October 31, 2014
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Here & Now: The Joys of Off-Season

While the tourists are away, the locals will play.

PushArt

It's one of those typical summer days here on the Gulf of Mexico.

You know, everything’s blue and green and golden until around 1 or 2 p.m., when suddenly those Incredible Hulk-size white clouds roll in from the east, turn black and start bulging their muscles. A smooth snowy egret strutting along the shoreline gets her feathers all spiked out like a bad hair day. The Gulf goes silvery-gray to match the sky, so you can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins. Then comes the downpour … or a drizzle so sheer you have to hold out your hand to make sure it’s actually raining.

And then it’s over. The egret’s elegantly sleek, and the sand is fluffy again.

That’s exactly what it’s like as a friend and I linger over lunch at a beachfront table at HB’s on the Gulf at the Naples Beach Hotel. In a season when beachside dining can sometimes be a scorching experience, freshly rinsed air tastes sweet and cool. It makes me feel like dancing. Just as that thought crosses my mind, it apparently crosses another’s, too, because out of the tranquil surface of the Gulf, maybe 10 yards offshore, a dolphin propels herself straight into the air, executes a perfect arc and plunges back into the water. Again, and again, and again. I swear I can hear her laughing for joy.

I’m sorry, did someone say this is our “off-season”? Hmmm … let’s see. Arrive without reservations and score the best table in the house. Dolphin show. Relaxed, attentive wait staff. This time of year, it’s easy to fly in with just your carry-on and still play golf. The Ritz-Carlton at Tiburon, for example, provides its guests with complimentary use of TaylorMade clubs and Adidas golf shoes. Or, if you’re booked at the new Westin Cape Coral Resort and
Marina Village, you needn’t waste packing space on running shoes and workout gear. For five bucks, Westin will lend you a pair of New Balance
shoes with disposable insoles and a full gym wardrobe.

Westin’s program will continue all year, but many perks occur only in the off-season, including some compliments of Mother Nature. Take the amazing natural phenomenon called bioluminescence. On balmy summer nights, millions of tiny plankton, which are neither plant nor animal, sparkle like neon fireflies in the backwaters around Marco and the 10,000 Islands. Who knew? Everglades Area Tours just introduced night bioluminescent experiences. There are no guarantees even in summer, says Captain Charles Wright. But if you’re not here “o! season,” your chances drop to zero. Summer also is blooming time for the ethereal ghost orchid, one of the most elusive swamp flowers on the planet. They rarely bloom “in season.”

Swamp Wedding

Congratulations, incidentally, to renowned ghost orchid expert Mike Owen, park biologist at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. Mike met his new bride, Donna Glann-Smyth, on one of his swamp walks seven years ago. When she discovered one all by herself—a first for a guest—he was smitten. They finally exchanged rings this summer (she in dainty white lace and he in his park uniform), right beside a blooming ghost orchid and knee-deep in the tannin-brown water of his beloved cypress swamp. Park Manager Renee Rau, an ordained minister, offciated.

So you see, if you yearn to get married in the swamp, you’d better do it “off season,” because in winter it gets pretty dry in there. Now, how romantic could that be?

The unabashedly selfish side me wants to plead, “Let’s keep the off-season private, just for us locals.” The other side says, “Yep, let’s definitely keep it to ourselves.”

Still, we understand that the creative minds in our tourism community must keep thinking up clever promotions to delight their guests year round. I’m always happy to help (invited or not), so here are two ideas from around the world that could work here.

March of the Muscovy Ducks

Really, people, it’s time someone came up with an answer to the famous Peabody Ducks, and it might as well be us. The Peabody Hotel in Memphis started it in the 1930s, creating a PR powerhouse. Both of its pampered flocks of mallards (now also in Orlando) have their own penthouse palace, private elevator, marble lobby fountain to splash around in and twice-daily, celebrity-led processional to the tune of John Philip Sousa’s King Cotton
March
.

Hey, hoteliers, they might have mallards, but we’ve got Muscovies to spare, and heaven knows they could
use a little gentrification. They’d have their own custom-designed Swamp Buggy, penthouse decks atop the Double Sunshine (Naples) and the Lady Chadwick (Captiva), and a tricked-out Porsche Boxster for outings around town. They’d wear beachy-chic Marc Jacobs scarves from Marissa, with coordinating bikini bottoms for proper modesty and hygiene. Their personal plastic surgeon would deal with those unfortunate skin conditions. Celebrity Muscovy masters would lead their march to the tune of Procession of the Nobles.

House of Mutt, ‘For Dogs of Distinction’

A Suffolk, England, couple runs this exclusive doggy-only hotel. While you’re staying in some posh, people-only palace, your little darlings are taking etiquette lessons, and having their nails done and portraits painted. They’re strolling on the Duke of Grafton’s estate, and sleeping hearthside in beds handcrafted by fine furniture-maker James Morley. Upon checkout, they receive House of Mutt crown logo party bags containing— among other bling—custom-designed collars.

I’m sensing that you think I’m prone to exaggeration. Check it out at houseofmutt.com. Notice the extensive House Rules, such as “Sex is not encouraged.” Well-behaved guests get trips to the pub.

Pay attention, Phil McCabe (of The Inn on Fifth and McCabe’s Irish Pub): It’s a natural for Fifth Avenue South, don’t you agree?

Happy off-season, lucky locals and visitors. And please, let’s keep some secrets to ourselves.

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