By Nina Kokotas Hahn
This was to be the summer of The First Family Vacation — the first time since our son was born that the whole unit would fly and vacation together. The unit included me, my husband, our well-traveled 6-year old daughter, and our now 3-year old son — the wild card (previously the card left at home with the world’s greatest grandparents).
Beach vacations topped our list, but what we wanted was the perfect beach vacation, with a warm ocean for exploring, sunny skies and tropical breezes, kid-friendly adventures and activities, and good dining options. We pictured something remote but not too quiet, somewhere we could easily get lost in the rapture of nature. At the recommendation of a fellow Orbitz colleague, we zeroed in on Captiva Island for a Florida vacation at the South Seas Island Resort.
The epic vacation finally happened last month and I’m still glowing as I write this now: South Seas was incredible, glorious, the whole shebang and more. No wonder this resort was recently named one of Parents Magazine‘s Top 10 Resorts for Families.
Everyday interludes with nature
Located on at the northern most tip of Captiva Island and spanning nearly 4 miles (330 acres) from beach to beach, South Seas has an otherworldly feel, as if its own Caribbean destination. We arrived and rotated in awe of our surroundings: the shell-strewn beaches, calm gulf waters, stunning marinas and totally rad pools — this was a slice of heaven on earth.
My favorite part of our vacation was the lazy time spent at South Seas’ Sunset beach. We’d pick a spot, the cabana boys would set up our chairs and umbrella and off we’d go to explore. The ocean water was almost too warm, but it was lovely and full of life. We spotted crabs, jellyfish, snails and other mollusks, but the best part was the shelling. Man, oh man, you haven’t seen shells until you’ve seen Sanibel and Captiva! Many parts of the beach are literally covered with shells and we amassed quite a collection.
Lots of ways to cool off
Our kids couldn’t get enough of the pools. They were especially big fans of the main resort pool complex which features three main pools, including one pool with intense slides for the older kids, another zero-depth pool with water jets for the younger ones, and a gimmick-free, all-purpose pool. The pools are situated among an abundance of lounge chairs and umbrellas, a restaurant and bar, a shop or two, and a life-size chess board. We loved lounging in a sweet spot between the pools and the Gulf (and within arms reach of the bar), where we could take breaks and gaze out at the ocean.
Beyond the pools, there are many other ways to cool off and recharge at South Seas. There’s the Captiva golf course (one of the country’s best 9-hole courses), tennis courts, a spa and salon, and a fitness center. I liked getting outside in the morning to run the three-mile paved road from our condo to the southernmost end of the resort, which ended joyfully at Starbuck’s.
Worth the sugar: We swore we’d only visit Scoops and Slices a few times but we ended up there at least daily. A super cool fifties-themed ice cream and pizza shop, Scoops serves a great selection of Edy’s ice cream, tasty slices of pizza, and oodles of interesting candy, including the standard fare (gummy treats and candy bars), classics (Zots and Sugar Daddy’s) and rarities (M&Ms in every shade of color).
Family fun comes easy
Something else that’s really special about South Seas is the fact that so many activities are perfect for the whole family. My daughter and I enjoyed a beginner’s kayak tour through Bryant’s Bayou, a calm body of water just around the bend from the marina, while my husband and son visited the resort’s Nature Center. We also spent time fishing at the T-dock as part of the children’s Go Fish! program (which supplies the poles, bait and even the helping hand to hook the bait — amen). There we also enjoyed surprise visits from various schools of fish, shrimp, manatees and the occasional dolphin.
Speaking of dolphins, we also took an adventure cruise that brings you out into the gulf for close up view of the dolphins. I also had my eye on the sailing classes offered onsite by the world-famous Colgate offshore sailing school, but we’re saving that for our next visit.
Worth the splurge: Upon arrival at South Seas, we pretty much ditched our car and rented a golf cart and Trek bikes to get around. The cart was $100/day for the first day (and $60/day thereafter) and the bikes about $15/day, but it was the best money spent during our trip. Best part? Bikes are available for all members of the family, including single bikes, bikes with trailers for the younger ones and kid-sized bikes.
Rest and relaxation, too
We stayed in a beautiful 2-bedroom condo in Land’s End Village located at the northernmost tip of the resort. I never thought I’d be so excited to see a kitchen, but the one in our unit was well equipped with all of the basic utensils and cookware we needed. We brought our own groceries and saved a good deal of money (and hassle) by eating breakfast and most lunches in our condo. (Grilling was also an option as we noticed many outdoor grills throughout the property).
For dinner, we loved the Harbourside Grill (try the catch of the day) and sat outside with full views of the marina. The kids ran back and forth to the piers to watch the Manatees and we enjoyed ogling over the ginormous private yachts. We also ventured off-property a time or two, and we’d recommend the same if only to see the wacky, wonderful Bubble Room. It’s hard to describe this joint (and its bizarre Christmas room), but the food and atmosphere are tasty and unique. I had the “Some like it hot hot hot shrimp” — my favorite meal of the trip — and we shared their infamous orange crunch cake.
As boring as it may sound, we loved returning each evening to the uber-comfortable sectional couch in our wonderfully cool condo. We played games, sorted sea shells and watched DVDs rented from the resorts best one-stop shop, the Captiva Provisions Store.
Save some cash: Food on the property and across most of Sanibel and Captiva is pretty pricey, so we took the advice of a friend and stocked up on groceries at Publix before crossing the bridge toward Captiva. Do the same and you’ll save a good chunk of change.
Letting the cat out of the bag
I’m excited to share this amazing resort at the same time that I hope it remains somewhat of a secret — it’s that good. And if you’re thinking of visiting, there’s no better time for a Florida vacation than September (or the fall), when crowds usually dwindle and the best deals surface. Book your trip to South Seas on Orbitz now and you can score the 4th night free plus other offers valued at up to $250, including 20% off on food and beverages.
Nina Kokotas Hahn is a Writer-Editor at Orbitz Worldwide. Globetrotting since infancy, she’s also the daughter of a travel agent and knows a thing or two about finding great travel deals.