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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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RESOLVE to maximize your 2019 at ‘Tween Waters Inn

This just in… it’s a New Year.

And as your official outdoor adventurer of 2019, I’m making it my duty to peel you away from the lemmings who’ve greeted the arrival of another January 1 with another cadre of ineffectual resolutions.

You know the type. They vow to eliminate any trace of carbs from their diets and solemnly swear to spend every non-sleeping, non-working moment on the treadmills at the nearest Planet Fitness.

But by Valentine’s Day, they’ll already be pining for atonement.

Here at the Tween Waters Inn, though, we approach our resolutions a little differently.

Rather than making promises we know we’ll never keep, we’re approaching the newly christened 12 months with only one objective – to answer yes to the question, “Shouldn’t every day be this good?”

Toward that end, we’re taking the day’s buzzword – RESOLVE – and mapping out a 2019 agenda.

Commit yourself to this plan, one letter at a time, and we promise a calendar-full of contented smiles.

R – Relax and unwind in the Spa at Tween Waters
Licensed professionals and massage therapists create a magical day that will transport you to your bliss – individual or couple, in-spa or in-room, even the bride-to-be and her entourage. Delightful options include traditional, creative, even romantic massage therapies. Healthful, fragrant body treatments. Deep-cleaning and laugh-line-cleansing facials. Beautiful, pampering manicures and pedicures.

E – Exercise in any number of ways
Active enthusiasts find a lot to love about the resort, too. Pick up a tennis racket and volley away on private courts. Pedal a bike along the peaceful shore or breathtaking Captiva Drive, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and a private beachfront. Step, jog and lift in the guest fitness center. Or walk the beach, peaceful sunup to majestic sundown.

S – Soak up the sun at a Gulf-side beach
While the rooms at the resort are comfortable and cozy, most visitors come to ‘Tween Waters for the miles of pristine beaches on its Gulf of Mexico side. Captiva and its sister island, Sanibel, are known to have some of the best shelling beaches in the world. You’ll see many guests bent in the “Captiva Crouch,” searching for the perfect specimens for hours on end.

O – Open up a tab at the Oasis Pool Bar
Hungry? Thirsty? Wet? Then hop out of the pool and seat yourself to a tasty lunch at the Oasis Pool Bar. Here you’ll find just about everything under the sun (or under the umbrellas) – grilled sandwiches and fresh salads, ice-cold beers and fruity blends, even frozen treats for the kids. They’re all served with a splash of warm, friendly smiles at no extra charge.

L – Lay down a few bucks at the Captiva Crab Races
It’s a resort tradition that spans almost 25 years – so on your marks, get set and make sure you go to the hilarious, one-of-a-kind Captiva Crab Races at Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille, hosted by the one and only Commissioner Tim. It’s a laugh riot you don’t want to miss – plus half of the proceeds are donated to United Way.

V – Visit The Marina for ways to ride the waves
With the Gulf of Mexico to the west and Pine Island Sound to the east, adventure is calling at The Marina at ‘Tween Waters. Resort guests enjoy deep sea or near shore fishing. Island hopping and stopping. Breathtaking sightseeing. Eco-adventures among mangrove keys and nature’s beauty. Even up-and-away adventures over the islands. With boat rentals, expert guides, a variety of water sports.

E – Eat a great meal at the Old Captiva House
Experience Captiva’s most outstanding dining – named No. 1 on TripAdvisor – for delicious fresh seafood and sushi. And as renovation and enhancement of the landmark Old Captiva House restaurant continues, guests are invited to enjoy the same taste in a new location at the Canoe & Kayak Club overlooking Roosevelt Channel on the resort’s eastern shores with seating indoors or outdoors.

Have a great 2019 everyone!

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5 Reasons Why the Tree Lighting at ‘Tween Waters is Pure Magic

Holiday Tree Lighting

It’s the most magical time of year, and while Northerners think they have the upper hand on the holidays with all of that snow and roaring fireplaces, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Tree Lighting ceremony at ‘Tween Waters has all that, a little more! As a true northerner transplant (originally from Wisconsin), I can confidently say there’s nothing quite as magical as the Tree Lighting ceremony on Captiva. Here’s why:

*Snow. I’m leading off with the big one, because yes, there’s snow on Captiva and you can find it only at ‘Tween Waters. With a giant snow machine sending out the fluffy white stuff, you can celebrate in your shorts, while enjoying this Christmas miracle.

*Food. For the first time ever, you can get the VIP treatment by joining ‘Tween Waters in the Wakefield Room and watch the show from the balcony. It includes a family style Italian Buffet and family seating, for just $37/adult and $18/child. That’s a steal, for the best seats in the house! If you aren’t interested in the VIP treatment, you can also enjoy a meal in the Crow’s Nest (special menu) or grab a hot dog and chips, or burger and chips, at the outdoor event!

November 23, 2018 | The fun begins around dusk | FREE to all | Arrive early to secure parking | Call for Wakefield VIP Dining! 800-223-5865 

*Music. Not only is CJ the DJ rocking it poolside all afternoon, and part of the evening, but the Gatlins are returning to Captiva for some live music performances starting at 8:30PM in the Crow’s Nest. During the lighting ceremony, there is a music and lights show, and some live caroling, which is my favorite ode to the traditional holiday spirit.

*Lights. With 100,000 twinkling lights, all played and synchronized to the holiday music, the light show is by far the most magical moment of the night. From candy cane palm tree tunnel, to Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh, there is no other holiday display like it in, dare I say it, the world. Without any street lights on Captiva, this display is made extra special because it truly lights up the night and can be seen from the beach and beyond.

*Fireworks. The lights are shining brightly everywhere (says Mariah Carey), the music is playing, you’re cuddled up with your loved ones, and then the sky bursts into light. This is pure magic.

If you can’t make the lighting ceremony, you won’t miss all of the fun. The property stays lit until after the new year, and you can walk the property to see all of the beautiful lights. Be sure to stay midweek Sunday to Thursday in December to receive 50% off guestrooms, studios and one-bedroom suites too!

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Butterflies on Captiva

Southwest Florida is the shelling capital of the world, and while there are so many types of shells to love, there is one that sparks my interest and flies with my heart — butterflies.

You may have noticed Conquina shells before — they litter the Captiva beaches and are often purple or pink in color. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that many of them are still attached together. This is because they are very tiny clams, connected at the hinge. This gives them that beautiful butterfly look. There are a ton of colors to collect, and they are my favorite hidden gem on Captiva Island.

Innsider Tip: Stay silent by the surf, and you will hear these shells wash ashore. They help provide the tinkling sound as the waves wash the shells ashore — millions of little pieces of shells making music with the ocean!

Crouching on Captiva, you’ll find more than 250 species of shells, but if you’re not as lucky as me to have a local shell-educated friend, ‘Tween Waters, Captiva Island and Sanibel Island boast a variety of local experts willing to take guests on shelling expeditions in search of knowledge and the perfect souvenir (for a small fee of course).

With an abundance of shells to chose from, you’ll be sure to go home with a souvenir or two when you visit the beaches at ‘Tween Waters. PRO TIP: Don’t forget a container to keep your shells in as you search, so that these butterflies aren’t crushed or disconnected when you bring them home!

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Let the Music Move You at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort

What’s on your favorite vacation playlist? If, like us, you vacation often at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island, the music playing in your head, sparking fond memories, comes from the live musicians who entertained you. Who got you moving out on the dance floor. Who turned your day at the pool into a songfest.

On top of the usual weekend jams at Crow’s Nest Bar & Grille, ‘Tween Waters loves to throw a party with live music. Two such lively occasions are on the horizon and should be on your calendar right now.

The resort’s biggest party bash of the year happens on Oct. 27. Hallow’Tween invites you to “Eat, Drink & Be Scary” at two separate parties that require only one admission fee – a $10 wristband. After dinner at the Crow’s Nest or Canoe & Kayak, get ready for some scary fun. A total of $1,750 in prizes assure amazing costumes that range from frightening to creative to a little bit naughty.

The live music by a ‘Tweenie favorite, The Gatlin Show, kicks in and kicks up its heels at 9:30 p.m. at the Crow’s Nest. A little bit country, a little bit of everything else you want to hear: Darryl and Andrea of The Gatlin Show are sure crowd-pleasers. On-property in the Wakefield Room, a DJ Dance Party starts spinning the hits at 10 p.m.

If you’re still in the mood for live country music, mark Saturday, Nov. 3, for the next in ‘Tweenies monthly poolside songwriter series. Singer-songwriter Clint Daniels brings his brand of Americana music from 2 to 5 p.m.

In addition to charting two songs on the country singles chart himself, Clint has co-authored songs for other artists, including the hits “Brokenheartsville” by Joe Nichols and “Roll with Me” by Montgomery Gentry.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Celebrate with ‘Tween Waters

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa — event season! Yep, this is the time of year to celebrate all things — from songwriters to Hallo’Tween, Thanksgiving to New Years. And what better way to celebrate these treasured events than with parties, buffets, fireworks and music. It’s going to be huge, and you won’t want to miss it. Here’s what’s happening:

Songwriter Saturday:  ‘Tween Waters is still celebrating Nashville songwriters by the pool with another great musician every month. Our next songwriter is Clint Daniels performing November 3 from 2 PM – 5 PM, as always free to our guests with a great poolside venue. Visiting for the day? Just $50 a carload gets you a day pass, parking, live music and access to amenities.

Hallo’Tween: Saturday, October 27, Hallo’Tween is going to be a smash this year, with a variety of dining options at the Canoe and Kayak Club and Crow’s Nest! Plus it’s a night full of live music from the beloved Gatlin until 1 PM at the Crow’s Nest, CJ the DJ spinnin’ it in the Wakefield Room from 10 PM – 2 AM, and our infamous costume contest with grand prize of $1000. Wristbands are just $10 after 10PM (21 and older) and you must be there by 10 PM to enter. Make your reservation ASAP as this event fills fast and lasts all night, so you’ll want to be safe and spend the night!

Thanksgiving Buffet: Everyone loves a good buffet, and even more so, they love the ‘Tween Waters Thanksgiving Buffet. It’s a great way to gather with family and share the love, without any of the work. The menu is already live at the Old Captiva House website, so be sure to check it out and make your table reservations asap!

Tree Lighting: With over 100,000 twinkling lights lighting the property, if you haven’t experienced the ‘Tween Waters Tree Lighting Celebration, you won’t want to miss it this year. It’ll feature CJ the DJ spinning music poolside and beachside day and night; at sunset live caroling, the grand Tree Lighting Celebration with fireworks, a Captiva snowstorm and more; plus all-new holiday lighting displays. Plus new this year, in addition to dinner at Crow’s Nest, you’ll have the option of a unique VIP dinner venue in the Wakefield Room with balcony viewing of the show!

Christmas and New Year: Spending the holidays at ‘Tween Waters is extremely special. Guests enjoy the Christmas buffet, holiday lights around the property, and more intimate New Year’s Party at the Crow’s nest with champagne toast. Spend your holidays on Captiva!

However you choose to celebrate the next few months, be sure to include some time on Captiva!

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Meet the ‘Tween Waters Management Team

Sanibel Captiva Management Team

I’ve had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with the ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa management now, and have learned a different side to the hotel experience. When many of you visit the resort, you see hard working individuals riding golf carts, cleaning rooms, serving meals and drinks and spraying down surfaces, and I’ve come to appreciate each and every working piece and person to a resort. But when many of you don’t see the management side of hotel.

Meet General Manager Brett Gooch. Not only does he manage two little girls at home, but he’s also managing things at a huge 138-room resort. Oh wait, make that two 130+ room resorts (he’s also the GM at West Wind Inn). Did you know that Brett personally addresses TripAdvisor reviews? Anyone who has worked in customer service knows how difficult a disgruntled customer can be, and Brett handles it with grace and patience.

Meet President, Doug Babcock. From beach cams, to new furniture and equipment, to marketing and those discounts you receive on your stays, Doug is heading the charge on my financial and marketing ends. He’s also the General Manager of the sister vacation rental company and president of the overall Sanibel Captiva Beach Resort company. But did you know when first started, in order to get an understanding of all aspects of the resort, he did everything from take out garbage to work in the kitchen? He installed Christmas lights, did beach duty and even parking duty. Talk about involved!

Lastly, I’d like you to meet the man, the myth, the legend, Tony Lapi. Most long-time guests have met and seen Tony Lapi around the resort. This CEO of a major island resort is often found painting, fixing, installing and riding around on a tractor. He’s also been known to carry luggage to rooms, park cars, greet guests, and install renovations. Somehow, he finds time to be a generous and caring human being known to hang out at the Crow’s Nest for a drink, donate to the United Way and fight water quality issues. And did I mention he has a marshmallow gun for holiday events?

What I took away from meeting with the management of ‘Tween Waters was that no matter you position or how much you make, how long you’ve been with the organization or what else is going on in your life, the people who own and work for the resort care. They care about making a difference and truly proving their mission statement: to deliver a warm, friendly and memorable island resort experience that provides value to all our guests resulting in a desire to return. So on your next vacation, if you notice one of these friendly faces, be sure to say hello to the management team.

(Photo Left to Right: Brett Gooch, Doug Babcock, Tony Lapi and Rick Boyd)

 

 

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A Rare Dining Experience for a Short Time Only at ‘Tween Waters

If blessings can come in disguise and good things in small packages, The Canoe & the Kayak club at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island ranks as both.

I consider it a blessing that the resort’s main kitchen and Old Captiva House are undergoing renovation, not only because it promises a new and exciting experience, but also because it gives me the opportunity to revisit this adorable little cottage marina-side.

And the good things? The temporary downsized space and menu somehow concentrate the charm of a ‘Tween Waters dinner experience.

Down Memory Lane

Dining there takes me back to the days when the club served lunch and dinner there on the bay, back in the late 80s to the early 2000s. Prior to that, the historic cottage served as guest accommodations, a house for visiting band members performing at the Crow’s Nest Bar & Grille, and a temporary home for next door’s Captiva Island Yacht Club.

In the here-and-now, Canoe & Kayak typically functions as a special event venue. It has been called back into regular dining service, however, until the new Old Captiva House reopens later this year. In the meantime, breakfast has moved to the Crow’s Nest. Dinner at Canoe & Kayak is a casual, intimate affair huddled around a fireplace with paddle fans overhead and views through the patio of Roosevelt Channel and Buck Key.

Simple Menu, Complex Dishes

Executive Chef Greg Nelson has simplified the menu to include some of this signature Old Captiva House dishes and others that I was seeing for the first time when I dined there recently with my husband.

We started with a Roasted Shrimp Cocktail. A refreshing twist on a classic, its five jumbo shrimp wear a seasoned coating that boosts the flavor and plays well with the tangy red horseradish sauce.

For his entrée, my husband went with the filet mignon small plate, one of three listed. He immediately pronounced it the best steak he has ever tasted. The 6-ounce cut (also available in full-sized portion) benefited from an experienced grill hand and the combination of gorgonzola cream and port glaze that struck complex but harmonious chords.

Meanwhile, I was expressing the same superlatives about my pomegranate glazed lamb chops, one of four Big Plates. The just-sweet-enough glaze stood up well to the richness of the meat, grilled perfectly to my rare-to-medium-rare specs.

Both came with garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes and a colorful mélange of sliced and shredded roasted veggies that overachieved in the side dish department. Glasses of Cab Sav and Malbec made the perfect complement.

A stack of three almond cookies sandwiching key lime mousse, the Key Lime Napoleon finished our dinner on a sweet note that, too, was a blessing. And, to say the least, a good thing.

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