Part of the adventure of cruising is the excitement of what is just over the horizon or around the next bend, and there is no better place to experience this than the greater Fort Myers area of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The waters consist of Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, and the San Carlos Bay, all of which are fed by three rivers: the Peace, the Myakka and the Caloosahatchee. Included in the weekend cruise is the Ten Thousand Island area of the Everglades National Forest. Using Fort Myers as a base, whether it’s aboard your own boat or on one of the many boats available for charter in the area, there are numerous choices for a weekend adventure. The many marina options in Fort Myers include Fort Myers Yacht Basin, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, Legacy Harbour Marina and Snook Bight Marina. Below are two weekend options, one heading north from Fort Myers and the other traveling south.
Heading North from Fort Myers
Day 1 Fort Myers to Captiva Island
Just a short 15 nautical miles north from Fort Myers, Captiva Island makes for a perfect first stop. From the time of the Calusa Indians to the present day, people have enjoyed these beautiful shores. There is an eclectic mix of restaurants, from the colorful Bubble Room to the refined South Seas Island Resort & Marina. Accommodations for a night off the boat abound, with several small inns and bed & breakfasts at your disposal. All the Gulf Coast islands are known for great shelling, but Captiva is one of the best. The beaches are a shell collectors dream, with a seemingly new supply washed up at every high tide. At just a little over four miles long and a half mile wide, Captiva is great for exploring by bike or golf cart. And with Pine Island Sound to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Captiva is also a sport fisherman’s paradise. There are several marinas and anchorages available along the east side, but none better than the South Seas Island Resort & Marina. Charles, the dockmaster, will make sure your boat is secure and will help you enjoy all the island has to offer.
Day 2 & 3 Captiva to Boca Grande and Cabbage Key
Another 15 nautical miles north from Captiva is the quaint beach village of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island. Boca Grande is known as the tarpon fishing capital of the world and draws thousands of visitors each year. The community has maintained the charm of days gone by. Locally owned shops and restaurants line the small streets, with more bicycles and golf carts than cars. Dock at Boca Grande Marina just inside the ICW in Charlotte Harbor.
Your third day could be a short five miles heading south to Cabbage Key. The marina accepts vessels up to 100 feet in length and is home to the Old House, a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The island has numerous nature trails perfect for unwinding and relaxing.
Heading South from Fort Myers
Day 1 Fort Myers to Everglades National Forest
Get an early start for a good day’s run, it’s about 60 nautical miles down the coast to the undeveloped beauty of the Everglades National Forest. This area is known as Ten Thousand Islands for all the keys and mangrove islets along its coast. Kayakers and canoeists come from all over the world to explore the region’s remote beauty. For the visiting boater, there are dozens of secluded anchorages from which you can kayak into shallow protected waterways full of bald eagles. For dockage, tie up in Everglades City at Everglades Rod & Gun Club.
Day 2 Everglades National Forest to Marco Island
A 25-nautical mile trip back north brings you to the award winning beaches of Marco Island. Powder-soft sand beaches and sparkling blue waters make Marco Island a favorite stop for boaters and land-based travelers as well. Marco Island Marina will welcome you and make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your stay. Boat supplies and a grocery store are only a short bike ride away. Another option is the Esplanade Marina offering onsite restaurants and shops and is just across from a Winn-Dixie and West Marine.
Day 3 Marco Island to Naples
A 15-nautical mile run north from Marco Island brings you to Naples, the shopping capital of southwest Florida. Naples will rival almost any city in the world for high-end shopping, yet in spite of this it is not overly pretentious. With quiet tree-lined streets, Naples has the feel of a real community. There’s an excellent farmers market on Saturday mornings that rivals the best you’ll find anywhere. All the east-west streets end in public access to the beach, where locals and visitors gather every evening to watch the sunset over the gulf. Dockage is available at Naples Bay Resort & Marina, accommodating vessels up to 60 feet. Naples Harbour near Naples Municipal Airport is another good choice, as well as Naples Boat Club offering 47 slips.
The greater Naples area provides plenty of activities to keep you entertained should you decide to stay for more than just a weekend. While it is known for its shopping, Naples has plenty for outdoor enthusiasts as well. It’s home to one of the most breathtaking botanical gardens in all of Florida, showcasing the lush flora and fauna indigenous to the area. A short drive north is the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with 13,000 acres of pristine nature, including the largest collection of old growth bald cypress in the US.