As soon as the weather begins to cool in the northeast many families start dreaming of sun and sand. This year, in the wake of multiple hurricanes, some destinations can’t be considered. Not so for Captiva Island, an island in southwest Florida, located near Fort Myers just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and often associated with the neighboring Sanibel Island. Hurricane Irma did pass by, but the area has been restored and is ready for visitors.
If you are travelling with children you’ll appreciate that Captiva is just a three-hour flight from New York to Southwest Florida International Airport. You’ll also be glad to hear that South Seas Island Resort located at the north end of Captiva Island, a 330-acre destination beach resort and wildlife preserve boarded by two-and-a-half miles of white sand beaches, is truly family-friendly.
There’s just one way in and one way out of Captiva Island and that’s part of the joy of this secluded getaway. Entering the South Seas complex you’ll get the feeling that life here is easy and safe with plenty of space to play and have fun. Once you check in, if you haven’t arrived in your own vehicle, walk across the street to rent a golf cart. Yes, this is the standard mode of transportation on the island and it’s fun! Boats and bikes are also available for rent.
As you take the main road to your housing, and there are a wide variety of options – from hotel rooms and beach villas to high end condos and rental homes, some with as many as nine bedrooms, plus a marina in case you’d prefer to stay on your boat – you’ll see adorable wildlife crossing signs such as Duck Crossing and Iguana Crossing. This is the first indication that wildlife is celebrated and protected here.
On Captiva Island, every effort is made to maintain a natural habitat for all forms of wildlife. As a parent, you’ll appreciate the learning opportunities your children can experience when they get the chance to see so many animals in their natural state.
Look for the manatees that generally sing right by the marina walk or in the waters off the shoreline near the main pool. We took a kayak tour offered by Sunny Island Adventures located right in the complex and our expert guide took us close to dolphins, pelicans and osprey. We even saw a lizard disguising himself as he perched high on a tree branch!
Just off the property, Captiva Cruises offers a variety of expeditions that offer animal sightings. The one-and-a-half-hour cruise narrated by the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is an excellent cruise to view dolphins in the wild. You’ll learn facts and lore about the island and its animal creatures. Did you know that a manatee can stay underwater for about 30 minutes? Or that the magnificent frigatebird, that steals fish from other birds, can sleep as they fly allowing it to stay in the air up to two months straight without landing?
For more wildlife adventures off property, head to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge that is especially well-known for its bird life. There are trails, an education center and special events throughout the year. Ding Darling (1876-1962), a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist and environmentalist, and other dedicated naturalists have worked hard to keep Captiva pristine.
Besides wildlife, Captiva is also well-known for shells. Shell collectors from all over the world come to this shelling paradise. Some of the more popular shell varieties include conch, junonia, cockle, tulip, sand dollars and coquinas. Make sure to attend the South Seas SHELLebration at Sunset Beach on the property. This daily sunset event includes a “Wish Upon a Seashell Ceremony” and beach games – all near an island-style food and beverage hut.
Kids will love ScoutAbout, a search and discovery game where kids use a map to locate 15 Points of Discovery and collect wristbands at each one. Trade in the map and wristbands at Skully’s Family Interactive Center to get a prize and become an official ScoutAbout member with a spot on the ScoutAbout Wall of Fame.
Skully’s Family Interactive Center also offers children’s programming such as Turtle Tots and Creative Corner. Plus, there’s an arcade with coin-operated games along with activities for teens. Or perhaps your kids would enjoy the Sanibel Sea School, this nonprofit organization introduces students to field-based ocean experiences.
South Seas has a daily schedule of events with all manner of activities from arts & crafts to stand up paddleboarding, or log rolling in the pool to a Kids’ Night Out evening. Not to mention the gorgeous beach and several pools, including a dedicated kids pool.
Children are guaranteed to have fun, but so are adults. The South Seas Island Resort Golf Course is a 9-hole golf course with stunning views and immaculately maintained greens.
There are also tennis courts, with on-staff pros available for private lessons, a fully equipped fitness center, the Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa & Boutique and Ambu Yoga offering beach yoga and other classes.
For those craving a bit of shopping there are several clothing shops, including J. McLaughlin, in the small mall across the street from the main building. There’s also Captiva Provisions Company, a small, well-stocked and delightful upscale food store. Starbucks also has a presence (so no withdrawal is necessary). There are other shops throughout the complex for everything from your morning coffee to sunscreen, and beer to handmade sandwiches.
Let it be said you’ll never go hungry here. For starters, The Crooked Snook Tiki Bar is the pool bar and grub station complete with a thatched roof and friendly servers.
Located beachside, The Pointe features sandwiches, salads, burgers, vegetarian selections and a kid’s menu. The Harbourside Bar & Grill serves breakfast and dinner offered inside or out. The fish served here is caught locally in the waters surrounding Captiva Island.
Scoops & Slices is open for lunch, a snack or dessert. This retro designed shop has 1950s style booths and offers pizza, frozen yogurt and a wall of candy sold by the pound.
For an elegant meal, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill offers a Caribbean-infused menu and powerful mojitos.
If you are planning to travel here during the holidays know that South Seas gets into the mood with snow making and a holiday stroll with Santa.
Family life is constantly celebarted at South Seas and more than once we heard the refrain that what the resort is really about is mutigenerational vacationing. Parents who came as children bring their children back – and grandma and grandpa come too! What’s more, families come back year after year after year. That’s certainly a vote of confidence that Captiva Island and The South Seas Island Resort offer a satisfying family experience.
Jean Sheff is editor and co-publisher of Westchester Family as well as an island enthusiast.
• South Seas Island Resort – south
• J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – fws.gov/
• Sunny Island Adventures – sunny
• Captiva Cruises – capti