What to Look for in a Captiva or Sanibel Island Vacation Rental

If you’ve never rented a condo or house through places like HomeAway, VRBO, or AirBNB it can be a bit intimidating at first.  There are 300+ rentals available on Sanibel and Captiva listed on VRBO alone.  If you know a few ways to narrow down this list, it can be a lot easier to find the perfect Sanibel Island rental unit.

Learn how to use filters to narrow down search results

First let’s go to https://www.vrbo.com/ and type in Sanibel Island as our destination.  Depending on the dates you select there can be over 500 available rentals units.  It would be next to impossible to go through all these individual listings, but we can use filters to narrow this down.  Here is an example, I selected the filters for a 2+ bedroom beachfront house:

VRBO Sanibel FIlters Example

You will see that applying these filters took the list from over 500 to only 80.  There are many different filters you can apply on VRBO to make it easier to search.  If you know you want a condo or house with a pool simply check the box for “pool”.  If you want a beachfront villa simply check “beachfront” and “villa”.  Without using filters the sheer amount of different rentals available can be daunting.

Understand what the pictures are telling you

When someone lists their property on a rental site like VRBO they want the pictures shown on their listing to be as enticing as possible.  If they list a unit as “Ocean View” but don’t have any pictures showing the ocean view, that could be a red flag.  Technically there are many listings that could be “ocean view”, but it doesn’t do much good if you have to stand on a chair on the patio to see the ocean.

You can be sure that the VERY best a rental unit has looked is when the owners took the pictures.  With that in mind, if the unit doesn’t look good in the pictures, it probably is a lot worse in its current state.

Read the reviews for a unit

The reviews from guests that have stayed in a rental tell the story.  If there are reviews that vary wildly, like some 2 star reviews, some 4-5 star reviews it can be a sign that it isn’t well maintained.  Many times after receiving a bad review it will give the owner motivation to fix the issue.  If you see a unit like this don’t book it.  The last thing you need while on vacation is trying to track down someone to come fix a broken air conditioning unit that has been poorly maintained by the owner.

You want to look for a unit that has consistent positive reviews.  Check out this beauty of a property in the Sundial condo complex on Sanibel Island: https://www.vrbo.com/847622 It gets an average rating of 4.9/5.0 with 35 reviews.  This is the kind review feedback that you are looking for.

Sundial Sanibel Condo Rental
Sundial Condo Unit R204

Understand differences of locations on the island

Sanibel Island is 11 miles long, and there are condos along most of the beach.  The beaches on the eastern end of the island (by the lighthouse) are a lot different than the beaches on the west end (by Blind Pass and Captiva).  As you move west on the island, the beaches get a lot less crowded.  Likewise, as you move east towards the lighthouse they get much busier.

The area of beach around Middle Gulf Drive has several extremely large condo complexes as well as a public beach access.  Both of these contribute to a much busier beach area.  Moving west, West Gulf Drive has smaller complexes and no public beach access.  This is my favorite area of the island because the beach is so uncrowded and serene.  You can use the map on the VRBO search page for Sanibel Island Rentals (VRBO Search Page for Sanibel Island) to look for rentals by their location on the island.

I hope this tips help you in your search for the perfect Captiva or Sanibel Island rental unit!  Check out our other articles below for more guides on planning your vacation.

Happy islanding!

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Ranking the Top 3 Beachfront Marco Island Hotels

There are several excellent hotels on Marco Island, although the majority of the island is made up of condos.  There are only 3 beachfront hotels on the island, the rest are off the water and I wouldn’t recommend most of them.  Mariott dominates the hotel scene here, landing two of the top 3 rated hotels.  Marco Island hotels aren’t cheap, mainly because demand is so high for the limited number of rooms on the island.  If you are going to spend the money, make sure it as one of the highest rated hotels on our list below.  We used a variety of user rating sources like Tripadvisor, Facebook, and Hotels.com composite ratings and reviews to create this master list.

1. JW Mariott Marco Island

JW Mariott Marco Island Hotels
JW Mariott Marco Island

The JW Mariott is the crown jewel of all the Marco Island hotels.  It is actually the first beachfront JW Marriott in the United States, and just finished a multi million dollar renovation.  It was already a gorgeous hotel before the renovation, but now it is truly world class.  This hotel actually spans 3 miles of Marco Island beachfront, and the beach here is about as good as it gets.

JW Mariott Marco Island Beachfront
JW Mariott Beachfront

This hotel/resort has 10 different restaurants on the property, 3 pools, as well as 2 separate 18 hole golf courses.  Every room at the JW has a private balcony, marble bathrooms, and in room refrigerators.  The amenities that come with this hotel can’t be matched by any other on the island.

While it may be a little pricier than some of the other options, you get a lot for your money here.  You really don’t even need to leave the hotel once you are here.  You could even eat at a different restaurant every night of your stay without leaving the resort.  If you want a Marco Island hotel that lets you truly relax and unwind, you can’t do much better than the JW.

Hotels.com JW Mariott Marco Island Early Booking Sale

TripAdvisor Average Review Score: 4.7/5.0, 4300+ Reviews

Hotels.com Average Review Score:  9.0/10, 300+ Reviews

Facebook Average Review Score:  4.8/5.0,  2900+ Reviews

Google Average Review Score:  4.6/5.0, 1900+ Reviews

2. Marco Beach Ocean Resort

Marco Island Hotel Beach Ocean Resort
Marco Beach Ocean Resort

Marco Beach Ocean Resort comes in at a close #2 based on the rankings we compiled.  This hotel is beautiful as well, and in a fantastic location.  There are a smaller number of rooms at this hotel so it can be a little harder to book a room during high season.

One big difference between the JW and Marco Beach Ocean Resort is that this hotel has a full kitchen in all rooms.  There are fewer restaurants here than the JW so the full kitchen can be a nice feature during long stays (or with kids).  The pool at this resort is large and well stocked with lounge chairs.

The beach here is right on par with the JW, it just doesn’t go on for miles like it does there.  The umbrella beach loungers here are complimentary for guests.  There are also attendants that will bring you drinks or food right to your lounge chair on the beach.  If you are looking for more of a condo type hotel/resort with spacious suites and full kitchens, Marco Beach Ocean Resort is a great choice.

Hotels.com Marco Beach Ocean Resort SUITE SALE

TripAdvisor Average Review Score: 4.5/5.0, 1400+ Reviews

Hotels.com Average Review Score:  9.2/10, 300+ Reviews

Facebook Average Review Score:  4.7/5.0,  450+ Reviews

Google Average Review Score:  4.5/5.0, 300+ Reviews

3.  Mariott Crystal Shores

Mariott Crystal Shores Marco Island Hotel
Mariott Crystal Shores Marco Island

Our second Mariott property on this list is Crystal Shores.  This is a newer property with very modern styling.  It is a lot smaller than the JW but just as elegant.  This Mariott follows more of the modern style trends you would find in a chain like a W hotel.  The Crystal Shores is located next to the Hilton Marco Island and just a few miles down the beach from the JW.  The crowd here trends on the younger side compared to the Marco Beach or the JW.

This resort was actually expanded in early 2018, adding more beachfront rooms, pools, and restaurants.  The new pools are beautiful and the  brand new restaurants serve pretty good food.  It wouldn’t be my first choice for a dinner on Marco but it’s a lifesaver for a quick lunch after beaching it all day.  If you can score one of the brand new beachfront rooms they are 5 star.  Since this resort is (mainly) brand new, it is priced at about the same level as the JW and Marco Beach.  For the price I think you get more amenities at the latter two Marco Island hotels.  If having a brand new sparkling resort is something that you are willing to pay a premium for, Crystal Shores is a great choice.

Hotels.com Mariott Crystal Shores Early Booking Sale

TripAdvisor Average Review Score: 4.6/5.0, 550+ Reviews

Hotels.com Average Review Score:  8.6/10, 50+ Reviews

Google Average Review Score:  4.6/5.0, 350+ Reviews

Whichever of these 3 Marco Island hotels you choose, we know you won’t be disappointed.  It’s worth noting that you may be able to find a cheaper hotel that isn’t on the beach or near the water, but it simply isn’t the same as staying on the beach.

Check out our other articles below if you are interested, and we would love to hear from you in the comments.

Happy islanding!

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Best Sanibel Island Happy Hour Deals

It’s no secret that restaurants on Sanibel Island (and Captiva) are expensive. While I recommend visiting one of the top restaurants during your trip (check out our list of the highest rated restaurants here https://frequentislander.com/best-sanibel-island-restaurants-according-to-yelp-and-tripadvisor/), you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to eat great food on your vacation.  Sanibel Island Happy Hour deals are a great way to eat great food for a reasonable price.  Here’s our top picks!

THE SANDBAR

$3 Draft Beer, $4 Wine, $4 Well Drinks

$5 Appetizers including Raw and Rockafeller Oysters, Mussels, Boom Boom Shrimp, Flatbreads, Nachos and Salads

Daily 4:30-6 PM, All Night Friday

Sandbar Sanibel Happy Hour Oysters
Sandbar Sanibel Happy Hour Oysters

The Sandbar sits right off the beach on West Gulf Drive, and is probably the most popular Happy Hour on Sanibel.  They offer Happy Hour specials every day from 4:30 to 6, except Friday.  Friday the Happy Hour specials run the entire night. It can be tough to get a seat on Friday night, you have a better chance if you get there early.  The food on the Happy Hour menu changes frequently, but you can count on several seafood appetizers to be available.  The Boom Boom Shrimp is delicious.

The drinks here are top notch too.  The house wines are from brands you would pay a premium for at most restaurants, and the “well” rum here is Myers, which would be an uncharge most places as well.  Our Happy Hour grade for The Sandbar: A+

IL CIELO

House Wines $4, Beers $2, Mixed Drinks $3.75, Martini’s $5.75

Small Plates $8-10, Soups $5, Salads $8

Daily 4:30-6 PM

Il Cielo Sanibel Happy Hour Calamari
Il Cielo Sanibel Happy Hour Calamari

Il Cielo is one of the top rated restaurants in Sanibel Island, and one of my personal favorites.  It is also one of the most expensive, so their Happy Hour menu is a fantastic bargain.  This restaurant is absolutely gorgeous on the inside, and you wouldn’t necessarily know that just driving by.  It took me several trips to Sanibel before I even gave Il Cielo a try, and that is a shame.  It is an absolute gem that shouldn’t be missed.

The appetizers on the Happy Hour menu here include their amazing Calamari Fritti and their Mussels Il Cielo.  You can’t go wrong with either of these choices.  The fish taco’s are fantastic as well.  The drink specials are almost too good to be true at a restaurant this high end.  $2 beer and $3.75 mixed drinks?  It doesn’t get much better than this.  You can read their Happy Hour menu here: https://ilcielosanibel.com/menu/happy-hour-menu/.  Il Cielo is a can’t missed stop on your Sanibel Island Happy Hour tour.  Our grade: A

Coconuts Beach Bar and Grill

Beer $3, Mixed Drinks and Wine $4.50, Daiquiri’s $5.75

Daily 3-5 PM

Coconuts Sanibel Happy Hour Daiquiri
Coconuts Sanibel Happy Hour Daiquiri

Located at the Casa Ybel resort and hotel, Coconuts is an awesome beach/pool bar with a view to die for.  While the Happy Hour here isn’t quite as cheap as some of the others on this list, it makes up for it with the view.  Many people are not aware that Coconuts is open to the public, regardless of if you are staying at Casa Ybel.  It doesn’t get much better than grabbing a Happy Hour drink at Coconuts and walking 50 feet to the beach to lounge.

The food menu here is pretty limited, but the flatbreads are excellent and the seared Ahi Tuna tacos are delicious.  The real winner here is the drinks.  They offer beer, wine, and mixed drinks, but the star here is the Daiquiri’s.  They can make just about any flavor under the sun, and the bartenders love to make you a custom drink based on what you tell them you like.  At $5.75 for a Daquiri during happy hour, you get a lot for your money.  You will find that the bartender’s mixing skills will mask just how strong these are.  Beers at $3 are a great deal as well.  The view from Coconuts is priceless though. Grade: B+

 

 

 

 

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Best Sanibel Island Restaurants According to Yelp and TripAdvisor

There are a ton of average restaurants on Sanibel, and a handful of very good to excellent restaurants.  The places that are just average still draw huge crowds in the high season, so if you are going to wait a long time for a table, lets at least make sure its worth the wait.  I went through the reviews for all the Sanibel Island restaurants on both TripAdvisor and Yelp and tried to combine the ratings for both into a list that seemed accurate.  Without further ado, here’s our list!

Note: Blue Coyote Supper Club has recently closed, it will be reopened under new management.  Had it not closed it would have been ranked highly on our list, if not at the top.

1. The Mad Hatter

Mad Hatter Sanibel

This really was not a difficult choice as the top spot, as it is the highest reviewed Sanibel restaurant on both Tripadvisor and Yelp.  Located right off the beach on San Cap Road, sits the Mad Hatter.  A quirky and eccentric exterior reveals an elegant dining room inside.

The service is always on point and the dishes they serve here are superb.  The menu is pretty fluid, it definitely changes with the seasons.  The chefs here do seem to be exceptionally skilled with scallop dishes, so that is usually what I gravitate towards.  This is one of the most expensive restaurants on the island so be prepared for that, its definitely a splurge kind of place for me.

Tripadvisor Composite Rating: 4.7/5.0, 1400+ Reviews

Yelp Composite Rating 4.7/5.0, 270+ Reviews

 

2. Il Cielo

 

Il Cielo's Lamb Chops
Il Cielo’s Lamb Chops

If I was basing this list on my own personal preference (not Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews) I think I might put Il Cielo #1.  From the minute you walk in, it is obvious you are in for an experience you won’t forget.  This restaurant is absolutely gorgeous, and the food doesn’t take a back seat to the ambiance.  Truly one of the finest Italian restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of dining at.  In true Italian style, you are treated like family the minute you walk in.  The seafood specialties are to die for.

The Dungeness Crab Ravioli is probably one of my favorite meals here, although the Veal Osso Bucco gives it a run for its money.  Like Mad Hatter, it is a bit pricey as well, so expect to pay $30-40 for an entree and sides.  They do offer a fantastic Happy Hour menu from 4:30 to 6 (check out the menu http://ilcielosanibel.com/menu/happy-hour-menu/) which can be a great way to experience this top Sanibel Island restaurant on a budget.

Tripadvisor Composite Rating: 4.6/5.0, 1000+ Reviews

Yelp Composite Rating 4.7/5.0, 130+ Reviews

3. Bleu Rendez Vous French Bistro

Bleu Rendez Vous Sanibel
Bleu’s Seafood Vol-Au-Vent

Bleu describes itself as serving “country French cuisine”.  That is a pretty good description, as they serve delicious French comfort food.  While not near the beach, the ambiance is great much like Il Cielo.

I encourage you to check the menu (http://bleurendezvous.com/sanibel-island-french-bistro-menu/) before making a reservation. This isn’t a restaurant that could be described as having “something for everyone”.  They don’t have a large menu, but they are focused on making a few things really well.

I highly recommend the Seafood Vol-Au Vent, described on their menu as “Puff Pastry Treasure Chest filled with Maine Lobster Tail, Grouper, Shrimp, Scallop, Sherry-ed Lobster Cream Sauce”.  This is a dish you can’t miss out.  Bleu Rendez Vous offers some of the most unique and adventurous cuisine of the restaurants on Sanibel Island.

Tripadvisor Composite Rating: 4.6/5.0, 350+ Reviews

Yelp Composite Rating 4.6/5.0, 50+ Reviews

4. Sweet Melissa’s Cafe

There aren’t many restaurants in Sanibel Island that can compete with the awards that Sweet Melissa’s has won in the few years it’s been open.  The latest award it just received is the 2018 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.  Sweet Melissa’s should be higher on this list, in my opinion.  The reviews on Tripadvisor and Yelp are generally excellent, just not quite as high as the first 3 on our list.

Sweet Melissa's Fish Stew
Sweet Melissa’s Fish Stew

Sweet Melissa’s sources most of their indgredients locally, especially seafood.  This alone bumps it up a few notches in my book.  Because of their effort to locally source ingredients, the menu frequently changes.  They post daily specials to their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sweetmelissascafesanibel/), and those specials can be absolutely delicious.  The most famous dish here though is the Fish Stew.  Using locally sourced Redfish, scallops, shrimp and clams, Sweet Melissa’s fish stew is a favorite among locals.

Tripadvisor Composite Rating: 4.5/5.0, 1200+ Reviews

Yelp Composite Rating 4.6/5.0, 200+ Reviews

 

5. Doc Fords Rum Bar and Grill

Doc Ford's Yucatan Shrimp
Doc Ford’s Yucatan Shrimp

I was really happy to see this restaurant made our Tripadvisor and Yelp best list.  I’ve ate at Doc Fords more than the the previous 4 restaurants combined.  It’s that good.  A top 5 favorite meal for me at any restaurant in the world is the Yucatan Shrimp served here.  Pro tip:  Order extra bread to dip in your Yucatan sauce, thank me later.  The new location by Bailey’s General Store is beautiful, and they have lots more space than the old location on Rabbit Road.

Doc Ford’s drinks are fantastic, and the food is even better.  I’ve never had a meal here that was anything short of suberb.  To be totally honest, I haven’t explored their menu as much as I should though.  When one dish is so incredible it’s hard to order anything else.  They serve A LOT of Yucatan Shrimp, and for good reason.  There are a lot of great dishes served at the top Sanibel Island restaurants, but my absolute favorite is served here at Doc Ford’s.

Tripadvisor Composite Rating: 4.5/5.0, 5100+ Reviews

Yelp Composite Rating 4.4/5.0, 800+ Reviews

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Sanibel Island Tips & Secrets Only a Local Would Know

There are plenty of “locals only” secrets you learn from spending a lot of time on Sanibel and Captiva Island.  The locals that live here year round have taught me things that I more than likely would never have noticed or found out on my own.  Here’s just a few of those tricks:

Avoid driving on Periwinkle Way from 4PM to 6PM at all costs

This is without question the busiest time of day for traffic on Periwinkle.  If you don’t know this already, Sanibel traffic can be pretty infuriating.  During high season (like March) it can take up to an hour to get from one end of this road to the other, and it isn’t even 5 miles long.  Luckily, our next tip offers an alternative that few drivers use to avoid the Sanibel traffic gridlock.

Use the beach roads instead of Periwinkle if possible

If you take West Gulf Drive to Casa Ybel Rd to Middle Gulf Drive then finally to Lindgren you can completely bypass the gridlock of Periwinkle.  Why people don’t know how to do this I’m not sure, but for your sake and mine I’m glad they don’t.  Here’s a (crude, but you get the point) map where I highlighted this route in green:

Sanibel Traffic Guide Map

A bizarre No-See-Um repellent that actually works the best

This is going to sound really strange but bear with me.  Years ago I had a constant battle with No-See-Um’s while visiting Sanibel.  After trying just about every type of bug spray available at Bailey’s Hardware Store, a local lady (who noticed me looking frustrated/itchy next to the bug sprays) gave me a tip Avon Skin So Soft Bug Repellentthat I didn’t believe at first.  She told me that some beauty product called Avon Skin So Soft will keep these nasty No-See-Um’s from even going near you.  I said thanks for the tip and chuckled to myself inside.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I heard someone say the same thing.  So now I’m wondering if this is some scheme put on by the pushy Avon sales ladies or if there is actually some merit to a “Bath Oil Spray” (that’s what my bottle says) being good at keeping biting insects from terrorizing you.  So I bought a bottle.  Man does it work!  I don’t exactly know why it works and I really don’t care, because those old ladies were 100% right.  I don’t bother trying to track down an Avon sales lady (go right ahead if that’s your thing), you can just buy a bottle from this seller on Amazon, check the price here (its usually around $10 for a big bottle): Amazon: AVON Skin So Soft Bath Oil Spray with Pump

Try Jerry’s Foods for a delicious and cheap breakfast or lunch

Jerry's Food Cafe
The Cafe at Jerry’s Foods

This is truly a local secret, I would have never thought to eat here if I wasn’t told about it while having a conversation with an older local man on the fishing pier.  Yes, the restaurant (more of a diner really) is in the grocery store.  It seems weird at first but once you find this gem you will be back every trip.  It is one of the only places on the island where you can get a generous lunch for under $10.  The unlimited soup and salad bar is $9.99 and is top notch.  The breakfasts are fantastic as well.  I like to get Jerry’s Famous Cinnamon Bread French Toast.  It comes with 3 HUGE pieces of french toast and bacon or sausage for $8.99.  I don’t think that there is a better value on the island than what you will find here, and you hardly ever have to wait for a table.

If you want to find the best shells, go right after a storm

If you see someone out scouring the beach right after a storm, often at night with a flashlight, there’s a good chance they are a local.  The storms that often roll through quickly in the evenings churn up the water.  This can bring shells onto the beach that you won’t find any other time.  You can usually find tons of the more common conchs and whelks too.  Some of these will be alive, so be careful with what you throw in your shell bag.  The next time you are visiting and you have a storm roll through, throw on a sweatshirt and grab your flashlight.  This is the absolute top time for shelling.

Happy islanding!

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Tricks to finding cheap flights to Sanibel Island, Captiva, and Fort Myers

There are several tricks to getting a great deal on flights into Southwest Florida, or Sanibel flights in general.  It can take a little planning and sometimes thinking outside the box, but it can save a lot of money.  If saving a bit on airfare means upgrading to a nicer Fort Myers, Captiva, or Sanibel Island condo rental this is a no brainer!

Set up price alerts to notify you of price drops

This is a low-hassle way to search for a great deal on flights to Sanibel or Fort Myers.  Instead of wasting time checking prices every day, set up an alert to notify you of a good deal.  Airfare Watchdog is a great service for setting up alerts right to your email.  Simply enter the dates you want to fly and from where, enter your email, and check the box that says “Alert me when fares drop”.  Here’s an example of how I set them up: sanibel airfare alertTry setting up an alert for yourself here: AirfareWatchdog Price Drop Alert When I am looking for a flight to the Sanibel area, I like to set up separate alerts for multiple airports around Fort Myers.  This way you leave all options open to flying into an airport that might be a short drive away, but could potentially save hundreds of dollars.  For example, if I want to fly a certain day, I will set up 3 separate alerts for that day for Ft Myers Airport, Punta Gorda, and Sarasota.

Be open to flying into an unfamiliar airport

There are a ton of international airports in Florida, and even more regionals.  While Fort Myers (Airport code RSW) is the closest international airport to the Ft Myers Beach/Sanibel Island area, it isn’t the only choice.  There are actually 10 international airports within 150 miles of Fort Myers.  When you add in the nearby a regional airports like Punta Gorda (airport code PGD) and Naples (code APF) there are TONS of options.

Some of the best deals I’ve been able to find when visiting the area have been into Punta Gorda, formerly known as the Charlotte County Airport.  It is a small airport but they are fast and friendly, and delays are rare.  Located 22 miles north of Fort Myers, it is a fantastic airport for arriving into Southwest Florida.  If you are going to be renting a car anyways, the money you can save by flying into PGD can be significant.

Leave from a different airport than you arrive

This is kind of a hidden trick that a lot of people will look at you funny when you talk about.  Since most people that visit Southwest Florida rent cars, this is something that anyone can pull off.  Car rental companies will allow you to rent a car from one airport and return it to a different airport.  Sometimes you will have to pay a fee that makes this trick not worth it.  But on occasion, the rental car company might need a car moved from one airport to another, and they will give you a great deal on this type of rental.

When you are free to leave from a separate airport than the one you arrived at, you can really start to find deals.  Instead of doing searches for round trip flights, start looking for one way flights for your arrival and departure.  Last year I managed to fly into Fort Myers Airport (RSW) on a one way for around $100,  and left from Punta Gorda (PGD) for $50.  Try finding a round trip ticket for $150!  This doesn’t always work, but when it does it is worth 15 extra minutes in the car.

Fly on weekdays if possible

I know this can sometime be hard with work schedules, but if you can fly on a weekday it can be a huge money saver.  The trick to this is making sure your condo rental (check out our Top 5 List of the Best Sanibel Island Condos here https://frequentislander.com/top-5-sanibel-island-condo-rental-locations/) is not locked into Saturday to Saturday stays.  Some are, some aren’t but if you find a great flight deal it might be worth finding a condo rental that matches up.  If you are booking a hotel you are usually more flexible with arrival and departure days.

Avoid packing bulky items and rent them instead

I learned this one too late in life.  This is especially relevant while traveling with kids.  Instead of lugging car seats, strollers, pack and plays, high chairs etc around airports, just rent them!  Most of the time renting these bulky items can be cheaper than paying the bag fees for hauling them in the air with you.  Cribs and pack and plays can be rented from several rental companies in the area, like this one http://www.islandrentalservices.net/

Like I mentioned earlier, I wish I would have known this sooner.  Island Rental Services will deliver whatever you need right to your condo or house, and have it waiting for you when you arrive.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.  I still have nightmares about trying to haul pack and plays around busy airports.  Trust me on this one, even if you break even on getting rid of the baggage fees, you will have much more of your sanity left for an enjoyable vacation.

Happy Islanding!

 

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List of the Top 5 Sanibel Island Beachfront Hotels

While we highly recommend renting a condo or house on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), there several awesome beachfront hotels.  For stays less than a week it can be tough to find a condo rental, especially during the busy season.  Booking a beachfront Sanibel Island hotel can be a great choice if you are staying less than a week.

Often these hotels are booked far in advance just like every other form of lodging on Sanibel.  We like to use Hotels.com because they often have availability when everywhere else is sold out.  They always have the best price, without any gimmicks.  If you find an available room at a price that makes sense for your budget, book it.  If you want to check out our list of the top condo’s on Sanibel Island, head here: Frequent Islander’s Top 5 Sanibel Island Condos   Here’s our top picks for Sanibel Island beachfront hotels:

1. Island Inn Beach Resort

island inn hotel sanibel
Overhead view of the Island Inn Beach Resort

Without question this is the top Sanibel Island beachfront hotel.  It’s really more of a resort than a hotel, but it can be booked through Hotels.com.  It gets a 9.2 out of 10 on Hotels.com, you can check for yourself here: Island Inn Early Booking Sale-Hotels.com

Checking the Tripadvisor ratings, Island Inn comes in at 4.5/5.0 with over 1400 reviews, earning Tripadvisor’s Certificate of Excellence.  The Island Inn sits on 550 feet of pristine Sanibel Island beach, and has amenities that really set it apart from the other hotels/resorts on the island.  There is free wifi throughout the resort, free continental breakfast, and a wonderful on site restaurant, Traditions on the Beach.  Check out their menus here http://traditionsonthebeach.com/menu

Island Inn also offers bicycle rentals, kayak rentals, and beach equipment rentals, all on site.  There are also shell and fish cleaning stations, and if you decide to fillet your catch from the beach, the on site restaurant will even cook it for you.  The fishing is excellent right off the beach so this can be one of the most memorable experiences you can have with your family while on vacation.

2. Casa Ybel Resort

Casa Ybel Resort Hotel Sanibel
Overhead view of Casa Ybel Resort Sanibel

This resort is also outstanding, and if we weren’t able to find a room at Island Inn, Casa Ybel would definitely be our next choice.  It is a little more expensive than some of the other hotels on Sanibel, but it also is considerably newer and nicer.  Casa Ybel actually offers 2 onsite restaurants.  “Thistle Lodge” is one of the top beachfront restaurants on Sanibel, check out the Tripadvisor reviews: Tripadvisor-Thistle Lodge Sanibel Island The other restaurant is a cool beach and poolside bar called Coconuts.  They have fantastic drinks and appetizers.  Coconuts is such a cool spot on the island I stop here every time I’m on the island, no matter if I’m staying at Casa Ybel or not.  Its that good.

Coconuts Pool Bar and Grill Sanibel
Coconuts Pool Bar and Grill, Casa Ybel Resort

The rooms here are excellent, the pool is huge, the restaurants are fantastic, there’s a lot to like about Casa Ybel.  Because this resort is pretty big and and its a little more expensive , its a little bit easier to find a room last minute here.  Casa Ybel has just about everything you could ask for in a Sanibel Island hotel.  Check for available rooms and reviews on Hotels.com here: Casa Ybel Sanibel Early Booking Sale-Hotels.com

3. Sundial Resort Sanibel Island

Sundial is the largest Sanibel Island Hotel.  While it isn’t as nice as Casa Ybel, it is also often half the price.  Being a large resort it offers some amenities that many other hotels on the island do not.  The list of activities for kids and adults alike that Sundial offers is staggering.  You can do anything from play pickleball near the beach to rent a stand up paddleboard to try off the beach.  Sundial is one of the only hotels in Sanibel Island to offer a 3 bedroom room, normally they are only available in a condo.

Sundial Hotel Sanibel Island
Sundial Hotel Beachfront Pool

There are also 3 separate restaurants on site, including a Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar.  There is even a grab and go market run by the wonderful Bailey’s grocery store, carrying the essentials without even leaving the property.  If you are looking for a resort that has enough to do that you never even have to leave, Sundial is perfect.  You can check room availability here: Sundial Resort Sanibel Early Booking Sale-Hotels.com

4. Song of the Sea Resort

Song of the Sea is a great small beachfront resort on Sanibel.  There are only 30 rooms at this hotel so it can be tough to get a room here, or nearly impossible during busy months.  This is a place where you need to act fast if you find a good deal on a room.  Hotels.com has an average rating of 8.8/10, and Tripadvisor reviews come in at 4.5/5, also earning their Certificate of Excellence.  Many of the rooms here include small kitchens, which is a nice way to save a little money by eating in a few meals.  There isn’t a restaurant on site here, but with 16 restaurants within a mile of the hotel, it isn’t too hard for find food.  You can check the availability for this resort on Hotels.com here: Song of the Sea Sanibel Early Booking Sale-Hotels.com

Song of the Sea Sanibel Hotel
Song of the Sea Beach Hotel Sanibel

5.  Waterside Inn on the Beach

Another smaller Sanibel Island hotel, Waterside Inn has 27 hotel rooms and a few cottages available for booking.  This is a resort that can be a fantastic value for someone who is going to be spending most of their time on the beach.  The rooms here are always clean, but not quite as luxurious as what you would find at the Island Inn.  The upside is the deals you can find here can be fantastic at times.  Waterside Inn is located on West Gulf Drive, which is a quieter section of beach than most of the island.  Check current prices and reviews here Waterside Inn Early Booking Sale-Hotels.com

Waterside Inn Resort Sanibel
Waterside Inn Hotel Sanibel

 

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Top 5 Sanibel Island Condo Rental Locations

Top 5 Sanibel Island Condo Rentals

There are a lot of Sanibel Island condo rentals, but they aren’t the typical high rise condos you see on Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island.  Most are only 2 or 3 stories tall.  There aren’t any condos that are brand new on Sanibel, so it’s important to know which ones to avoid and which ones to target.  The complexes we have listed on this page are all excellent choices and are available to book on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  If you’ve never used VRBO, this is the time to try it. 

I can’t stress this enough though, Sanibel Condos BOOK UP FAST.  During high seasons they are often booked a year out.  If you see a place you like, book it while it is available.  Most offer free refunds so if plans change you can always cancel it later.

The majority of Sanibel Island condo rentals are privately owned.  Most owners use Royal Shell Vacations as a booking and cleaning agent.  This makes check in a breeze.  There is a Royal Shell Vacations office on your way into the island where you simply pick up your keys and head to your rental unit.  It really is simple, and after you’ve rented like this through VRBO once you will wonder why you hadn’t done it earlier.  The deals through VRBO.com are much cheaper than renting a Sanibel Island hotel.

5. Villa Sanibel

Villa Sanibel rental
Villa Sanibel Condo Unit 1G

The Villa Sanibel condo complex is small (only 20 units) and most units are very close to the beach.  Because of its small size availability can be somewhat limited, but if you can find a unit here on VRBO it is a great choice.  This complex is located on the easternmost end of West Gulf Drive, adjacent to the Sanibel Cottages Resort.  Villa Sanibel’s rentals are unique because they have a separate loft area above the kitchen.  As you can see in the picture above, they are some of the closest units to the beach.  You can check the availability of the Villa Sanibel Unit 1G picture above here: Availability Listing Villa Sanibel 1G

4. Gulf Beach

Gulf Beach Sanibel
Gulf Beach Condo Unit 207

The Gulf Beach condo complex is another smaller complex located on East Gulf Drive on the east end of Sanibel Island.  You can walk down the beach to the Sanibel Lighthouse from this location, which is a must see.  Gulf Beach has a pretty large pool for the size of the condo complex.  The unit pictured above is the crown jewel of this complex, recently renovated in Pottery Barn furnishings.  This is a very tough unit to book, but they do only allow bookings a year out.  This allows someone who is staying there now to have the first chance to book for next year.  The current review rating on VRBO is 4.9/5.0 with 36 reviews.  You can check out the reviews for yourself here: Gulf Beach Unit 207 Reviews

3. Island Beach Club

Island Beach Club VRBO
Island Beach Club Condo Unit P6D

The Island Beach Club is without a doubt the best Sanibel Island condo rental complex for a fantastic view.  The design of these beachfront condos gives you a floor to ceiling window view in almost every room, as well as a screened in patio.  There simply isn’t a condo on Sanibel that beats the views from these units.  The downside is they are priced accordingly, but that’s about the only downside.  Island Beach Club would be my #1 pick if cost was not a factor in this list.  The common areas and pools here are top notch as well.  The unit pictured above has another amazing 4.9/5.0 rating on VRBO, check out the listing page here: Island Beach Club P6D Reviews and Availability Be warned, at the time of posting they were 100% booked for the next 5 months.

2. Sanibel Surfside

Sanibel Surfside Condo VRBO
Sanibel Surfside Condo Unit 105

The gulf front units at the Sanibel Surfside condo complex strike that perfect balance between value and quality.  The units are extremely close to the beach, the pool is good, the units are renovated and the views are great.  This complex is located on Donax Street, which is quiet road.  The beach in this area is less busy than a lot of the areas on the island, it helps that it isn’t close to a public beach access.  There really isn’t much not to love about this complex, it is just an all around great value.  The unit pictured above actually gets a full 5.0/5.0 on VRBO.  You can check the reviews and availability for yourself here:  Sanibel Surfside Condo Unit 105 Reviews and Availability

1. Sand Pointe

I really struggled to even post this, afraid that it might make it even harder to book the units I love at this complex.  Without question, I’ve spent more time at Sand Pointe than any other Sanibel Island condo complex.  So many memories, so many wonderful Sanibel Island vacations.  If I had to narrow it down, after all of my travels to islands across the globe, this just might be my favorite place in the world.  Before I wax poetic more about this place lets get down to just what makes it special.

Sand Pointe Sanibel
Sand Pointe Condo Unit 137

Sand Pointe is a small condo complex on a very quiet stretch of West Gulf Drive, away from any public beach access or large resorts.  It is a serene area of the beach.  The parking for the units is under the first floor, so the first floor of condos is actually 1 story up.  This makes the 3rd floor condo’s have an amazing view, since they are really 4 stories tall.  Every single unit at Sand Pointe has a great ocean view.

Sand Pointe Condo rental
Sand Pointe Condo Unit 137 Lanai

The screened in patios (called Lanai’s) are absolutely massive in all the Sand Pointe units.  The pool (while small) is one of the cleanest and nicest of any Sanibel Island condo complex.  The owners who live in some of the units long term are all wonderful and friendly.  Most of the units are completely renovated, and the renovations were done to a quality you rarely see with condos.  The best part though?  Value.  You simply will not find a better deal for a really nice condo with great amenities and a fantastic view in any other Sanibel Island condo complex.  The unit pictured above has a 4.9/5.0 rating on VRBO (are you sensing a trend here?) and here’s the link to check the reviews and availability: Sand Pointe Condo Unit 137 Reviews and Availability

There’s an extremely good chance that Unit 137 might be booked for your selected dates, so I put together a VRBO search page for ALL the available Sand Pointe units, you can check that here: Check Availability for All Sand Pointe Condo Units

 

Happy Islanding!

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Differences between Sanibel and Captiva Island Beaches

Captiva Island is one of my favorite islands in the United States.  Even though it sits a stones throw (literally) across from Sanibel Island, it has a totally different vibe.  The Sanibel and Captiva Island beaches are actually very different, and most articles you read on San-Cap fail to even acknowledge this.  This is all from my personal experience on the islands, nothing I have read on any blog or website trying to sell you on an expensive vacation package at one of the resorts.

Beachfront Rentals Captiva
Check VRBO Availability of Captiva Beachfront Rentals

Sanibel Island has more shells, Captiva Island Beaches have better sand

Don’t take this the wrong way, the beaches of Captiva Island are still better for shelling than most places in the entire world, it’s just that Sanibel is truly the best there is.  The waters off the beaches of Sanibel have a gradual slope that allows shells to be washed up onto the beach extremely easily.  Captiva Island beaches on the other hand have a steeper slope in the water directly off the beach, which tends to cut down on the amount of shells that wash up on the beach.

Sanibel’s beaches are actually made up more of ground up shells than sand, which can be somewhat uncomfortable for bare feet.  Captiva’s beaches are more of the soft sugar sand that one would typically see on an island.  If you aren’t into shelling this is definitely something worth considering.

Sanibel Island beaches typically have murkier water than Captiva Island Beaches

The same gradual sloping shoreline that collects millions of shells on the beaches of Sanibel also prevent it from having bright clear blue water most of the year.  As waves travel across shallow water they pick up speed and tend to stir up sand and sediment from the ocean floor.  Since the water off Sanibel is shallower than Captiva, this causes bigger waves and murkier water.  If Sanibel is rough and murky you can often drive a few miles to Captiva and find calm and clear water.  It seems like this couldn’t possibly be true since they are so close, together but it absolutely is.  The bottom structure of the beaches have more influence on waves and water clarity than most realize.

Captiva Island Beaches have a more laid back, island-y vibe

While Sanibel is filled with people scouring the beach for beautiful shells, the beaches of Captiva are generally very quiet and laid back.  The lack of multi-unit condos on Captiva makes the beaches far less crowded.  On the end of Captiva near Blind Pass Captiva is typically pretty busy but the reast of the 5 miles of beach is some of the quietest you will find.  Most of the year it feels like you are the only one on the beach.

 

If you are really into fantastic shelling then the obvious choice is Sanibel.  But if you are looking for the more traditional sugar sand beach with clear blue water the Captiva Island Beaches are the way to go.  Realizing the differences in the two islands is important, I’ve heard from people who stayed on Sanibel expecting the clear water and soft sand and were disappointed.  Likewise, I’ve heard from people who stayed on Captiva and were disappointed in the lack of shells.  Hopefully this post helps you make a decision that puts you on the beach that will give you the most enjoyment from your island vacation.

Happy Islanding!

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4 Hidden Florida Islands You Can Only Get to by Ferry

Most of the islands in this list you probably haven’t heard of.  They aren’t very well known or popular vacation locations. This is mainly because the thought of planning a trip to an island that is only accessible by boat can be a daunting task.  There’s a reason that so many celebrities have houses on islands like North Captiva.  The tranquility of these islands is unparalleled in the United States.  The fact that you are literally and figuratively “detached” from the rest of the busy world provides a level of relaxation that you can’t find anywhere else.  If you are willing to plan a trip a little bit outside your comfort zone, these islands will not disappoint.

DON PEDRO ISLAND

Don Pedro Island

Don Pedro Island is a 7 mile long barrier island in Southwest Florida, off the coast of Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda.  This island has one of the most pristine beaches in Florida.  This island is one of the most accessible and easy to get to on our list.  You can simply drive your car onto the ferry located on the mainland (you can see the ferry company’s site here http://palmislandtransit.com/), then you are free to drive around the island by car to your vacation rental or restaurant.

There are many houses for rent through VRBO on Don Pedro, and you can usually score at great deal most times of the year.  Since most people don’t know about this island, it seems to run cheaper than the areas around it like Boca Grande.  This would make a great first island vacation destination.  Punta Gorda Airport is about a half hour away, but you could also fly into Sarasota or Fort Myers.  Allegiant Air sometimes has extremely cheap flights into Punta Gorda.  Available House Rentals VRBO Don Pedro

LITTLE GASPARILLA ISLAND

Little Gasparilla Island Beach House

Little Gasparilla Island is very close to Don Pedro.  In fact, its attached to it.  It is believed that a long time ago water separated the two islands, but storms filled in the passes and they are now connected.  Although they are connected, Don Pedro State park lies directly in between the two.  This makes it extremely difficult to get from one to the other, so we will consider them separate.  Little Gasparilla does not have any restaurants on the island so you will need to bring in groceries.  There are actually services that will deliver you groceries by boat, and this is one of the most convenient ways to get your groceries to the island.

Most of the beach houses on Little Gasparilla are stilt houses like the picture above, and you can’t get any closer to the water.  House rentals on Little Gasparilla are generally even cheaper than Don Pedro.  You can check out the available rentals here: Available House Rentals VRBO Little Gasparilla Island

NORTH CAPTIVA ISLAND

North Captiva Beach Rental

North Captiva Island is the gem of Southwest Florida.  Celebrities like Tom Hanks and Shaun Connery own homes here and frequently roam the island.  North Captiva is accessible by ferry from the Pine Island Marina.  You can check the ferry schedule here: https://www.northcaptiva.com/index.php/ferry-schedule Fort Myers International Airport (RSW) is the closest airport, although Punta Gorda is just 30 miles away.  Either are great choices for getting here by plane.  The ferry company will also pick up your groceries and have them ready for you.

There are 4 restaurants on the island, you can check the Tripadvisor Reviews of them here: North Captiva Restaurant Reviews-TripAdvisor My favorite is probably Mango’s, and I love the beach bar there.  One of the most fun things about North Captiva is the whole island is filled with golf cart paths.  Most house rentals come with at least one golf cart and they are used in place of cars on the island.  There are ultra luxury homes you can rent here to simple beach cottages.  There really is something for everyone here, and it is my top recommendation for anyone looking to take a Florida island vacation.

Since the ferry service started offering the service to pick up your groceries, vacationing on North Captiva is easy.  All you have to do is simply show up at the ferry marina, everything else is taken care of.  If you want to save a little money, there are excellent rental options a short walk off the beach (not quite beachfront).  Here is the VRBO page for North Captiva, you can type in your dates and number of guests and it will show you whats available, Available House Rentals VRBO North Captiva

 

Happy Islanding!

 

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