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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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Celebrate Education at ‘Tween Waters

Teacher Appreciation week is May 6th-10th and that got me thinking about educational travel. After all, the world is the ultimate classroom— and the knowledge we gain from exploring different destinations is invaluable. If you’re looking to sneak in some educational lessons during your stay at ‘Tween Waters, here are a few ideas. Learning has never been so fun!

Geography 

Geography is the reason why Captiva and Sanibel are the best beaches for seashells in North America, and the world. Stretching for miles into the Gulf of Mexico, and shaped like a crescent moon, the islands act like a sieve, scooping shells from the Gulf and gently tossing them ashore.

Science

From finding seahorses in seagrass to exploring mud flats for gastropods, Sanibel Sea School has programs that teach marine conservation in the coolest of ways – for adults and kids. At the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, learn about shells from a scientific perspective through interactive exhibits and live tank talks.

Botany

Do you know the three types of mangrove trees in Florida? Take the tram tour at J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and you’ll learn a little ditty about red, white and black mangrove trees.

Biology and Ecology

From the marina at ‘Tween Waters, take a kayak, fishing or sightseeing tour with Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP. Explore sea life and habitats with a guide or on your own. These trips can even be tailored to different ages.

History

‘Tween Waters and Captiva House are both on the National Registry of Historic Places. Take your kids to read the official plaque at the resort’s entrance and discover the fascinating story. For a little history on these barrier islands, take an eco-tour with Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP.

Show & Tell

Every March, the Sanibel Shell Festival takes place at the Community House on Periwinkle Way. Next year’s show (in 2020) will mark its 83rd year.

I hope you love these suggestions, and if you have any more, post them to our Facebook page. And in honor of educators everywhere (including my sister!), Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. You deserve to be celebrated every day.

Stand Up Paddleboard tour.
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Relishing Sanibel Island’s best breakfast at the Normandie Seaside Café

Bloody Marys and sauteed plantains. The Normandie had me there. Because when it comes to breakfast, I seek the unusual. The creative. The eye-opening. The excellent. Normandie Seaside Café at the West Wind Inn – one of the Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts group – has thereby become my favorite breakfast restaurant on Sanibel Island.

Let me preface it by admitting that my bestie breakfasts in the world have been devoured in the Bahamas. True, the Normandie doesn’t serve the Bahamas’ sheep tongue souse and fish soup breakfast specialties. But there are those caramelized sweet plantains, which are an alternative to grits or home fries as a side dish to Normandie’s ambitious array of breakfast specialties. (But, truthfully, the crispy potatoes fried with sliced onions makes for a tough decision.)

I find tropical influences, too, in its grilled French toast inventions: crusted with coconut and toasted almonds or, ta-da!,  topped with banana-strawberry cream cheese, fresh strawberries and bananas, and powdered sugar.

The omelet menu takes a more global tour. The kitchen fills the Pesto Omelet, for instance, with basil pesto, ham, tomato, and parmesan cheese. There’s also an Italian and Greek, but my favorite, the Fiesta Omelet, bulges with roasted red pepper, mushrooms, onions, salsa, and cheddar.

Its specialty breakfasts, on the other hand, salute the American flag with bennies and breakfast sandwiches. Seduced by the velvety hollandaise sauce and the quality English muffins, I sway often in the direction of the classic Eggs Benedict or Eggs Florentine.

As for the Bloody Marys, they’re just spicy, just strong enough. When we order mimosas instead, they come with just a dash of OJ, exactly how we order them.

Muffins, pancakes, granola, and a tasty bacon and egg wrap: No matter what the Normandie cooks up for you, it delivers excellence. And perhaps the true and most important test of its excellence is a seasoned service staff that knows the value of making guests feel immediately welcomed, no matter how busy they are, and ultimately satisfied. I can think of no better way to start the day.

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Don’t be a fool… make ‘Tween Waters your April dream destination

Yep, sometimes we get stowaways in the AC vents… #FloridaProblems

Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s.

The holiday season brings so much trial and tumult, it’s hard to imagine ever getting through.

But just as quickly as it comes, it goes.

And all of a sudden, here we are in April… no foolin’.

So as you sit and ponder the idea that the whole crazy cycle will begin again in only six short months, perhaps the best defense is to plan a fantastical respite in a faraway land.

Like, for example, the Tween Waters Inn in lovely Captiva, Florida.

Adventures in Birdland

Of course, as you look out your window at the remnants of a winter gone bone-chillingly wrong, we have to confess something about the subtropical paradise we locals call home.

It’s not always so delightful outside in April.

Oh sure, the average high temperature is 84 degrees, there are typically 10 hours of sunshine and the UV index usually hovers around 11 – but, according to the fine folks at Weather Atlas (www.weather-us.com), you can probably count on about four “rainfall days” during the month, too.

And if your Gulf Coast escape happens to coincide with one of those days, it helps to have a Plan B that involves something beyond taking out a second mortgage to party with a cartoon rodent in Orlando.

Thus, we present the happiest place on Earth… Southwest Florida style.

After time spent at the Oasis pool or beachside watching feeding pelicans, scurrying sandpipers and frolicking dolphins, you can greet the intermittent dreary day with a trip to the Tween Waters Marina to rent a bicycle, stretch your legs and embark on a fairy tale journey – no pixie dust required.

We all scream for ice cream

Just follow these steps:

1. Don’t fall down a rabbit hole… simply stop by The Mad Hatter Restaurant, at 6467 Sanibel Captiva Road, for a spectacular view.

2. Channel your inner Aladdin and search for Iago among the parrots and macaws creating a hubbub outside Jerry’s Foods.

3. Need a Frozen treat? We cannot tell a lie… the ice cream is simply delicious. Stop by Pinocchio’s and have them scoop you up a Dirty Sand Dollar or Sanibel Krunch – their two signature flavors.

A fairy tale ending

4. Stop by the Captiva Memorial Library and grab a few books to read when you’re back to poolside and getting yourself lost in a myth, legend or fable.

5, Channel your inner Pongo and Perdita from 101 Dalmatians and slurp up some delicious pasta primavera at the Crow’s Nest Bar & Grille.

6. And lastly, drift off like Sleeping Beauty after a trip to The Spa at Tween Waters for a massage.

Do all those things by the time you re-embark for parts chillier and less lush, and it’ll be a homebound happy ending… and, what’s more, it’ll surely have you ready for battle come next October.

Happy holidays!

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Get Your Pickleball Game On

Do you play pickleball? No need to let your skills fade while you’re on a beach vacation at ‘Tween Waters, you’ll find pickleball courts right on site. And if you haven’t tried this addictively fun sport, it’s time to get on the pickleball train and see where it can lead you.

Pickleball is older than Doritos. In fact, the game was created the same year that Spaghetti-O’s were introduced and the iconic movie, The Sound of Music, was released. The year was 1965. Crazy, right? If you’re late to the pickleball party, you needn’t worry. The game is easy to learn and easy to play. Maybe that’s why it’s the fastest growing sport in the United States.

So, what is pickleball? Country music singer and avid pickleball player, Jake Owen, describes it this way, “it’s a short version of tennis, but with a paddle and a wiffle ball.” It’s played on a badminton-sized court, using a net that’s two inches shorter than tennis, and an oversized ping pong paddle. Did I mention that he plays pickleball with Kid Rock, who installed a pickleball court at his house?

You have got to try it. No matter how young or young-at-heart you are, you can play pickleball. And it’s a very social game, especially playing doubles, since you stand so close to each other.

Prefer other sports? You can always play tennis on the lighted courts at ‘Tween Waters or beach volleyball across the street, right next to the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. But I hope to see you on the pickleball court – soon.

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‘Tween Waters March Madness

It’s March and it’s madness on the islands. From traffic to guests, it is the ultimate of high season right now. But despite some of the traffic woes, it is also the perfect time of the year to visit! From crystal blue waters to stunning Greenflash sunsets, my ‘Tweenies bracket is the ultimate March Madness competition.

It’s difficult to give seeds to all of the great things this resort has to offer, so they are all on even playing field. But there are some obvious favorites: Sunrises and Sunsets, Shelling, Sugar-Sand Beaches, the Crab Races and Historic Cottages.

For me, there’s it’s no contest. I live for the sunsets on these islands. They are like none other. I placed shelling as my runner up and here’s why — although I can only handle shelling in small doses, it is by far the most unique thing about these islands. You can’t go to Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key or the Gulf Shores and shell like you can on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. The treasures are endless here, and you’ll never see a sight quite like millions of shells washed ashore.

All of the selections that made the bracket are worthy of mentioning. From an on-property marina, to historic, award-winning dining at Old Captiva House, to live music at the Crow’s Nest and a massage at the Spa.

But March Madness is about those Cinderella stories too. Those upsets that make it from the bottom to the top on sheer will and a little bit of magic. For me, those picks would be the Serenity pool and renovated rooms. I love these newer elements of the resort, and for me, they are true underdogs I can appreciate.

No matter how you fill out your ‘Tween Waters bracket, you’ll find it to be tough competition!

 

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Captiva Sunsets via Text, Compliments of ‘Tween Waters

I’m in! I just became a member of ‘Tween Waters Resort & Spa’s latest communications inspiration, called ‘Tween Waters Mobile Club.

I am not typically what you would call a “joiner.” Other than my women’s book club and supper club with fellow empty-nester couples, I avoid signing up for membership. I also avoid subscribing to website email newsletters.

So why, then, did I jump the minute the invitation to join the ‘Tween Waters Mobile Club hit my email inbox? Well, that tells you right there. I DO subscribe to ‘Tweenies’ email newsletters. They bring a ray of Florida sunshine to my inbox with discounts and specials and just happy images of the beach, sand, food, and memories of a Captiva Island respite.

So why wouldn’t I want more of that popping up on my phone’s text message app from time to time? Bursts of Captiva Island to brighten my day with exclusive members-only savings and “the best complimentary sunsets.” Who could resist?

They promise three messages a month, so not too much, just enough to leave you wanting more. More sunsets. More Captiva, that island unlike no other place on the planet. An island that truly defines “away from it all.”

So, join the club! It takes literally two seconds to text “CAPTIVA” to 55222 and bam! Break out the cocktails: It’s sunset time.

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Drinks a Flowin’ at Oasis Pool Bar & Grille

Songwriter SaturdaysSoak in some rays, splash in the pool, and then join me poolside, as I enjoy the best cocktails on Sanibel or Captiva. That’s right, I’m headed to Oasis Pool Bar & Grille.

The Oasis is the best place on the island and on property to get tropical, alcoholic drinks that will quench your thirst and your need for a little fruity cocktail, poolside. If you’re not into the fruity cocktail mixes, you’ll also find bucket specials (buy 4, get 1 free!) on beers like Corona, Bud Light, Miller, Yuengling and more.

My favorite, and also a favorite by all, is the rum runner. This mix of light and dark rum, banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, orange juice and pineapple juice, plus 151 rum floater screams VACATION! I have to watch myself, because after a few, I’m more prone to falling asleep under the sun and waking up with more than a hangover (a sunburn!).

If you’re not into rum, you might try a Mr. Delicious — a specialty drink created by one of ‘Tweenies very own bartenders. It includes vodka, lemonade, sweet tea and a vodka float, and is sure to float your boat! On the rocks, my friends love the mojitos, margaritas and raspberry lemonade twists to name a few.

With the serenity pool and Olympic-sized splash and fun pool both within steps, you could spend your day between the Oasis and loungers, so be sure to soak up some of those drinks with some tasty menu items as well. The Oasis is actually one of my favorite places on the islands to grab a Chicken Caesar wrap, grouper sandwich or grouper tacos. Haven’t tried grouper before? It’s a light, moist, white fish that isn’t strong in fishy taste — a perfect introduction to the Florida seafood scene.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention ‘Tweens Beans, located just a few steps away, where you can also grab cookies, coffees and ice cream treats too!

It’s hot and happening at the Oasis Pool Bar & Grille. Will I see you there?

 

INNSIDER TIP: All Spring and Summer, enjoy music stylings from Nashville Songwriters at the “Saturday Songwriter” events, held poolside.

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