A Tropical Escape…Closer Than You May Think!
South Seas Island Resort…such an exotic sounding destination. It is indeed a tropical oasis located at the tip of a barrier island, surrounded by turquoise waters, blessed with balmy temperatures year-round, offering a variety of accommodations to suit the most discriminating traveler. All this and you don’t have to have a passport to get there! “Where is this paradise and how quickly can I get there?”, you’re wondering. Google “Captiva Island” – I know, the names just get better and better – and find it on the Southwest coast of sunny Florida, north of Naples and south of Tampa.
According to legend, in the early 1800’s, Captiva Island was part of the “Buccaneer Coast” where notorious pirate Jose Gaspar buried his treasure on Sanibel Island and held his female prisoners for ransom on Captiva. By the late 1800’s, the pirates were truly history and hardy homesteaders arrived, planting sugar cane, vegetables and grapefruit trees. After the devastating 1921 hurricane, Clarence Chadwick – an inventor searching for a warmer climate to ease his arthritis – purchased the homesteaders’ properties and converted them into a key lime plantation, christening it “South Seas Plantation”. Thanks to his passion, South Seas became the largest source of key limes in the world. Chadwick’s family was the first to begin renting cottages to vacationers. The property changed hands several times, becoming a fish camp in the 1940’s. In the ‘60’s, the property sold again to a group of investors who had the vision and began development of the resort we know and love today.
Prepare to be enchanted by this 330-acre world class retreat complete with miles of private beaches, a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, casual and gourmet restaurants, a marina filled with private yachts, and a seemingly endless choice of water sports.
Perfect for a romantic getaway or family trip, resort amenities include a sailing school, camp for children, arts and crafts for all ages, a full spa, private dining and private cruises. Visitors come here from all over the world to relax and be pampered, drawn by the laidback yet luxurious atmosphere. You never know who you might find lounging next to you at the pool. Christie Brinkley was photographed here for the cover of Sports Illustrated!
My connection to South Seas and Captiva is through my family’s love of fishing. My grandfather fished here as a boy as did my father. He and my mother honeymooned on Captiva in the mid ‘50’s before the causeway from the mainland to Sanibel Island was built. Over the past 40 years, my dad, brother and I have fished what seems like every inch of the passes and back bays. With coaching and encouragement, I landed countless snook and redfish, a few of which were too big for the cooler! Many things have changed at South Seas since the early ‘80’s. The King’s Crown restaurant closed (it is now a wedding venue), and Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille opened.
Two new pools were added, one with water slides that is very popular with the younger guests. Hurricane Charlie caused so much damage in 2003 that the resort was closed for almost two years, but it emerged updated and even more beautiful.
One of my favorite spots, the waterfront main resort pool and tiki bar, remains essentially unchanged except for the welcome addition of cabanas.
My children and family have enjoyed our annual summer visits for decades.
Our most recent trip was in May. Blessed with picture perfect weather, we managed to squeeze in as many of our favorite “to-do” list activities as possible along with some well-deserved relaxation. As I walked the beach from Plantation Beach Club to the north end of the island, it was like going back in time. Same white sands, same delightful assortment of shells washing ashore, same gorgeous sunsets. This is my paradise!
Divided between South Village and North Point, getting around South Seas is part of the fun. Take the charming trolley or rent a golf cart or bicycle to traipse from one end to the other. There’s even an app to track the trolley!
South Village features Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, lots of tennis courts, a small marina, meeting and conference center as well as an upscale market and deli, shops, a spa, and a Starbucks across from the Resort’s main entrance. In North Point, you will find the three resort pools including one with waterslides, the big marina, restaurants, golf course, and the King’s Crown – the only remaining original building from the 1890’s. For years, King’s Crown was a gourmet restaurant; I have fond memories of fancy dinners there with my dad. Now, it is an elegant wedding venue with a lush green lawn perfect for outdoor sunset ceremonies.
Accommodations range from one and two-bed guest rooms at the Harborside Hotel with marina views to tennis villas, gulf front beach cottages, and luxurious private homes. Large families or groups can indulge in a fabulous 9-bedroom, 7 bath beachfront home.
The local beaches are renowned for the rare shells you can find on both Captiva and Sanibel Islands. Shell seekers are often found doing the “Sanibel Stoop” as they lazily stroll the shores looking for treasure from the sea.
If you are feeling more adventurous, go kayaking, sailing, or charter a fishing guide. Tarpon, snook, grouper, and red fish are all abundant in these tranquil waters. There are several smaller islands nearby that can only be reached by boat. Don’t worry, South Seas has you covered! The 65-foot Lady Chadwick ventures out daily to nearby Cayo Costa, Useppa Island, Cabbage Key, and Boca Grande.
Here is my suggested itinerary for four days at South Seas Island Resort:
Whether you travel by air or land, you will cross the causeway from Ft. Myers to Sanibel Island to reach Captiva Island. The views as you cruise across the aqua and cobalt waters will put you into vacation mode as you leave your daily cares behind and shift to island time. If you want to pick up a few provisions, a t-shirt, or a latte, make a quick stop at Bailey’s General Store on the southern end of Sanibel. Established in 1899, Bailey’s is two stores in one – a full-service hardware store and grocery store with a coffee bar.
Captiva and South Seas are only 20 minutes way. The remainder of the drive takes you down a mangrove and palmetto lined two-lane road (35 mph strictly enforced!) that suddenly reveals the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico as you cross the small bridge connecting the two islands. Instantly the vibe changes from laid back to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” as you catch glimpses of private homes tucked away behind lush tropical foliage. Stop at the Welcome Center for keys, a map and a complimentary mimosa! If you are staying in a villa or private home, you may want to pre-order groceries from Captiva Provisions Company and they will be delivered before you arrive.
If you arrive early, the reception will store your bags so you can head for the water. Rent a wave runner, go parasailing, or take an Eco Paddle Board Tour. The pools are a great place to cool off afterwards. Later on as settle into your room, villa, cottage or home, prepare to make the most of your island adventure.
On your first evening be sure not to miss the “Wish Upon a Seashell” Sunset Celebration. Live music and libations make this a perfect way to kick off your stay. Follow with dinner at Harbourside Bar & Grill – it’s tough to choose between the Cracked Lobster Pasta and Blackened Grouper – and a nightcap on the deck by Yacht Harbor Marina or on your private balcony and Day One is a wrap!
Rise and shine! Get up early and take an early morning walk on the beach. The sound of the surf, sandpipers darting along the shore, finding a perfect sand dollar or olive shell are all good reasons to get up early. Be sure to bring a shell bag- Beach Stuff just outside the resort carries everything imaginable- if you are like me and cannot resist picking up a few…every couple of steps. Note: Live shells are off limits!
After our walk, stop in the Ship’s Store at Yacht Harbor Marina for a freshly made breakfast sandwich and coffee. Enjoy your breakfast in the outdoor seating area and watch as the boaters depart for their daily adventures. Be sure to look for manatees along the seawall before you leave!
This afternoon is a perfect day to lounge by the pool and perhaps join in the Log Roll or Hermit Crab Races. Rent a golf cart and take the short trip to The Bubble Room for dinner (reservations highly recommended). This unique restaurant offers generous potions with catchy names such as Marilyn Mignon and Pastablanca, served by Bubble Scouts in a collection of colorfully decorated dining rooms sprinkled (okay, inundated is a more apt description) with memorabilia and holiday decorations. Tip: Choose at least two flavors of cake and get them to go. One slice is enough for two people and you will not have room for dessert until hours later!
Start your day with a “mini” beach portrait session. It only takes 15 minutes and will leave you with a lifelong memento. Next, it’s time for a cruise! Board the Lady Chadwick for the half hour trip to Cabbage Key where you can enjoy lunch on this charming island accessible only by boat. Find a seat on the upper deck of the 65-foot vessel and enjoy seeing the Resort and surrounding waters from a different perspective. Dolphins chase alongside the boat as you enter deeper water– be sure to have your camera ready to capture their beauty!
Once you arrive at tiny Useppa, get in line for lunch…there’s almost always a wait! Choose one of the Adirondack chairs scattered about the property and observe the giant land tortoises that call the island home until your name is called. If you’re feeling energetic, climb the water tower for one-of-a-kind views.
Lady Chadwick docks at South Seas by early afternoon. After a nap or stroll around the grounds, head to South Village for dinner at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille. Fans of author Randy Wayne White will recognize Doc Ford as the main character in his best-selling novels. Their signature dish, Yucatan shrimp, is delicious, as is the Banana Leaf Grouper. Be sure to sample one or more of their premium rum selections!
You might be ready to sleep in this morning; you are on vacation after all! I vote for spending this day poolside, ordering drinks and lunch from The Pointe.
Friendly poolside servers will take your order and bring you all the food and drink your heart desires so relax, indulge a bit and perhaps take a trip or two down the water slides!
If you have the energy toward the end of the day, head to the Mucky Duck just down the road from the resort for a cocktail and the sunset. It’s an energetic crowd with live music.
Return to South Seas for a romantic private dining experience al fresco. Order a pizza for the kiddos and send them off to play glow volleyball while you savor a delectable meal under the stars. Sadly, this is your last night in paradise…for now. Start planning your next visit as you pack up!