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Enjoying paradise means staying water safe

We’ll concede, it’s not particularly pleasant to ponder.

Though nearly everyone who’s spent time at the Tween Waters Inn has strolled the beach alongside the Gulf of Mexico, there’s an excellent chance that water safety wasn’t their primary thought.

But, given some tragedies within range of the resort this summer, it’s a necessary one.

A 39-year-old man drowned about 15 yards off shore in the water off Blind Pass Beach – just 2.1 miles down Captiva Drive from TWI – in late July, only days after a 46-year-old man had died not far from the same spot after rescuing his young daughter from the water.

Another man succumbed in July at Turner Beach, just across the channel from Blind Pass.

In their aftermath, it’s high time for a refresher course on waterside threats.

Though we typically envision Gulf waves as bringing shells, seaweed and other debris onto the beach, sometimes those waves hit the beach in a way that creates a current flowing in the opposite direction.

These are rip currents.

Rip currents can be created when waves move from deep to shallow water, break near the shoreline and are influenced by the shape of the Gulf floor. Short-lived rip currents can also develop when waves interact with one another.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says about 100 people drown in rip currents annually, while lifeguards rescue another 30,000 or so swimmers from them each year.

Rip currents form at low spots near the shoreline, in breaks between sandbars or around jetties and piers, and can range from 50 to 300 feet wide. And while the size numbers may not dazzle you, the velocity rates might. Rip currents typically flow at 1 to 2 feet per second but can go as fast as 8 feet per second – about 5 miles per hour – which is faster than an Olympian can swim.

The current speed is influenced by the size of the waves, but waves only 2 feet high can still produce hazards. And, perhaps surprisingly, rip currents are strongest at low tide. Also worth noting, the shape of the ocean bottom sometimes changes during storms or when waves are particularly big – meaning it may suddenly have an ideal shape for creating unpredictable currents where there were none.

Also, many people incorrectly use the phrases “rip current” and “undertow” interchangeably.

Rip currents, however, are much more dangerous because they flow on the surface of the water, can be very strong and can extend some distance from the shore. Meanwhile, an undertow occurs when water sinks back downhill into the sea after a wave has carried it uphill onto the beach. Undertows are typically not powerful unless there’s a steep incline, but if the tide is high, the wave is large, and the beach slopes sharply downhill, the undertow could be strong enough to knock you down.

The good news, it won’t carry you far — perhaps just enough to get smacked by the next big wave.

Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon on the whole ocean. Rip currents, on the other hand, are a purely local effect. You can usually see the signs of a rip current. Often there is an area on the beach where the waves are not breaking, but instead you see sandy water or the white foam of a current headed back out to sea.

The best way to survive a rip current is to stay afloat and yell for help. Don’t panic. Continue to breathe, keep your head above water, and don’t exhaust yourself fighting the current.

You can also swim parallel to the shore to escape it. This allows more time for you to be rescued or to swim back to shore. Rip currents usually break up just beyond the line of breaking waves, but occasionally someone can be pushed hundreds of yards offshore.

The scenery is mesmerizing, yet the dangers are real.

So the advice is pertinent.

Enjoy our beautiful resort… but let’s be careful out there.

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Sea Turtle Nesting Season – An Exciting Time at ‘Tween Waters!

sea turtle captiva

It’s sea turtle hatching season, and one of the most exciting times to be a visitor at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort and Spa. If you love nature, baby animals or simply one-of-a-kind experiences, then now is the time to visit.

Baby sea turtles hatch late at night when the moon is bright. And when they are ready, they follow the moonlight and head back to the Gulf of Mexico to join their relatives. This season begins in May and ends in October, but you’ll notice especially right now, the peak of that season and those hatchlings. The SCCF on Sanibel monitors sea turtle nests and so many of these hatchings are controlled and assisted. Over 100 volunteers help with the daily search for tracks that the sea turtle left behind when she emerged from the sea the night before. Not only do they monitor for successful hatchings, but the assist in the protection of these nests to ensure this happens. If you visit our beach, you may see flagged square areas, usually indicating a turtle nest awaiting a hatching.

While it may be difficult to spot loggerhead turtles, you can usually see their tracks, especially in the early morning on the beaches, so keep your eyes open when you are taking that morning walk or out shelling, and you’ll probably encounter some of the tiny turtle tracks heading back to the Gulf.

Common tips to ensuring the best for turtles include:

  • Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach. Do not use flashlights or cell phone lights on the beach. This is why ‘Tween Waters asks that you shut off porch lights visible from the beach when not using.
  • Do not disturb the screens covering nests. They prevent predators from eating the eggs and the hatchlings emerge through the holes without assistance.
  • Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement.
  • Fill in large holes that can trap hatchlings and nesting sea turtles. Did you build a mote around your sandcastle? Be sure to fill it in!
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles – please do not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles.
    Pick up litter.
  • Notify us, or please call the Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663 if you notice any nest that has not been identified or a hatching in progress.

 

In 2018, a record number of nests were laid on Sanibel and Captiva for the fifth year in a row.  Of the 721 nests laid, it is estimated that over 38,000 sea turtle hatchlings successfully emerged from their nests!  Our beaches welcomed 718 loggerhead nests, two green turtle nests, and one famous Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nest. We look forward to another successful sea turtle nesting season and hope to uphold Sanibel’s reputation as having one of the darkest and most “turtle friendly” beaches in the state. Remember, after 9, it’s turtle time!

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Finding Sand Dollars on Captiva

If you love sand dollars, you’ll be pleased to hear that beach goers have been finding lots of them washed up on the shores of Captiva and Sanibel lately. I’ve been blessed to find a few, nearly white from being faded by the sun. I’ve also found lots of live sand dollars, which are illegal to keep, in Lee County. Do you know how to tell the difference?

How to Tell if a Sand Dollar is Alive:

Movement: Put the sand dollar in your palm. If its little hairs are moving, it’s alive. Those hairs or spines are called cilia.

Yellowing: Hold the sand dollar in your palm for a minute. If it leaves a yellow mark, it’s alive. (That substance is called echinochrome and it’s harmless to humans.)

Color: Sand dollars turn gray or white when they die.  When alive, they can be dark brown to purplish-reddish.

Smooth or Hairy: If it’s smooth, it’s ok to keep. Sand dollars shed their spines/hairs when they die. If it’s hairy, place it back in the water.

Here are few more fun facts to share with your kids:

  • Sand dollars move by using their spines/hairs (cilia).
  • They live from 6 to 10 years.
  • Sand dollars have teeth, five to be exact. (Have you ever shaken a sand dollar and heard it rattle? Those are the teeth!
  • In the Legend of the Sand Dollar poem, the five doves are actually the sand dollar’s teeth.
  • The mouth of the sand dollar is called “Aristotle’s Lantern.”

If you find sand dollars and want to pack them safely to bring home, wrap each one with paper towels, toilet paper or tissue and place inside a Tupperware-style container about the same size.

Also, a shelling charter to the out-islands may be just the ticket to finding a secret stash of sand dollars.

Happy hunting!

Live Sand Dollar.
Full moon and a perfect sand dollar.
Fingers stained yellow from live sand dollar.
seashells and sand dollar on Captiva.
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Finding Your Inner Beach Bum on a Cottage Vacation

Beachview Cottages

A beach cottage is not a place; it’s a state-of-mindlessness.

It conjures up images of sunset porch views and walking out your front door with bare feet. A beach cottage promises the ultimate island vacation, where your only work is on your tan and finding out who “dunnit” in a breezy mystery novel.

Cottage vacations are my favorite, especially a Sanibel or Captiva island beach cottage vacation. Through Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, I can pick from the historic cottages at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa, the shore-hugging and casual cottages of Castaways Beach & Bay Cottages, the sweet little beach-bum accommodations at Beachview Cottages, or a stand-alone home-away-from-home out of  the inventory of Sanibel Captiva Island Vacation Rentals.

At Castaways on Sanibel Island, 15 cottages line the beach at Blind Pass with options from one to three bedrooms, each with its own personality. The rest of the property’s 22 units are pool-front, marina-side or bay-front — across the street, but still an easy shuffle to the beach. (You may want to don flip-flops for that walk.)

Castaways Beach & Bay Cottages

It feels like a return to old Florida, but with all the conveniences. You become part of the “Santiva” community here, with the convenience of a handful of restaurants and a small store, where you can buy the makings of a meal should you decide to take advantage of the cottages’ modern kitchen facilities.

The staff, too, become like family. The resort is known for its longtime employees, who get to know their guests by name.

Same goes for Beachview on Sanibel Island, a postcard property of 22 cottages painted brightly with the requisite screened porch and sandy trail to the beach and pool. The one- to three-bedroom cottages slump comfortably, like a pair of favorite shoes you’ve worn in. Newly refreshed with modern upgrades and easy-living furnishings, their board-and-bead wainscoting epitomizes cottage living.

‘Tween Waters Island Resort

At ‘Tween Waters, a few of the cottages pay honor to famous past guests such as Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and “Ding” Darling. Some have Gulf of Mexico views, others look out onto the bay. None lie far from the beach.

Slightly more “dressed-up” than the other two properties, the cottages at ‘Tweenies appeal to a still-casual, inherently charming beach sensibility, where time seems frozen ‘neath toasty Southwest Florida sun.

And for me, that’s the main attraction to spending time in accommodations that effectively erase the boundaries between seaside and bedside.

Castaways
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The Top Instagram Locations at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa

Instagram 'Tween Waters

If you’re like me, Facebook is out, and Instagram is in. And if you’re looking to beef up your feed with some beautiful vacation pics to make your friends (and frenemies) totes jealous, then you’ll want to scope out these perfect ’Tween Waters locations on your next vacation:

Colorful Cottages: From their idyllic stoops to their tropic colors, the flat sides of our colorful cottages are a great color-blocking beauty to match your vacation outfit. Be sure to be courteous of the cottage guests when taking your photos (try mid-day, stay quiet, away from windows and respect privacy).

‘Tweenies Pass: On the way to pool, you may have noticed the sweet bridge, pond and colorful cottages. We call this ‘Tweenies Pass and it’s the needed zen for your insta feed.

Manatee Cove and Dolphin Lookout: It’s named Manatee Cove and Dolphin Lookout for a reason! Manatees, dolphins and wildlife love to hang by the marina, and the outlook over the docks in a great way to not only spot wildlife, but it’s also the perfect way to capture a wide-angle view of the Bay!

Beachview Balcony: Where’s the best view on property? Checkout the beachview balcony. It’s a hidden gem that many overlook, hidden between the end of the Crow’s Nest and the large Wakefield building. Those steps at the tail end of Crow’s Nest lead up to a stunning view of the Gulf. Because of its height, it’s a vantage point you don’t want to miss and a great way to capture the sunset, blues of the Gulf and wind-blown palms.

Sunset Row: Take a seat in the Adirondack chairs situated on the beach and enjoy the view of one of the top-rated sunsets in the world. No matter your seat, be it chairs, blanket or bum, the sunset is insta-worthy.

Pool Umbrellas: My personal favorite, I love to prop my perfect pedicure and drink from the Oasis and capture the edges of the classic yellow and white striped umbrellas at the pool for the iconic vacation pic.

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Celebrating Summer on Sanibel and Captiva Island

Of course winter and spring constitute high season in Southwest Florida, and Sanibel and Captiva island fall into that mold. Yet there’s something about summer on the islands. Something more intimate and personal. Something more authentically Floridian.

So why plan a summer trip to Sanibel and Captiva islands? For one thing, the most practical thing, rates at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa and Castaways  Beach & Bay Cottages on Captiva Island; and West Wind Inn and Beachview Cottages on Sanibel dip drastically from high season, plus other incentives make it an especially attractive time of year budget-wise.

For instance, right now, all four resorts are giving away a free night when you book three. They are sweetening the deal with $100 in reward coupons and, in the case of ‘Tween Waters and West Wind, dining credits. PLUS, if you book by June 30, you score two free logo Tervis tumblers (call-in reservations only, mention “tumblers”).

The newly remastered Old Captiva House

Speaking of dining, summer means no lines, no crowds, no waiting at your favorite resort restaurants, such as Old Captiva House at ‘Tween Waters and Normandie Seaside Cafe at West Wind Inn. Likewise, on the beach, it’s easy to find a spot  you won’t be sharing with anyone but the birds of summer.

Watch for manatees in the summer.

Bayside, watch for manatees, who mate this time of year close to shore. They favor the little cove on the south end of ‘Tween Waters’ bay shoreline. Get out on a paddleboard or kayak to see more of the islands’ wildlife come alive. Baby birds are hatching. Gigantic sea turtles are laying eggs, and adorable gator hatchlings are crawling out from their nests.

Not only fauna, but flora gets showy in summer. It’s that time of year when mangoes blush with serious, ponderous sweetness. Poinicianas, oleanders, crape myrtles, bougainvillea, and hibiscus blossom. Late afternoon rains bring the islands to their lushest.

Summer: It’s a season ripe for taking life easy, waterside, with a cold drink and a good novel. The Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts have your lounge chair and cocktail ready. Just add sunscreen.

 

 

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Grill Out on Vacation

When I think of summer, my first thoughts are sunshine, swimming, and grilling on the barbecue. It’s hard to beat an afternoon of splashing in the pool, anxiously awaiting those hot-off-the-grill burgers. It’s like a rite-of-passage this time of year. That’s why as soon as school got out, we headed to Sanibel for a stay at Beachview Cottages, part of Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, and indulged in all of the above.

My spouse, Michael, is known as the grill master in our circles, and his lemon chicken is approaching legendary status. Since Beachview Cottages has grills on site for guests’ use, he was grilling up a storm. (I love that!) All the grilling utensils you need like tongs and long-handled spatulas are available to loan at the front desk, no charge of course. And if the resort has charcoal briquettes on hand, you’re welcome to them.

Grilling out on vacation is easier on the budget, too. You can bring your own groceries if you’re driving to the resort or visit one of the grocery stores on the island, like Jerry’s or Bailey’s. You can also pick up all the sides you need, ready-made.

Not a griller? You can cook in the kitchen of your cottage or choose to dine out. West Wind Inn is right next door, and their Normandie’s Seaside Café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; their Upper Deck Pool Bar is open 11am to 8pm.

As a side note, each resort property of the Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts (‘Tween Waters, Castaway Cottages, West Wind Inn and Beachview Cottages) have onsite grills available.

Happy grilling and happy summer!

Beachview Cottages unit with bbq grill.

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Back to School: Giving ‘Tween visitors a best-in-class vacation

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Well… for some folks, that is.

While parents across the country scramble to occupy school-aged children for eight hours a day, the teachers who’ve been responsible for that task for the last 10 months are reveling in the silence.

Incidentally, for those who’ve never spent 10 months a year standing in a room with school-aged children for eight hours a day, it’s a job from which two months of silence are an absolute necessity.

But I won’t just ask you to take their word for it.

Full disclosure… when we’re not adventuring our way up, down and around Florida – or jetting to Vegas to anoint the next Floyd Mayweather Jr. – my wife and I are two of the passionate masochists for whom lesson plans, seating charts, and parent conferences have become a second language.

I just finished another year as a fourth-grade teacher at Cape Coral Charter School (incidentally… Go Bobcats!) but rather than jetting off to God knows where to pursue tranquility with my colleagues, I’ve decided to stay local and flex my summertime muscles with a little island-centric curriculum.

In my classroom each morning, we call them our “Did You Know?” activities, and they serve as conversation starters that help get the kids ready for whatever’s on tap that day.

In this setting, though, my aim is to toss out a few appetite-whetters for anyone who’s either on the fence trying to decide whether a trip to the ’Tween Waters Inn is for them – or anyone else who’s already pulled the trigger on a vacation and is compiling a bit more 411 before heading south.

With that, class… here we go.

And yes, it’ll all be on the test.

Did You Know – Captiva is a Barrier Island
Captiva is what’s known as a “barrier island.” For people unfamiliar with the concept, barrier islands are made out of sand that’s been shaped into its present form by wind and wave, and they tend to run alongside coasts as a sort of energy absorber for territories further from the sea. There are numerous barrier islands that can be found off of the coast of Florida.

Did You Know – The Islands Are a List-Worthy Destination
Captiva and southern neighbor Sanibel placed No. 3 among the most popular small-town Florida destinations on a recent list compiled by FloridaRentals.com. They’re the perfect spot to relax and enjoy Florida’s beauty and they boast more than 400 different shell species, creating a premier spot for finding rare beauties. Their geographic location and 15 miles of beaches make them ideal for shelling.

Did You Know – Captiva and Sanibel Used to be One Island
At one point, Captiva is known to have been one island with Sanibel. However, at some point around 3,000 BC, the erosion of the sand that made up a single barrier entity turned one island into two. That said, the separation between the two at Blind Pass – two miles south of the resort – is not perfect, meaning that extreme weather has been known to connect and separate them from time to time.

Did You Know – You Can Get Locally Famous by Finding a Junonia
Some seashells are rarer than others, meaning that finding them is particularly noteworthy. The Junonia is a particularly popular find because while it is not particularly uncommon, its deep-water habitat means that few spotted specimens wash up on Captiva’s shores – usually only after a strong storm or hurricane. Incidentally, it’s a species of large sea snail, named after the ancient Roman goddess Juno.

Did You Know – Captiva is Great for Canoeing and Kayaking
OK, this might already be public knowledge, but it bears repeating. Captiva is included in the Great Calusa Blueway, which has stretches that weave through the Southwest Florida coast. As a result, it is suitable for canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts with a wide range of experiences, particularly if they are interested in dolphins or manatees, which are known to make an appearance from time to time.

Thanks so much for your attention, kids. You’ll be getting a nice little note in your planner.

And if you happen to spot me at the Oasis Pool Bar when you arrive, bring the old man an apple.

Martini optional.

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Discovering What’s Old and New at Restyled Old Captiva House

Finally! I’ve been waiting for my favorite dinner-out island escape to open for months. On May 15, the highly anticipated re-opening of the Old Captiva House at ‘Tween Waters Beach Resort & Spa on Captiva Island finally happened. I was there within days to bask in the polished, refreshed setting that makes old and new a seamless time warp.

Old Captiva House’s roots reach back to 1908, when it served as Captiva Island’s first schoolhouse. After the Price family opened their ‘Tween Waters Inn in 1931, the schoolhouse, now on the National Register of Historic Places, transitioned into a kitchen and dining room to serve guests – guests, through the  years, who have included Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh,  preeminent birding author Roger Tory Peterson, and Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, an important editorial cartoonist in the 1930s who twice won the Pulitzer Prize and created the national wildlife refuge on Sanibel now named for him.

Darling, in fact, became one of ‘Tween Waters’ biggest fans and proponents, decorating the lodge’s registration book with his famed doodles. To honor the man and his legacy, the new design of the Old Captiva House has created a Darling Gallery of some of his original cartoons and engravings.

The gallery greets guests as they enter the shiny space that gleams with new furnishings and appointments and the gracious patina of its venerable years.

The restaurant retains its two indoor and patio seating areas. The veranda-like smaller dining room with its lulling sea views is a favorite, but the addition of a physical sushi bar to the larger room ups its attraction. From their handsome wood floors to new patterned, stamped-tin ceilings, the inside dining rooms spell pure class. But in a relaxed vein, despite their starched white table linens.

One of the biggest changes of the multi-million-dollar renovation is one guests don’t see: a totally revamped kitchen. But they can enjoy those upgrades in breakfast and dinner menus that, like the restaurant itself,  joins hands between before and after.

The dinner menu has made a Caprese salad convert of me. Well, for this version, anyway: grilling the juicy beefsteak tomatoes and the swap of basil pesto and lemon-infused white balsamic for the typical red balsamic send it over the top.

We also loved the addition of the “steak of the moment” option, which rewarded us with a bone-in filet mignon on our most recent visit.

And with such inventions as the artichoke chorizo benedict and cheddar bagel steak and eggs sandwich, the breakfast menu adds so much dimension to morning dine-out options on these islands. Finally!

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It’s a dog’s life: Looking at paradise through rescued eyes

It’s a season of resurrections.

But the ones we’re talking about here have nothing to do with bunnies, bibles or baskets.

You see, my name is Jackson, and I’m a rescue dog.

Just two months ago, I was rushed to the Gulf Coast Humane Society after neighbors around the house where I was living reported that I was being abused. The wonderful people at GCHS took care of me, gave me a comfy place to sleep and even put me to work as an admin assistant at the reception desk.

I had a date as a “Pet Pal” on WINK News, and whaddya know… I was adopted the very next day.

Clearly, some pups have it and some pups don’t.

Anyway, I’ve lived with my new owners – and my new fur brother and sister, Rusty and Elsa – for the last six weeks, but I’d never strayed past our fenced-in yard or the back seat of the car on the way to the vet.

Until last weekend, that is.

As Rusty and Elsa looked on curiously (read: jealously) on Sunday morning, my owners slid me into a harness, hooked it up a to collar and told me I was going on my first “Dog’s Day Out,” Florida style.

What better to do on a Florida adventure than head to the beach, they said.

And what better beach to head to than the one at the ’Tween Waters Inn?

They sounded pretty sure of themselves. But I had no idea how right they were until we arrived.

I piled out of the car, walked a few dozen steps and instantly fell in love with everything.

The feel of the sand on my pads. The sight of pelicans plunging to grab a snack. The quick retreat of sandpipers as waves broke onto the shore.

OK, I must admit… I was a little hesitant about that wave thing.

My mom was reassuring as she guided me toward the water, but I wasn’t fully sold. And as it rolled up over my feet for the first time, the anxiety was going about 100 miles an hour.

Once I realized I wasn’t being dragged out into the deep, though, I calmed down.

And don’t tell Rusty and Elsa, but I really kinda liked it.

We walked along the shoreline for a little while before setting up camp on a couple folding beach chairs and a blanket. And while my dad and my human brother, Ryan, headed out to try some underwater pictures, I claimed one of the chairs, dipped occasionally into my travel water bowl and happily watched the world go by in my paradise home away from home.

And yeah, about that water thing.

Though Florida has admittedly had some rough times along its beaches and inland rivers in the last year or two, I’m here to tell you that the water on the day we visited had regained that sun-kissed turquoise glitter that’s been selling postcards to chilly northerners for generations.

I had the most powerful sniffer in the vicinity and all I was picking up was the scent of suntan lotion – not a dead fish in sight – and dad and Ryan told me the scenery was so clear beneath the surface that you could snap a clear photo with a second-tier Samsung phone nestled clumsily in a Ziploc freezer bag.

So, imagine with an enterprising Michigander or Ohioan could do with some real deep sea equipment.

Take it from this rescued corgi-labrador mix, you owe it to yourself – and your furry traveling pals (after all, ’Tween Waters is dog-friendly, and about 15 percent of rooms are amenable to pets) – to find out.

Happy frolicking… peace, love and rescue!

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