Best Beachside Cities in Florida

By: Ben Holdt

Spending a few days at the beach is a great way to get away from the daily stresses of life and relax. With over 8,000 miles of coastline, Florida is second to just Alaska for the amount of land they have touching, sparkling ocean waters. However, the Sunshine State has the upper hand on being near the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. While there may be a lot of towns and cities dotting the Florida coast, there are only a few that indeed offer the best quality of life. Check out the best beachside cities in Florida for your next beach getaway.

Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach Rentals

Panama City Beach Skyline

With 27 miles of white sandy beaches, Panama City Beach is widely known for its ability to ease away any stress that you brought with you on your vacation. This famous town offers waterfront restaurants as well as plenty of scuba activities thanks to its nearby artificial reefs. Families will enjoy the many water parks in town as well as two state parks that offer an up close and personal look at nature. There are plenty of nearby amusements to fill a vacation at the beach when the sand castle building is all done.

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach House Rentals

Cocoa Beach House Rentals

This popular surfing destination is just south of Cape Canaveral along the Atlantic Ocean. Cocoa Beach is known for the waves that descend upon its shores at the end of the hurricane season that offers a great opportunity for avid surfers. Check out local events to book a vacation with plenty of action out on the water as you soak up the sun from the beach. You’ll also find many things to explore in the area including tours of the Kennedy Space Center, the Dinosaur Store, and many fishing charters.

Destin

Destin Florida Vacation Rental homes

Destin Sandy Beaches

Located in Northwest Florida, Destin features plenty of sugar white beaches and sunshine. As a popular destination point for many Midwesterners, the area is well known for its wide range of fishing activities as well as shopping opportunities. You’ll find excellent fishing charters as well as plenty of events year-round to make your vacation unique. Local restaurants feature fresh seafood from the gulf, and you’ll also find plenty of golf courses in the area as well.

Palm Beach

This widely known beach is as far East as you can get on the Florida coastline. Palm Beach features beautiful palm trees along white sandy beaches and plenty of luxury. The beach sits on a 16-mile-long island that is just 0.5 miles wide with plenty of beach area all around. Many wealthy families choose this area for winter homes which have created a luxury experience in town. You’ll find the most excellent restaurants and upscale shops when you’re not enjoying the beautiful beach.

Fort Walton Beach

Fort Walton Beach House Rentals on the beach

Fort Walton Beach

The beautiful emerald waters along Fort Walton Beach are enough to attract plenty of visitors each year. Located between Pensacola and Panama City, the beach is in an excellent location for visitors to get to from other parts of the country. Fort Walton Beach has powdery white beaches and offers plenty for the family to do once a day at the beach is done. You’ll find golf courses, aquariums, and many other attractions that help make this destination a vacation to remember.

There are plenty of places to choose from when looking for a great vacation on the beach in Florida. White sandy beaches mixed with enough great food and nightlife to keep you busy after a long day on the beach is standard for many of these hot spots. Consider any one of the best beachside cities in Florida for your next vacation to the Sunshine State.

Ben Holt is a fresh air enthusiast and loves writing about it. Ben is always looking to make the most of a summer day, whether he is relaxing in his garden, hiking on an off-beaten trail or entertaining friends on his newly renovated patio.

St Barth News Bytes

Check out these beautiful photos taken at The Bucket Airshow, the first of it’s kind in St Barth, and held in conjunction with the bucket sailing regatta, a very popular spectacle!

The Round Point or La Tourmante was covered with hundreds for the low level passes at the airport, featured at the bottom of this section.  There were also thousands on hand each day at Shell beach to view the flybys and aerobatics each day of the bucket.  Photos published in St Barth News Bytes Newsletter and taken by Captain Daniel Harper who was aboard a couple of the planes in flight.

Click HERE to view Beachhouse.com’s inventory of beautiful
beach vacation rental properties
in and around St Barth!

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Spotlight: Bluefields Bay Jamaican Seaside Villas

15% OFF Adult Rates When you Book Through Beachhouse.com!
(you must mention “Beachhouse.com” when you make your reservation to receive discount. Offer valid for stays before November 1, 2010)

Imagine boarding an airplane, taking a scenic helicopter transfer and reaching Bluefields Bay, Jamaica, in time for a refreshing beach swim followed by sunset cocktails and a gorgeous candlelit dinner.  Located 34 miles south of Montego Bay and less than an hour from Negril, Bluefields Bay whisks you away from the hustle-and-bustle of urban life, with mesmerizing vistas of sugar cane fields, mountain ranges and vibrant blue sea.  For a luxurious, yet authentic Jamaican experience, consider planning your stay at Bluefields Bay Jamaican Seaside Villas.

Villa San Michele

Villa San Michele

Villas:
Whatever they may be, Bluefields Bay has the vacation property to suit your needs.  Milestone Cottage, dramatically perched 30 feet above the Caribbean Sea, has spectacular panoramic sunset views and is the perfect spot for a secluded romantic getaway.  In addition to its fabulous vistas and private terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Cottonwood Cottage features a king-size, four-poster canopy bed, an exotic marble shower that opens out to the tropical garden and sea view, and a new infinity-edge swimming pool with whirlpool jets. Mullion Cove boasts rich mahogany furnishings, with silver, crystal and fine china, in addition to a private seaside patio with staircase directly into the sea and hammocks set in a luscious grove of trees.  San Michele is not only beautifully decorated, but also features a private island, reached by footbridge, with a pool pavilion, lounge chairs and hammocks, freshwater shower, stereo system and bar.  The majestic Hermitage is always a favorite, with its impeccable attention to detail in furnishings and phenomenal views from every room.   Each of these five distinctive villas offers exquisite hideaways to relax by the sea, stocked with beverages and included service too.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

All Inclusive:
Your all-inclusive stay provides the highest level of service, and includes a full staff of cooks, waiters, chambermaids, drivers and nannies, as well as meals, liquor, beverages, airport transfers, sports equipment, clubhouse/beach use, and night-lit tennis courts.   Each villa has a headman who ensures that all aspects of your vacation are smooth and “irie”, and who also meets with his guests daily to plan menus, timing, and location for meals.  Shopping, cooking, and cleaning are taken care of by the staff, with meals and drinks catered to guest wishes.

Activities:
Whether you’d like to stay close to home, or venture out and about, Bluefields Bay provides endless entertainment.   Mingle with company at the Manager’s Cocktail Party every Monday, or over Jerk Chicken Lunch held Wednesdays at The Treehouse.   Hold a match on the night-lit, competition-sized Laykold tennis court, or hike the Bluefields Mountain with expansive landscape views.   Catch Tuna, Kingfish, Mahi-mahi, Snapper and Marlin while deep-sea fishing, and your chef will prepare it for dinner!  Discover a rich world of tropical fish, coral, rays, and much more while snorkeling in Moor Reed or South Coast. Paradise Plantation offers horseback trail excursions across Sweet River for stunning vistas of tropical foliage, the coastline and mountains.  Chukka Caribbean Adventures offers a 2.5 hour long breathtaking canopy tour via zip line, mixing amazing views of flora and fauna with an exhilarating adrenaline rush.   Don’t forget to pack your clubs- Jamaica is home to Negril Hills Golf

Milestone Cottage

Milestone Cottage

Course and Tryall Golf & Country Club, which hosted the Johnnie Walker Open for many years.   Explore YS Falls, boat up the Black River for crocodile-watching, or visit Treasure Beach, Appleton Estate’s Rum Bottling Plant, and Negril, among other popular locales.   Return home in the peak of health after enjoying Bluefield’s spa services, which include massage, scrubs, wraps, manicures, pedicures and cornrow braiding.

As a family friendly destination, children are welcomed at Bluefields.   Kids will love building sandcastles on the shoreline, taking nature walks, swimming, sea-kayaking and snorkeling at the beach and in the pools with our beach staff and nannies.   Nurturing nannies will read and tell stories, give baths, plan child-friendly meals, launder clothes, clean rooms, and put children to bed so that parents can enjoy a worry-free vacation.

It’s time you enjoyed the best Jamaica has to offer; leave “tourism” behind and treat yourself and loved ones to a week in this flourishing tropical oasis.

Bluefields Bay

Spotlight: Kona, Hawaii

Kailua BayKailua-Kona, often referenced as simply “Kona”, is an infamously beautiful tropical getaway located along the shoreline of Kailua Bay and up the southern slope of Hualālai volcano.  Reputed for the region’s bold Kona coffee beans, which are cultivated on the slopes of Mount Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts, this exotic Hawaiian destination is also hosts popular events such as the annual Ironman World Championship Triathlon and the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.

Stay at one of the island’s gems, The Dolphin House, located in the exclusive, gated and security-guarded community of Kona Bay Estates!   The Dolphin House is situated directly on the deep sapphire blue waters of Kona Bay and is just steps away from a private sandy beach (not to mention within walking distance to tennis and town!).  This stunning oceanfront home, known as “Ka Naia” in Hawaiian, is an upscale 4 bedroom, 4.5 bath home that boasts an atrium entry with cathedral ceilings, skylights, large living room, family room, convenient indoor/outdoor dining, and a game room with a fully equipped bar.  Take a dip in the heated swimming pool and splash under the spectacular pool waterfall!

The Dolphin House, Kona Bay Estates, Kona, Hawaii

The Dolphin House, Kona Bay Estates, Kona, Hawaii

A short oceanfront stroll leads you to a sandy, reef-protected beach cove lagoon, great for swimming, snorkeling, and playing in the sand.  Tide pools offer great exploration for children and teens, and can be found scattered along the lava rock shelf.  Enjoy nature’s marine creatures and catch a glimpse of turtles, dolphins, and whales!

The Big Island of Hawaii offers a myriad of activities for every age.  Exciting and exotic island activities include visiting the Kona Coffee Farms, Botanical Garden Tours, Sunset Dinner Cruises, Parasailing, Whale Watching, Hawaiian Luaus, Horseback Riding, Submarine Rides, Snorkeling and Volcano Viewing, just to name a few!   Take one look at this slice of paradise and you will instantly fall in love with The Dolphin House!

Spotlight: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres aerial viewCrowded beaches and congested airports, all factors in a typical vacation that makes us a little apprehensive to book that flight and take the time off. What if you could find the ultimate escape, without sacrificing the luxury and service of a resort? Let me offer a suggestion.

Isla Mujeres, an island town a short distance off the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea, about 13 kilometers (8.1 mi) northeast of Cancun, is a perfect getaway from the stresses of everyday life. There are ferries that transport you to this paradise from the main land, running every 30 min during the day.

Isla Mujeres offers great activities from scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming with whale sharks, shopping, dinning, as well as various locations to visit. There are two marine parks on the southern end of the island, Garrafon and Garrafon de Castilla. There is also a turtle park that is open to the public, where vacationers can take part in releasing the new born sea turtles into the Caribbean Sea once they have reached the health to survive on their own.

Isla Mujeres also offers another attraction that pulls you back in time, the Mayan ruins on the southern cost of the island. This temple, dedicated to the Mayan goddess of the sun and moon and patroness of pregnant women, Ixchel, attracts visitors and offers a taste of the rich history and culture this island get away has to offer.

Castillo Del Candelabro, Beachhouse.com Property ID# 21520

Castillo Del Candelabro, Beachhouse.com Property ID# 21520

One of the most impressive things Isla Mujeres stands to offer is an embrace of luxury felt through the Castillo Del Candelabro, “The House of The Chandelier.” This gorgeous beach vacation rental property is a home away from home, and boasts impeccable furnishings and sumptuous designs throughout the expanse of its 5 bedrooms, and 4 bathrooms. This inspiring home looks out over the Caribbean Sea offering an infinity pool and a guest home that will comfortably suit a group without asking them to sacrifice comfort. Bask in the sun and enjoy the Caribbean breeze as you experience the ultimate feeling of arrival.

Start planning your vacation today!  Contact the owner of Castillo Del Candelabro today – click HERE to submit a rental inquiry.

Volunteer to Travel!

I love traveling. I’ve written enough on this blog that you know how I sometimes get – that itch that needs scratching, a craving that needs to be fed, an emptiness that needs to be filled. And travel can certainly do that. But sometimes, once I arrive home, I still feel unfulfilled. I guess it’s the same with really good Chinese food – I will leave the restaurant stuffed only to find myself rummaging through the refrigerator for a snack a couple hours later. Usually when I travel my big plans revolve around a beach or a pool, an easy summer read – yep, even in the middle of winter, and a cocktail (or five). So my next trip will definitely be with the intent to somehow give back to wherever I decide to pack up and journey to. Maybe I will coach kids on soccer in Kampala, teach monks English in Lhasa, or help care for baby lions in Johannesburg. I think if I were to travel with more of a purpose – a goal rather than just a destination – I would come back feeling accomplished and rejuvenated rather than simply relaxed…and a wee bit hungover.  Here are some great ways to volunteer and travel at the same time:

Tern Island

Tern Island is a part of the French Frigate Shoals, the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  While the entire atoll consists of only a 20 mile long crescent-shaped reef, a dozen sandbars, and La perouse pinnacle, a 120 foot rock formation that stretches out of the ocean – left over from when the entire atoll was an active volcanic site.  Today, the atoll is home to a diverse group of wildlife, including a 18 species of seabirds, including a number of varieties of Albatross’, Booby’s and Noddy’s and Petrel’s – some of these species next exclusively on the French Frigate Shoals.  The endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles also spend time at the atoll.  Interested in going to Tern Island?  Because only specially permitted biologists and researchers are allowed on the island, you can volunteer through the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  Volunteer opportunities start with a 4 month minimum – it is costly to get out to the remote destination – these people are saving species people, they don’t have the time or the resources to schlep fickle volunteers back and forth.  Once there, volunteers have the opportunity to preform a variety of work – everything from surveying the nesting seabirds, to cleaning barracks, lubing tractors, washing solar panels, etc.  The population of the island ranges between 4 and 8 people at any one time, so you are sure to make some lasting friends.  Still deciding if 4 months on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the ocean is for you?  Check out this blog written by one of the more full time staff members on Tern Island.

Cross Cultural Solutions

Founded in 1995, Cross-Cultural Solutions is an international not-for-profit organization with no political or religious affiliations, that provides travelers the opportunity to put their skills, knowledge and passions to good use.  Each year CCS invites over 4,000 volunteers to one of the 4 continents they have established programs in – 12 countries in all, including Ghana, Morocco, India, Russia and Guatemala.  Once there, volunteers are immersed in the culture, staying in one of the Home Base houses that is fully staffed by CCS local employees.  Volunteer work includes teaching conversational English, basic math and computer skills, working with women to make crafts that they can sell at their local markets to support their families, caring for babies, the sick and the elderly and providing healthcare when necessary, and preforming community development work.  The CCS staff members act as the liaison between the volunteers and the local programs.  These staff members are always from the region where you are volunteering, so they are a valuable resource that can assist in learning about the culture, the language and the activities available to you during your free time.  Volunteers can sign up for the 1 week Intern Abroad program, the 2 – 12 week Volunteer Abroad program or one of the Insight or Teen Abroad programs.  Prices start at about $2,000 for one week placements (which includes, board, meals, materials, calls to and from home, travel medical insurance, among other things) but vary depending on season, location and the length of your stay.

i-to-i

With a huge variety of volunteer opportunities, i-to-i is a has been organizing volunteers and sending them to Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America since  1996.  The organization refers to themselves as, “the original volunteer travel company.”  With over 20,000 satisfied volunteers under their belt, many of whom are now working at i-to-i, volunteer vacationers are sure to get the experience they have been searching for – a life-altering experience and total immersion into another culture – all while helping to make a difference in peoples lives.  Whether you would like to volunteer with wildlife, teach English as a second language, work with children, coach sports or promote conservation abroad, i-to-i has a program for you.   So if you’re looking for a way to spend your gap year, or if you just want to escape the daily grind and have a rewarding experience at the same time, check out i-to-i’s extensive possibilities – there is sure to be something perfect for you!

Peace Corps

“Since 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, more than Nearly 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 countries all over the globe. They’ve been teachers and mentors to countless children. They’ve helped farmers grow crops, worked with small businesses to market products, and shown women how to care for their babies. More recently, they’ve helped schools develop computer skills and educated entire communities about the threat of HIV/AIDS.  The type of work a Volunteer does is ultimately determined by the needs of a host country and the potential of a Volunteer to contribute to those needs and to the Peace Corps’ mission. There are a wide variety of Volunteer positions to fill throughout the world; however, nearly all Volunteers fall under one of the following general categories:  education, youth and community development, health, business and information & communication technology, agriculture, environment, HIV/AIDS, or food security.”  If you want to hear what life in the Peace Corps is really like, follow along with the volunteer’s journeys as they journal about their experiences!  (image from “the wind beneath my chicken wings” blog – text from official Peach Corps page)

Insider Interview: Florida’s North Captiva & Boca Grande

3435492417_cd85059273_bIt’s no wonder Sarah Rapp loves what she does.  For the last 10 years she has worked as a Broker/Realtor and advertising agent for rental properties throughout Southwestern Florida.  As the owner of her own company, Beach Vacation4me, Sarah has worked for 8 years in North Captiva and 2 years in Boca Grande and owns a private residence in North Captiva…although she divides her time between Boca Grande and North Captiva.

And who wouldn’t love dividing their time between these gorgeous barrier islands?

Property ID#19623   Tropic Ten - Dunes Of Boca

Property ID#19623 Tropic Ten - Dunes Of Boca

Sarah recalls her first visit to North Captiva, “I loved the natural beauty – it’s still somewhat untouched and family oriented.”

And untouched they are – North Captiva is only accessible by boat and there are no cars on the island, vacationers instead opting to navigate around the island by golf cart, bicycle and boat.

Boca Grande has a land bridge making car travel an option, however many still choose to get around in golf carts or on bike.

“For some people, the fact that they have to be without their car in North Captiva is a bit too much,” says Sarah.  ”So Boca Grande is the next best fit.”

Peak season for both of these lush US islands runs from March through the first part of April.  However, both of these locals have great weather year-round, so go ahead and plan your trip for the off-season when you can enjoy warm weather and great rates on vacation rentals!  And if you’re concerned about hurricanes, they are no reason to miss out on a great tropical escape.  Sarah recommends getting travel insurance if you’re planning your trip anytime between August and November.

Once in Boca Grande, vacationers have many options of activities – one of Sarah’s favorites is to head out on one of the many bike paths that wind through the city.  Sarah has also found that Boca Grande has some of the best shelling of anywhere Sarah has been, saying  ”They’re magnificent”

Gasparilla Inn - photo courtest of Florida Trend

Gasparilla Inn - photo courtesy of Florida Trend

She also recommends stopping by the charming Gasparilla Inn & Club for dinner and drinks.  The club has a variety of dining options ranging from The Main Dining Room (open for breakfast and dinner daily), The Pink Elephant, or “The Pink” as many call it (a more casual option for lunch, dinner and drinks), or the popular BZ’s lounge where patrons can lounge on the sofas and chairs and sip one of the Inn’s signature drinks: Gaspartinis, Mojitos and Planter’s Punch.

North Captiva and Boca Grande are only about a 40 minute boat ride apart from eachother – close enough to plan a day trip from one to the other.

Sarah’s North Captiva Picks

A good catch on Dennis Realy's fishing charter!

A good catch on Dennis Realy's fishing charter!

Food:

  • The Boat House Restaurant and the Island Club – chef David Kivel serves up delicious surf & turf eats, making this a great restaurant to go for a romantic dinner or to celebrate a special occasion while on the island.
  • Mango’s Island Grill & General Store – a great place to stop by for breakfast or lunch, grab your food to go or enjoy it on Mango’s waterfront patio.
  • Andy’s Seafood Market – in Matlacha, an old fishing village on the mainland before you take a boat over to North Captiva Island, has great fresh fish for vacationers to buy and take with them to cook at their vacation rental house.

Activities:

  • Dennis Realy, owner of North Captiva Charters, is the island’s “Best Kept Secret” and a master fisherman.  According to Sarah, “He knows his stuff – red fish, tarpon, shark, whatever you want to catch, he will cast and then hand you the rod.  I’ve never fished and not caught something!”
  • Visit Boats and Fun run by father, Alberto Barbero, and son, Matias Barbero, who Sarah refers to as “Mr. Fun,” for jet ski, kayak, wakeboard and boat rentals, banana boat and inter-tube rides, and scuba & dolphin excursions.  ”Matias is always smiling, always happy,” says Sarah.  Boats and Fun “has really created a great shop – you can go by and ask them when the tide is, what’s going on around town, anything.”

Vacationers who stay at one of Sarah’s North Captiva rentals that is managed by the Island Club also get to enjoy a guest membership (and all of the amenities that come with it!) to the North Captiva Island Club Resort.  The club offers tennis courts, a huge pool, fitness equipment, day excursions, a pool bar that also serves up milkshakes for the kids and more.  The staff of the North Captiva Island Club will also help assist with groceries and luggage!

Guest Blog – Loggerhead Turtles of North Captiva Island

On my most recent trip to North Captiva Island, I had the opportunity to go on a turtle walk with a conservationist volunteer who is responsible for reporting on sea turtle nests. It was a fascinating fact finding experience. We started before sunrise and walked for approximately 3 hours investigating turtle nests and crawls. This is what I learned.

Each summer from May through August, something wondrous happens along our beaches: An ancient mariner, the loggerhead sea turtle, leaves the water during the night and crawls ashore in North Captiva Island to lay her eggs in a sandy nest.

The task of excavating a nest may take her over an hour to accomplish. The turtle – weighing several hundred pounds – laboriously digs a nest cavity with her rear flippers.

turtle1

Turtle nest

She then deposits approximately 100 pliable ping-pong ball sized eggs into the chamber, covers them with sand and returns to the sea.

After roughly a two-month incubation period, a cluster of tiny hatchlings emerges from the sand and scrambles to the Gulf. Unfortunately, their sea-finding ability can be disrupted by lights from buildings and streets. Confused, the hatchlings wander inland and are crushed by vehicles or die from heat exhaustion in the sunlight.

 

 

 

 

Loggerhead Turtle Facts:

  • Loggerheads are air-breathing reptiles, scientific name Caretta caretta
  • The common name refers to the turtle?s large head
  • Loggerheads are the most common sea turtles in Florida.
  • Weighing 250 – 400 pounds, adults can grow to more than three feet in length.
  • Hatchlings are two inches long.
  • Nesting occurs from May through August. Hatching may extend through October.
  • The nest cavity is 18 – 22 inches in depth.
  • Incubation period of the eggs in their sandy nest is 55 – 65 days.

 

turtle tracks

turtle tracks

Danger of Extingtion
Most adult loggerhead turtles nest every other year or every third year, laying several clutches of eggs during a nesting season. Only a small percentage of hatchlings survive to maturity! Loggerhead turtles have existed on Earth for millions of years with little serious threat to their survival – until recently. Pollution, lighted beaches, loss of nesting habitat, drowning in shrimp nets and other fishing gear have contributed to the drastic decline of these and other sea turtles.

Guest Blog – Stacy & jeff do SE Asia (29 of 40)

east bay phi phi

east bay phi phi

on to phi phi don…
“a comfy air conditioned ferry ride later, we’ve arrived at what some say is the most beautiful island in the world: phi phi don. you probably will recognize it from pictures, the twin bays, and it’s sister island phi phi leh, is the famous beach of the movie the beach. beautiful it is, but crowded as well. everyone always wants a piece of paradise. more lounging, swimming, snorkling, and then we experienced our first monsoon rain. it’s the beginning of the season. a quick bucket of a downpour, and then steamy afternoons. a beautiful island, you can see in the pics, unbelievable water colors and cliffs. after one night and two days, we headed onward to phuket.

jeff escaping the monsoon

jeff escaping the monsoon

here it’s a vacation away from our vacation. lovely house, scooters for all, and for jeff and i, we’re so familar with the area, it’s like the comfort of coming home. some more monsoons, swimming, shopping, and always eating and drinking, we’re closing in on indonesia. jeff is so ready, he’s more than ready. so here we come! first a stop over in malaysia for a few days to take care of our indo visa (in order to stay 60 days, you have to prearrange it) and then we arrive in bali and let the surfin begin.

p.s. we can’t believe we only have two more months to go!!! time went so slowly in the beginning, now it’s flying by…. if anyone has any ideas on how to stay on longer, pass them on! we’re not ready to come home just yet, holiday lifestyle is too good to us :)

xxoo”

trail up to the phi phi don view

trail up to the phi phi don view

phi phi don island

phi phi don island

jeff & stacy

jeff & stacy

phi phi

phi phi

monkey!

monkey!

its real!

it's real!

eyebrows & eyelashes

eyebrows & eyelashes

mom cruisin down the highway!

mom cruisin down the highway!

beer sunset

beer sunset

Guest Blog – North Captiva’s Historical Ice House

Fish house following hurricane Charlie - It has since been restored

The Calusa Indians, who dominated South Florida for more than a millennium, were skilled sailors and fisherman. Their large canoes of hallowed out cypress logs were capable of reaching Cuba. They thrived through living in harmony with our Southwest Florida environment. Pineland on Pine Island contains some of the most extensive Calusa mound sites and canal works.

The Calusa Indians fished with nets made from Cabbage Palm fibers. After the demise of the Calusas from European conquest and the introduction of diseases like smallpox, new settlers became adept at commercial fishing. Pine Island Sound was peppered with fishing camps and later, ice houses, which eliminated the need to preserve their catch through drying and salting.

One such ice house was built in 1924 by the Punta Gorda Fish Company at the north shore entrance to Safety Harbor at North Captiva Island. One story rests on a wooden platform supported by wood pilings. The Ice House is one of few remaining buildings documenting the system of remote, water-based fish industry ice houses.

The structure was built as an ice house to serve the fishermen and run boats in the loading, unloading and storage of freshly caught fish. The structure is a specialized form designed to function under potentially adverse weather conditions, relative isolation, and the possible requirement to relocate the building to follow the migration of the fish.

North Captiva – Vacation with the Manatees!

Manatee of the shore of North Captiva Island

Manatee of the shore of North Captiva Island

It is typical during the summer months to see manatee in the water surrounding North Captiva.  Typically I have seen them in the canal near the runway.  I have gathered some information about The manatee for you.

Belonging to the Sirenia order of mammalians, manatees are the common name for a large, gray or black air-breathing water mammal.  Sometimes called a “sea cow,” the manatee looks somewhat like a hippopotamus.  Adult manatees have large bodies averaging ten feet in length and weighing between 440 and 1300 pounds.  Manatees have a small head with a straight snout having a bristly moustache on the upper lip.  Paddle-like forelimbs are used to move through the water.

Key Lime Time Vacation Rental, North Captiva

"Key Lime Time" Vacation Rental, North Captiva

Manatees live in fresh, brackish, or salt water and roam with small herds somewhat like a family.  Six to eight hours a day is spent grazing upon seaweed and other marine plants.  Their slow metabolism reduces the energy requirements, thus they move slowly through the water.  Because of their size, manatees have few natural enemies.

While you are on your vacation in North Captiva, there are many water activities to enjoy including swimming, snorkeling, jet skiing, fishing, taking boat tours and diving, just to name a few.  You may even get to see a manatee!

Top 5 Most Romantic Beaches in the World

It’s hard to say what, exactly, makes a vacation HOT.  It’s more than the just weather, as Heidi Klum and hubby Seal could tell you – he infamously popped the question in a snow cave atop a glacier – but you can bet their engagement night was anything but frosty.  And while canopy beds, private hot tubs and candles can’t hurt, they can’t do all the work either.

We’ve gathered the top 5 most romantic beach destinations in the world as a starting point for your next X-rated escape.  There’s everything from a private island to a sizzling Latin locale – so pack your suit and anything else you may need…that is, if you even plan on emerging from your hotel room – yeah, we know your type…

Hayman Island, Australia – There must be a heap of  too-hot-for-TV Gilligan’s Island clips on someone’s cutting room floor.  I mean, after being stranded on that island for so long, wouldn’t the Professor ever get the urge to play doctor with Mary Ann?  Surely Ginger got into character and role played with Gilligan at least once?  If you’ve ever had the urge to reenact your very own “stranded on a deserted island” fantasy, look no further than Hayman Island (and not to worry – even though it’s far less populated than most places, it still isn’t completely deserted). Part of the world wonder that is Aussie’s Great Barrier Reef, Hayman Island is paradise found – an Eden that unabashedly flaunts its beauty that will have you asking your Lovey, “Who’s your Skipper?”  This sultry tropical setting has sprawling pure silica-white-crystal beaches and is where wildlife flourishes – it’s common to see everything from cockatoos and swans to bats and butterflies. At night, the stars seem to light the ink-black sky like perpetually frozen fireworks, so go ahead…get your Gilligan on.  Where to stay? Hayman Island Resort

Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica – Do you like your romance on the wild side?  Go au-natural at this raw eco-tourism haven…it’s hot and sticky most of the year, and Corcovado has a masterful balance of dense rain forests that open up onto stunningly beautiful beaches.  You and your sweetheart can experience the park’s virgin beauty with its green-sand beaches, wild mix of animals, and lantern-lit tent camps – the perfect location for you to reenact that unadulterated “In the jungle…” moment a la Ace Ventura…except at Corcovado there’s not a noisy headboard to give you away!  Afterward, you’ll want to cool down with some tropical cocktails, frolic in the warm surf, or strip down and rinse off in a fresh-water stream as it spills out from the jungle.  It may be taxing to get there, but just think of it as foreplay.  A-weema-weh A-weema-weh A-weema-weh… Where to stay? Corcovado Tent Camp

Shell Beach, California – Why should places like Paris, Ipanema and Santorini have all the fun?  You don’t have to travel out of the country to fall in love again – rekindle the passion amidst a wine-soaked love-fest on California’s picturesque Central Coast.  Shell Beach (and its neighbor Silver Shoals) feature the region’s famous dramatic rocky coastline.  If you can take your eyes off each other, enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific, Point Conception and Avila Bay from the bluffs or walk down the cliff trail to access the secluded beach, where you can swim, surf, or sunbathe.  Afterwards, take your sun-kissed bods to one of  the areas infamous vineyards.  There are plenty of romantic tasting rooms scattered throughout the rolling hills of San Luis Obispo county, so pick up a bottle of wine and perhaps some edible chocolate body paint and head back to your hotel to see where the night takes you!  Where to stay? Dolphin Bay Resort

Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico – Just like Dancing with the Stars’ Gilles Marini could make your heart skip a beat without missing a beat, this steamy setting will leave you and your partner feeling hot and bothered.  You two are sure to feel the energy of the Latin culture at this secluded sandy beach that was named after the hot and sensual dance.  Framed by lush, green hills, the 1.5 mile wide horse-shoe shaped bay offers a wide, pink-tinted sandy beach and aqua blue, translucent and calm waters that almost resembles a swimming pool – perfect for snorkeling.  As daylight fades and temperatures cools a bit, the regions magical ocean bioluminescence are revealed.  This natural wonder, paired with the brightness of the starry night sky make Flamenco Beach about as romantic as you can get and will have you feeling HOT HOT HOT!  Where to stay? Bahia Marina Condo Hotel

Happy Bay, St. Martin – Two words – clothing optional.  After passing the last bar at Friar’s Bay, a short walk down a dirt path leads you to the sweeping views of Happy Bay beach. Fairly undiscovered, there isn’t much at this beach to interrupt your afternoon or to distract you from each other – no crowds, noisy restaurants, or traffic sounds. Don’t forget to pack your suntan oil – exchange sensual massages and you and your love can melt away on Happy Bay’s powdery white beach.  And if things get too steamy, there are plenty of palm trees lining the beach for shade or, uh-hem, added privacy.  Afterwards, stroll the wide beach and take in the vibrant, breathtaking vista.  If you’re up for more exercise, dip into the calm waters to enjoy some of the best snorkeling St. Martin has to offer.  Go ahead – leave your inhibitions and your tan lines behind.  Where to stay? Happy Bay Villa

Galapagos Islands – Spotlight Santa Cruz

The second largest island in the Galapagos archipelago is the island of Santa Cruz, which might be called the focal point of Galapagos’ Tourism. 

Santa Cruz’s popularity among tourists may have to do with the fact that it is very close in proximity to one of the only two airports in the Galapagos or that it is one of only four islands that accommodate overnight guests.

The island of Santa Cruz is also where you can find the famous Charles Darwin Research Station.  Virtually all tours of the area will offer a visit to this branch of the non-profit Charles Darwin foundation where research and scientific investigation is conducted to further preservation efforts on the island.  Visitors can also check out the tortoise breeding and rearing that takes place right in the facility, along with the most famous inhabitant of the islands, Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises.

Lonesome George

Lonesome George

Santa Cruz is probably the most tourist friendly of all the islands, and is where you can find the port city of Puerto Ayora (named for the former Ecuadorian President).  Puerto Ayora is a vivacious sea-side town where vistors will discover many hotels, restaraunts, bars, and shops.  It is the most populated town in the all of the Galapagos with a staggering population of just over 10,000 inhabitants!

Nevertheless, Puerto Ayora’s spirited environment and assortment of activities and entertainment makes the town deserving of at least a two-night stay.

Like most of the Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz is also home to a wide array of animal life, including a large tortoise population nearby at Black Turtle Cove.  Pelicans, land iguanas, Darwin’s finches, wild tortoises, and other creatures roam free in the area and virtually every bird native to the Galapagos has been seen at one time or another on the island of Santa Cruz. 

Sharks, rays, sea lions and sea turtles are just a few of the aquatic inhabitants visitors will come across during their stay.  You will likely also catch a glimpse of the marine iguanas which swim and slither through the sea – an amazing sight that you may have previously seen in movies like Russell Crowe’s Master and Commander.

There is no shortage of entertainment in Santa Cruz – visitors can go mountain biking, kayaking, scuba diving, horseback riding, surfing, or take a jeep tour on land or a glass bottom boat tour on the ocean.  If you need a break, have a drink at an outdoor bar in Puerto Ayora.

In any event you will never find yourself bored on the dynamic and always active island of Santa Cruz!

The Galapagos Islands – Spotlight: Isabella

First made famous by the great naturalist, Charles Darwin, the diverse assortment of mammals, birds, reptiles and marine life found on the Galapagos Islands make for an unparalleled look at what happens when nature is left unspoiled by the footprint of the modern way of life.

And while the Galapagos Islands have become mystified over the years, visitors shouldn’t expect to encounter freaky hybrid animals.  There are no iguana-mingos or sea-boobies, but there are plenty of marine iguanas, pink flamingos, sea lions and blue-footed boobies, as well as penguins, dolphins, whales, the famed Alcedo tortoises, and many, many other animals including Darwin’s finches.

What is a bit unique (though still far more cool than freaky) is that, besides figuring out some kind of harmonious and symbiotic relationship among themselves, these animals seem to tolerate if not welcome human presence.  There are countless stories of dolphins “dancing” in the water or mimicking tourists as they swim, or finches perching on peoples hands to grab a quick snack of seeds.

New York Times writer, Josephine Humphrey, wrote this of her experience:

“I met up with a blue-footed booby standing smack in the middle of the footpath. It made no offer to step aside and let me pass. Looking into its birdy eye, I saw . . . nothing at all. No fear, but also no aggression. No anxiety, affection, hope, recognition. Its indifference was profound, as if I were invisible, although I’d been told that if I did step too close it might jab at me with its beak. This strange fearlessness can’t be explained by any local history of kindness on the part of man. Even Darwin killed birds and ate tortoises. The blue-footed booby wasn’t afraid of me, but the name for this is not tameness. It’s genetic innocence. Since the animals evolved in the absence of man, their innocence exists at a molecular level. I saw it again in the eye of an albatross just before it turned to begin its mating dance; I saw it in the stare of a sea lion nursing her pup on the beach. The animals felt nothing for people one way or the other, yet all around them were people, including me, in love with the animals.”

Isabella is the largest of the archipelagos that make up the Galapagos Islands, which were formed right smack on the equator over a million years ago when a series of volcanoes merged.  Not many tourists visit this Island, which has the largest colony of Galapagos tortoises and picturesque beaches complete with coconut palms.

Sidenote – because of the flourishing animal life on the Islands, it is the general assumption that the plant life is just as abundant.  The Galapagos is not a lush Gilligan’s Island type place.  The Islands tend to me more barren and rocky and, in some areas, are devoid of vegetation entirely, mostly due to the recent volcanic activity.

Puerto Villamil is the main “hub” of Isabella and thrives mostly on fishing, tourism and agricultural activities.  With its sandy streets it is a welcomed escape from the more touristy Islands of the Galapagos.  There are very few motor vehicles and the whole town seems to adapt to the slow pace of the local tortoises.  Villamil has friendly (mostly Spanish-speaking) locals who are happy to point you in the direction of the nearest great place to find a hammock and relax, swim and snorkel – all within walking distance from the main drag.  The town has a good selection of accommodations and small seafood restaurants.  In Isabella there are no banks, so remember to bring enough cash to last you your entire stay.

But before you book your flight to Isabella, stay tuned for upcoming articles exploring the other Islands of the Galapagos…

Where in the world is North Captiva Island?

Florida’s North Captiva Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is about as far away from the chaos of everyday life as you can get, while still staying within the United States.  I had heard it’s almost similar to Thailand or Indonesia in its exoticism, with the heat and humidity…and bugs.  But I went into my research with an open mind and now I’m trying to convince any of my friends and family to take a trip to explore the island with me.

North Captiva IslandAs you may expect, being as remote and as small as it is - 4 miles long and 1/2 mile wide at its widest point! - getting to North Captiva Island takes some planning as it is only accessible by water taxi or private charter boat.  The Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Florida is the closest airport to North Captiva Island and most major airlines service this airport.  From there, take the Pine Island Taxi to Pineland Marina and board the Island Girl – the only scheduled ferry to North Captiva Island.

Sidebar:  Because the island is sosecluded, you have to either bring what you will need for your trip with you, plan ahead to make sure it will be there for you, or a combination of the two.  This applies to groceries, bottled water, basic first aid supplies (aspirin, bandaids, etc), bug repellent, and especially produce – be sure to check with your airlines and local customs on rules regarding bringing produce onto the island.  Most travelers opt to fax their order – at least 48 hours before you will arrive on the island – to Publix Santa Barbara grocery store, on the mainland (Pine Island Taxi will stop at Publix on the way to the marina).  They will take your grocery order and pack your items for easy transport.  There is a small grocery on the island, but it stocks mostly convenience items is ridiculously expensive.

Once on the island, be prepared to sloooooow down and take in the natural beauty that surrounds you.  There are no cars and no paved roads on North Captiva.  Bicycles and electric golf carts (a private golf cart and/or bicycles are included in most vacation rental, so be sure to inquire about this at the time of booking) are used to explore our sandy paths.

There are over 5 miles of beaches to explore.  Visitors report strolling for hours without seeing anyone else – you will, however, run into some local wildlife.  Two-thirds of the island’s 700 acres are a protected State of Florida wilderness park and wildlife sanctuary for manatees, loggerhead turtles and over one hundred species of migratory birds.

If your idea of a vacation is body shots and disco music, Captiva is notfor you.  The 50 or so year-round residents operate on “island time” and there are very few established businesses.  Island activities include shelling, snorkeling, charter sport-fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating, stargazing, bird watching, dining at one of the 2 restaurants and island hopping…Sanibel, Pine Island, Cayo Costa, and Useppa are all within minutes by boat.

So, despite that fact that every article and travel forum I read about North Captiva stressed the need for Deet-strength bug repellant, I’m not scared.  I’m harnessing my inner Robinson Crusoe, packing my spray (and maybe a mosquito net) and going to check out this beautiful and remote island for myself!  North Captiva Island is one of the few places left that has mastered the delicate balance between man and nature.  This unique island paradise is not for everybody – but as the locals will say, it was never intended to be!