Even if you’ve never been to Florida’s South Seas Island Resort, you just might recognize it from Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Swimsuit Issue. The 330-acre destination beach resort on Captiva Island, just off the Gulf of Mexico, is where the SI models were photographed for that issue. Mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, for example, posed atop the bar at the Crooked Snook Tiki Bar, a new addition to the resort that’s adjacent to two of three pools within its main pool complex. (The resort has 20 pools in all.)
That complex is where I found myself recently, enjoying a delicious lunch (fish tacos with grilled mahi, and homemade kettle chips) on the veranda of The Pointe restaurant. The three nearby pools were buzzing with scores of families—kids, mostly—diving and splashing and tossing balls about in the mid-day heat.
South Seas, which is located just west of Fort Myers, is known as a “family resort” for good reason. Its 2.5 miles of white-sand beaches offer world-class shelling (can you say, “Shellabration?”), and the resort boasts children’s programs, wildlife encounters, 20 miles of bike paths (“Do Not Feed the Alligators,” the signs there read), and epic sport fishing (black-tip shark, sea bass, grouper).
With 471 guestrooms, the art-deco-style compound sprawls across the site of an old key lime plantation, first opening to guests in 1946 as a fishing resort. It has had many updates over the years, and even had to be shuttered for renovations several years ago, after Hurricane Charley ripped through Captiva and its sister barrier island, Sanibel. Today South Seas is owned by The Blackstone Group. Snowbirds from Boston, Philly, and New York flock to South Seas during the winter, while Floridians and Midwestern families (including many from Dallas) are said to favor it for summer vacations.
It’s little wonder why. The resort’s nonprofit Sanibel Sea School, for example, offers 30 different “experiential sea-based programs.” Fishing charters are available for a half or full day from the resort’s two marinas, which can accommodate boats up to 110 feet long. You can rent a kayak, as I did one afternoon for a leisurely paddle into Pine Island Sound. You can also rent a bicycle to get to the heart of nearby Captiva—a charming beach town with quaint places like the Latte Da Coffee and Ice Cream Shop.
I took a very instructive tennis lesson from Nick Blackwood at the resort’s Blackwood Tennis Academy. Blackwood, who used to coach the 13th-ranked tennis pro Andrei Pavel of Romania, told me that, every February, a group of eight to 10 women from Dallas’ Lakewood Country Club comes to South Seas to relax and strengthen their backhands.
The South Seas resort offers great drink and grub, too. Most memorable for me: the breakfast buffet at the Harbourside Bar & Grill, a cornucopia of fresh fruit, breads, cheese, bacon, yogurt, and made-to-order omelettes. Just as memorable at the Harbourside is Fuat Guven, the resort’s Turkish-born food and beverage director. Guven, who’s been with Blackstone for nearly a decade, tells me, “Many guests are coming here since they were kids. I myself was here when I was 3.” Spend just a few days at this Florida paradise, and you’ll know why they keep coming back.
Frolicking With Flipper
The South Seas resort village is a protected wildlife sanctuary, with species on the island and in the surrounding waters ranging from Cuban anole lizards to bottlenosed dolphins. The best way to see the latter is on a “Daily Dolphin Cruise” aboard the Lady Chadwick, an 80-foot-long steel trawler. As we chug out of the South Seas marina toward the Pine Island estuary, a naturalist on board explains that the dolphins we’re likely to see are at the “top of the food pyramid.” They’re, on average, 35 years old, seven to nine feet in length, and weigh 800 to 900 pounds. Suddenly, he encourages the boat passengers to start clapping and shouting. And sure enough, that’s when we spot a school of dolphins swimming off the starboard bow. Even a jaded observer can’t help being touched as the magnificent, sleek creatures leap out of the water two or three at a time before diving back in to swim in unison alongside the boat. You may have watched the spectacle on film, but there’s nothing like feeling the ocean breeze and seeing these very social mammals up-close and personal.
Trip and accommodations were provided by South Seas Island Resort.