Captiva Island Inn: A Tropical Paradise
I had always imagined Captiva Island as a far away, exotic paradise, attainable only after an arduous journey. But from Sarasota, a one-hour road-trip landed us in Fort Myers, and we were nearly there.
The drive south was peaceful and pretty, with foliage changing from tropical to subtropical right before our eyes. After crossing the toll bridge to Sanibel Island, it seemed like no time before we pulled into the sandy drive at Captiva Island Inn, a bed & breakfast a few blocks from the beach.
Among the bougainvillea, 13 cottages, one five-bedroom house, a pool, a spa and four restaurants are nestled here. And a white picket fence encloses the entire cozy collection. Our cottage was a spacious one-bedroom with a decidedly Floridian décor - casual furniture in floral prints, bright and cheery yellow walls, extra-high ceilings and enormous windows.
Because the inn is in the heart of this tiny town, most everything - shops, restaurants, and of course, the beach - is within walking or bicycling distance. Anything else is minutes away by car, including the sunset cruise we scheduled.
Captiva Cruises offers outings ranging from dolphin watching and shelling to the "Sunset Serenade Cruise." We allowed a generous eight minutes for the drive to the trolley stop, hopped a trolley to the marina and boarded the comfortable craft. "Island music legend" Danny Morgan crooned as the sun slipped into the Gulf.
We had reserved the sunset cruise, but neglected to plan for dinner. The Bubble Room looked fun, but the line to get in snaked around the building. Others nearby were booked, so we drove until we found what we were looking for.
The Mad Hatter was just over the bridge. Though reservations are normally required, we were seated right away at a waterfront table for two. On cue, lightning cut across the sky, illuminating the palms. We watched nature's fireworks, choreographed to the classical music playing in the background.
From fresh baked bread to pan-seared scallops and roasted vegetables, the meal was as fine as we've had in the best restaurants in the world. And dessert? Créme Brulee accompanied by an aged tawny port.
The next morning, we booked a back-bay excursion with Captiva Kayak Company and Wildside Adventures down the street. We were hesitant at first. Our previous paddling experience was rough (my husband Patrick is a foot taller and twice my weight, so we once managed to overturn a canoe).
But this comfy tandem kayak had a rudder and it was stable. We paddled over a meadow of grasses gently swaying beneath the water's surface. Owner and guide Greg LeBlanc explained these grass flats filter and stabilize the water, providing food and habitat for juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs, in turn feeding large fish, in turn feeding osprey.
Landside, we bicycled to the beach for the afternoon, stopping in quaint galleries and shops along the way. The casual Mucky Duck restaurant is right on the beach and offers lunch, dinner and, weather permitting, live entertainment. Here, lavender flowers crept across Captiva's legendary white, powdery sand, like wild island orchids. It wasn't long before we joined them.