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Finding Sand Dollars on Captiva

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

How to Tell if a Sand Dollar is Alive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hunting!

Live Sand Dollar.
Full moon and a perfect sand dollar.
Fingers stained yellow from live sand dollar.
seashells and sand dollar on Captiva.
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Grill Out on Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

Happy grilling and happy summer!

Beachview Cottages unit with bbq grill.

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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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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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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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Educational Family Fun

Want to sneak some education into your family’s summer vacation? There are lots of places just minutes from ‘Tween Waters Inn where you can take your family for a dose of knowledge – and fun!

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum– From 1pm-2pm every day, you’ll find a different adventure: Scavenger Hunt Sundays, Shell Collection Mondays, Fossil Dig Tuesdays…plus guided beach walks and live tank talks.

Big Arts– Explore their art galleries or see a live performance by local groups as well as first-class national touring events. ‘Tween Waters is a Platinum Club Co-Sponsor of Big Arts.

 Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife–  CROW is a unique place for older kids to learn about native and migratory animals in the area. Sign up for Wildlife Walks and much more.

 SCCF Nature Center– Learn about the snowy plover in their Education Center and meander along miles of trails that cut through the quiet heart of the island. Check out the SCCF calendar of events.

Visitor & Education Center at J.N. Ding Darling– Entry is free at this fantastic venue filled with interactive displays, programs, exhibits, and a Nature Gift Store. Kids of all ages will be entertained.

Wildlife Drive at J.N. Ding Darling– For only $5 a car, your family can look for roseate spoonbills and other colorful birds, manatees, alligators, raccoons, snakes, fish, and lots of other creatures on a four-mile drive through a gorgeous nature reserve. Note that Wildlife Drive is closed on Fridays.

I hope you love exploring these family friendly places as much as we have, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

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Free VIP Amenities and Discounts

As a frugal mom, I feel it’s my job to find the best prices for my family, especially when it comes to vacations. After all, going away even for a few days can be a major expense. I always look online for coupon codes and included free extras, and then I found this deal – when you BOOK DIRECT with ‘Tween Waters, you get the guaranteed best rate – AND a long list of freebies! It’s true! And, the included freebies are things your family can actually enjoy. Plus, when you book direct, you’ll avoid paying a daily resort fee. That can be quite the savings. Look at everything you get when you call ‘Tween Waters or go online to book your reservation:

  • Free Bikes
  • Free Kayaks
  • Free Tennis
  • Free Pickle Ball
  • Free Use of Rackets
  • Free Beach Volleyball
  • Free Shuffleboard
  • Free Cornhole
  • Free Bocce Ball
  • Free Fitness Center
  • Free Standard Wi-Fi
  • Free Parking
  • Free Local Paper

And did I mention, no resort fee? You’ll get a coupon book that could save you hundreds more. Get discounts on meals, beverages, spa treatments, activities like parasailing, clothing, and more. Take it from one frugal mom to another, Book Direct at www.Tween-Waters.com or call 800-223-5865 and get the most from your vacation dollars.

One more Innsider Tip: At check in, when they hand you the coupon book, put it in your purse or pocket right away. You’ll want it handy so you can save every chance you get!

 

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Rain or Shine, Girls’ Reunion

What happens when three old friends from high school find each other on Facebook? A get-together reunion at ‘Tween Waters is planned, of course! This recently happened to me and two of my dear friends, Holly and Tina, whom I hadn’t seen in 20+ years.

For our stay, I booked us a gulfview suite with two queen beds, which was plenty spacious, even with loads of baggage. From our balcony, we could see the beach, and the onsite restaurants were just steps away.

The only drawback of our weekend was the weather! You can never control summer thunder storms in Florida, but we definitely were the recipients of a weekend washout. But a little rain (OK, a LOT of rain) couldn’t dampen our spirits. Storms bring up seashells, so we shelled in the rain, got manicures in the spa, and our Girls-Night-In was the best! We ordered a couple movies (aka Chick Flicks) to watch on the suite TV, and got dinners to go from Captiva House (we got one last taste before they closed till the fall for remodeling). So, there we were, curled up on the couch drinking champagne, eating seafood lasagna and key lime pie, watching 50 Shades Darker…yeah, it was awesome!

Spending a rainy weekend with these two ladies was an absolute blessing. Time has changed us all physically, yet at the core, we are the same fun-loving girls from yesteryear. On a side note, between us, we have 9 children – it’s no wonder we’ve lost of minds!

Next time, we’re hoping to lounge by the pool, sip piña coladas, and soak in some sun. Until then, we’ll be on Facebook.

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National Seashell Day 2018

It’s fast approaching – National Seashell Day. This shellabration started in 2016 and it always falls on the first day of summer, which this year, is June 21, 2018.

As an avid sheller, this holiday makes me very happy. I don’t need a holiday to go seashell hunting, but since there IS a holiday, well, that’s a great reason to visit ‘Tween Waters and get out on their world-class shelling beach! You can even book shelling charters onsite at the marina.

Need a few tips to make the most of your shellebration? I’m your girl. I passed my exams with flying colors and am officially a Shelling Ambassador for the Bailey-Mathews National Seashell Museum. If you haven’t been, make it one of the first places you visit while on island. You’ll learn so much – and it’s just a few minutes from ‘Tween Waters.

  • Best time to shell: One hour before low tide till an hour after. Look online for the tide times for the days that you’ll be visiting or visit the onsite marina.
  • Where to look for shells: Walk the high tide line. If you can, walk in the water, too. Many shells don’t make it up to shore and are resting just a few feet away.
  • The moon matters: A full moon and a new moon make for a greater tidal event, which brings more shells.
  • The rules: In Lee County, it’s illegal to take ‘live’ shells, so if there’s a critter in a shell that you’ve found, gently put it back. (I always have my phone with me in a waterproof case so I can take a photo of the live shells I’ve found.)

I hope to see you on the beach for National Seashell Day! What a great way to kick off summer!

Beautiful shells found on my morning walk on Captiva Island.

 

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Hot Chicks, Cool Dudes: it’s Turtle Season!

Did you know the temperature of a sea turtle’s nest determines whether the hatchlings will be male or female? A warmer nest produces mostly females, a cooler nest produces mostly males (hence the headline).

Turtle nesting season starts on the west coast of Florida on May 1st (although the SCCF starts counting nests April 15th.) Here are some facts from last year’s season:

  • 189 Loggerhead nests on Captiva
  • 650 Loggerhead nests on Sanibel
  • 2 Green turtle nests on Captiva
  • 34 Green nests on Sanibel

Leatherback turtle nests are a rare event.

If you take your kids for a late-night beach walk while at ‘Tween Waters, you may spy a sea turtle crawling out of the water, or back to sea after laying her eggs. If you do, don’t approach her or shine light in her direction. They spook easily. The best thing to do is quietly admire the glorious gift you’ve been given to witness something so amazing.

Fun fact: To lay their eggs, female turtles return to the same beach where they were hatched!

Want to help sea turtles? Before leaving the beach, flatten any sand castles, fill in any holes, and remove toys and chairs. These are all obstacles for a crawling turtle or hatchling. You can also check for dangers, like trash or fishing line, and dispose of it properly.

Since hatchlings use their instincts to crawl toward moonlight on the water, any other light can be hazardous. At ‘Tween Waters, we do our part by reminding you to keep curtains closed at night, dimming balcony lights, and keeping lights away from the beach.

So remember, from May to October, it’s “Lights Out for Sea Turtles.”

Happy Turtle Season!

During sea turtle nesting season, keep porch lights out and blinds closed at night (they need to find moonlight on the water, not false light on shore).
Sea turtle tracks and a marked nest.
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