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Getting Wild & Seeing Wildlife: A Girl’s Getaway to ‘Tween Waters Inn

Two frisky manatees
Karaoke crazed!

My gal pals and I plan our annual summer getaway to a place where we can park the car and walk everywhere we need to go. So ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island made the perfect match this year. An easy stroll up the beach takes you to all the island’s shops, restaurants, and bars. But truth be told, we only left the resort once. We found all the entertainment we needed right on property.

That started the afternoon we arrived. I walked out on our balcony overlooking the bay and noticed a swirling disturbance that I immediately recognized as manatees mating – a summer romance ritual not uncommon to the islands. Those frisky manatees! They went at it for the entire weekend right off the sandy shore. I was able to get close enough to snap a couple of quick pictures (I kind of felt I was invading their privacy).

At nightfall, another kind of show grabbed our attention at Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille. It was Wednesday, Karaoke Night, and that usually means trouble. That third cocktail inevitably does it – lubricates our vocal chords and numbs our awareness of our lack of talent. So Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy” seemed appropriate enough.

Following our usual pattern, the second day we spent in quieter pursuits – beaching, shopping, and a lovely dinner at Captiva House. Then a night-cap toast from our balcony to those feisty, amorous, and always loveable manatees – undoubtedly a highlight of our visit.

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Summer Bucket List

Summer is here! If you’re like me, you’ve got a list of things you want to accomplish in the next few months, some for yourself, some for your family.  Luckily, ‘Tween Waters Inn can help, and what could be better than accomplishing goals while on vacation?

Try Something New

Rent a jet-ski and race across the water. Be brave and sing karaoke at Crow’s Nest. Ever tried yoga on the beach? You can here. Expand your horizons and get out of your comfort zone!

 

Be One with Nature

Set off on an eco-adventure by renting a kayak and paddling through the mangroves. Look for dolphins, manatees, beautiful birds…who knows what you’ll see! Maybe even an otter.

 

Expand Your Palate

Sushi? Scallops? Anything other than a chicken nugget? Try new foods at Captiva House Sushi. While younger ones may not want to try tuna sashimi (although it is SO good!), maybe a Dragon Roll could pique their interest. And, eating with chopsticks falls under the category, “Learn Something New!”

 

Be Adventurous

Get a bird’s eye view of Captiva when you try parasailing. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Or, how about sailing? It’s a bit lower key but still exciting as you cut through the waves with the wind in your hair.

 

Be Still

Take time to just do nothing and re-center yourself. I recommend spending a few hours at the brand new adult-only Serenity Pool with private cabanas (you’ll find it by the tennis courts). Of course, a visit to the Spa at ‘Tween Waters is always good for the soul.

 

Learn Something New

Just down the road is the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. Their Welcome Center is not only air-conditioned but has fantastic interactive displays about animals found on the island. It’s not only educational, it’s fun.  

 Enjoy your summer!

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Picnics, puffer fish and Eric Milton: A new captain meets the high seas

As spring break destinations go, it’s a hard one to beat.

And though some instinctively link the term with Daytona and Miami Beach, the Sunshine State’s southwest coast offers an experience that’s light on debauchery and heavy on chill.

Unless, of course, you’ve never steered a boat before.

The latter was true for me on a recent Sunday, when I loaded the newly-minted 9-year-old (Ryan), the perpetually accommodating wife (Danielle) and the nearest thing I could find to an accomplished seaman (screenwriting ace Michael Korb) into the trusty Kia for a trip to the Tween Waters Inn.

Upon arrival, the task was simply to keep said trio safe as I sought adventure while taking a maiden voyage as captain of a craft chartered through the Inn’s marina.

The property offers skippers of all stripes a chance to take to myriad waterways – bay, river and gulf among them — at the helm of vessels ranging from 19 to 25 feet. Arrangements can be made by calling (239) 472-6336 or visiting a marina-based representative from Beach Bums Boat Rentals, and all that’s needed to get underway is the requisite state paperwork.

Boat operators who were born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must have a Florida Boating Safety Education Identification Card or a NASBLA-approved safe boating license to operate a motorboat in Florida. Temporary certificates are obtainable in about an hour onsite, or can be acquired prior to arrival by visiting www.boatus.org/free/#state, www.boat-ed.com/florida or www.boatus.org/florida.

Given that my past captaining experience hadn’t strayed far beyond rubber rafts in backyard pools, I chose the 19-foot Palm Beach model and its 115-horsepower engine and immediately sought the aforementioned Mr. Korb – and his Fort Myers waterfront property street cred – to help ensure the adventure wouldn’t end with an emergency room, a holding cell or an uncharted desert isle.

Toward that end, and armed with sufficient food, drinks and sundries for a three-hour tour, we set off for a back-and-forth trek to Picnic Island, a man-made seven-acre tract that was created by dredging near the confluence of Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass and the Caloosahatchee River.

It’s clearly visible and probably an invigorating swim from the bridges connecting Sanibel Island to the Lee County mainland, but Captiva’s orientation a bit more to the northwest requires a leisurely eight-mile trip that we covered in 45 minutes over glistening and (thankfully) chop-free conditions.

There are no docks, but our boat was easily anchored just a few steps from shore — allowing chairs, towels and umbrellas to be quickly transported. The island’s north side provides a shallow wading area while the south is more wooded, and the entire expanse can be covered on foot in no more than half an hour alongside a generally uninterested menagerie of pelicans, ibis, anhingas and herons.

True to his standing as the trip’s lone Florida native, Ryan chose to stick by the water, where he giddily assembled an entourage of puffer fish, hermit crabs and conch shells, then staked out the boat’s bow for the trip home as the crew’s self-appointed – albeit ultimately unsuccessful — “dolphin spotter.”

As it turned out, the most majestic sighting on the return leg was a palatial home owned by ex-big league pitcher Eric Milton, who must’ve shelled out some of the $47.3 million he earned in an 11-year career (a cool $531,966.28 for each of 89 wins) for a prime spot along the Southwest Florida water.

Seeing how one of his old Cincinnati Reds jerseys still hangs lazily in my wife’s closet – exactly 10 years after his final inglorious game with my favorite team – it’s pretty much a lock that we’ll be stopping by for drinks the next time we’re in the neighborhood.

I figure he owes us at least that much.

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Shopping for Summer on Captiva Island, Florida

Pelican’s Roost puts the tropical in your closet.

Since summer is year-round at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa, you can find the best stock of warm-weather fashions, accessories, home décor, and supplies in its two retail shops and in one-of-a-kind boutiques in “downtown Captiva.”

I like to start at the resort’s Pelican’s Roost Sportswear, bayside at the marina. It’s like a mini department store. I head for the upstairs women’s clothing section, because I’m a big fan of Jams World shirts and dresses, and I also love the Brighton footwear and fun Wallaroo hats. Surprises lurk in every corner, such as whimsical wall clocks and bags that are “Feeling Nauti.”

Whimsical clocks at Pelican’s Roost

Of course there are men’s fashions also – name brands such as Royal Robbins, Fishware, Sperry, and Reef that fit the ‘Tween Waters salty lifestyle.

Downstairs you will find kids’ wear, swimsuits, and shelves full of practical necessities and fishing and boating sundries.

Next stop, T.H. Osprey, a delightful segue between Captiva House and Crow’s Nest restaurants. It is literally stuffed with stuff. And I mean good stuff.

Here’s where you will find a gift for everyone on your list – from the cat sitter to the grandkids. Buy her some SeaJewels toiletries or a clever Vinbrella (an umbrella in the shape of a wine bottle). Thrill them with sea-themed kids books or an animal puppet. And don’t forget a ‘Tween Waters Tervis Tumbler or a seashell wreath for yourself.

INNSIDER TIP: Score a free pina colada with the purchase of a logo Tervis Tumbler.
Vinbrellas at T.H. Osprey

 

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The ABCs of a ‘Tween Waters vacation

Congratulations.

You’ve found your way to Southwest Florida, left the mainland behind via the causeway bridge and survived the trek down Captiva Drive to reach your vacation Valhalla – the ‘Tween Waters Inn.

Still, if you’re thinking the most challenging part of the voyage is done… think again.

Now that the suitcase is unpacked and the shoes have been exchanged for sandals, you’re going to have to fill the hours until it’s time to repack, refuel and re-board for the return trip to reality.

It’s surely a daunting task for someone unfamiliar with our sunset-centric way of life.

But fear not, excited traveler. Your TWI INNsider team has got you covered.

In fact, we’ve made it as easy as your ABCs.

Read on for 26 suggestions that’ll help make your humid subtropical stay a memorable one.

Alison Hagerup Beach Park — Directly behind South Seas Plantation at the end of San-Cap Road with access to beautiful Captiva Beach.

Bailey Matthews Shell Museum – On Sanibel, the only museum in the United States solely devoted to shells and the mollusks that make them.

Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) – Teaching hospital and visitor education center dedicated to saving wildlife through veterinary care, research, education and conservation medicine.

Dolphin watching – Keep an eye out on the Gulf or bay sides of the resort, where dolphins easily find sufficient food and typically travel in pods of two or three or four.

Edison Reef – Artificial reef for snorkeling and scuba diving, in about 40 feet of water, created from the rubble of a former mainland bridge not far from the Sanibel Island lighthouse.

Facial, Mani & Pedi at The Spa – Renourish, revitalize and restore your wonderful face, then treat your hands and feet with Vitamin E, grape seed oil and mineral baths followed by a sea scrub.

Golf at Sanibel Island Golf Club – An incredible natural setting makes it the perfect place to enjoy a round, with the challenge of a fabulous 18-hole layout lush with indigenous wildlife.

Historical museum – A local story is told from the Calusa and Spanish eras to the early pioneer families who settled in the 1800s. Learn about warriors, adventures, fishermen, farmers and proprietors.

Ice cream at Pinocchio’s – Unique handcrafted frozen confections at a little shop on Sanibel’s east end with bright green walls and colorful benches.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – Part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations.

Kayak – Guests enjoy priority pleasure rental opportunities from the marina, from basic single- and double-kayaks to professional tours through TWI’s rental partners.

Lighthouse – Sanibel’s 98-foot iron skeleton tower was one of the first on Florida’s Gulf coast north of Key West and the Dry Tortugas, built to mark the entrance to San Carlos Bay.

Manatee watching – Look for perfect swirls in the water from their wide, paddle tails, or see their whiskered noses breathing above the waterline. Spy them at the TWI marina or while kayaking.

NASCRAB races at Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille – On your marks, get set and make sure you absolutely go to the hilarious, one-of-a-kind event hosted by the one and only Commissioner Tim.

Osprey Gift Shop – Within TWI’s Captiva House, find beautiful jewelry, books and gifts handcrafted and written by local artists and authors, alongside Brighton jewelry, handbags and throw pillows.

Paddleboard – Explore at your own pace as you glide through exotic mangroves. Rentals are available from the marina ranging from $30 an hour to $150 for a whole week.

Quick game of tennis before hitting the pool – The courts are open free of charge to resort guests from dawn to dusk, and can be reserved via the sign-up sheet that’s tucked away at the front desk.

Rent a boat & go fishing – The marina features quality, licensed and insured boat rental and charter providers of fishing excursions. Contact captains to expertly man your vessel.

Sunsets – Travelocity labeled them the “most romantic sunsets in America,” and USA Today named TWI one of the 10 most romantic coastal destinations in the U.S., citing those same can’t-miss sunsets.

Tween Beans Coffee Shop – Seven days a week, get gourmet coffees, teas, ice cream and more at the poolside walk-up window.

Umbrella drinks at the Oasis Pool Bar – Thirsty? What says “vacation” more than a beverage with an umbrella in it? You’ll find just about anything under the sun with a side of warm, friendly smiles.

Venus clamshell, Lightning whelk, Junonia (oh my!) – The island is literarily made up of shells, created over thousands of years, and its geography allows it to catch abundant sea shells from the Gulf.

Waverunner rental – If you prefer perusing waves at double-digit speeds (and you’re at least 16 years old) the Yamaha water rockets are available for rental in 30- and 60-minute blocks.

X marks the spot, charter a boat to Cayo Costa – Looking to treasure an adventure? Take the helm and head to uninhabited Cayo Costa’s beaches, pine forests, oak-palm hammocks and mangrove swamps.

YOLO Watersports parasailing – An unforgettable memory awaits one, two or three adventurous people, thanks to state-of-the-art equipment and an experienced crew.

Zzzz… get some rest with Gulf breezes – Whew! After all this activity, you probably need a break. Take it all in from an umbrella-shaded beach chair or a sand-anchored cabana, just feet from the Gulf water.

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Resort Coupon — An Added Value Experience

Added Value Resort Coupon

When choosing a vacation destination, I’m always looking for two things: quality and value. With ‘Tween Waters Inn, I certainly know that I am receiving quality — about 85 year’s worth of positive customer reviews have told me so. But what about value?

Enter: the $100-value resort coupon books. These have been a great added value to multi-night guests for a few years now, but now, more than ever, they truly are adding value to your resort experience. Here’s why:

The new coupon books feature deals from local vendors and sister properties; meaning I get to explore not just Captiva Island, but Sanibel Island too! And with a variety of offers covering a variety of amenities, I feel I’m receiving a full vacation experience, at a great value.

Upon checking in at ‘Tween Waters Inn, guests who book a two- or more-night stay receive this coupon book. It features deals from Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa and West Wind Inn, and their on-site amenities and restaurants, including Captiva House, Crow’s Nest, Oasis Pool Bar, ‘Tween’s Beans, The Spa at ‘Tween Waters Inn, T.H. Osprey, Pelican’s Roost, Normandie, The Upper Deck and so much more, including coupons for:

  • Food and beverage BOGOs and discounts
  • Gift shop discounts and coupons
  • Cabana rental credits
  • FREE spa treatments
  • Discount boat rentals and sailing adventures
  • Waverunner coupons
  • Guided kayak tour credits

In all of my years of traveling far and near, I’ve never experienced this level of added value and “freebies” from my accommodation option, simply because I booked a multi-night stay. I think that says a lot about the resort and management — not only about value, but quality as well.

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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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Girlfriends’ Guide to a Whole Day of Dining at ‘Tween Waters Inn

Dining

I get asked this question a lot: is ‘Tween Waters Inn all-inclusive?

You won’t find many all-inclusive resorts that include meals in Florida — it’s just not very common. But what I love about ‘Tween Waters Inn especially, is that the resort doesn’t have to be all-inclusive for you to never leave the property!

The really great thing about ‘Tween Waters Inn is you can dine — breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and dessert — all within the property’s restaurants and snack shops, and if that leaves you wanting more, their studios, suites and cottages contain kitchens to whip a quick meal too!

I always start my day with breakfast over at Captiva House. I spring for the warm full breakfast, because while the homemade pastries, fruits and yogurt are deee-vine, I like to start my day with something to warm my insides, like their buttermilk pancakes or breakfast quesadilla. Both are reasonably priced at under $10, and I’m willing to swing for something so delicious and filling.

After that, I’m usually off to the beach to walk off the meal, and then I head on over to the pool for a little sunning. By lunch, I’m hungry for a wrap from Oasis Pool Bar. Surprisingly, for pool bar food, these are awesomesauce. I am actually craving a chicken caesar wrap right now.

Vacations are meant for splurging, so of course I’m going to order up some ice cream from ‘Tweens Beans — the coffee and snack shop window at the South end of the pool area — to cool off.

Dinner comes in a variety of options, and depends on my mood. Sometimes I’m really just in the mood for a pizza or grouper while I listen to a little live music, so I head on over to Crow’s Nest. Other times call for a decadent meal (usually when I haven’t snacked all day at the Pool Bar) at Captiva House.

While you’ll find it has a formal elegance about the food (and fancy piano player), it’s a casual atmosphere that still allows me to be informal, and maintain my “no worries” vacation mentality. I basically love everything on the menu, but I can’t help myself — even if I’m not hungry, I still have to start off with a bowl of blue crab bisque (a customer favorite). After that, I’m usually pretty adventurous and will try different entrees each time, but my go-to has to be the spicy ahi tuna or seafood risotto.

Okay, so yeah, when I’m on vacation, I’M ON VACATION. I might have mentioned that a few times. So of course I’m going to finish the day with delectable tuxedo cake. I’ll walk the whole Captiva Island for another day of great food like this from ‘Tween Waters Inn.

 

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Vacation Upgrades Worth Springing For

Whenever I’m planning our family vacations, I try to find a few things we can do to make them extra special. You know, those added little things that make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. At ‘Tween Waters Inn, here are my top picks of extras and upgrades worth springing for:

Beach Cabanas

Sure, you can hang out on the beach and just sit on your towel, but imagine having your own beach cabana. It’s the ideal place for sitting, reading, relaxing, lounging, or napping. Rent one for the entire day for $15.

Souvenir Tervis Tumblers

Tervis tumblers keep your cold drinks cold, and your hot drinks hot. They’re also indestructible, making them the perfect souvenir. While onsite, purchase a customized ‘Tween Waters Inn Tervis for $19.95 +tax. As a bonus, each comes with a coupon for a free piña colada. (Innsider tip: avoid getting sunscreen on your Tervis; it will leave a cloudy mark.)

Upgraded WiFi

Yes, you get free WiFi when you stay at ‘Tween Waters Inn, which is great for browsing. But, if you’re a screen junkie, or you have kids with smart devices, you’ll want to upgrade. High speed Internet packages start at $7.95 a day. Multi-day packages are available.

Larger Accommodations

If you love extra space, a room upgrade is worth it. The suites are so roomy; they’re perfect for families. And, because they have a kitchen, you can actually save money. As a mom, I can tell you that having a separate living area and multiple bedrooms is priceless.

What’s your favorite extra worth springing for on vacation? Tell us on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.

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A Super escape for disappointed pigskin fans

The calendar says it’s Super Bowl week.

Which means we’re once again in the final throes of football season.

Of course, unless you’re a fan of the New England Patriots or Atlanta Falcons, your season has been over for a few days longer. And if you’re a New York Jets fan, well… it’s been over for roughly a generation.

And as any Jets fan will tell you, the week before Super Sunday can be particularly difficult to stomach.

Every sports station is doing in-depth analysis. Every news program is researching ticket sales and hotel revenues. Every lifestyle show is sending its kooky correspondent to the game site to ask inane questions about Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Tom Brady’s wife.

I can’t speak for all the Gang Green faithful, but I’d just as soon skip it all.

Fortunately, if you’re like me in that regard, there are much more enjoyable options available.

And if you’re reading this, chances are you’re already plugged into some of them.

Thanks to good meteorological fortune, Florida is blessed with better weather this time of year than 99.9 percent of the United States – including the New England region, the Greater Atlanta area and, come to think of it, the northern New Jersey swampland that’s home to the Jets.

And Southwest Florida is home to the Tween Waters Inn, which any Jersey refugee will tell you is a better place to spend a weekend than the Newark-area stretch of the Garden State Parkway.

East and West Orange, notwithstanding.

Anyway, rather than enduring another ESPN dissertation on the three-deep zone, another CNBC recap of Southeast Texas occupancy rates and another TMZ “exclusive” from the Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars pre-game party, the TWI offers a slightly less gamey complement of activities.

There’s lounging by the pool. There’s imbibing at the Crow’s Nest.

And, oh yeah, there’s the Gulf of Mexico.

Spending a few days between the conference championships and the Super Bowl with sun on shoulders and toes in sand does wonders for any emotional trauma still lingering from missed field goals and untimely turnovers. And a few extra days even erases the sting of 48 straight years without a title.

Conveniently, my 8-year-old son – a Cowboys fan… don’t get me started – just happened to stash a Nerf football in his bag, so both my hankering for a quick game of catch and the overwhelming urge to sack something were quickly remedied, too.

And hey, if you’ve got to get tackled, why not have it on a blanket of white quartz and crushed seashells?

All that said, if you’re so hardcore that missing the big game might trigger a case of the DTs, there’s an answer for that as well. The Crow’s Nest has a Super Sunday bash set to begin at kickoff, and it’ll include raffles for $500 in cash (for the United Way), $50 and $100 dining credits, two- or three-night stays at the Tween Waters Inn (or the West Wind Inn, Beachview Cottages or Castaway Cottages), a champagne/Norman Love chocolate basket, a beer/snack basket and Crow’s Nest T-shirts.

In-game offerings will include a free scratch-off ticket with the purchase of an entree/sandwich, five-bottle domestic beer buckets for $15, Jell-O shot specials and a special Super Bowl menu.

Not a bad Sunday, regardless of rooting interest.

In fact, go all in and it’s more than enough to make you forget your team fell a few wins short.

And almost enough to make you forget you’re a Jets fan.

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