Captiva Island on Florida's west coast is known for its seashells, but what caught our attention immediately on a recent stay was the wildlife, especially the birds.
From our second story Marina Villa balcony at the South Seas Island Resort, we had a prime perch to see a great number of egrets, ibises, pelicans, blue herons, turkey vultures and especially ospreys fishing, flying and tending to their business.
We watched a yellow-crested night heron on our front lawn pick apart its favorite food, a crab, and devour it bite by bite. The ospreys were flying low, giving us a close-up view. We even watched one osprey build and defend a nest in a construction crane. Sadly, a crew came along to put the crane back to use a day later.
The 330-acre South Seas resort has been a staple of Captiva tourism since it was founded as the South Seas Plantation in 1946. The resort is large enough to have its own trolley service, which connects the reception area, Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grill, the Blackwood Tennis Academy and related lodging on the south end with the marina, excursion cruise docks, pool complex, sailing school and golf links on the north end.
The mile in between along South Seas Plantation Road is lined with rental homes, cottages, villas and other low-rise residential beach units, all artfully screened by a wall of sea grape trees and other beachfront foliage.
Our 800-square-foot villa had a full kitchen, a high ceiling over a living/dining area and a screened porch along with a master bedroom with a king bed and a second bedroom with two twins. The windows of the master bedroom, framed by plantation shutters, looked out on the marina channel into the expanse of Pine Island Sound.
In addition to the wildlife, it was a great spot to watch the boat traffic come and go. The Marina Villas come with a dedicated swimming pool and are a short walk from the activities on the north end, including the Attitudes beachfront bar on the Gulf of Mexico, where a daily sunset celebration takes place.
The South Seas is a full-service resort. Had we the time and interest, we could have taken sailing lessons at the Colgate Offshore Sailing School; booked a catamaran trip or a sunset cruise to a nearby island; played the nine-hole, on-site golf course; gone to the Kay Casperson spa; rented bicycles or WaveRunners; or arranged a fishing charter.
The only facilities I had time to try were the tennis courts, where I joined a one-hour group clinic that is offered twice daily, provided guests sign up. With 471 rooms on property, there's plenty of volume to fill the class, which was held on one of the 11 hard courts. The level of instruction at the $30 clinic was first-rate.
There were a notable number of families at the resort the weekend we stayed as well as several weddings. There's a kids' activities center and a pizza/ice cream shop as well as three swimming pools, including one with a double waterslide.
Seven dining venues range from a small cafe inside the marina to Doc Ford's. In addition, it's only a five-minute drive to the small restaurant district in Captiva, where we ventured out one morning for an excellent breakfast at the Key Lime Bistro and retrieved a pizza one night from Captiva Island Pizza.
Our dinner at Doc Ford's, conveniently located next to the Seven Seas entrance, included a delicious entree of snapper wrapped in banana leaves. We didn't have any of the specialty rum drinks, but I was tempted by a $25 sampler that included three of 13 premium rums on the menu.
From the north end of Captiva, it is a 20-minute drive over the bridge to Sanibel, the more built-up of Lee County's two barrier islands. Like Captiva, perhaps more so, Sanibel is famous for its endless supply of seashells on the beach.
If the shelling weather isn't cooperating, you can make an indoor visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. There's a very well-paved, shaded bike path along Periwinkle Way, the main drag in a retail section of Sanibel. And the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge can provide a day's worth of nature activities.
We spent our time in Sanibel at a local culinary shrine, the Island Cow, which -- as we remembered from past visits -- has a lot of outdoor seating. The Island Cow is known for its breakfast/brunch and for generous portions. The eggs Benedict is reliable, and there are a lot of fresh seafood options.
The whimsical "at-moos-sphere" is evident in more than the cow theme. Outside on the lawn, a chalkboard proclaims "Live Music. Jimmy Buffett" in giant letters over much smaller type that says "Could be. But probably not."
Once distracted by the good food and relaxing atmosphere, even a devoted Parrothead would not be disappointed here.