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Insider’s Guide: Summer in Southwest Florida

The locals have the place to ourselves ... now what do we do?

It’s summertime. We locals and semi-locals are feeling deliciously laid-back and ready for some leisure pursuits. But being insiders, we’ve been there and done that, right? Umm, perhaps not. Have you, perchance …

Sailed by the Light of the Moon?

The luxury sailing sloop Serenidad sails out of Rose Marina on Marco Island, slicing through the peaceful pink sunset-tinged waters with Capt. Richard at the helm. If you like your sailing yacht appointed with spit-polished wood and shining chrome—especially if you plan to propose by the light of a full moon—this sexy Beneteau 41 is a best bet. According to my almanac, this summer’s full moon dates are June 28, July 27, Aug. 26 and Sept. 24. svserenidad.com, 239-272-0939

Debunked the Big Bad Wolf Theory ?

Speaking of full moons, if you’ve never compared the howl of a dog with that of a wolf, the Shy Wolf Sanctuary is your go-to research station. If one starts, the others follow. It’s sure to raise the hair on the back of your neck. This sanctuary for abused and abandoned exotic animals (especially wolves and wolf-dogs) is not a tourist attraction but is open to visitors by appointment. There’s no admission for your hourlong tour, but trust me—you’ll fall in love with these sweet creatures that just want to be loved, and you’ll feel inspired to make a donation to this worthy 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. It’s popular, so book well in advance. shywolfsanctuary.org, (855) 749-9653

Slain a Dragon with a Purple Golf Ball?

You know you want to. We never really outgrow the guilty pleasure of whacking a neon-hued golf ball under the watchful eyes of fiberglass baboons and fearsome dragons, now do we? You’ve got your Golf Safari on the quirky Gulf side of Bonita Beach Road (golfsafariminigolf.com, 239-947-1377), and your Jungle Golf on San Carlos Boulevard near Fort Myers Beach (junglegolfminigolf.com, 239-466-9797). But, my personal fave is the after-dark “knight play” among the spooky mists, swinging rope bridge and empty—or ARE they?—suits of armor at Castle Golf near Lakes Park in Fort Myers (castle-golf.com, 239-489-1999).

Related: Quiz: How Local Are You?

 

Indulged in Mangomania?

A couple of decades ago, some folks said a quirky festival featuring mango-head parades and mango-tossing contests would never fly. But they greatly underestimated the quirk-factor of Matlacha Island, the quirkiest village this side of I don’t know where. Now, 21 years later, even the mangos fly at the sweet, silly Mangomania festival. It grew so big it threatened to sink the island, so it’s now held at the German American Club in Cape Coral. This year’s festival is July 14-15. mangomaniafl.net, 239-283-0888

Done the Dinner Theater Thing (With or Without the Meal)?

Relax those highbrow, edgy theater expectations a bit and go have fun at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers. In addition to its regular stage, there’s the intimate, cleverly named 100-seat Off Broadway Palm Theatre just off the lobby. Choose a ticket with or without the abundant buffet that’s served in a separate dining room. Opening June 14 is a reprise of last summer’s sellout, a raucous production of Savannah Sipping Society. On the main stage this summer are Ring of Fire and Annie. broadwaypalm.com, 239-278-4422

Caught (and Released) a Live Seahorse?

True story: Real live seahorses have been doing their cute vertical bop in the muddy shallows and estuaries right here in Southwest Florida as long as we’ve lived here, and hardly anyone knows it. The tiny creatures that wear their skeletons on the outside, make the males carry the babies, eat 50 times a day without benefit of teeth or stomachs, and hide among the sea grasses and feed on minuscule shrimp and crustaceans. Take a naturalist-led ecotour on the Adventures in Paradise Sea Life Encounter. You’ll be enchanted by the various creatures you scoop up ever so gently into your net. Enjoy the breezes, dolphins and seabird sightings on the boat ride, too. adventureinparadiseinc.com, 239-472-8443

Been a Paparazzo?

Why wait for the Oscars when you can oooh and aaah over the stars on the red carpet right now, this summer? OK, there probably aren’t any $10 million Tiffany necklaces or $100,000 Armani gowns, but on the opening night of each new play, The Naples Players roll out their own red carpet in Sugden Plaza. The cast comes out to meet the paparazzi and get selfies with the fans. It’s fun and it’s free. Those with opening-night show tickets get complimentary pre-curtain hors d’oeuvres and special red carpet entertainment. Chicago, The Musical opens June 28. naplesplayers.org, 239-434-7340

Visited the Smithsonian—In the Everglades?

Raise your hand if you knew that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Yes, that one! The Smithsonian is sort of picky, so you can expect some first-class exhibits. I found it well worth the drive to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, which is 17 miles north of Alligator Alley (I-75) at Snake Road. You know that exit—where everyone stops at the quirky 24-hour Miccosukee Service Plaza for gas, fried chicken, alligator jerky, swamp gas windshield cleaner and bacon skins. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki houses indoor and outdoor visual and performance art, historical artifacts, and dioramas featuring the history of the Seminole people. Guests can take the mile-long interpretive boardwalk into a shady cypress dome to the ceremonial grounds and living village, and maybe buy some authentic beadwork or patchwork clothing made on-site. ahtahthiki.com, (877) 902-1113

 

Had a Dog Day Morning?

Summer mornings when everything’s fresh and the sun’s not too high are perfect times for you and your leashed fur-baby to sniff around at Naples Botanical Garden. The dedicated doggie gate opens three days a week at special times. Nothing’s off-limits except the children’s area, shop and café. Check the calendar online. naplesgarden.org, 239-643-7275

Picked your Playbills?

While most theater productions happen in season, summer is the time to mull over the upcoming playbills or lock in your season tickets for 2018-19.

Artis—Naples: Naples, artisnaples.org 239-597-1900
Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at FSW: Fort Myers, bbmannpah.com, 239-481-4849
BIG Arts Strauss Theater: Sanibel, bigarts.org, 239-472-6862
Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre: Fort Myers, broadwaypalm.com, 239-278-4422
Florida Repertory Theatre: Fort Myers, floridarep.org, 239-332-4488
Gulfshore Playhouse: Naples, gulfshoreplayhouse.org, 239-261-7529
The Laboratory Theater of Florida: Fort Myers, laboratorytheaterflorida.com, 239-218-0481
Marco Players: Marco Island, themarcoplayers.com, 239-278-4422
The Naples Players: Naples, naplesplayers.org, 239-434-7340
Theatre Conspiracy: Fort Myers, artinlee.org/theatre, 239-939-2787
TheatreZone: Naples, theatrezone-florida.com, 239-424-9500

Drooled over hot rods?

It’s cool and oh so sleek inside the renowned The Revs Institute, home of more than 100 of the world’s most significant high-performance cars. Racecar drivers, collectors and dreamers come from around the globe to see this tour de force in the museum world, where there are no barriers between you and the cars to inhibit the visual experience. If you’re seriously passionate about rare autos, sportscar design or history, book one of the two-hour themed tours. It’s $25 well-spent. Advance reservations are required. FYI, the museum closes each Aug. 1 through Sept. 15 for maintenance. revsinstitute.org, 239-643-7387

Kicked Up Some Sea Spray?

Now that you’re psyched for speed, take your thrill-seeking self straight to the beach for a heart-pumping, seaspray-kicking personal watercraft ride. My personal taste runs to languid idling through dolphin and manatee habitats, but we’re not talking about me. For you Briggs Cunningham wannabes, your outfitter awaits. Rent on your own or go with a guide. Try one of these.

Marco Island Watersports (aka Naples Beach Watersports, depending on location): marcoislandwatersports.com. For Marco locations, call 239-572-2953; for Vanderbilt Beach near The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, call 239-642-2359.
Port of Naples Marina: Naples Bay, portofnaplesmarina.com, 239-774-0479
Holiday Water Sports: Fort Myers Beach, holidaywatersports.com, 239-765-4386

Seen sea turtles leave the nest?

And finally, while our esteemed snowbirds are feathering their summer nests somewhere Up North, our beloved loggerhead sea turtles are frantically flippering their nests here on our uber-serene beaches. The first nesting starts in May and hatching starts 60 days later, right into October. Those yellow-ribboned nests are a sight the winter people never get to see. Naturalists are on the move early each morning from Sanibel Island to Keewaydin and all our sandy beaches in between to log new nests and false crawls, count the empty eggshells, and, finally, do “the dig” and rescue any stragglers that may have gotten tired out or stuck among roots. The naturalists love observers, but they tend to get a mite testy if you ask a question while they’re counting. Nests average about 100 eggs each.