Make a Splash

Cruise along the coast, fish in the backwaters and paddle around mangrove islets.

BY September 21, 2021
Catamaran on the water and Naples Sunset in the background
Admire the natural beauty of the coast and the stately homes of Port Royal aboard one of Naples Princess’ charters. (Courtesy Naples Princess)

What better way to enjoy the beauty this area has to offer than by taking to the water? Here, you can rent all manner of watercraft locally or take advantage of numerous charter services. Whether you want to catch a tarpon, cruise out to a barrier island for some shelling, or paddle among the mangroves, these tours offer something for just about everyone.

If you’re looking for an immersive way to experience the region’s most profound depths, Everglades Area Tours can help. The Chokoloskee-based business offers a popular Boat Assisted Kayak Tour, where visitors are ferried more than 10 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico via powerboat, then set loose to roam via kayak after the captain anchors off Pavilion Key in the Ten Thousand Islands chain. The payoff? Sightings of dolphins, manatees, alligators, sea turtles and herons are commonplace.

Any number of airboat tour operators zip you through the Everglades, or you can explore the wetlands in a big-tired swamp buggy. Wooten’s, east of Everglades City, offers combo packages for both modes of transportation. Everglades Adventure, meanwhile, offers paddling and camping options along the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway that stretches between Everglades City and Flamingo, on Florida’s East Coast.

Close up of a dolphin jumping out of the water
(Courtesy Everglades Area Tours)

West of Everglades territory, Breakwater Adventures on Marco Island practically guarantees dolphin sightings on its two-hour boat tours, and you can easily tack on wakeboarding, tubing and shelling in one of the best spots in the area—around the secluded mangrove islets and deserted shores in the Ten Thousand Islands.

To the north, Naples teems with water-soaked adventure. A day cruise aboard the Naples Princess gives visitors access to one of the most elegant local charter yachts as guests see the spectacular homes and natural beauty of Naples Bay and Port Royal (private charters are also available). If deep-sea fishing is your game, Pure Florida is your hook—plus, it operates out of both Naples and Fort Myers, to the north. Expeditions target grouper and snapper, but that varies depending on the time of year. Trips go up to 60 miles offshore on private boats.

Looking for other ways to adventure? The Freedom Boat Club in Naples, Bonita Beach, Fort Myers and Punta Gorda rents boats so you can captain your own fishing or sightseeing cruise. Bay Water Boat Rentals in Bonita Springs also makes it easy to script your next memory on the water with rentals for pontoon and deck boats that you can use to cruise around the backwater. Further inland, rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards from CGT Kayaks in Riverside Park and make your way down the Imperial River, which provides a solid representation of Old Florida. The river is part of the easy-to-navigate, 190-mile Great Calusa Blueway paddling trail that winds along the coast and its tributaries.

Aerial view of Florida Everglades National Park
On the same day you can cruise the crystal-clear Gulf or paddle the 1.5 million-acre Everglades wetlands. (Getty Image)

Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach and the islands of Sanibel and Captiva attract watersports lovers with a bounty of marinas catering to anglers and boaters. For captained excursions, Sanibel Harbour Princess sails out of Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort for elegant sunset dinner cruises into bay and Gulf of Mexico waters, passing between Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach.

Captiva Cruises, based on Captiva Island, provides beach and shelling trips, island hopping, dolphin sightings and sunsets trips that explore the natural beauty of upper unbridged islands Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa and Useppa Island. YOLO Watersports can equip you for any watersport. Pick from WaveRunner excursions and rentals, parasailing, banana boat rides or flyboarding. You can also rent golf carts, motor scooters, bikes, stand-up paddleboards, sailboats, surfboards, skimboards and bodyboards.

Travel north to Punta Gorda, where King Fisher Fleet is the foremost name for fishing trips and sightseeing up Peace River. Captain Ralph Allen is a recognized angling expert and legend, operating his charters and tours out of Fishermen’s Village resort and shopping and entertainment complex. Fishermen’s Village is also home to Holidaze Boat Rentals, which stocks everything from kayaks to pontoons and fishing boats.