Arts + Culture

An Insider’s Guide to Summer Fun in Southwest Florida

BY July 1, 2019
Photo By Brian Tietz

“Whatever do you do with yourselves all summer?”

The kindly snowbird inquires as she nervously watches her brand-new pastel sports car disappear into one of those climate-controlled transport trucks. We just sigh and shake our heads sadly. Later, as her airport limo disappears around the bend, we click our heels and do a little happy dance like 10-year-olds on the last day of school.

We miss our winter friends; truly, we do. But it’s our time now: no traffic, no waiting in restaurant lines, no shortage of great airfares to exotic Caribbean isles where the trade winds blow. Also, outrageous sale prices in the shops, $5 happy-hour specials, staycation deals in the hotels and spa menus at smile-inducing prices. Summer is when “casual Friday” often morphs into “long weekend”—starting on Wednesday.

But this secret is just between us, OK? If anyone asks, just sigh and say, “Oh, the heat! Oh, the humidity!”

Summer is when we have time to host our families, and when college buddies and best girlfriends breeze into town for serious bonding, relaxation and adventure. Here’s a peek at how some of us locals do it.

Captain Rob Modys: Fishing with My Girl

For ultimate relaxation, Tarpon Lodge offers sunset dinners, mangrove views, fishing and more.

How does ESPN’s popular host of Reel Talk Radio (99.3) and longtime fishing guide Capt. Rob Modys romance his bride of 22 years after her intense season promoting our destination worldwide? (JoNell Modys is the PR and communications manager of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB.) Why, he takes her fishing, of course!

“We’ll start with a relaxed sunset dinner at Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island,” he says, “and then retreat to the lodge’s most romantic accommodation, The Cottage, overlooking Pine Island Sound. We’ll have drinks (and, in my case, a cigar) on the front porch before turning in for the night. We’ll be on the water by first light, watching the sun rise over the mangroves. Sunrises are often more beautiful than sunsets, and the birds and dolphins are active and hunting for breakfast. We’ll fish till around 11, and then bring our catch back to the four-star chef to cook up for lunch before we head for home.”

Several excellent fishing guides work out of Tarpon Lodge, Modys says, and summer is an ideal time to practice your fly-fishing skills, “especially for redfish, tarpon and sea trout.”

Sunny Lubner’s Uptown Downtown Girls Bonding

“If my out-of-town girlfriends stay at my house,” says Sunny Lubner, a longtime resident of historic downtown Fort Myers, “we’ll definitely sleep in. My roof, my rules!” Not too early, we’ll stop at Norman Love Confections for warm chocolate croissants, strong coffee and, oh, maybe a few of Norman’s handcrafted chocolates, and then drive across the bridge to Sanibel Island. We’ll take a slow wildlife drive through J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and then get in some beach time before lunch at Casa Ybel Resort. Back home for an early-ish dinner at Harold’s, Fort Myers’ best restaurant. We’ll drive along palm-lined McGregor Boulevard into the charming River District for some bar hopping at Firestone Skybar & Martini Bar and Social House, and stroll over to marvel at the lights cast on the sidewalk by the Caloosahatchee Manuscripts light sculpture at Sidney & Berne Davis Center. Back home, and so to bed.”

“For the ladies’ return in September,” Lubner adds, “we’ll grab reservations for Ted Swindley’s sensational production of Always … Patsy Cline at Florida Repertory Theatre. … A girlfriend’s night at the theater can’t get any better than that!”

Sandy Cotter’s Glam-to-Quirky Girlfriends’ Getaway

Girls’ weekend wouldn’t be complete without shopping (Audrey’s consignment shop in Naples beckons here).

Naples fashionista and hospitality executive Sandy Cotter’s girlfriends’ weekend won’t be totally about shopping, wine, dancing and yachting, but it’ll be close.

“Day one,” she says, “is for scoring consignment finds in the Naples Design District, especially at Audrey’s. Later, a sunset-and-dinner sail aboard the Naples Princess, gliding past those beautiful Port Royal mansions. On day two, we’ll mix it up with dancing and craziness at Stan’s Idle Hour bar in Goodland, and then back to Naples for Champagne and sunset on the beach. The end of a perfect weekend? A gourmet dinner (and more wine) at Baleen at LaPlaya Resort.”

Jack Shealy’s Ultimate Manly Men Weekend

So, your college buddies or business associates from Up North (loosely translated as Anywhere Except Here) will be visiting for the first time. They want a real manly man Everglades adventure. For the experience they’ll be talking about for the rest of their natural lives, I suggest you contact the man responsible for this Facebook post:

“Looking for a few people to help me move my bull gator for breeding season. He’s a biggin’. Experience is good.”

That would be Jack Shealy, who runs his internationally renowned outfitters, Everglades Adventure Tours, out of the Skunk Ape Headquarters down in Ochopee. For Shealy, close encounters with pythons and the gaping jaws of alligators are just another day at the office. He spends his days (and many nights) taking adventure seekers pole-boating through the deepest, darkest swamps and mangrove tunnels and out into vast, open prairies.

“We might start with a guided motorboat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands,” Shealy says, “followed by an adventurer’s campfire dinner and overnight in a Seminole-style chickee at the edge of the Big Cypress Swamp. You’ll wake up to campfire-made coffee at sunrise and meet my 13-foot alligator and 350-pound python. After a hearty traditional breakfast with the fishermen, gladesmen and locals at Everglades City’s Island Cafe, go native-style pole-boating through Big Cypress. We’ll lunch at Joanie’s iconic Blue Crab Café, and then take a two-hour airboat ride across the River of Grass. Dinner will be gator, frog legs and fresh-caught seafood with cold beers at Camellia Street Grill, as we wind down and talk manly men talk.”

Beth Housewert’s ‘Mom and the Boys’ Week

If you’re wondering how someone whose professional title is “director of play and learning” (at C’mon, the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples) plays with her own kids, age 10 and 13, on her week off, the operative words are “ninja” and “chill.”

“The guys and I will start with a hearty breakfast at House of Omelets to fortify ourselves for our extreme ninja warrior experience at the new Defy Fort Myers Trampoline Park. Another day, we’ll head up to Bradenton for more ninja action and high ropes at the TreeUmph! Adventure Course. For a chill day, we just adore Everglades Wonder Gardens. It’s a great low-key meandering place for the boys to slow down and appreciate nature. We always get flamingo food; they’re so gentle and provide the best photo ops. Of course, we’ll be hitting the beach, too. The good salty air brings us back to life and reminds us of what we sometimes take for granted: that we really do live in paradise. The more we get our toes in the sand, the more gratitude we feel for this magical place we call home!”

Sirene and Me

As far as I know, she doesn’t have a last name and nobody has technically seen her, but Sirene is as magical and seductive as one of those mythical creatures who enchanted that Greek hero, Ulysses. Sirene is the avatar of possibly the most indulgent hotel concierge on the planet, serving the uber-
privileged guests who get to be called “Friends of Sirene” during their stay on the access-only Lanai Tower of the JW Marriot Marco Island Beach Resort.

You’re thinking, “My love and me,” with orchids and rose petals, shared bubble baths, and hand-holding massages for two.” Which, of course, Sirene most assuredly can provide. I, however, am thinking “Me. Me. Me.” The scented aromatherapy towels. The skewered watermelon wedges soaked in Chambord from the Loire Valley of France. Charming pillow amenities and spa treatments shared by no one. I’m thinking private section of beach, rooftop deck and, yes, insanely decadent pastries. No worries: My Fitbit will remain at home, replaced by one of Sirene’s own bracelets, which identifies me to the staff as One Who Must Be Indulged. Surprises and delights will appear before I can even imagine them.

In the unlikely event she should miss something I might have imagined, I need only text her private line from poolside or anywhere else I might be in the resort. It could be more perfect only if a certain busy professional daughter were to slip into town to share in the unbounded self-indulgence. And maybe she will: After all, it’s summer in paradise!

Super-cool Summer with the Grandkids

Grandparent/grandchild bonding needn’t involve a cruise through Alaskan glaciers (thought that’s nice, too). It’s all about one-on-one time with each child for a day or weekend activity of his or her choice. This summer, take some cues adapted from the Mostly Kids’ Guides playbook by yours truly, Karen T. Bartlett. (I’m the author of A (mostly) Kids’ Guide to Naples, Marco Island & The Everglades and A (mostly) Kids’ Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands and the Fort Myers Coast.) You’ll be right in line for Grandparent of the Year, guaranteed!

  • Rev it up! Chill with your teen or preteen in the world-renowned Revs Institute. See every amazifying detail of more than 100 famous racecars without barriers. Reservations are required.
  • Wow the kids and yourself at W.O.N.D.E.R Kids at Naples Botanical Garden any Saturday or Sunday morning. The adventures, activities and crafts are different each week. Drop-ins are welcome.
  • Take the grandchildren AND the pooch on the Hemingway Water Shuttle to Keewaydin Island, the only beach where dogs are allowed. Get a snack at the Just Beachy Burgers boat or the Pink Ice Cream Boat, and go beachcombing for the outgrown skeletons of giant horseshoe crabs, too.
  • Take a Marco Island Watersports wave-runner tour to the strange and wonderful alien-looking dome houses off Marco Island.
  • Saddle up for a lazy trail ride at M&H Stables at the edge of the Picayune Strand State Forest. Hand-paint the horses and feed them carrots afterward.
  • Take them to a play: The Naples Players’ KidzAct Youth Theatre is now in rehearsal for Mamma Mia! (teen), with performances set for August.
  • Sign up for Steve and Doris Colgate’s famous Offshore Sailing School (locations on Captiva Island, Cape Coral and Fort Myers Beach). Besides the extended programs, they offer two-hour sailing lessons: a perfect grandparent and child adventure.
  • Play, picnic, ride a mini-train, climb and slide, fish in the lake, ride bikes and more at Lakes Regional Park. Everything’s free except the train ride.
  • Kick up some sea spray without even getting wet as the speedboat Sanibel Thriller circumnavigates Sanibel and Captiva islands.
  • Meet some critters in air-conditioned comfort, watch live feeds from inside the animal hospital and patient recovery areas, learn amazing stuff to impress the parents, and practice being veterinarians together at CROW, the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, on Sanibel Island.
  • Learn more amazing stuff at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates (like, did you know that the very first Ford car was a quadricycle, and that Thomas Edison had to bite on his piano to hear the music?). You can also be an inventor yourself, or even sign up for a Marine Science Kids cruise by Pure Florida on the Caloosahatchee River.

Gotta Get Away: An Oasis for the Soul

Alas, many locals must hold down the fort during the summer months. Whether you’re already prepping your business for next season or you work for a national company that doesn’t get the concept of “off-season,” sometimes it’s not so much about the money as the time. If that’s you and you have only a few days in a row to spare, I recommend spiriting yourself and your sweetheart away for a long weekend on a private island oasis floating in gin-clear waters off the coast of Belize. Bone fishing with a native guide, snorkeling on a barrier reef and embarking on a jungle trek to Mayan ruins are sure to dissolve the stresses of the season right out of your soul. But that’s not all. You’ll want to grab the island’s sailboat or a pair of sea kayaks, have your butler bring Champagne and delectables directly to your hammock, indulge in aromatherapy massages and spa pedicures, and take serious naps between your Yves De Lormes sheets. Your private oasis, Cayo Espanto, accommodates only 18 guests. There’s no restaurant on this fantasy island; oh my, no. Your personal five-star master culinary artist (translation: chef) exists solely on this planet to fulfill your every epicurean fantasy. And speaking of fantasies, which of the island’s seven movie-set casas sets your heart aflame? I’m torn between Casa Ventanas, the 1,100-square-foot overwater bungalow, and Casa Aurora, the tropical blue and green estate cottage tucked between lush jungle and a sugary-sand private.

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