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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 importance 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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All Aboard… Kiting Your Way Across the Gulf

Congratulations, you’re here.

You’ve reached Southwest Florida’s premier resort. You’ve unpacked warm-weather gear from a wind-chilled suitcase. And you may have even run your toes through Captiva’s silky soft, Gulf-kissed sand.

So now what?

While a week spent charging poolside drinks and posting sunset selfies would surely make you the envy of family and friends back in Minnesota, Michigan or Mississauga, the humid, tropical air and rolling waves might simultaneously spark your interest in something a tad less sedentary, too.

And what, I ask, could possibly sound less sedentary than kiteboarding?

Of course, before you get started you’ve got to lay down some definition boundary lines.

Though it’s frequently lumped in with other seaside endeavors like wakeboarding, surfing, paragliding and sailing – kiteboarding harnesses the power of the wind with a large, controllable kite that’s propelled across the water. It’s less expensive and more convenient than other alternatives and unique in that it harvests the wind energy from a much larger atmosphere volume.

It’ll take a giant leap toward the mainstream when it’s included on the roster of events for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, and likely in for an uptick on the 1.5 million worldwide participants.

Many blogs and websites prominently list Southwest Florida among the country’s best kiteboarding sites, and a quick Google search returns several local businesses that provide rentals, lessons and additional information.

Ideally, your journey should begin with a trainer kite, which allows you to get familiar with the all-important “wind window” while practicing turns. Pulling left on the kite’s power bar — about 2 1/2 feet long, functioning like a set of handlebars – moves the kite left and pulling right moves it right, with the most dramatic movements coming in the window’s center.

Once you’re up and running with the real thing, you’re attached to the kite with a harness and connected to the board via foot bindings. Stand with your back to the wind and envision the horizon as the top half of a clock, making sure to always keep the kite between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The kite’s most powerful aerial position is 12 p.m.

Pulling the bar closer or letting it move away also impacts power, with the midway position providing the most. If you panic or suddenly feel out of control, let go of the bar and the kite will lose power.

Just getting comfortable with the feeling of being pulled by the wind is a hugely important step, as is the process of moving the bar from side to side to get a feel for the kite’s movement.

Start by sitting in the water with the board and allow the kite to move into a power position. The pull of the kite will pull you up out of the water, and, while leaning back, presto… you’re kiteboarding.

A few final bullet points:

Hold on tight.

Get up every time you fall down.

Make sure to get a good smartphone shot for the frigid folks up north.

P.S. — When the shadow of your kite swoops along the water past your unsuspecting 10-year-old son, who, mistaking it for a shark, shrieks loud enough to wake a nearby sunbather… you’ve arrived.

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Storming Normandie: Dining at ‘Tween Waters’ sister resort West Wind Inn on Sanibel

Long a hidden secret of foodies on Sanibel Island, the Normandie Seaside Café at West Wind Inn, there’s a reason officially opened to the public last October.

The restaurant is especially popular at lunch time, when you have the option of eating inside its soothing blue walls or outside at the Upper Pool Deck Bar. You can also enjoy dinner there in season, choosing from the $22 Sunset Menu from 5 to 6 p.m., or ordering from Chef Tom Sisson’s regular dinner menu.

Chef Sisson has headed the Normandie kitchen for a few years now, following a stint at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.

While he was giving us suggestions for our dinner courses on a recent visit, a family approached him to rhapsodize about the burgers they had just finished off. “Our burgers are very popular,” he admitted. They come in three varieties at dinner, including the signature Normandie Double Decker Burger: two blackened patties with Swiss cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms, lettuce and tomato.

For us, the chef recommended starting with his Zing Zing shrimp — “my own take on Bang Bang shrimp, but not fried,” he said. And what a refreshing variance that is these days when it seems every other restaurant is trying to emulate what Bonefish Grill invented. Chef Sisson sautés the shrimp and serves them with artichoke hearts and lots of good garlic in a creamy, lemon-tinged sauce flecked with tomatoes and fired up slightly with sriracha sauce.

We also followed his recommendation for Sanibel Bread. He proved his confessed predilection for Italian cuisine with this, a creative rendition of Caprese bruschetta, topped with a slice of mozzarella, diced tomatoes, parmesan and a balsamic drizzle.

On a roll, we followed more of his advice. “I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy,” said Chef Sisson. “I butcher the beef myself.” His ribeye was double rich with a classic, soundly executed brandy cream peppercorn sauce.

The yang to the steak’s hearty character, our Sauteed Snapper Sinatra sang out a medley of flavors. “It’s really simple but delicious,” said the chef. True: a light relish of capers, diced tomatoes, onions, garlic and lemon added Florida flair to traditional Italian piccata style. The sun-dried tomato-studded risotto made a perfect accomplice.

The Sinatra counts as one of the menu’s latest entrée additions, along with Berkshire Lolli Pop Pork Chop with port demi-glace, a filet and shrimp combo, Creamy Chicken Pesto over penne, Herb Encrusted Grouper with pesto risotto, Pan-Seared Salmon with mango-pineapple risotto, and a Seafood Trio of grouper, scallops and shrimp.

New to the starters menu, coconut shrimp comes with a homemade chili Thai chili sauce while the shrimp cocktail is performed classically – once more demonstrating Chef Sisson’s culinary dexterity.

Classic also, the crème brulee ended our dinner on a creamy, sweetly brittle note.

The Normandie dining room also serves breakfast, another locals’ favorite because of its extensive offerings. Omelets run a long gamut from Greek to pesto with ham, tomato and parmesan, plus other out-of-the-ordinary breakfast items such as the BLT and Coconut French Toast. For lunch, we recommend the BBQ Pulled Pork and Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy Wrap from the something-for-everyone selection of sandwiches and salads.

Whatever time of day your hunger decides to storm Normandie, rest assured the menus describe the best line of defense for secret pleasures now let out of the bag.

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West West Inn, a Pool With a View

As a guest of ‘Tween Waters, you have access to amenities at their sister properties, including the West Wind Inn on Sanibel. And the pool deck at the West Wind Inn is a family favorite. Wait till you see the views! Their pool area is just steps from the Gulf of Mexico, overlooking 500’ of private beach. And while it’s not nearly as big as the pool at ‘Tween Waters, it is plenty spacious, and it’s heated so you can swim year-round. Towels are provided, as are bathrooms, and you’ll find plenty of loungers, and tables with umbrellas.

The tables with shady umbrellas come in handy if you want to eat lunch poolside, which you can, because their Upper Deck Pool Bar serves food and drinks starting at 11 a.m. As its name suggests, the Upper Deck Pool Bar is elevated, overlooking the pool and the Gulf. If you thought the views from the pool were great, wait till you step up to order food and drinks. Wow! Last time we were there, we saw dolphins jumping out of the water as if they were putting on a show at SeaWorld. What a sight! There we were, sipping virgin piña coladas, watching a pod of bottlenose dolphins doing flips, over and over – and we had a clear, elevated view of the entire performance. It was the most memorable lunch I think we’ve ever had. Ever.

I hope your family enjoys spending time poolside at West Wind Inn as much as we do. Note that the Upper Deck Pool Bar is open to the public, but to use the pool, you must be a guest or a guest of one of the sister properties.

  Family at West Wind Inn pool.
My niece and sons at the West Wind Inn pool.

View of the gulf from West Wind Inn pool.
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TripAdvisor and ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa

DID YOU KNOW? TripAdvisor is a huge source or referrals for reservations for many hotels, but most people don’t leave a review, and many only leave reviews if they’ve had a negative experience.

I recently found out that ‘Tween Waters actually examines every review and when there are positive reviews or specific mentions of staff, they share those reviews with staff. They read every review and even respond to most — negative or positive.

Due to the nature of reviews these days, the resort takes TripAdvisor into large consideration when making decisions about the future of the resort. When they receive comments on individual updates to rooms, they respond immediately with the maintenance staff. When they received positive feedback on deals, promotions, renovations, or even staff actions and reactions, they also then utilize those to make new policies and standards for their staff training.

What I’ve noticed most about TripAdvisor is that they are constantly changing the way they evaluate and rank hotels. Currently, when search results are displayed, TripAdvisor shows first hotels with the best value. But ‘Tween Waters doesn’t rank high in value, because they do not often integrate their rates into TripAdvisor (it’s best to book direct with ‘Tween Waters). Therefore, they aren’t going to appear under “value” rankings, because they have no value (rate) associated with them. This is a flaw in the TripAdvisor system that causes the resort to lose out on potential customers like you, because they aren’t aware of how the data is being pulled. It’s imperative to be an educated consumer, but even educated consumers wouldn’t know why ‘Tween Waters isn’t listed under best value without knowing these ins and outs.

So if you love our little slice of paradise, and have stayed with the resort recently, then you’ll want to make sure to leave your positive and constructive feedback, so that not only are your ideas and feedback considered for the future, but also so that the resort has a future to speak of. They’re depending on you!

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