Quiet and Romantic Island Getaways
In our life B.C. (before child), castaway islands constituted our favorite escapes. There's something intensely romantic about being car-less and surrounded by water. I should mention that my husband Rob and I are both Pisces and thusly are forever on call with the song of the sea. It's no big mystery, either, that we're also huge fans of Gilligan's Island reruns.
Back then we had our first boat, a homemade eyesore not unlike the SS Minnow. Nonetheless, it got us around to the un-tethered islands in the "backyard" of our Sanibel Island home - Cabbage Key, North Captiva Island, Chino Picnic (a.k.a. Picnic) Island and, our favorite, Cayo Costa. Since then we have upgraded to a Mako and expanded state-wide our repertoire of islands with no mainline to mainland. Cayo Costa remains one of our favorites. Here we visit it and three others that have fulfilled our Gilligan fantasy: Being stranded on an uncharted deserted island.
So sit right back and follow where our hearts and fantasies take us when we need an escape from parenthood... to a reality that includes only us. It's no three-hour tour and none of the original cast is along, but we do rate each island according to Gilligan crew criteria. We begin each evaluation with the Waltons' romance analysis. (Don't get confused - we haven't switched reruns on you, that's us.) The Skipper pipes in with advice on how to get to each. (Don't worry, he really knows where he's going this time.) The Gilligan factor tells you the degree of, well, laziness. Call it "laid-back," if you will. From Mary Ann, we learn the island's wholesomeness; from Ginger, its glamour. The Professor weighs in on the environment while the Howells assess the money end of things.
CAYO COSTA STATE PARK
Fort Myers area
The Waltons: One of our happiest Easter memories recollects the night we tent-camped at Cayo Costa State Park. On Easter morning, we awoke to a scattering of empty sea urchin shells on the beach, colorful, roundish and plentiful as an Easter egg hunt. We giggled and splashed as we gathered them up, barefoot and free. Romance tip: If you've paddled over, ask about going through the mangrove "tunnel of love."
The Skipper: For overnighting, dock or get dropped on the north-end bay side. A tram takes you cross-island to the Gulf-front camping grounds. Tropic Star Cruises of Pine Island is the official ferry concession (a 20-minute trip) and rents kayaks for a true adventure. You can also hire water taxis or charters from Pine and Captiva Islands.
Gilligan: Pitch a tent if you're ambitious, otherwise call ahead for one of the cabins; they're primitive but the cushioned, plank bunk beds are softer than the ground. The nine miles of beach give you lots of room to spread your beach blanket and snooze without disturbance, plus the fishing is great right from shore, where tasty snook hang out.
Mary Ann: You can rent bikes or hike the six miles of well-kept trail that take in the beach, an old pioneer cemetery with gravesites outlined in big old shells, and all kinds of pretty trees - palms, sea grapes and beautiful oaks draped with Spanish moss and filled with birds.
Ginger: The cabins are as plush as it gets here, so forget glamour. Leave the lighted makeup mirror at home - no electricity here. There are showers, but you'll have to bring your own drinking water and food. The ranger sells ice.
Professor: Cayo Costa is known for its great shelling, especially along Johnson Shoals at the north end. Immense sea turtles nest on the beaches in summer. Year 'round, you can spot manatees and dolphin in local waters. In winter, white pelicans hang out on sandbars in the bay and shorebirds skitter along the beach all the time. The seven-mile island hosts barrier island biological communities from beach dunes to highland hammocks. Be prepared for mosquitoes in warm weather.
The Howells: Camping transportation with Tropic Star of Pine Island is $35 per adult. Admission to the park is $2 each (though the admission charge is waived if you're camping). Tent camping costs $22 a night; cabin rental costs $30 a night. A bargain, darling! But make sure you reserve your cabin well ahead of time.
PALM ISLAND RESORT
The Waltons: Cozy into a one-, two- or three-bedroom villa on the beach and never leave if that's your romance model. We like exploring on a golf cart, sipping Rum Bay Smashes at the Rum Bay Bar and long walks with fingers entwined on the wide, practically deserted beach at sunset.
The Skipper: Three barrier islands have grown together here, Palm Island being the northernmost. The resort's car ferry gets you from its mainland station at Cape Haze, between Boca Grande and Englewood, to the island in five minutes (and is much more reliable than the Minnow). Then you park your car outside resort gates, and it's feet or golf carts from there on in.
Gilligan: This is relaxation at its finest. You could make your own meals, but Rum Bay Restaurant serves some killer baby back ribs and fresh fish you won't believe. Besides all that beach, there are five pools and whirlpools, nice soft couches and beds for those long siestas, and all the comforts of home - and then some.
Mary Ann: You may be way away from it all, but there's lots to do. The resort takes up two miles of an island that is seven miles long, so you can walk forever in the warm sunshine. The resort has tennis courts, a fitness center and a full-service marina, plus bike rentals, fishing charters, snorkeling, kayaking, croquet, you name it. Head for the pass on the north end and you can fish right from shore. At the island's mid-section, just south of Palm Island, is Don Pedro Island State Park.
Ginger: Now this is the kind of island where you can luxuriate for a long time. The villas have that charming, Old Florida tin-roof look from the outside and are roomy and decorated beautifully (with lots of closet space; although you're not going to need those long evening gowns). The restaurant has just the right kind of salty elegant atmosphere that makes you feel like you're hob-nobbing with the casual riche. And you can order up massages right in your own room.
Professor: You are dead center in the "Tarpon Capital of the World" here, and summer-time becomes a fishing frenzy. Year 'round, the island's position along one of Florida's most pristine, least discovered coastlines makes it popular for kayakers, canoeists and birdwatchers. Right from your screened villa porch, you're likely to spot dolphin leaping and blackwing skimmers sharing a view of sunset along the wide, sea-oats-edged beach. Take the self-guided nature walk, or sign up for a natural history program.
The Howells: One-bedroom beach villas start at $185 per night. The car ferry is free, plus for every two days you stay, you get a pass for one free trip off-island, in case you want to try out other restaurants or look around. (Visit nearby Boca Grande, it's divine.) It's a good idea to rent a golf cart, which starts at $50 a day.
LITTLE PALM ISLAND RESORT & SPA
The Florida Keys
The Waltons: We feel as though we've arrived in the South Seas in the mere 15 minutes it takes the ferry to spirit us away from traffic jams and life's other irks. Everything here is romantic, from the net-draped beds and outdoor showers to the seaside couples massage and torchlit dinner on the beach. Let restaurant staff know if it's a special occasion and they'll prepare a commemorative keepsake menu in your honor. Since minimum age on the island is 16, we don't feel guilty in the least leaving our son with friends.
The Skipper: Follow the incredibly scenic U.S. 1 to Little Torch Key (mile marker 28.5), less than 22 miles short of Key West. Here you catch the ferry boat that chugs slowly to the unplugged island, a prelude to the pace and peace on the island. Or you can dock your own boat or fly in by floatplane.
Gilligan: This looks like a stage set to Gilligan's Island with its thatched villas, hammocks and knock-out blossoms. Time slows way down, just like it should. The beach chaises get high marks for their thick padding, and you barely have to lift a finger to get someone to bring you a drink or anything else you desire.
Mary Ann: Lots of people like to do absolutely nothing, but when you're ready for action, check out the scuba shop, charter a boat, go kayaking. You romantic types can charter a sailboat or yacht for just the two of you. Or get cozy with a book and each other in the Great Room library, where there's a fireplace for cool winter evenings. Off-island, there are all sorts of tours and activities, including all that crazy fun in Key West.
Ginger: At last, the ultimate in pampering. We all deserve this. All the big movie stars have stayed here (it's where PT-109 with Cliff Robertson was filmed in 1962!). Get wrapped up in a cucumber-aloe cocoon or indulge in the Javanese Lulur royal spa treatment. Bubble away your troubles in the hot tub. Ooh, and try that exquisite rum Piptini at the Palapa Bar, but be careful, it tastes deceptively like pink lemonade. Dine most elegantly at the gourmet restaurant, or be really decadent and call for room service. This is the life!
Professor: Here is the land of the Key deer, a species of toy-size, white-tailed deer that will astound and enchant you when you see it. They often walk across the flats from Big Pine Key to Little Palm Island for serendipitous appearances. The resort, which, by the way, is environmentally correct in every way, organizes all sorts of birding and nature tours to mainland refuges. Each room is thoughtfully equipped with binoculars, so head out at low tide for some spying on your own.
The Howells: Break open the vault, Lovey, this is going to cost. But it is worth every bit of the kids' inheritance, so go ahead and splurge. Rooms for two begin at $695 per night. Dinner entrees in the restaurant are around $40 - la carte.
BOCA CHITA KEY
Biscayne National Park, Miami area
The Waltons: At night, Boca Chita becomes sea-breeze quiet. With no lights or noise to interfere, we could gaze at the stars and the distant glow of Miami and sip champagne - the one luxury we allowed ourselves - while a chorus of insects and frogs chanted, croaked and creaked. Then we snuggled in our little tent and fell asleep exhausted from an active day on the water.
The Skipper: Between Miami and Key Largo, Boca Chita is part of the chain of Florida Keys. Dock in its leeward side harbor, about eight miles from Biscayne National Park's mainland visitors center at Convoy Point, from where concessions provide passage to the island November through May.
Gilligan: This island requires some preparation because you have to bring in everything you need (including water) and take out everything you brought (i.e. trash). To make it easy on yourself, pack your gear in things with wheels and back straps. But don't forget the lounging chairs and a fishing pole (and license).
Mary Ann: This is a great place to park for the night after you've spent the day out exploring the islands and waters of the National Park. From Convoy Point, you can rent canoes and kayaks and learn more about the park at the visitors center. Tours take you out diving and snorkeling. Mark Honeywell, of thermostat fame, once owned Boca Chita and he built the cute little lighthouse and chapel that still stand.
Ginger: This is for roughing-it romantics only. Not a single luxury, as the song says. Leave the high-heels at home and pack your sneakers and water shoes. There are no showers, sinks or fresh water. But the part about Mark Honeywell's lavish parties is perfectly fascinating.
Professor: Biscayne National Park is 95 percent covered by water, so you have to get out in a boat to enjoy it. The coral reefs hold fascinating creatures of all shapes and colors. Poke your head down and have a look. On days the boat tour stops at Boca Chita, rangers lead you on a trail and tell you all about the island's social and natural history, which includes elephants (Honeywell had them shipped in for entertainment), gigantic land crabs and an endangered butterfly, the Schaus Swallowtail, that is making a comeback. Bring lots of bug juice for less-appreciated species of local wildlife. While you're in the area, plan to explore nearby Everglades National Park.
The Howells: If you hate parting with your moola, you will love it here. Camping costs $15 per night, and snorkeling trips are also reasonable, costing $35 - $45 year round.