I’m super excited because today we get to talk about another amazing part of Florida – Naples, Marco Island, the Everglades and the surrounding areas – also known as Florida’s Paradise Coast. When I was young, I used to vacation in Marco Island with my family and have nothing but fond memories of this beautiful area. I was recently joined by Claudia Cianfero, Travel Industry Sales Manager for Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB who shared with us everything there is to see and do in these Gulf Coast destinations. So, grab a beach chair – or an air boat – and let’s head south for the next half hour or so!
There’s a lot of new air service into the area from not only the northern region of the United States but also heading westward, like from here in Texas. Currently there are flights from 51 destinations that fly into RSW – which is the Fort Meyers Airport – by 11 carriers. And Lufthansa just announced that they are going to have service starting in March 2022 right into RSW from Frankfurt Airport so great news on that front. Once you arrive in Fort Myers, Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades are all a really easy drive. You can also opt to fly into Tampa – or if you want you can fly into Orlando, Fort Lauderdale or Miami – none of which are a terribly long car ride. Plus – there’s more airlift into the Fort Lauderdale and Miami airports so if you prefer to fly into one of those you can drive over to the Gulf Coast quite easily and perhaps stop in the Everglades on the way to take an airboat ride or walk on the many free boardwalks where you will have the opportunity to see many different birds and of course alligators and manatees as well.
There are plenty of different types of accommodations available here. Boutique hotels, resorts, even houses and villas should you prefer something along those lines. They can accommodate all preferences and budgets thanks to a wide variety of options. They also offer “affordable luxury” as well extended stay type hotels that include Wi-Fi, parking, breakfast in the morning and usually, they’ll have a cocktail hour during the week with wine and some hors d’oeuvres to pick at.
- La Playa Beach and Golf Resort: A boutique hotel – that’s part of the Preferred Hotels and Resorts Group – that Claudia said is simply fabulous. Located right on the beach they offer great service, a private club and there is some meeting space available.
- The Ritz Carlton: Boasting about 500 plus rooms, they’re actually getting ready to start renovations to the lobby, meeting and event spaces, pools and all existing guest rooms and suites. They are also going to add another adult only tower which Claudia remarked everyone is really excited about.
- Naples Grand: Located in between the La Playa and the Ritz Carlton this is another bigger, convention type hotel. You do have to take a tram to the beach if you opt to stay here but it’s a beautiful ride and once you get down there it’s just amazing, as they have beachside services, a restaurant, chairs and umbrellas – pretty much everything that you would need to have a fabulous day on the beach.
- Edgewater Beach Hotel and Golf Club: This too is a boutique property and part of the Preferred Hotels and Resorts Group. They are an all-suites hotel located right on the beach with plenty of activities for the entire family.
- Naples Bay Resort: If you are looking for- villa type accommodations you can fine three bedroom suites here with a kitchen, washer and dryer everything you could possibly want. They too shuttle you to the beach which is not that far as the property is located at the start of Fifth Avenue.
- The Escalante: This is one of a few cute little places that are hidden off of Fifth Avenue and Claudia raved that it is fabulous.
- The Inn on Fifth: The only hotel directly on Fifth Ave, where you’ll find 36 independently owned restaurants, boutiques for shopping and nightlife.
- Marco Island
- Marco Beach Ocean Resort: This huge all-suites resort actually houses a lot of condos so not all of the rooms are available – but they do have about 80 suites that can be booked.
- JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort: They just added an adult only tower here with around 80 new guestrooms, a beach club of its own, a swimming pool, a bar and a huge entertainment center which you can access even if you are not staying in the new tower.
- Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa: Another boutique property – this one with around 200 guestrooms, gulf views, water sports, a bar and a restaurant.
There are some great opportunities within the Naples area as far as transportation. First up they have a car service that you can kind of just do a hop on, hop off kind of thing and its complimentary. It’s called Slidr and basically you call them, they come and pick you up anywhere in their designated mapped area which is mostly the downtown area. The service is completely gratuity based – so if you have two dollars, you give the driver two dollars – basically whatever you feel like giving them they’ll accept. It’s really a fabulous way to see the downtown area. They go to the pier, they go to Fifth Avenue, and they go to Third Street. It’s an amazing service and so worth it and Claudia added that they are very lucky to have it. If you prefer to travel via water there is a water shuttle that takes you to the different restaurants in Naples, as well as the Hemingway Water Shuttle that takes you out to a barrier island called Keewaydin Island. This is one of those off the beaten path destinations I am so fond of as it’s typically where the locals go. You’ll want to take everything with you – like coolers and beach chairs when you head out to spend the day. There is a hamburger boat that goes out there daily, as well as an ice cream boat – so there is some food out there but there are no facilities so keep that in mind. And in reality, that’s how they keep it local! Now on Marco Island should you need transportation it used to be that grabbing a taxi was only five dollars anywhere you went on the island, but Claudia mentioned that she is sure Uber or Lyft are even less and all three are great ways to get around on the island. They also offer a beach bus service that was implemented a few years back and the locals and visitors alike can take advantage of this free service. It’s in the North Naples area and it takes you to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park that has a beautiful beach for sunning or and you can also opt to fish there. You can also take the bus to Vanderbilt Beach where you can bring along your bicycle, put on the front and then bike around once you arrive. And again, it’s a great service and free to everyone. But that’s not all! You can also rent a golf cart like vehicle for the entire family, do a bike tour or even a Segway tour. And Claudia recommended that you take a “trike tour” – which is this cool electric tricycle where they’ll take you to all the popular sightseeing spots in the downtown area and they do a great job with it – they make it a lot of fun. Claudia also said that if you want to go on your own, she definitely recommends that you get either a golf cart anywhere you can go 35 or under and use it as you would a car, a moped or what are called mochs – or mochees that look like slingshots that you can take on the street and are fun to see driving around town and everyone just loves them!
Shopping, Dining And Other Things To Do
So, we told you where you can stay and how you’re going to get around, now let’s talk about where you’re going to go. There’s so much to do in this destination that we can’t possibly list it all. You’ve got adventure, you’ve got shopping, you’ve got dining, you’ve got watersports and you’ve got golf. There is also some nightlife in an area called Mercado where most of the restaurants turn into clubs at night and you can dance the night away, but the bars do close at 2:00 o’clock in the morning here. On Fifth Avenue you will find live entertainment at night and if you want something a little quieter the Village on Venetian Bay area has beautiful restaurants, as does the Bayfront Inn which is also just at the foot of Fifth Avenue. And if you’re there for luxury shopping Claudia highly recommends you go to the Waterside Shops. There’s also the Marco Walk Plaza as well as the Shops of Old Marco – the latter of which are past the canal area and have cute little boutiques and restaurants. Claudia said there’s not that many but it’s so cute to go walk around there and The Snook Inn, which is one of the local favorites, is right next to it so you can shop till you drop and then go sit on the water and have a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres or dinner. Bonus – you’re going to find a lot of local artisans in this area – it’s not all brand names and that’s important because you’re supporting the local economy when you’re shopping there. Claudia also shared that The Isles of the Capri Marina – a small island right before you get to Marco Island on the way from Naples has a fabulous restaurant called the Island Gypsy that’s a local favorite. She said her boyfriend and her go down by boat all the time and it’s a great place to people watch and walk around and they also have a fabulous store. Plus, you can rent boats and kayaks from there. Then there is Goodland which is right next to Marco Island. If you go on the backside of Marco Island off of Route 41 it’s this cute little fishing village that also has restaurants that are right on the water like Stans, The Pelican and The Little Bar – all of which are typically only open during season and another great way to support the local economy.
For the kiddos they have the children’s Museum of Naples where the kids can go learn how to be environmentalists or fishermen and women. Naples is also home to a zoo and a botanical garden which has a children’s garden that the kids will absolutely love. The JW Marriott also has a big game area complete with video games and bowling area and of course what city wouldn’t be complete with a Chuck E Cheese! So, as you can see it is a very family oriented destination – but it can also be a romantic destination. There are plenty of opportunities for romantic dinners thanks to the beachfront resorts that offer dining directly on the beach. They also have these very cute, independently owned romantic restaurants that you’re not going to find anywhere else. And Claudia noted that every restaurant in Naples has its own unique flavor, and you can’t go wrong with whichever one you pick. And you have your choice of fare from seafood to steak to vegetarian – whatever it is that you that your heart goes out for there are plenty of boutique restaurants to choose from! And of course, because it’s a family destination there are plenty of places where the family can dine that doesn’t have to be fast food such as Brooks Burgers which is known nationally and was voted the number one burger place on Trip Adviser. In addition, there are fabulous waterfront areas like Pinchers and Riverwalk and the Dock at Crayton Cove which are more rustic, and you don’t have to be all dressed up and worry about your kids are running around. Plus, there are some great Mexican restaurants that are a lot of fun – especially Rocco’s Tacos and of course they have plenty of Italian and Claudia shared that one of her favorites is the Bravo Italian Kitchen in the Mercado area. They also have an area called Celebration Park that has a bunch of food trucks, and they have kids’ games and entertainment every night. You can get there via boat or car and it’s in a new up and coming area called the Bayshore Arts District that Claudia highly recommends you check that out.
The Great Outdoors
The beauty of Florida is that you’ve got not only the Atlantic Ocean, but you’ve got the Gulf of Mexico too. There are so many places to see starting with the historic Naples Pier, there are tons of boardwalks, there’s the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Gordon River Greenway where you can take your bicycle and just pedal through nature – it’s a beautiful place the see the sunset and even the sunrise is beautiful there. And oh my gosh there’s so much to do on the water on Marco Island alone. There’s Marco Island Water Sports where they’ll take you parasailing, or you can rent paddle boards and kayaks. Then in Naples they have what Claudia referred to as “this crazy jet boat” named Odin that they will take you out in the bay in and spin you around and it’s fantastic. Then there are two little airboat type of vehicles called Crag Cats that you can rent in Goodland, and they’ll take you back in through the Ten Thousand Islands where you’ll see all the fabulous nature that the Ten Thousand Islands has to offer and it’s just amazing per Claudia. And for those of you guys who are looking for that live dolphin experience – having them free and out and about this is where you’re going to find them – there’s no captivity here! Another fun activity on Marco Island is going out on the Black Pearl Pirate Ship that runs through what they call season – which is January through the end of Easter. You can go out for an afternoon trip or a sunset cruise. They also have the Princess Yacht – one on Marco Island and one in Naples – that does a lunch tour and a dinner tour and per Claudia the sunset dinner cruise is amazing. There are so many other options too – but one last one Claudia mentioned is Double Sunshine where you take their dolphin explorer out. They always find dolphins because they actually study them – there are scientists that tracks them – and it’s a fabulous trip for the kids.
Now, it wouldn’t be Florida if we didn’t talk about golf! And Claudia advised that they were voted the number one golf destination by the International Golf Tour Operators Association and even though it was a while back in 2014, they are still proud of it. Golf opportunities include Green Links which is open to the public, Tiburón Golf Club which has some public play or you if you stay there you get to play there as well, the JW Marriott also has their own golf course, Villa Playa is one of the most beautiful golf courses there but is no outside play so either you’re a member or you stay at the hotel and you can golf it and then the same with the Naples Grande Golf Course. They also have some public golf courses available if you are not staying on any of these properties so there are other options.
And of course, one of the highlights of the area are the Everglades which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Claudia shared that it’s one of her favorite places. She described it as very peaceful and even while you’re walking in the swamps you don’t hear anything except your feet thrashing through the water. And of course, you want to go with a guide who knows exactly where to go to see the alligators and such. And if you want kayak or canoe, Everglades Area Tours has some great boat assisted tours of the Everglades where they’ll take you out in to kayak through the mangroves and its amazing way to see the Ten Thousand Islands. And since this area is actually the western gateway to the Everglades which is the saltwater portion so you’re going to see dolphins and manatees and sea turtles too. Plus, you can collect shells on all the barrier islands or take a dip in the water. For those of you guys who love to birdwatch there is a bird garden that just opened up and bird watching tours available where they’ll tell you about the roseate spoonbill and all the different species of birds they have in the destination.
There’s a lot of fishing to be had as well so if you wanted to charter a fishing boat or something along those lines, we absolutely can help you do that. You can go fishing for half a day, overnight, or backwater fishing in the Everglades to name a few experiences. There are opportunities for camping and in the national park and you can go overnight with guides that will take you out or you can go on your own you just have to check in and get your license first. Prefer glamping? The Everglades offer chickee huts that you can sleep in. Per Claudia it’s beautiful out there and the breeze runs through it making it so nice and peaceful. What a great off the beaten path opportunity for nature lovers!
There are also opportunities to go out in a pole boat via Everglades Pole Boat Safari Tours which is run by those who are part of a family that has been there for generations and know everything there is to know about the Everglades making it a great way to learn from the locals – which I absolutely love. Then there are live gator shows where you can truly enjoy the animals and again, they are done by fifth generation born residents and can be found at Wooten’s Everglades Animal Sanctuary. You can also do an airboat tour or swamp buggy tour while you are there plus, they have a little animal sanctuary that’s a great place for the children to go and visit and experience nature. And finally, another great way to see the Everglades is via an airboat tour. They do have one that Claudia recommended that is more educational and lasts an hour or so where they go into the fresh water and deep into the covered Cypress stones.
Arts, Culture And History
Naples isn’t just beaches and shopping and food – they actually have a lot of local culture and history to experience – and you can learn about the history of Collier County at any one of the five Collier County museums – all of which are free. It’s a great way to learn about the Calusa Indians who were the first people to inhabit the area. There’s also the Everglades Museum that will tell you about how it was founded and the Naples Depot which is a fantastic museum close to Fifth Avenue and the Marco Island museum which has the legendary Marco Cat that is on loan by the Smithsonian and has just been extended for another year. There are also a lot of landmarks such as the historic Palm Cottage. They offer a Naples historic walking tour in the downtown area that’s very close to the Naples Pier and is a great opportunity to tour with a local guide. And if you like mysteries on Marco Island there is the Marco Mystery Historic Tour. Or if you are into cars there’s the Revs Institute and Car Museum that houses one of the world’s most prestigious car collections. Then there is the Baker Museum which is close to the waterside shops and their collections change seasonally so you can re-visit and not see the same thing twice.
For those of you guys who really love theater we can actually get you some theater tickets to enjoy live theater including touring Broadway shows. Also, in the way of arts they have the Artis-Naples which is home of the Naples Philharmonic, street performers every Thursday evening including musicians and theater folks and then they have the Gulfshore Playhouse and the Marco Players Theater on Marco Island – all making for plenty of culture and arts in the destination.
You will also find amazing architecture and historical buildings in the destination. They have the smallest post office in the United States which is located your way to the Everglades and then have the Historic Smallwood Store which was an actual store back in the day and is now a museum where you can see all the things that they used to have back then. Then there is the Big Cypress Gallery which is a Clyde Butcher gallery, and he does black and white photography of the Everglades where he makes the clouds look like they’re the mountains in Florida and Claudia said it’s just amazing see!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing Florida is open for visitors!
What do you think? Ready to head to Florida’s Paradise Coast for some fun in the sun? Well, we are certainly ready to plan your adventure! For more details on things to see and do in Naples, Marco Island, Everglades, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!