On Captiva Island, Florida, the lots are pricey and the homes even more so, but you’d never know it’s such an expensive real estate market when staying at the expansive South Seas Island Resort. The original owners snapped up this land long before the boom times came on the Gulf Coast of Florida. So this resort is so big you need a golf cart to get from one area to another, with long beaches to explore plus a marina and short game golf course.
This was a key lime plantation back in the day, then eventually got bought up and developed as an extensive resort, expanding and upgrading over the decades since. It covers most of the island of Captiva, out beyond Sanibel, with water, mangroves, and beaches all around it.
The activities list is so extensive at South Seas Island Resort that anyone over 40 is going to have to pull out the reading glasses to make out all the options on the four-fold printed rundown. Some are included in the rates, like fishing rod casting challenges, live music at sunset, and night sky observation lessons. Most require an extra charge though, like guided kayaking tours, tennis clinics, and beach yoga. All-day unlimited watersports come with an additional $179 fee.
A big group I was with took out a chartered catamaran with captain and guide from Captiva Cruises. We island hopped around the region to Cabbage Key and Costa Cayo State Park, a great day on the water. (They also run trips with a bigger boat that you can just buy a ticket for.) After we got back, it was time for a sunset party and dinner on the beach.
There are many scheduled activities for kids, though again the majority require an extra fee, like $5 for your hermit crab in the crab races. There are tie-dye workshops, build-a-creature workshops, and various aquatic learning activities. A “kids night out” can provide a welcome break for parents. They can also go wildlife watching easily since there are diving pelicans, herons, and even manatees around frequently.
There’s a good full gym available to guests, tennis courts, bikes to rent, walking trails, and a par-3 golf course. If you wanted to walk from one end of the complex to another, that will get your daily steps in as it’s two miles. (There’s a shuttle you can hop on to avoid that or rent a golf cart.) The pool complex at South Seas Resort is a big hit with kids since it has big waterslides that they can swish down if they’re at least four feet tall. A quieter pool faces the sea and has a bar plus cabanas to rent.
The eating and dining options are extensive here behind the gate, then there are others on Captiva very close by if you want a change of pace. The best-known option is Doc Ford’s, named after a character in the Florida-set novels by Randy Wayne White. It’s a rum bar and restaurant, with a wide array of dining choices that go beyond seafood and bar food.
At the other end of the complex is the excellent Harbourside Bar & Grille facing the marina. We had a couple good meals there, including a nice private dinner by the beach with seafood and rum punch, all beautifully prepared and delicious. Both have a fair number of Florida craft beers on tap and more in bottles and cans.
Other more casual choices include the Attitudes and Latitudes beach bar, the Crooked Snook Tiki bar, the colorful kid magnet Scoops & Slices, and a Starbucks coffee outlet. There are also a couple stores on site for picking up provisions.
It’s hard to generalize about the accommodations here since they range from spacious hotel rooms with a balcony and large bath with tub and shower to full beach houses on their own lot like you would find through a home rental agency. In between are condos and villas of one, two, or more bedrooms.
I stayed in a hotel room this time that faced the marina and had a fridge, safe, plenty of outlets, good WiFi, and an array of toiletries. There was an iron, ample closet and drawer space, and a TV with a good choice of channels.
Many years ago I stayed here with some relatives and we were in condos instead at the other end of the complex. These have multiple bedrooms, a large shared living room, and a full kitchen. They start at 850 square feet. That worked well for us on that trip since we didn’t have to go out to a restaurant for every single meal and we had more space for lounging around together as a family. Take some time to look through the lodging options here. There are set-ups that are beachfront, waterfront, by the tennis courts, and by the marina, size and view determining the rates.
This place is not flawless, as you can see from sharply divided reviews from past guests on the user-generated feedback sites. All the additional charges and resort fees of $20 per person irk a lot of guests and there are some ongoing maintenance issues keeping up so many buildings in this salty air climate. It was clear on my visit that some of the restaurants have trouble finding on-the-ball waiters too, understandable since this small island is a good hour or more away from where service workers can afford to live.
If you can get on island time and chill out though on an ample vacation budget, you’ll eat and drink well, have a gorgeous beach to enjoy, and have plenty to keep you and the kids occupied for days. Stop sweating the bill and order another drink while watching the sun go down.
Rates at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island vary greatly by season and then again by day of the week. On off-season weekdays the regular hotel rooms and one-bedroom villas start at around $330 double with the resort fee and taxes, but rates can start at more than $1,000 double all-in during winter weekends. You’ll find extensive information on the official website and can also check rates online at Expedia or Priceline.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, whose recent second stay here was part of a North American Travel Journalists board meeting hosted by Ft. Myers and Sanibel Tourism. As always, all opinions are his own.