Myers to Everglades City, the northwest city of Everglades National Park is 66 miles, about 1.5 hours. Here are two nice condos right on the water in Fort Myers: pink shell Smuggler's Cove.  The Pink Shell is $815/week and sleeps 6.   The Smuggler's Cove is $838-1027 and sleeps 5.  Now for houses, check out these:   This one is $1300/wk with a private pool and hot tub and is on a cute little canal.  We rented a house once in Dauphin Island with a canal and boat dock and my kids had a ball jumping off the dock and trying to land in our blow-up raft.  This second one is $750/week plus cleaning with a private pool.  To me, that seems like a steal, but it is booked for our week. 
         Hanging out on the beach in the sun and breeze always gives me a good appetite.  For that reason, we prefer to rent condos and houses on vacation instead of hotel rooms.  With four children, I get tired to eating out (and paying for eating out) at least two meals a day for a week.  With a real vacation rental, you get a full kitchen and can make a simple dinner after everyone is showered and ready to chill in the air conditioning.  Cooking on vacation may sound like a punishment. But for me, Stouffer's lasagna, a glass of wine, and all of us piled on the couch watching tv and playing board games, sounds like relaxation.  However, trying out new restaurants is part of the fun of travel.  Unless you end up at the one with the most billboards that turns out to be just mediocre.  Do yourself at favor and jot a list of the top Fort Myers restaurants on this link, courtesy of Trip Advisor.  I think we will go with #2 Kenwood Lane Grille. I like the way the reviewers called it a hidden gem. 
What to do in the area? (besides lie in the sun and swim)
Do you know this trick?  Buy a membership to your local science museum and then visit whatever science museum that offers reciprocal membership is in the area of your vacation destination.  Not really a trick, I guess, but I always feel so smart walking into a science museum on a rainy day of vacation and getting in with my big family for free.  While all the other tourists stand there adding up the ticket prices.  Here's the link for the list of science centers and museums that offer reciprocal admission with a membership:ASTC Passport Program  Right in Fort Myers is the Imaginarium of Fort Myers.
   Another option for a rainy day: The Edison and Ford Winter Estates Museum and Lab  $20/adult, $11/child.  This would be very interesting for those without kids or with kids too old for the Imaginarium. 
   To see wildlife, here are some options:  Right on Sanibel, there is the J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge  With a name like Ding Darling, it has to be fairly cool.   Inside Ding Darling is an outside company offering kayak tours, walking tours, etc.  Tarpon Bay Explorers Nature Tours and Rentals   Another is  Shark Valley Tram Tours.  I'm not sure why they call it Shark Valley.  There are alligators, but no sharks.  Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  This one is right in Naples, very close to Fort Myers. Everglades Island Air Boat Tours   This tour leaves from Everglades City, which is the northwest corner of the Everglades, closest to Gulfside beaches.   Manatee Guides.  This is an outfit that takes you out in kayaks for several hours to paddle to see either manatees, or dolphins, or birds.  Of all the tour companies in the area, this one is the highest rated on Trip Advisor.  Just make sure your tour is with Tim, the primo naturalist for this tour company. 
   On the way home, I am tentatively thinking of Huntsville, Alabama for our stopover spot from Ohio to Florida.  We don't drive through the night.  Just can't seem to do it like everyone else.  Not driving through the night causes our drive to take two days, but we prefer it to falling asleep at the wheel.  Several years ago, we tried to stop in Huntsville, Alabama, on the way from Dauphin Island, Alabama but we left the Gulf too late and it didn't work out.  What's in Huntsville, Alabama?  NASA is! The U.S. Space and Rocket Center  And guess what?! They are on the ASTC passport program.  So we'll get in free!  An extra fee IMAX shows.  And if anyone wants to stay on a week for space camp.  Just kidding; Space Camp costs the equivalent of several vacations.  The non-rich need not apply.  Huntsville is twelve hours from Fort Myers.  So, we'll leave in the morning, drive all day.  Sleep in or near Huntsville.  The next day, we'll spend all day checking out stuff like the Saturn V rocket that took Neil, Buzz, and Michael up to the moon.  Then we'll sleep again around Huntsville and drive home the next day daydreaming about whether the space program will revive in time for one of my sons to become the next man to take the "one giant leap for mankind."
U.S. Space & Rocket Center Overview

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