Reenact Pocahontas as your family paddles through mysterious mangroves, or whistle at the splashing dolphins as they race your bayside cruise boat. All of this and more can be discovered just outside Fort Myers, Florida, for alternative family vacations and loads of Floridian fun.
Kids may be shocked when you tell them you’re heading to Florida without making a stop to see the mouse, but as soon as they arrive to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, they’ll be thrilled to explore this tropical oasis.
Stake your claim on Sanibel
The options families have to stay on the island are countless, depending on your needs. Sanibel works best with large families looking to have a private rental, as these can be revered anywhere for various budgets. Smaller families might be happier in one of the cheery hotels, such as the Island Inn, that provides both cottages and rooms cleaned daily with small kitchenettes for quick lunches too. If booking accommodations like these, be sure to call ahead instead of simply going online, so you can directly ask if things like toiletries, cots, breakfast and other amenities will be provided for you and your children.
A state park rivaling the Everglades
Stay active and tire the kids out for the day with a kayaking excursion in the lush, green mangrove. Paired up two-by-two, the group took to the kayaks easily, with some children and young as seven navigating the waters in tangent with their parents. The guide from Tarpon Bay Explorers explained our surroundings and how the trees grew in such a wet environment, with easy terms that the younger set could understand. Rumor has it when the water levels are lower, some kayakers can see manatees and crocodiles, but we had fun with the birds, crabs and fish on our trip.
Spend the day be pampered in Captiva
Captiva has a totally different vibe than Sanibel—one that seems more relaxed and geared toward the adult crowd. However, there’s just as many sandy beaches there than on its neighboring island and can be another interesting place to explore for kids. If you little one is into the finer things in life or likes calmer activities, this could be an ideal introduction into spa treatments for Mommy and daughter, or Daddy and child too! At Kay Casperson’s spa retreat, they offer a special service just for kids, so they can learn a little about beauty care and being pampered. The Princesses experience is for ages 12 and under and can include a manicure, pedicure or makeup. Parents are involved in the experience and also can indulge in their own massage or signature facial as well.
Sail out to Cabbage Key
A thrill for our nine-year-old on this trip was the cruise out to nearby Cabbage Key, courtesy of Captiva Cruises. During your afternoon adventure, families hop aboard this large ship and are whisked through the bay to the quaint and uninhabited key. Before arriving, our captain alerted everyone on abroad we had guests—two pods of dolphins were swimming right alongside the boat, encouraged by the loud noises everyone made to make them jump and investigate the sounds.
Upon arrival, Cabbage Key had a fun restaurant to have a meal outdoors or inside. Either way, check out the walls of this place—they are covered in dollar bills as a lucky wish from sailors and to pay homage to Jimmy Buffett, who’s rumored to have written “Cheeseburger in paradise” about this spot. As we boarded the boat to go back, ship staff pointed out some otters that had boarded a private boat on the dock and broke into the owner’s cooler for a snack! That gave everyone a laugh and we headed back to Captiva.
Kids can get their fill of the outdoors and parents will love the accessibly and ease of spending their travel time on these breathtaking islands.