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Digging the New Vibe at The Crow’s Nest at ‘Tween Waters Inn Resort, Captiva Island

Nautically nice, the new decor at The Crow’s Nest speaks to Captiva Island’s salty character.

My husband and I have been partying at The Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grill at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort far longer than I would like to admit. Before we had children. Before we were married, truth be told. It has always been a hot spot for late-night dancing to live bands around the fireplace. The nice thing? That hasn’t changed, even as we and our lives have.

It has, however, undergone a recent metamorphosis that continues to unfold with the brightness and drama of a butterfly. Gone is the 1980s look of dark wood and retro furnishings. Behold the lightness, the ropes, brass fixtures, and other nautical nuances. Now this looks like it belongs to Captiva Island! And to a new era.

Watch for more changes to come as the new executive chef, well-loved island kitchen wizard Greg Nelson, works his magic on the menu. “He’s a great person with great qualities,” says ‘Tween Waters Food & Beverage Manager Laurent Bosc. “Greg has top experience developing menus for beach themed restaurants. He is a leader because he’s a hands-on chef.”

Chef Greg will be overseeing menus and kitchen operations for all of ‘Tween Waters’ restaurants, including the Captiva House, Oasis pool bar, and the bar and grill that will open in May at the new adults Serenity Pool.

But for now, hubby and I are heading our fancy-free, empty-nester party-time back to where we once danced to Eagles and Van Halen covers. And still can at The Crow’s Nest.

Welcome to The Crow’s Nest new island personality.
Ropes, portholes, brass, and wood give The Crow’s Nest its salty air.
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Desperately Seeking the Green Flash at ‘Tween Waters Inn

Sunset is always gorgeous at ‘Tween Waters Inn’s beach – with or without flashes.

Have you seen the green flash? No, not the Captiva restaurant by that name, or some sunset superhero who plays tricks on your eyes. It’s something people profess they witness on occasion from the beach at the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa. I suspect rum is involved.

The green flash, they’ll tell you, is a true scientific phenomenon. I, a devoted island sunset observer from way back, have my doubts. Probably because I’m not scientific – wrong side of the brain for a writer to understand concepts such as “refraction,” “bending light,” and “atmospheric prism.”

Here’s the lowdown on this beach-time highlight. It happens at sunset, more often when the horizon is cloudless.  Stare fixedly at the sun as it slips over the edge, and somewhere in there – don’t blink now! – the sun may send up a second-long flicker of green. Or not.

My suspicions stem mostly from the fact I have never seen the green flash. From ‘Tween Waters, I have applauded pink chiffon and whipped cream-layered horizons. I have sighed over gilded seas ‘neath silver-lined clouds. I have stared so intently my pupils dropped the course. I’ve even tried rum, if you can believe that!

So, no, I am not a member of that elite club of green flash alumnae, or , as I like to call them: “liars.” But that does not stop me from watching sunset at the beach. It is, in fact, as good an excuse as any. Who knows? Maybe tonight….

Keep your eye on the (big yellow) ball!
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Birding ‘Tween Waters Inn and the Islands

I didn’t need to go any farther than the marina at ‘Tween Waters Inn Beach Resort & Spa to photograph some of the most charismatic in the bird kingdom. Like resort mascots, a great egret and great blue heron strutted the docks and posed waterside. Pelicans stumped pilings, dive-bombing for fish they spied from their lofty perches. Within eyeshot, a pair of ospreys tended a nest atop a piling platform. I couldn’t quite make out if there were chicks yet, but this is the time of year they hatch. Next time I’ll bring binoculars.

Nearly 450 species of birds have been identified on Captiva and Sanibel islands, including the rare flamingo, great white pelican, and white-crowned pigeon that birders spotted  recently at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. One of the nation’s hottest birding spots, especially this time of year, “Ding” is more famous for its pretty-in-pink roseate spoonbills. They and other iconic species – reddish egrets, yellow-crowned night herons, pelicans – are easy to spot from Wildlife Drive. Even better, take a sunset paddle or boat cruise at Tarpon Bay to watch birds flock in to roost.

The refuge is part of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail, as is Lighthouse Beach Park at Sanibel’s eastern end. Birders flock there particularly in fall and spring to witness a phenomenon known as “fall-out” – when migrating birds literally drop from the sky, exhausted from a long flight over water. Before you head out on your birding adventure, grab a laminated “Sanibel & Captiva Birds” flipchart from the T.H. Osprey Gift Shop.

White pelicans flock to “Ding” Darling this time of year.
The ‘Tween Waters Marina great blue heron preens.
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Filling Up on Sushi at ‘Tween Waters’ Captiva House

 

This is only a fraction of our gluttonous order!

One word never fails to get our millennial son to the dinner table with us: sushi. So when Aaron found out that the Captiva House Gulffront Seafood Restaurant at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa has added sushi to its dinner repertoire, he was there!

Believe me, this is no afterthought to keep up with the sushi super-trend. Captiva House goes the whole distance, using only the freshest products rolled up to order in creative packages.

On the regular menu, two sushi rolls appear every night – the Specialty Sushi Roll and Ultimate Captiva Sushi Roll. Then, Tuesday through Saturday, an extended menu of sushi, sashimi, rolls, and sake totally seduce even the casual sushi lover, never mind the obsessed type like my son.

Allow me to illustrate: Whereas my husband was content with the Tropicana Roll as an appetizer and I with the Ultimate as a meal, Aaron ordered five different specialty rolls.

I love my rolls with a little kick, so the sriracha aioli with the lump crab and ahi tuna on the Ultimate struck the right chord, as did the spicy tuna in Aaron’s So Yumi and Sunrise rolls.

He leans toward the fried seafood rolls and anything with cream cheese, so, as a surfer, could not resist the Surfing on the Ocean, where the entire crunchy-creamy roll is deep-fried.

We all loved the naming process — so in keeping with ‘Tween Waters’ sassy seaside temperament. Bikini Heat Stroke or Dancing on the Beach, anyone?

Aaron tucks in.
Welcome to Captiva House Gulffront Seafood Restaurant!
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Dreaming of a Foodie Holiday at ‘Tween Waters Inn, Captiva Island

When it comes to the winter holidays, I turn into this complete sentimental sap – listening to carols obssessively and decking the halls with festive abandon.

My husband? He’s more the Grinch to my Cindy Lou Who. But a visit to the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island, Florida, gets even him in the falala spirit. Besides all the fun and original holiday decorations – never try to tell me it doesn’t feel like the holidays in Southwest Florida! – there’s feasts that would put Whoville to shame.

This year’s Captiva House holiday menus are no exception. They balance traditional with creative in visions that beat sugarplums any day. Take the Christmas Eve special menu. Like our customary night-before meal, it includes oysters and other seafood, but with more glam punch than I can manage: baked oysters with gouda and spinach, Chilean sea bass with polenta and lemon beurre blanc, and seafood lasagna, for instance.

Then, come the big day, nothing but a lavish holiday spread will do. More fresh seafood, sweet potato cinnamon bisque, roasted salmon with dill butter, and carved steamship round, ham, and leg of lamb. But save room for all your favorite seasonal sweets.

Wait, it’s not over! There’s a New Year’s Eve gala prix fixe menu with themed dishes such as scallops with strawberry and champagne compote, holiday-spiced pan-seared duck breast, pinot noir braised lamb osso bucco, dessert, and of course, bubbly.

Season’s jolly greetings, season’s fine eating to all!

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Making the ‘Tween Water Inn-“Ding” Darling Connection While on Captiva Island

A free Bunche Beach Birding Tram is part of the week's activities.
A free Bunche Beach Birding Tram is part of the week’s activities.

Last October, ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa recommended we check out “Ding” Darling Days at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a superb attraction on Sanibel Island, just 7 miles from the resort. ‘Tween Waters Inn is one of the sponsors of the annual event, and there’s another “Ding”-‘Tweenies connection, too.

Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning ARCHERY_1political cartoonist and outspoken conservationist of the early 1900s, pushed for the establishment of the refuge and also invented the Federal Duck Stamp program. He wintered at ‘Tween Waters Inn for many years, and today one of its historic cottages bears his name.

This year’s “Ding” Days runs Oct. 16-22, kicking off with an all-free Sunday Family Fun Day. You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy free admission to Wildlife Drive, free tram tours, archery clinics, and great programs with live animals. Specifically for adults, this year’s “Saving the Birds in the Everglades” historical reenactment pays homage to the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebration in 2016.

Throughout the week, expert speakers, discounted recreational tours, and free birding and other refuge tours take place. On Friday, celebrate Darling’s 140th birthday with free cake!

Saturday Conservation Art Day is another highlight, honoring Darling for his duck stamp initiative with duck stamp winner presentations and nature art activities. I loved the free photography workshop tram tour. Wildlife Drive admission is also free that day for everyone.

Four-time Duck Stamp winning artist Joe Hautman will make an appearance.
Four-time Duck Stamp winning artist Joe Hautman will make an appearance.
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Getting Silly with Girlfriends at ‘Tween Waters’ Crab Races on Captiva Island

As much fun as you can have with hermit crabs
As much fun as you can have with hermit crabs

I had taken my son and friends to the crab races at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa a time or two when they were young. Adopting and naming a hermit crab, then cheering it on in a race to the finish line: What’s a kid not to love about that?

That would have been the family-skewed races that take place at 6 p.m. every Monday and Thursday. The races take a hiatus the month of September, and will put the pedal down again starting Oct. 3, 2016.

We caught the last one of the season on Thursday, Aug. 18. This was my first adult-rated race, which started at 9 p.m. Three girlfriends joined me at the Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille for some pre-race munchies and cocktails. The season’s finale meant a big, noisy crowd – many of whom arrived super early to take one of the limited trackside seats around the round table.

I had always wondered how the adults race could get any more, well “racy,” than the family one. Commissioner Tim, who has been commandeering the races for more than 30 years, has a sarcastic, sassy sense of humor, but his witty double-entendres luckily escape the comprehension of young ones.

The fun gets a little rowdier and naughtier at the 9 p.m. show, but still the same tomfoolery, kazoo blowing, and good-natured taunting as the earlier one. Plus half the proceeds from crab “rental” ($5 each for the adult show) benefits the United Way. Good fun for a good cause.

Commissioner Tim explains the rules before the races start.
Commissioner Tim explains the rules before the races start.
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Rubbed the Right Way at the Spa at ‘Tween Waters Inn

The pool outside the spa at 'Tween Waters Inn
The pool outside the spa at ‘Tween Waters Inn

Colleen looked as though she had been poured into the chair. She had already had her reflexology treatment before MaryBeth and I arrived to the Spa at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa, tucked into an intimate space overlooking the pool. We were arriving for our respective services, the kick-off to a short but sweet midweek girls getaway.

As therapist Heather tenderized my slumped-over-a-computer kinks, I decided one does not need an excuse to sneak off for a re-energizing jolt such as this. It should be part of a scheduled maintenance routine. A tune-up for the soul.

Kathy at the reception desk welcomed us warmly as we sipped refreshing chilled water infused with fruits and listened to Colleen’s raves. Minutes later I crawled up on the warmed massage bed for my 50-minute therapeutic massage – something between a relaxation and deep tissue massage that Heather customized perfectly to my requests. Her able hands found and kneaded every stress knot in my neck and shoulders. A little Swedish, a little shiatsu, and a finish with hot stones: She was fully in the experience.

MaryBeth did the complete stone massage with Georgie, the spa’s able owner, and emerged when I did with that same Zen look of peace and near-stupor.

The warm welcome at the Spa at 'Tween Waters Inn
The warm welcome at the Spa at ‘Tween Waters Inn

The ‘Tween Waters spa is full service with a couple’s room, dry sauna, and a complete menu of massages, facials, and salon services. What’s your excuse for not making an appointment today?

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Savoring the New Menu at ‘Tween Waters Inn’s Captiva House

Captiva House Gulf Front Seafood RestaurantOne day after the debut of a new menu at Captiva House, the flagship restaurant at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa, we booked a table in anticipation of its shifted focus. With its name change to Captiva House Gulf Front Seafood Restaurant, the accent is on casual seafood dining, including two sushi items on the Starters menu.

We started instead with Oysters Alexander – four plump oysters transposed to stylized oyster-shaped dishes to accommodate roasted red peppers, smoked gouda, artichoke heart, spinach, bacon, and go-ahead-and-slurp-it sauce.

That whetted my appetite for more seafood, and the new menu proffers a number of choices in small plate and entrée size. My Caribbean Spiced Grouper entrée presented a generous portion of grilled black grouper on a bed of wonderfully seasoned Captiva House Dining Room pumpkin mash studded with dried cherries, all topped with mango salsa and sided with a complex citrus-dressed salad of kale, carrots, and mandolin-sliced Brussels sprouts.

My meat-loving husband also found satisfying options, selecting the peppercorn-crusted ribeye, whose red wine demi-glace and truffle French fries created nothing short of sensational.

The small plates are also available in full portions, and include blackened scallops with key lime butter, Chilean sea bass with lemon beurre blanc, and mahi mahi with lobster salad. Notice a theme here? Citrus, mango, and other Florida requirements bring a sense of place to the plate.

So of course there’s key lime pie on the dessert tray, but this one is dotted with white chocolate mousse rather than whipped cream. A sweet finish to an exceedingly island experience.

INNSIDER TIP: Captiva House has shifted its focus to casual, which means they’ve dropped their dress code — opt for more casual attire, but expect to enjoy elegant and quality dishes!

Oysters Alexander at Captiva House, 'Tween Waters Inn
Oysters Alexander
Caribbean Spiced Grouper at Captiva House, 'Tween Waters Inn
Caribbean Spiced Grouper
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MANGROVE SUITE: A Romantic Getaway to ‘Tween Waters Inn

Cocktails at Oasis Bar & Grille, 'Tween Waters Inn Resort & Spa, Captiva Island, FloridaOur first tough decision: the pool or the beach? The pool won by dint of its Oasis Pool Bar & Grille, where we toasted our escape with a Pirate’s Punch and frosty Rum Runner.

We had decided that just because our son has moved out of the house, it doesn’t mean we should deprive ourselves of the “quickie” romantic getaways we used to take. That’s how we ended up in the Mangrove building at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa. A perfect love nest, our Mangrove suite, and its screened balcony, overlooked the marina.

After the Oasis, we relaxed on that balcony, watching the marina’s activity and a pair of love-bird ospreys swaying with precarious talon-holds on a tall coconut palm at our eye level.

The one-bedroom suite, like all of ‘Tween Waters Inn’s accommodations, recently underwent a facelift that turned it into a spacious luxury unit with a limited kitchen, granite counter seating, and an enviable bathroom.

Ospreys' love nest at 'Tween Waters Marina, Captiva Island

After 30-plus years of marriage, we tend to like our together time with lots of space. So we appreciated features like his and her sinks, a huge tiled shower, and a king-sized bed.

Our next tough decision: dinner at Captiva House or drinks and dancing at Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille. Wait, why choose? We did both and managed to sandwich a sunset beach walk in between. The live band at Crow’s Nest covered our favorite classic tunes for a sweep-down-memory-lane finale to a glowing day at ‘Tween Waters Inn.

 

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