Sanibel Island. Florida
A review written by Daddy!
A few years ago my Fiancé had the pleasure of taking a relaxing break on a work visit to Marco Island in Florida. It would be marked down as her favourite destination. A destination on earth she would never forget.
Can you imagine her excitement when I announced that we would be visiting the same area for her birthday along with our 8 month old daughter! I had planned the holiday of a lifetime to Sanibel with a week followed by a Caribbean cruise. We were to fly upper class with Virgin from Heathrow to Miami and the few months leading up to this trip of a lifetime led to the inevitable anticipation, concerns about taking baby long-haul and the ‘what if/buts’ we may encounter.
After what seemed like daily trips to the Chemists stocking up on every lotion and potion known to human, making adequate provision for any possible tropical or not so tropical ailments know to youngsters that we may encounter on our rapidly approaching anticipated adventure.
Finally, the big day had arrived. It was a cold, crisp Sunday morning and as we woke I looked towards the vibrant redness of the winter sky and remember thinking that in a few hours from now our jet would be charging through the skies with us on board safely delivering us to warm surroundings.
Even though being a Sunday morning deep in our minds we knew that it would take us no more than 30 minutes to travel from our house to the airport we had planned for any eventuality that might happen on the way (car breaking down, closed motorway, freak snow storm en-route etc.) so gave ourselves a very generous 4 hours between leaving our home and the flight leaving… well you never know.
Our good friend Trevor was given the trusted job of making sure we arrived at our first point of call, the airport. Luckily I had had my Weetabix earlier that morning so was just about in the frame of mind to take on my biggest challenge of the day… the luggage! Five cases in total weighing not far short of a baby elephant, with the adrenaline and excitement much in my mind I threw the cases onto the luggage cart and single handily managed to avoid all the obstacles which I encountered between the car and our check in desk (which if you have ever flown out of LHR T3 will know are not to sniffed at). We were greeted by Sandra on the desk who was full of grins and admired our little international traveller to be, one final lift of our cases then I knew that I would have at least 11 hours to build my strength up before I had to battle with them again at our destination.
Sandra checked us in and with even a bigger grin handed us what seemed to me at the time, a golden ticket….. Passes to the airside Virgin lounge. Oh, just in time for a late full English breakfast. I remember thinking and seeming that I had recently done so much exercise with our luggage it must be warranted. Olivia and mummy were drawn to the children’s play area which Virgin provide, my job was to deliver mummy a glass of champagne and then tackle my breakfast. A few good hours (and glasses of champagne) later our flight was called. Making sure that we were one of the very last travellers to board the plane and that all our companions were settled we took our seats. Mummy and I had a very comfortable armchair surrounded by numerous buttons, poor baby had a cardboard ‘sky cot’.
After being given yet more alcohol (just me) we then prepare for flight, nine and a half hours to be exact which I must admit went very quickly as I was able to sleep well and eat some delicious treats.
Olivia was very well behaved and slept for most of the journey on mummy’s lap. We had toys for entertainment and thank god she was only 8 months old and able to sit still!
Southern Florida here we are. We arrive late afternoon and conscious that we had a long drive ahead of us the following day. I had arranged for us to stay at the Sheraton Miami Airport. After a short wait at customs we were then reunited with our luggage, how would I cope with it in this heat I recall thinking. Luckily it was not too much of a trauma for me as our hotel shuttle bus was within sight parked directly outside the exit doors. Our whistle stop overnight stay at the Sheraton was pleasant enough and I would recommend this hotel, from what I saw it was certainly the best on offer.
Monday morning 6am (or 11am in Blighty). It was time for a quick breakfast and then we were to collect our holiday hire car which was literally based across the road from the hotel. Making sure we had a suitable child seat correctly fitted and all our belongings (including our little treasure) in our SUV together with another very important article (the GPS) we make our way south west along Alligator Alley (and yes it is called that as there really are many alligators fenced off between the freeway and the everglades even visible at 55mph) towards our destination, Sanibel Island. I have visited this beautiful part of Florida a few times before and it is one of my favourite places in the World, they call it the ‘Old Florida’ and it is a truly charming place. Heading through Fort Myers we finally see the welcoming sight of the toll bridge linking mainland FLA with the small arcepelego of islands which are Sanibel and Captiva. Crossing the bridge towards Sanibel we looked down at the beautiful turquoise blue ocean, our vision only interrupted by a few yachts and impeccably maintained beachside houses…. We had arrived!
We checked in to one of the Sanibel Island Inns. Song of the seas, which Is a small family run hotel, and shown to our condo. This comprised of a most adequate kitchen area, bedroom, living space, and balcony directly fronted by the wonderful beach and Gulf of Mexico. I packed everything we needed for the baby including all of my Milton products for sterilising. We were provided with a travel cot but decided to have the baby sleep with us in the super king-size bed. The travel cot however did come in handy as a play pen. We stored all her toys in there and even enjoyed time relaxing on the balcony with baby right beside us playing. Sanibel’s beaches are particularly famous for its ‘shelling’ and collectors young and old can be seen scouring the sand for specimens. We spend some time admiring our new environment and marvelling at how warm and inviting the sea was, locals and visitors were bending over and collecting shells, we were later informed that this is known as the Sanibel scoop! We head off to collect our mode of transport for the week. Cars are not really an option on Sanibel so we did as what the locals do; hire bicycles which were free of charge on the resort. Mummy and I had one each, mine had a tow bar fitted to the back as I was in charge of transporting our daughter in a custom designed baby carrier on wheels. A helmet was provided for the three of us and we threw Olivia’s travel cushion into her baby carrier for a little comfort! The hotel has several grilling areas and with this in mind we head off to the local supermarket to buy steaks and salads. We rode to get our groceries every morning after breakfast. Bicycle routes are located throughout the island. In the evenings whilst mummy attended to the baby I cracked open a beer in the garden and happily started grilling our meat feast. When dinner was prepared we sat down in the eating area with the sound of the seas sitting under the stars and chatted about our day and what lay ahead of us.
Sanibel Inn is a perfect choice for those with babies as it caters well for parents every desire and we as parents felt very much at home. The staff are very welcoming, they have high chairs on offer and there is a laundry area which we visited on several occasions making sure that baby was free from stains and always looked her best. Breakfast is quite an informal affair with a selection of fruits and pastries being laid out in the reception area each morning with a small seating area directly outside. Baby particularly enjoyed the freshly made waffles courtesy of the in house waffle machine. We stocked up on our own food but the resorts beach side bar offers appetisers every evening during happy hour at half price. There are several pools located on the resort and we had a lot of fun splashing about. One of our most important items we packed for the baby was her Beaba sun tent. A godsend. This enabled us to enjoy the outside with her, the beach, and the pool. And it was so nice just to let her sit naked in the protection of shade, eat fruit and make a mess to her hearts content! The weather was glorious so a cool shower quickly cleaned her up and the tent can just be wiped clean.
Our ‘pedal powered’ excursions included a visit the Lighthouse at the tip of the island which I believe lays claim to be the oldest in the state, as Sanibel island is totally flat, cycling is effortless and the 30 min ride to the lighthouse with baby behind was a pleasure. The island has many waterways and is impeccably maintained with not so much as a blade of grass out of place. A must is to stop at the famous ice cream parlour – Pinocchio’s! I have never seen such an array of different flavours, colours and toppings in all my life. I am chief ice cream eater in our household. Olivia tried a few small spoonfuls too.
We also took a trip to old Sanibel which is basically a small village containing several original buildings left over from the days of the settlers, when it was a hub for fisherman. You can also learn about the big hurricane in 1960. There was obviously no bridge which connected these islands from the mainland in those days and the Sanibel trust has restored this settler’s village back to its former glory. This was a very interesting visit as it gave us some insight and understanding of how it would have been in days gone by. The trust have done a very good job here and our guide was full of informative information.
Apart from an unrivalled beach and the lovely warm Gulf of Mexico Sanibel does not claim to offer you anything much else apart from a wonderful relaxing break in beautiful surroundings with plenty of Pelicans and other such exotic feathered friends to keep you company. There are several very small shopping areas a couple of banks, a well-stocked supermarket and Cheeburger, Cheeburger if you are inclined to enjoy a burger at its very best.
We would recommend this location if you are with a young child as it feels perfectly safe and from a bygone era when everyone had time for each other, certainly not somewhere to visit if you enjoy theme parks and the general hustle bustle of daily life.