Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sanibel Island: Sun, Shells and Serenity

Spencer at Ft. Myers BeachWhen we began planning our trip to Florida I wasn’t that thrilled. Nothing against Florida you understand, it’s just that I’m not someone who lives for theme parks, they mean money and energy—two things that I’d rather not have to worry about when I’m on vacation. I want to lie on the beach all day and theme parks with children usually mean 1. constantly scoping out the nearest bathroom 2. buying expensive food then spending time cutting it up for small mouths 3. tying and retying small shoes and 4. timing everything around naps.

But I’m kind of passed the pancake cutting-shoe tying-nap timing phase of life so since everyone was so keen on the roller coaster action there in the Sunshine State I decided to go along with the crowd. However, it wasn’t until a friend of mine suggested paying a visit to Sanibel Island that I got excited.

I’d never heard of the place and it took some time to locate it because I couldn’t spell it correctly: Santa Bell? San Ibel? San Ybel? Whatever. But what she told me convinced me that I wasn’t doing time at Disney unless I could get a shot at Sanibel as compensation.

Sanibel is off the west coast of Florida near Ft. Myers. It takes nearly three hours to drive there from Orlando on the east coast but it’s worth it. We didn’t stay on Sanibel proper as it’s a bit of a resort area and as such is rather expensive (though absolutely picturesque, the homes are gorgeous and it would be perfect for a romantic getaway). Instead we stayed at Shell Point right there at the bridge going from Ft. Myers to the island.

Ft. Myers BeachFt. Myers beach is wide and long and has the most beautiful sand I’ve ever seen. Well, scratch that, it’s not really beautiful sand like pink, black, red or white beaches but the grey sand is incredibly soft and fine—if it’s dry it feels like flour and is perfect for sand castles (do you notice Spencer's sandy six pack in the top picture?) It’s the first time that I’ve loved just walking on the beach for the feeling of the sand alone. I ran my toes through it and couldn’t get enough of the powdery softness

Sanibel and nearby Captiva Island are famous for their beaches as well, not because they’re fine or pretty but because of the shelling. Supposedly they’re the second best place for finding sea shells in the entire world—THE WORLD! Kind of makes you wonder how Florida won the bid on that one doesn’t it? It’s not every place that can claim that kind of shelling capabilities. I bet someone high-up pulled some very big strings to get that whole thing set up.

When my friend told me about Sanibel she showed me some of the shells she’d found there and it blew me away. Four-inch conches that make you drool with the thrill of the hunt. I was sold. So the day after we arrived at Sanibel I was huffing and puffing, trying to rouse our crew out of bed at dawn to beat the crowds. Of course this was easier said than done so I had to settle for 8:30am. Sigh. Whatever, just get up!

Sea Slug at Sanibel IslandWe drove across the bridge (a six dollar toll round trip) and out to Lighthouse Beach with its tiny little cutie pie lighthouse but I realized as we drove into the parking lot (a two dollar fee) that we had arrived too late. The beaches were already fair teaming with shellers, all doing that Sanibel Stoop and picking off the best stuff long before we’d arrived at the scene.

It was still a great beach, there were birds everywhere and even more star fish. David tried collecting as many as he could then throwing them back into the water (the star fish that is, not the birds). When I asked Spencer why he didn’t join in he said, “Well you know, star fish really aren’t that much of a challenge—they just kind of lay there and they’re pretty easy to catch.” Can’t argue with logic like that.

But David was in his element, he found giant hideous sea slugs that covered his fingers in slug slime and enjoyed the thrill of threatening his sister with his gooey hands. Then he found a mermaid purse. “What’s this Mom?” he asked.

Shark Egg Case or Mermaid Purse at Sanibel Island“Wow! That’s a mermaid purse—the nickname for a shark egg case. Some sharks have live births but some lay eggs and their egg sacs have these little spindly legs at the corners that attach to seaweed to keep them from washing away. Very cool.” I ought to get an honorary degree in biology after all the nature shows I’ve sat through with my kids.

The shelling was somewhat disappointing because we were late, but it was cute--Spencer and Andrew were so determined to fulfill my shelling dreams that right then and there they took a solemn pledge to wake up as early as I determined necessary so that the next day I could be there before the crowds and get my beloved shells. Then they sealed the promise in sea slug slime.

Spencer and the Dolpins at Captiva IslandWe spent the afternoon on a dolphin-viewing cruise going out to North Captiva Island where dolphins followed the boat for twenty minutes. Manatees by the dock, pelicans skimming the water—it was a wildlife paradise I tell you. Couldn’t have been better.

The next day low tide was at 3:30 am and we were up at 6:00 am to cross the bridge and make the half hour drive to the end of the island in the dark. Success! We were the second car in the lot.

We walked down a half-mile or so then waited for the sun to rise. As it came up we assumed the pose and began scouring. Sure enough, I picked up the best shells I’ve ever found. Each one was a little treasure and our bag filled until it was hard to carry. Pictured here clockwise from the top are Paper Figs, Fighting Conches, Florida Cones, a Banded Tulip and Lightning Whelks.

Sea Shells at Sanibel IslandSharks, shells, dolphins, pelicans, sea slugs, cranes, manatees, sea stars, sea urchins, sunrises, soft sand—we couldn’t have asked for more. If you're thinking of Florida, put Sanibel at the top of your list.

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Congratulations to Vicki of Oviedo, Florida (and no, I didn't cheat on this one, the fact she's from Florida was completely a coincidence) for winning this Saturday's Giveaway from Outside the Box go check out her grand opening and see what's there for yourself!

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Don't forget, Wednesday is the final day for submitting an entry into this month's Write-Away Contest. Just a couple days left!

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38 comments:

Robin said...

Those shells are beautiful, and very cool info about the mermaid's purse - you've definitely just justified your cable bill.

Loralee Choate said...

I've been considering going to Florida with the kids but HATE the thought for the same reasons you listed.

This island sounds like a definite gem and escape from all things theme park, though.

Thanks for the tip!

Tori said...

Oh Florida, one of my favorites! It looks like you have a great time and that sand looks heavenly!

luvmy4sons said...

Wow! What a wonderful time! I can't imagine thinking a warm place with a beach as anything but wonderufl, but then Ohio winters are long and dreary! Great pics!

chelle said...

Breathtaking! the kids sound like they had a last! You too which is so important@

Vicki said...

You could write a tourism brochure for Sanibel! It's really a beautiful, peaceful (sometimes) place. Florida is so filled with these wonderful places that aren't theme parks. We avoid the "Mousetraps" like crazy and just hit the natural, historic spots...especially when there's a lighthouse involved (we love to climb them!).

Thanks so much for drawing my name for the bracelet! I'm looking forward to wearing it!

Lissete said...

I LOVE Sanibel! But like you said, it can be pricey. Ft. Myers is nice too and more affordable. The sand is sooooo soft. We like to go for this in November.

Kristen M. said...

I totally understand about shell hunting. You will always find me on a beach with my head down searching for treasures.

Praise and Coffee said...

Very cool! I am like you, forget the theme parks-thanks!

Maybe someday we will check it out, thanks.
Sue

Jacki said...

I am with you....give me a nice sunny beach any day. I am not too keen on spending tons of money to walk around crowds of people all day. :-)

Babystepper said...

Sounds like the experiences are going to be worth the money after all!

Glad you got a break from Alaska winter and stepped into the sunshine for a while.

Shannon said...

Great photos! Makes me want to hop a plane right now and head to Sanibel!

It has all become clear. Your kids are so inquisitive because their Mama knows everything about everything. When I collect sea shells, I never have any idea what type of shell they are. I am so impressed! the mermaid purse is SUPER cool!

gretchen from lifenut said...

Last summer, we stayed at a condo right on Ft. Myers Beach. We couldn't walk without stepping on shells. It was amazing. We went in late June and were amazed that there were no crowds on the beach at all. It was lovely and relaxing.

We also did the drive from there to Orlando. Very do-able.

Janet said...

Great shell collection! I've been to Captiva (about 20 years ago) and loved it. I went as nanny to my 18-month-old cousin so my uncle and aunt could do silly stuff like play tennis and golf in JULY in FLORIDA. Charles and I went swimming and had ice cream. Ah youth.

Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

Beautiful shells! We have definitely GOT to take our girls to the beach some day, even if it's just the good old Gulf of Mexico here in Texas.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

Those are beautiful shells. Nice work. My family had the privilege of staying on Sanibel one summer; a family in our church had a second home there and let us use it for a week. But I was 18 and had just broken up with my boyfriend, so I spent most of my time sulking. I would have been better off searching for shells.

tjhirst said...

I needed a bit of dreaming about beaches in Florida right now (I'd have to make that trade with the theme parks, too). Warm temperatures and sand between my toes instead of more light snow in the northern part of the country. Will your trip help you get through until spring thaw or now that you are home are you just longing to be back there?

Story Girl said...

We live just a couple hours from Sanibel and I really would like to get away there some time. My Grandma is a shell queen; you wouldn't believe her house. She's been shelling for 30 years. She could re-stock the Gulf. She says Sanibel doesn't have near the shells it used to, but it looks like you found a very nice lot nonetheless!

Irene said...

I haven't been to Sanibel Island, but I have heard wonderful things about it. I am definitely not a theme park person either.....too many people, too much money needed, too hot...not my style. But I do think we may try Disney in the next couple years for the girls sake. They are SO into the princesses and will be in awe.

LOVE the shells!!!!

Lisa said...

Wow! Love that! We were almost transfered to Ft. Myers/Naples. I spent all my time buying land and designing a house. Little did I know the transfer would take us somewhere else- not at all exciting. I should have gone to Sanibel.

Mama Russell said...

Ah me. This post, and the accompanying photos, make me want to move back to that Land o' Sunshine. Sigh.

Signed,
An admitted Disney Theme Park Lover

Christie O. said...

How great!! You were totally in my neck of the woods! (We're a little north of that) but it's beautiful there! Sounds like you guys had a blast!!

imadramamama said...

I've been to Sanibel, but unfortunately we arrived soon after a red tide, so it was all very fishy smelling...but I keep hearing great things so maybe we'll go back someday!

Those are some beautiful shells, but I could do without the sea slug...

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I've been to Sanibel many times in my life. Love it there; I'd move there in a heartbeat, and not just because I could give up my car (mostly) and bike the island.

:: Suzanne :: said...

Oh - I loved Sanibel. Good memories, except for the spiders! Did you see them? Dinner plate sized? Ugh.

~*~Patty said...

I'm visiting you from the World Market Portraits blog. What to my surprise, your first post on Sanibel Island! My husband and I just celebrated his birthday there in February. We were instantly charmed and I confess, had to buy a small suitcase to bring home shells....sooo many amazing shells. I enjoyed seeing Sanibel thru your eyes. Now on to explore your blog further :)

high-heels and a sippy-cup said...

What a neat place! I'm adding it to my list of places to see, thanks Michelle.

cheeky said...

Oh I'm looking forward to seeing what it is you do with those lovely shells? They are pretty and I'm equally impressed with the fact you know all the names.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

That's MY kind of vacation. Looks divine.

Shalee said...

You've made me want to travel further south in Florida. Usually we stop at my parents and just are thankful for the free room and board...

Beautiful picture, Michelle, and I'm glad you got your shells.

MommySecrets said...

I have the best memories of these beaches! My aunt & uncle lived in Ft. Myers for awhile, so we got to visit Captiva and Sanibel a couple of times. So beautiful & so fun!

Jody said...

Your trip looks so wonderful. Florida is so beautiful.

You guys found some amazing shells!

elena jane said...

ahh, an actual beach with shells...it looks wonderful :)
i am dreading disney...for all the reasons you mentioned...i want to go to key west and now i have sanibel island on my list, thanks :)

AlaneM said...

Sounds wonderful, I want to see that island someday. Sand, great. Shells, great. Sea slug, way cool man! I'm like David, gotta catch them & hold them no matter wow gross :)

Damselfly said...

Ahhh. Definitely one of my favorite places. Glad you had fun and found some great shells.

Tootie said...

That was one of the same reasons that I came to live at Sanibel Island; vacation days here to rest up after taking children to Disney World. :-) I always saved the relaxing days on the beach, for last. Now I feel like I am on a relaxing vacation everyday.

Tootie said...

Sorry, just noticed your note above....

tootie_sanibel@embarqmail.com

Ben Cooper said...

Those are beautiful pics of Sanibel Island. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to go back.