Perfect Family Beach Vacation at Secret Florida Island
Near Fort Myers (and yet so far away) is North Captiva Island, a barrier reef island that is only accessible by ferry. You might have heard of Captiva but this is a different place altogether. North Captiva doesn’t allow cars so it’s just golf carts, bikes, boats, and walking for transportation on the island. And did I mention that it’s also a bird sanctuary? Be prepared to see an abundance of wild creatures from egrets to dolphins to manatees.
This was our second trip and both times we noticed that the ferry from Pine Island (after a 45 minute ride from the Fort Myers airport) was full of multi-generational families vacationing together.
What makes this a good spot for a family reunion vacation:
- The entertainment options on the island are limited so it’s very relaxing and all about lots of quality time with family.
- There aren’t any hotel options so most people rent houses and bring food in for the week.
- If the weather is bad, there is not much to do. Make sure the house that you rent has plenty of entertainment inside.
- There is a strong undertow so be cautious swimming.
- We caught small sharks near beach so, again, be cautious swimming.
- There some B and Bs but no hotels. Most people rent a house. If room service is a must have or you want to avoid cooking while on vacation to have a real break then this would not be a good choice for you.
- There are a few restaurants but most people bring in food for the week by faxing to Publix to be boat packed and bringing it with them. There is a limited selection of groceries on the island and they’re really expensive.
Logistics: Getting There
Traveling by Plane ( Ft. Myers Southwest InternationalAirport—RSW)
- Airport Shuttle Services: An airport shuttle service can transport you from Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Ft. Myers, to the marina with a 15-minute stop in between to pick up your previously faxed grocery order. Pine Island Taxi (888-777-9653) and Superior Airport Shuttle (888-397-9571) will transport parties large and small from the airport to Pineland Marina (for regular ferry service) and Four Winds Marina (if private water taxi reservations are made). Both services also have hourly rates for those who do not have a car and want to make off-island excursions.
- Ferry Service: Make your reservations on the water taxi, Island Girl Charters (239-633-8142). islandgirlcharters.org. It is realistic to allow 2 ½ hours between your arrival time atFt. Myers Airport and your departure from Pineland Marina. Check the Island Girl schedule.Island Girl provides regular scheduled ferry service every other other between the hours of 7:00a.m. and 5:00 p.m. in high season. During low season, it is best to call to confirm the schedule. (The airport shuttle services will help you decide which boat to take, if you are unsure.) Island Girl departs from Pineland Marina at 13921 Waterfront Drive, Pineland, FL 33945. Parking is $10 a day. PLEASE NOTE: Island Girl asks that you arrive at the dock 20 minutes before departure. Be sure to specify that you are going to the BARNACLE PHIL’S dock on North Captiva Island.
- 48 Hours prior to your arrival, FAX your grocery order to Publix (and be sure to follow-up with a confirming phone call). Since North Captiva is an unspoiled island, there are no supermarkets, so you will want to bring your groceries with you.There is a small grocery store on North Captiva Island, however it is quite expensive. Publix, on the mainland, will pre-pack your grocery order. Simply fax your grocery list to them 48 hours in advance and when you arrive at the store your groceries will be waiting for you (frozen items are packed in a cooler).
- Publix charges $10 to pre-pack your order for pick-up. You can fax your grocery order to Publix, and you can pick them up on your way to the marina. The Airport Shuttle fare includes a 15-minute grocery stop to pick up your faxed order. 48 hours in advance, fax your order (be as specific as possible in terms of brands, quantities, types of meats/produce), time of arrival, credit card # and expiration date. We recommend you follow-up your fax with a phone call to PUBLIX to confirm receipt of order. A blank fax form is available below that you can use to prepare and fax your order. Wine and beer can be purchased at the grocery store. They do sell wine and beer on the island as well, however it is very expensive. Friendly Frankies is the liquor store next to both Publix.
- There are two Publix on the mainland that you can use (please note that Pine Island Taxi only stops at the Publix Santa Barbara Center): Publix (Santa Barbara Center): FAX:239-458-7822 PHONE: 239-458-8900 Friendly Frankies Liquor Store: 239-458-3388. Pine Island Taxi and Superior Airport Shuttle both stop here.
- Publix (Coral Shores): FAX: 239-282-5533 PHONE: 239-282-5515 Friendly Frankies Liquor Store: 239-283-6185. ONLY Superior Airport Shuttle stops here.
Where to Stay:
There are various sites to find rental houses. Here are a few:
Where to Eat:
There are very limited restaurants options on North Captiva Island, but we enjoyed Barnacle Phil’s great food noticed that boaters make a special pit stop for lunch or dinner. Their yellow rice and black beans were truly amazing! There are covered outdoor picnic tables as well as tables inside. It is a cash only restaurant but there is an ATM machine inside. While you wait for your food, the kids can walk on the docks to see manatees, sea snakes, fish and fowl. There is always something to look at. We saw otters jump into the boats to eat their bait! Step upstairs for premium ice cream at Pirate’s Stash! It’s the perfect end to your meal.
What to Do with the Kids:
North Captiva Island Club is a private club with 2 outdoor pools and a small playground. Check if the house you rent gives you access to this. It also has a bar that serves food and smoothies. We would go daily for the pool and smoothies!
Fishing and Lunch on another Island. We had a really excellent day in the hands of Captain Dennis fishing for blue fish, mackerel, ladyfish (throw back), and skipjacks (throw back). We saw a pod of wild dolphins that swam right next to our boat. Our girls out fished the men in our family and we had the fish beautifully filleted by Captain Dennis for dinner. The fishing boat charter was the highlight of our trip!
Golf Cart Cruising. Our house came with two golf carts for getting around. Most houses will have golf carts — cars are not allowed. My kids loved driving the carts around. We would take trips to the grocery store to buy a frozen treat! We wiped them out of Dove Bars before we left!
Beach: fishing, shelling, birdwatching, sunning, water (be careful of undertow and sharks!), boogie boarding, you name it. The sun is intense and there is no shade at the beach. See if your rental house has a beach umbrella. There is an abundance of shells, so much so, that it made my girls very picky about which to pick up! Certain corners of the beach would have an immense pile! And some of the conch shells were HUGE!
Is there anything we would do differently the next time we go? A few things. We would probably take the fishing charter on day 2 so that we would have more time to eat our catch! (We were good fishermen thanks to Captain Dennis). We would also probably go twice because it was fun to see outlying islands. We would buy less food and eat at Barnacle Phil’s more often. The food is excellent and not as expensive as we thought it would be. We would probably do more birding. There is such an abundance of kinds of birds that it’s a shame not to identify them and shoot their photo for a little album.
I did a post on Top 10: Children’s Books for Your Florida Beach Vacation if you want to see what books were at our house.