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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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Birding ‘Tween Waters Inn and the Islands

I didn’t need to go any farther than the marina at ‘Tween Waters Inn Beach Resort & Spa to photograph some of the most charismatic in the bird kingdom. Like resort mascots, a great egret and great blue heron strutted the docks and posed waterside. Pelicans stumped pilings, dive-bombing for fish they spied from their lofty perches. Within eyeshot, a pair of ospreys tended a nest atop a piling platform. I couldn’t quite make out if there were chicks yet, but this is the time of year they hatch. Next time I’ll bring binoculars.

Nearly 450 species of birds have been identified on Captiva and Sanibel islands, including the rare flamingo, great white pelican, and white-crowned pigeon that birders spotted  recently at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. One of the nation’s hottest birding spots, especially this time of year, “Ding” is more famous for its pretty-in-pink roseate spoonbills. They and other iconic species – reddish egrets, yellow-crowned night herons, pelicans – are easy to spot from Wildlife Drive. Even better, take a sunset paddle or boat cruise at Tarpon Bay to watch birds flock in to roost.

The refuge is part of the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail, as is Lighthouse Beach Park at Sanibel’s eastern end. Birders flock there particularly in fall and spring to witness a phenomenon known as “fall-out” – when migrating birds literally drop from the sky, exhausted from a long flight over water. Before you head out on your birding adventure, grab a laminated “Sanibel & Captiva Birds” flipchart from the T.H. Osprey Gift Shop.

White pelicans flock to “Ding” Darling this time of year.
The ‘Tween Waters Marina great blue heron preens.
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Filling Up on Sushi at ‘Tween Waters’ Captiva House

 

This is only a fraction of our gluttonous order!

One word never fails to get our millennial son to the dinner table with us: sushi. So when Aaron found out that the Captiva House Gulffront Seafood Restaurant at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa has added sushi to its dinner repertoire, he was there!

Believe me, this is no afterthought to keep up with the sushi super-trend. Captiva House goes the whole distance, using only the freshest products rolled up to order in creative packages.

On the regular menu, two sushi rolls appear every night – the Specialty Sushi Roll and Ultimate Captiva Sushi Roll. Then, Tuesday through Saturday, an extended menu of sushi, sashimi, rolls, and sake totally seduce even the casual sushi lover, never mind the obsessed type like my son.

Allow me to illustrate: Whereas my husband was content with the Tropicana Roll as an appetizer and I with the Ultimate as a meal, Aaron ordered five different specialty rolls.

I love my rolls with a little kick, so the sriracha aioli with the lump crab and ahi tuna on the Ultimate struck the right chord, as did the spicy tuna in Aaron’s So Yumi and Sunrise rolls.

He leans toward the fried seafood rolls and anything with cream cheese, so, as a surfer, could not resist the Surfing on the Ocean, where the entire crunchy-creamy roll is deep-fried.

We all loved the naming process — so in keeping with ‘Tween Waters’ sassy seaside temperament. Bikini Heat Stroke or Dancing on the Beach, anyone?

Aaron tucks in.
Welcome to Captiva House Gulffront Seafood Restaurant!
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Rock in New Year’s Eve at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa

Sanibel New Year's EveWhere will you choose to spend the last night (New Year’s Eve) of 2016? I’ll be rocking in the New Year at the Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa! With a live band, champagne toast, late night bites, shot specials and even a midnight balloon drop, I can’t imagine a better place to ring (or rock) in the New Year.

The general consensus is that 2016 has been rough, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m ready to start the year fresh, but before I welcome in 2017, I really need to let loose and blow the doors off of 2016 with a great New Year’s Eve party.

Starting at 9PM and ending around 2AM, the Crow’s Nest will sell $20 wristbands at the door, which includes champagne, free bites, Jell-O shot specials and a midnight balloon drop. PLUS! Wristbands are $10 off with dinner reservations at Captiva House, where they’re featuring a luxurious and delectable New Year’s Eve menu.

After a bit of drinking and dancing with the live band “Bad Banditos,” I plan to take advantage of some free late night bites, including pork egg rolls, buffalo chicken wings, fried pickle spears and chicken quesadilla rolls (ummm, yum!), which make for the perfect party snacks.

But the real feature I’m looking forward to on New Year’s Eve is the balloon drop. I mean, of course I’ll have to kiss my husband at the ball drop, but after that, forget him! Who doesn’t love a good balloon drop — even Bill Clinton couldn’t resist one at this year’s DNC (see here).

And well, since you’re rocking in the New Year in style, the best option is stay overnight at ‘Tween Waters Inn so that you can enjoy the party, and wake up to 2017 in paradise!

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Dreaming of a Foodie Holiday at ‘Tween Waters Inn, Captiva Island

When it comes to the winter holidays, I turn into this complete sentimental sap – listening to carols obssessively and decking the halls with festive abandon.

My husband? He’s more the Grinch to my Cindy Lou Who. But a visit to the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa on Captiva Island, Florida, gets even him in the falala spirit. Besides all the fun and original holiday decorations – never try to tell me it doesn’t feel like the holidays in Southwest Florida! – there’s feasts that would put Whoville to shame.

This year’s Captiva House holiday menus are no exception. They balance traditional with creative in visions that beat sugarplums any day. Take the Christmas Eve special menu. Like our customary night-before meal, it includes oysters and other seafood, but with more glam punch than I can manage: baked oysters with gouda and spinach, Chilean sea bass with polenta and lemon beurre blanc, and seafood lasagna, for instance.

Then, come the big day, nothing but a lavish holiday spread will do. More fresh seafood, sweet potato cinnamon bisque, roasted salmon with dill butter, and carved steamship round, ham, and leg of lamb. But save room for all your favorite seasonal sweets.

Wait, it’s not over! There’s a New Year’s Eve gala prix fixe menu with themed dishes such as scallops with strawberry and champagne compote, holiday-spiced pan-seared duck breast, pinot noir braised lamb osso bucco, dessert, and of course, bubbly.

Season’s jolly greetings, season’s fine eating to all!

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Getting Silly with Girlfriends at ‘Tween Waters’ Crab Races on Captiva Island

As much fun as you can have with hermit crabs
As much fun as you can have with hermit crabs

I had taken my son and friends to the crab races at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa a time or two when they were young. Adopting and naming a hermit crab, then cheering it on in a race to the finish line: What’s a kid not to love about that?

That would have been the family-skewed races that take place at 6 p.m. every Monday and Thursday. The races take a hiatus the month of September, and will put the pedal down again starting Oct. 3, 2016.

We caught the last one of the season on Thursday, Aug. 18. This was my first adult-rated race, which started at 9 p.m. Three girlfriends joined me at the Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille for some pre-race munchies and cocktails. The season’s finale meant a big, noisy crowd – many of whom arrived super early to take one of the limited trackside seats around the round table.

I had always wondered how the adults race could get any more, well “racy,” than the family one. Commissioner Tim, who has been commandeering the races for more than 30 years, has a sarcastic, sassy sense of humor, but his witty double-entendres luckily escape the comprehension of young ones.

The fun gets a little rowdier and naughtier at the 9 p.m. show, but still the same tomfoolery, kazoo blowing, and good-natured taunting as the earlier one. Plus half the proceeds from crab “rental” ($5 each for the adult show) benefits the United Way. Good fun for a good cause.

Commissioner Tim explains the rules before the races start.
Commissioner Tim explains the rules before the races start.
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Olympics at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa

Kayak Captiva

The much-anticipated Olympics have arrived, and we’re enjoying every minute watching athletes compete on television, but you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy some of the events you see — you can do it all righOlympics Beach Volleyballt here on your next vacation to ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa. Which sport will you take on for the gold?

Swimming: ‘Tween Waters Inn is home to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, which means not only can you race laps against your bestie, but it’ll be official size requirements too. So get your Phelps on, and swim laps — just don’t plan on any Olympic diving — it’s strictly prohibited.

Beach Volleyball: We can’t all look as great at diving in the sand as Misty May or Kerri Walsh, but we can have fun trying! You’ll find a beach volleyball net set up on our private beach, with volleyballs to rent at the front desk, for your fun in the sun.

Canoeing/Kayaking: Did you know that canoeing was an Olympic sport? It’s certainly not the most notorious, but it is definitely a fun way to get out on the water and enjoy a little competition. Go for gold and try out your speed canoeing or kayaking, with ‘Tween Waters Inn’s peaceful open waters in the Bay.

Innsider Tip: For less aerobic exercise, catch Olympic events on live television at the Crow’s Nest Beach Bar & Grille, and enjoy a drink!

Tween_waters_inn__captiva_island-5554Tennis: It’s iconic. It’s a cardio workout. And the resort has four courts to try out your best backhand. If you’re looking for more info on the tennis courts, check out fellow Innsider Lyle’s hilarious article as he tackles tennis at ‘Tweenies.

Sailing: It’s great to get out on the open water any time you visit ‘Tween Waters Inn, but what better way to do it than sailing our beautiful sea? What’s better, the resort has a sailboat docked on at the property — New Moon Sailing — to charter, complete with sailing captain. If you’re looking for more competitive sailing, or even to try some lessons, Captiva is home to America’s #1 sailing school — Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School.

Plus there’s even more ways to enjoy the Olympics while visiting your favorite Captiva resort — try Golf at Sanibel Island Golf Club (where ‘Tween Waters Inn guests receive a discount), synchronized swimming, cycling (rent bikes right on property!), combine events for a triathlon, or simply take a sprint down the beach. You might even try rhythmic gymnastics — I’ll come take pictures if you do!

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One fish, two fish … catch some, we wish

photo 1 (1)Ask any world-class athlete – LeBron James comes immediately to mind – and he or she will tell you it’s all about the hardware. Problem is, I’m not a close friend of LeBron James.

Or any other world-class athletes, for that matter.

So with neither the Cleveland hoops deity nor any of his high-tax bracket peeps as backup, it was left solely to my 8-year-old son – Ryan – and I to pursue a trophy that would instantly elevate our family to mandatory financial advisor status.

In this case, that meant either the “Most Caught” or “Biggest Caught” prizes at the annual Tween Waters Inn family fishing tournament, which took place earlier this month in the waters on both the gulf and bay sides of the resort.

OK, truth told, the perks of winning weren’t exactly life-changing in nature.

Rather than a vacation home in the Keys, it was a foot-high trophy with a generic nameplate.

Rather than a phone call from the president, it was a quick snapshot along resort GM Tony Lapi.

photo 3 (1)But it wasn’t a total loss. There was ice cream and popcorn.

And as it turns out, the few hours spent aimlessly tossing a line from a scalding splinter-laden dock while trying to keep live shrimp from boiling in a bucket has some benefits beyond economic ascension.

Though whatever critters were in the water decided to dine elsewhere – a total of 71 were caught, in fact, but none by us – the chance to simply sit with my boy without being interrupted by pesky fish yielded memories that’ll last at least until the next episode of American Ninja Warrior on NBC-2.

Or heck, maybe they’ll even go until Peter Busch’s hair moves on camera.

A 24-inch lady fish – the poor man’s tarpon – was the largest monster plucked during the competition, and a slew of consolation door prizes made winners of several others who’d had roughly the same luck with rod, reel and 20-pound test as me and my would-be Bill Dance.

I’m guessing the pelicans had a better go of it – minus the cookies & cream, of course.

And when next year’s event comes around, we’re casting from LeBron’s boat.

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Savoring the New Menu at ‘Tween Waters Inn’s Captiva House

Captiva House Gulf Front Seafood RestaurantOne day after the debut of a new menu at Captiva House, the flagship restaurant at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa, we booked a table in anticipation of its shifted focus. With its name change to Captiva House Gulf Front Seafood Restaurant, the accent is on casual seafood dining, including two sushi items on the Starters menu.

We started instead with Oysters Alexander – four plump oysters transposed to stylized oyster-shaped dishes to accommodate roasted red peppers, smoked gouda, artichoke heart, spinach, bacon, and go-ahead-and-slurp-it sauce.

That whetted my appetite for more seafood, and the new menu proffers a number of choices in small plate and entrée size. My Caribbean Spiced Grouper entrée presented a generous portion of grilled black grouper on a bed of wonderfully seasoned Captiva House Dining Room pumpkin mash studded with dried cherries, all topped with mango salsa and sided with a complex citrus-dressed salad of kale, carrots, and mandolin-sliced Brussels sprouts.

My meat-loving husband also found satisfying options, selecting the peppercorn-crusted ribeye, whose red wine demi-glace and truffle French fries created nothing short of sensational.

The small plates are also available in full portions, and include blackened scallops with key lime butter, Chilean sea bass with lemon beurre blanc, and mahi mahi with lobster salad. Notice a theme here? Citrus, mango, and other Florida requirements bring a sense of place to the plate.

So of course there’s key lime pie on the dessert tray, but this one is dotted with white chocolate mousse rather than whipped cream. A sweet finish to an exceedingly island experience.

INNSIDER TIP: Captiva House has shifted its focus to casual, which means they’ve dropped their dress code — opt for more casual attire, but expect to enjoy elegant and quality dishes!

Oysters Alexander at Captiva House, 'Tween Waters Inn
Oysters Alexander
Caribbean Spiced Grouper at Captiva House, 'Tween Waters Inn
Caribbean Spiced Grouper
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Island-Hopping: The Ultimate ‘Tween Waters Inn Boating Adventure

When the Robinson Crusoe urge hits, my husband, Rob, and I put up no resistance. And it seems to hit more and more often when we spend time at ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort & Spa – so close to a number of islands accessible only by boat.

Luckily the crew at Beach Bums Boat Rentals in the ‘Tween Waters Marina make it easy to chase our fantasies and spend hours on islands unconnected to mainland mania.CABBAGEKEY2

A chart, a boat key, and we were headed first to North Captiva Island, just across Redfish Pass from Captiva’s north end. There we soaked up some sun on a gorgeous white-sand beach we had all to ourselves, then motored northward to Cayo Costa to take advantage of its legendary shelling.

We fished in the bay before docking and hiking across the skinny island to the beach. This particular day, bleached white sand dollars littered the shallows.

About then we were feeling hungry. And thirsty! Time to head to Cabbage Key. Its funky historic restaurant is known for cold beer, spicy bloody marys, and juicy cheeseburgers. Afterward, we walked off lunch on the nature trail and a climb up the water tower (where, if you’re lucky, you may get a cell phone signal.)

Beach Bums’ staff provides excellent instructions for those wishing to captain their own adventure. For those who’d rather kick back and enjoy, charter captains at the marina are happy to tailor excursions to your own Robinson Crusoe whims. CABBAGEK

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