The Natural Side of Naples, Florida

 

If you are a nature lover, then you should visit Southwest Florida to enjoy all the region has to offer.  Unfortunately, too many locations around the state have been paved over to make way for more development.  Finding places that are untouched has become more challenging each year.  Fortunately, for nature lovers there are still a few unspoiled spots left in and around Naples, Florida.

Naples

During a recent visit to Naples, Catrell and I stayed at The DoubleTree Suites.  We asked the Concierge for her recommendations on what to do and see in the area.  She quickly laid out an itinerary that could have kept us busy for a month.  But with only two days, it was necessary to whittle the many options to only a few.  Since Catrell had to attend a workshop the next day, I chose kayaking for my first activity.  Best of all, I could rent a kayak just across the street from the hotel.

Naples

Getting to Naples Marina & Excursions was surprisingly easy.  The Marina is located at 12345 Tamiami Trail North and literally with in a stones throw (assuming you have a good pitching arm and could find a stone) of the hotel.  It was too close to justify driving, and trying to cross six-lanes of extremely busy traffic wasn’t very appealing either.  Fortunately, there is a walkway under the north end of the bridge, which the Cocohatchee River flows beneath on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  A brisk walk will get you from the hotel room to the lobby of the Marina in only five to 10 minutes.

NaplesAfter a brief orientation, I was directed to my kayak that was located under the building along with all the other gear the Marina rents to both tourists and locals.  A florescent green ocean-going kayak awaited me, and I set off in the dead-calm waters.  With only a few strokes, I was in the Cocohatchee River and on my way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Naples

The temperature was perfect, and under cobalt-blue skies with only a few cotton-ball clouds, I glided peacefully through the water.  The lush green mangroves offered the perfect backdrop for a variety of birdlife that would have made an ornithologist giddy.  From time-to-time development reared its ugly head in the form of a mobile home park or high-rise condo complex, but was quickly forgotten when just around the next bend the dark river water met an emerald green curtain of mangroves topped off by a brilliant blue sky.

I was given an aerial-view map that showed the natural landmarks to look for on the way to the Gulf and back.  It’s easy to spend an entire day exploring all the water routes and coves that branch off the river.  I rented the kayak for half-a-day, which gave me plenty of time to paddle to the inlet, spend a few minutes on the beach and head back.  Warning: I left mid-morning and had the lazy flow of the river and outgoing tide in my favor.  Returning to the Marina was a little more strenuous and took a bit longer.  It was worth every second, but just wanted you to know the time of day can affect your time and experience.

Naples

In fact, I had such a great time that Catrell and I returned the following day to take the same route on Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP).  We were treated to the same stunningly beautiful day that I experienced just 24-hours prior.  She also saw the amazing rich colors of green and blue plus observed the abundance of birdlife and even had two dolphins swim within feet of her board.  Manatees and even turtles are common as well, but we did not see any that day.  Using a kayak or SUP is a matter of personal preference and either one will bring you up-close-and-personal to nature and all its splendor.

Naples Marina & Excursions offers a wide array of marine-based activities.  In addition to kayaking and SUPing, they also have fishing charters, scuba diving adventures and private or small group nature tours.  The Marina has a large pontoon boat that is used for dolphin excursions, sunset and night party cruises and corporate events.  Check out their website or better yet call 239.592.1200 to learn about all the great activities they offer both visitors and locals.

Naples

Naples affords easy access to other natural areas including the world famous Everglades.  State parks, beaches and local nature reserves are also close by and provide an endless source of natural enjoyment.  Whether visiting a few days or a few weeks, nature is never far away.

 

Cookie Monster’s Favorite Hotel

The Cookie Monster and I have one thing in common . . . we both love warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  I also enjoy staying in really nice hotels, so you can imagine how happy I was during a recent stay at The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in Naples where guests are given the hotel’s signature delectable treats upon arrival, and enjoy resort-style amenities all in one convenient place.  In addition, The DoubleTree’s location in North Naples provides a great base from which to explore and experience the area’s myriad things to do and see.

Naples is best known for its beautiful beaches, access to nature and very wealthy inhabitants during a certain time of the year.  In fact, it’s highly recommended to visit the area between mid-April and early October when the resident snowbirds pack their Louis Vuitton suitcases and fly north via either first class or corporate jet, no doubt.  Otherwise, expect to pay extra at local restaurants, shops and grocery stores for the privilege of being in the company of blingsters.

DoubleTree Naples

The DoubleTree is located just north of Immokalee Road at 12220 Tamiami Trail on the banks of the Cocohatchee River.  There’s plenty of onsite free parking.  Once there, you can stay put for the duration of your visit or venture out to see what the area has to offer, and it has plenty.

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The hotel’s rooms are spacious and have all the amenities associated with the Hilton chain.  Spacious bathrooms, bedrooms and a living room are standard.  Some rooms have balconies, so make sure to request one if there is one available.  The comfy beds are equipped with so many big fluffy pillows that you can easily wage a large-scale pillow war with your roommate.

 

P1030830The towel art placed on your bed each day makes it feel like you’re on a cruise.  I don’t know about you, but I can barely fold a towel under the most ordinary circumstances, much less sculpture one or more it into elephants, dogs and other cute critters.  Fortunately, there are plenty of towels provided for the primary purpose of drying the bod so that you can set your art aside to enjoy during your entire stay.

DoubleTree Naples

There’s an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner plus Charlie Chiang’s, which offers an eclectic Asian menu.  Both share the same parking lot.  There is also a multitude of dining options within an easy drive, from no frills fare to five-star gastronomical treasures.

DoubleTree Naples

If you are there on business, fear not.  Road Warriors can take advantage of the wireless Internet, high-speed cable connection to your laptop and of course there’s a business center too.  Lastly, you can work out in the gym, do laps in the pool or both to stay fit while traveling.

The property and its dedicated team are no strangers to awards and accolades.  According to a recent press release, “The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples has received top hotel performance awards again from Hilton Worldwide for 2012.  The 101-suite upscale hotel in Southwest Florida received its 9th prestigious Connie Award – which is awarded to the best overall performing DoubleTree by Hilton property amongst more than 300 hotels and resorts in 29 countries.  The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples is the only hotel in the brand’s history to have received this award so many times, making it the most honored DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in the world. The hotel also received the Hospitality Award of Excellence, the Housekeeping Award of Excellence, the Crystal Cookie Community CARE Award, and the Annual Pride Award, which has been achieved and shared by the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples for the past 12 years.”

DoubleTree Naples

One of the most unique features about The DoubleTree is its proximity to nature.  It’s situated on a flowing river (something you don’t see many of in Florida) with acres of mangroves, miles of waterways and an abundance of wildlife – all between the hotel and the Gulf of Mexico.  Best of all, Naples Marina & Excursions is located just across the street where you can rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards to cruise the scenic waterways and see nature up close and personal.  They offer many other marine-related options including fishing charters, scuba diving and tours.

DoubleTree Naples

DoubleTree Naples

 

Getting to the Marina is easy and pedestrian friendly.  Rather than trying to cross six-lanes of traffic, a walkway is provided under the bridge just north of the hotel.  It’s refreshing to see someone actually planned ahead for a change instead of forcing people to take their chances trying to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in the area.

 

The DoubleTree’s website has all the information you need about how to get there, what to do in the area and all the services provided.  Whether you need a weekend getaway, are traveling on business, planning a wedding or other event, the team at The DoubleTree will ensure everything goes smoothly.  And if for some reason you cannot eat your warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie, please let the Cookie Monster or me know.  We’ll arm wrestle for it.

Another Awesome G Adventure – Costa Rica

“I am so glad I chose Cooney World Adventures to book my G Adventures trip to Costa Rica. They were prompt, professional and did such a great job reminding me of deadlines and the paperwork that needed to be completed before departure. Because they had traveled to Costa Rica, they sent photos of my vacation destination all year, to keep me excited and followed up after the trip to see how everything went. I would recommend booking with them again without hesitation. Ben R., Orlando”

Awesome Honeymoon

Mike Cooney was a pleasure to work with. He is very efficient and
professional. We worked with Mike to plan our honeymoon and he made
the entire process easy and stress free. We gave him an idea of what
kind of trip we were looking for and he provided several options to
choose from and respected out budget. Once we decided on the location,
Mike handled the rest. He booked our hotel accommodations as well as
our flights and also recommended excursions. He kept us updated on
flight time changes and sent us a final packing checklist the week
before our honeymoon. Mike is an excellent travel agent and we highly
recommend him!

-Michael & Jenna, South Carolina

Florida’s Charming Charlotte County

Pristine beaches, unspoiled islands, culture, art, recreation, historic sites and the personification of true Florida charm, that’s what you will find when you visit Charlotte County and the Gulf Islands on Florida’s west coast.   Located about one hour south of Tampa and about two hours southwest of Orlando, Charlotte County stretches from Englewood Beach south to Punta Gorda.  Each of the communities are distinctively different, but all equally charming.

Boca Grande is home or at least vacation home to many celebrities and politicians.  This quaint historic fishing village and beach town is located on Gasparilla Island. Boca Grande is very bike-friendly and filled with charming restaurants and boutiques.

 

Charlotte CountyDon Pedro Island is a shell collectors paradise.   This secluded barrier island is only accessible by boat.  Don Pedro is a great place to picnic, bird watch, walk along the mile-long stretch of beach and enjoy a swim in the beautiful azure blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

PelicanEl Jobean is a small community that was once the winter home for circus and carnival performers in United States.  Now you can enjoy weekly bluegrass jam sessions at the Historic 1920’s post office, which was converted into a museum and café.

 

WannaB InnEnglewood is located on Manasota Key and has all the frills of a Florida beach town.  At the south end visitors can enjoy combing for shells at Stump Pass Beach State Park or head to Dearborn Street to browse through the unusual boutiques and galleries.  Check out Catania’s Winery and enjoy a glass of wine while getting a interesting tour of their facility.  Catania’s has a great selection of wine and olive oils.  Farlow’s On The Water has delicious tropical dining and is open for lunch and dinner. Farlow’s has something for everyone even the vegetarian in the group.  Looking for a great a place to stay for a few days or longer then check out the WannaB Inn, which is located just before the entrance to Stump Pass Beach State Park.

 

Palm Island, which is only accessible by ferry, has seven miles of glorious sandy beaches.  Need a place to get away from the stress of daily life then plan a trip to Palm Island Resort for a few days of pure relaxation.  Pristine white sand, bright blue skies, and clear water beaches makes this island the perfect combination for a great getaway.

 

Little Gasparilla Island is considered a boater’s paradise and is only accessible by boat. This island has rental condos, home rentals, secluded beaches for swimming and sun bathing.  However, visitors need to make sure they bring all their food and supplies with them since their are no stores or restaurants on the island.

 

Charlotte HarborThe waterfront community of Placida is where guests can gain access to Charlotte Harbor’s Blueway Trails, which are part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails System. If you are looking for fresh seafood then visit The Fishery Restaurant.  Afterwards, stroll through the eclectic array of shops such as the Margaret Albritton Gallery. 

 

PlacidaPunta Gorda is Charlotte County’s most well known city with its unique boutiques, mural painted buildings, and famous Fishermen’s Village.  The town is truly picturesque with towering royal palms lining the streets, beautifully restored historic homes, and its scenic waterfront.  Punta Gorda has an abundance of excellent eating options. River City Grill uses organic produce from Worden Farm and offers awesome boxed lunches. The Perfect Caper is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a fine dining experience.  Opus Restaurant is the perfect place for Sunday brunch and Peace River Seafood will make every seafood loving guest extremely happy.   No visit to Punta Gorda would be complete without a visit to the Fishermen’s Village.

Punta Gorda Murals Fishermen’s Village has it all from entertainment to wine tasting and everything in between.  Fishermen’s Village Yacht Basin was recently renovated and now offers 111 transient and long-term slips plus a large day-use dock for boaters visiting the numerous restaurants and shops.  The Village also has fully furnished villas, which sleep up to six people.  Guests can enjoy free wi-fi, a heated pool, tennis courts, shuffleboard, BBQ and picnic area plus easy access to Punta Gorda’s Free bicycle loaner program.

Punta Gorda Bike ProgramPlaces not to be missed while visiting Fishermen’s Village:

 

Simply SweetSweet Treasures Wine featuring all kinds of Florida-made wines.  Try their dry Blueberry Blue wine with lots of flavor, chocoholics have to try their sweet Cocoa Beach with its blend of orange juice and chocolate, Semi Sweet lovers should try their Mango Mama made with fresh Florida mangos, and the Key Limen is a must for bit of tartness.

 

Village Fish Market has excellent waterfront views while dining. The restaurant has a separate menu for people on special diets such as gluten-free, heart healthy or vegetarian.

 

Be sure to leave room for dessert so you can visit Simply Sweet.  This place can cure everyone’s sweet tooth from gelato to Norman Love chocolate.  As you can see in the photo, the staff wear the cutest outfits to serve you your favorite treat.

You’ll Wanna Stay at the WannaB Inn

During a recent visit to Charlotte County, Catrell and I had the pleasure of staying at the WannaB Inn. It is a fun, funky and eclectic complex consisting of 80 rooms in several buildings.  The Inn is nearly at the end of Manasota Key and straddles both sides of the Gulf Boulevard.  It’s situated on a thin spit of land between Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, just before the entrance to Stump Pass State Park.  You’ve gone to far when you run out of road or into water, whichever comes first.

 

Wanna B Inn EnglewoodThe property has undergone an extensive remodel, which began in September 2011 and ended in early 2013.  The Inn welcomes guest with a bright, cheery, colorful retro look that puts a smile on everyone’s face.  Units range from one to three bedrooms and many have efficiency kitchens where you can prepare meals to save money or to avoid driving to the mainland.  Guests have been visiting the property for decades with some staying only a few days to several months.

 

WannaB Inn KitchenWannaB Inn is surrounded by nature and is literally steps to the Gulf’s white sandy beaches.  Just a few steps further in the opposite direction you’ll find Lemon Bay where you will see a variety of birdlife, fish jumping in the shallow waters or dolphins and manatees.  Walk south along the road, or preferably along the beach, and you’ll be in Stump Pass Beach State Park, a 245 acre sanctuary consisting of three islands and the waterways between them.

 

WannaB Inn BeachThe property offers guests just the right balance of relaxation and activities.  You can nap or read a book while digging your toes into the soft sand OR go fishing, swimming, snorkeling, boating, golfing, kayaking, canoeing, Standup Paddleboarding (SUP), birdwatching, hiking and snorkeling.  The best part is all that fun stuff is within walking distance or a short drive.  Put another way, boredom is no where to be found in the WannaB Inn dictionary.

 

Stump Pass State ParkThere are plenty of restaurants in the area that cater to the most picky tastebuds.  Besides the standard fast food and sit down chains, there are countless local restaurants with most offering a cornucopia of seafood selections, which the region is famous for.  Just ask the front desk for recommendations.

 

Stump Pass State ParkWhether your single and looking for a quaint retreat, a couple searching for a place to call home during a few weeks or months out of the year, a bride planning a wedding, a large family looking for a place to have a reunion or just want to take an old fashion vacation, WannaB Inn is the perfect spot.  Its location, room options, amenities, activities and proximity to nature are hard to find anywhere else.  I’ll bet it won’t be the last time you visit.