It’s not easy being 10.
You can’t drive a car. You can’t stay up super late.
Sheesh… if you’re in my family, your parents won’t even let you have a phone.
But it’s not all bad either.
Because if you happen to have a dad who’s an adventure writer for the ‘Tween Waters Inn, he might just say yes when you say, “Hey, can I do your blog this month about kids on summer vacation?”
For introduction’s sake, my name is Ryan. I’m about to start fifth grade and I love this place.
If you’ve never been to the ‘Tween Waters Inn during the best two months of the year – also known as the time when you’re not in school – you really need to go. The weather is tremendous, there’s water on both sides of the resort and there are a ton of cool things to do on the property, too.
And there’s not a homework-starved teacher within 50 miles.
Anyway, we arrived for a week’s stay in the Palmetto building, which enabled us to bring along our 12-year-old pup, Rusty. I was in charge of activities, so I made sure everyone packed gym clothes, pool clothes and tennis clothes, and bum-around clothes for anything else I decided to come up with.
With me in charge, that meant a little bit of everything.
I set the alarm clock in the room for 6:30 a.m. each day and made sure the folks were on the tennis courts – the resort has two – by 7. Mom and I teamed up to play against Dad for the first little while each day, before she took a water break and let me try to take the old guy down one on one while she worked the camera.
Take a look at the video here.
We dropped swim gear on beach chairs as we walked from the courts past the pool and headed to the gym, where I mandated 30 minutes of work in a room full of treadmills, ellipticals and recumbent bikes.
A jaunt back to our room for quick showers preceded a return to the pool, where Mom and I went back and forth between playing with dive toys and swimming laps while Dad relaxed and recharged – he played tennis two against one, after all – with multiple 15-minute turns in the hot tub and multiple smoothies and other frozen delights from Tween’s Beans Coffee Shop.
By the way… if you go, tell them Ryan told you to ask for Kettia.
She’s the best.
Meanwhile, the more I swam, the more I pondered what else to put them through… or in this case, on.
And being a water guy, to me that meant a kayak.
So Dad and I headed down to the beach alongside the marina, where resort partners from Adventure Sea Kayak and SUP run guided tours each day at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. We chose the late-morning trip and each grabbed a solo kayak to head out with super-chill Aleks – a soon-to-be senior at nearby FGCU who led the tour – along with four other people who paired up in two other kayaks.
Aleks paddled us out on the resort’s east side, across Roosevelt Channel and through a mangrove-canopied water trail through Buck Key. He was in the midst of a discussion about the nearby water fowl – cormorants, ospreys and ibises, etc. – when Dad spotted a fin about 10 yards in front of my kayak. My first thought was “dolphin,” but when the fin zig-zagged at the surface toward me, Aleks corrected me.
It was a shark.
Yes… I said SHARK.
In fact, it turned out to be a pair of mid-sized bonnethead sharks, smallish members of the hammerhead family who max out at 4 1/2 feet, make their homes in coastal waters, bays and estuaries and feed mainly on crabs and other crustaceans. At that moment, though, based on my racing heart and sweating palms, it might as well have been a great white.
Take a look at a quick video here.
We managed to survive the shark encounter and later swung by a huge property adjacent to the resort, where the owner of the Doc Ford’s restaurant chain lives. A gated-off waterway alongside his property is home to a small family of manatees, and Aleks let us paddle right up to the No Trespassing sign as the majestic sea cows swam back and forth between our boats as we snapped pictures.
I’m a hungry guy, so the thought of our family’s past trips to Doc Ford’s made me start thinking of food, and the many outstanding meals available right on property at the Crow’s Nest Bar and Grille. There was no way I was going to spend a week at the resort without testing out the Mac-n-Cheese Salsa Dip appetizer, which blends melted cheddar cheese with salsa, elbow macaroni and tortilla chips.
Tell Jasmine that Ryan said hello, and she might just hook you up with an extra plateful of pasta primavera.
The dish alone is worth a flight from Minnesota, Montana or Malaysia, but you really can’t leave the Crow’s Nest without experiencing the sheer goofiness of Sunburned Willie’s Crab Races. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never seen it, but try to imagine a roomful of screaming adults and children cheering for hermit crabs as they crawl from the center to the outside of a circular table.
Each child in the audience can name and bet on a crab for just $2, and the adults can pair up to back a crab for the same $2 entry fee. The field runs through two preliminary heats before a championship race, and the money is collected and paid out to the “owners” of the top five finishers. Family races are set to go at 6 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, with adults-only races the same nights at 9 p.m.
Take a look at a championship race video here.
Trust me, by the time you’ve done the tennis courts, the gym, the pool, the kayaks, the restaurant and the crab races, you’re going to be pretty tired. But if your parents learn anything about Southwest Florida before they head down here, it’ll probably have something to do with our sunsets.
Simply put, there’s not a place outside of Key West itself that does them any better.
Conveniently enough, the Gulf of Mexico is just a few dozen steps from the front door of the Crow’s Nest. And when the family crab race wraps up around 8 p.m., it leaves just enough time to stroll across Captiva Drive and onto the sand for a prime view of the glowing orb descending into the horizon.
The tandem cabana chairs are a great place to take a look, though some hearty souls head right down to the water’s edge as they try to use nature’s majesty to augment the perfect selfie. Just remember to keep an eye out for wannabe ballerinas pirouetting across the sand as you work the flash button.
Take a look at my last video here…
And remember to remind your friends at school that your summer was way cooler than theirs.