Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Soothing Sanibel, Captiva

FLORIDA’S GULF COAST -- If you’re a South Floridian, you likely save a visit to Sanibel and Captiva for summer, when hotel rates are a bargain. But if you live in Minnesota, high season rates are just the price you pay for escaping two feet of snow.

For Natalie and Josh Ralph of Minneapolis, traveling with son Colin, 1 ½, and daughter Lucabella, 4 ½, the area’s low-key atmosphere was an added attraction. “It’s a bit quieter than other places in Florida,’’ said Natalie. “And of course, the Twins are here.’’ That would be the Minnesota Twins, whose Spring Training match against the L.A. Dodgers brought a baseball-loving crowd.

On Day Three of our Florida Spring Break Odyssey, we joined families, couples and permanent Spring Breakers – i.e, Snowbirds – in the village charms of Sanibel and Captiva islands.


Not that all was quiet. Dairy Queen was packed, bicycle paths were in full use, and the traffic on Periwinkle, Sanibel’s main drag, stretched for blocks. In this laid-back burgh where motorists stop for gopher tortoise crossings, nary a horn blasted, and drivers generously let their fellow motorists break across the stream to dodge into Ace Hardware. On Captiva, the quirky Bubble Room restaurant was, well, bubbling, and even on a 50-degree day, sunset drew a crowd at the Mucky Duck.

Two and a half years after Hurricane Charley smacked the area, both islands are pretty much back to normal, say tourism officials. Sanibel missed the worst of the storm and looks as if nothing happened. Captiva, which took a direct hit, is also back in action. Even South Seas Plantation – closed for 18 months post-storm – is nearly 100 percent, with renovated rooms, a smart new pool and new eateries. The tree canopy is gone, but with $140 million of improvements, if you haven’t been here before, you’d never know what was missing.

Of course, if you have visited the area before, one thing you’ll miss is Blind Pass. It’s still marked, and you can still park in the same public lots. But where the water once flowed between Sanibel and Captiva is now closed by land – a reshaping compliments of Hurricane Charley.

So is it’s beach still the best for shelling, as some have claimed? “No such thing as the best shelling beach,’’ said Bill Cassel, innkeeper at the cozy Captiva Island Inn. “It’s like the lottery. You find ‘em where you find ‘em.’’



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PHOTO BY JANE WOOLDRIDGE / THE MIAMI HERALD

Top: Max Humanik, "almost 4,'' of Boston; middle, the Bubble Room; bottom, Captiva beach.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, We love the photo of Max - but were dissapointed that he didn't get the photo credit.

Maureen

Jane said...

Maureen: My apologies! It's fixed now. Thanks for letting me know.

Anonymous said...

Jane, Can photos be purchased?
Maureen

Jane said...

Maureen:

You can send an e-mail to me at jwooldridge@MiamiHerald.com. I can pick it up there next week and we'll sort it out.