Bonita Springs, Florida, March 2010

Perhaps not the first place you would think of for enjoying Spring Break, at least for a college youth looking for specific entertainment, but if you find yourself in a different demographic, here are just a couple of tips on tours to take and things to do in the area.

I never thought more about the timing of the busy season in Florida other than it being too hot in the summer and a nice place to thaw out during the winter. It turns out, however, there is a little more to the busy season than tourists. For at least the Naples, Bonita Springs, Ft. Myers areas you may find yourself competing with more snowbird locals than tourists when attempting to park at a popular restaurant at what seems to be the key hours of maybe 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Even with the increased traffic, from mid October through mid April, this side of the coast could be a welcome break from other parts of Florida.

On this trip we enjoyed several great places to eat and the full commentary can be found on Yelp for Bonita Springs, Naples, and Venice. Beyond restaurants we enjoyed a few key experiences worth sharing:

Snookin N Cookin

Captain Seth Hayes took us out on a challenging, cloudy water, windy day, right after a lot of rain, and if that was not bad enough it was after one of Florida’s coldest periods in a long time. As Captain Hayes is also a chef the larger goal was to catch enough fish to take home and have a wonderful meal experience the following evening as well. He helped cast out the first line and immediately snagged a trout the instant it hit the water. Wow! I thought it was going to be an amazing day. Unfortunately that turned out to the one and only keeper fish that was interested in being caught.

We came home empty handed and still managed to have an outstanding half day on the water catching numerous snook (all of which were off limits due to the cold weather that killed so many), a lot of red fish (all too big, yes, too big to keep), a few other hits here and there on things like jack, and something that got away well before coming up to the surface that seemed to behave a lot like a stingray.

We came no where near our primary goal of getting a meal for the evening to come yet still managed to have a great time. If you are in the area looking for a captain that certainly seems to know his business give Seth a try. If you are luckier than us you might just want to try his chef services as well.

Water Experiences

Captain Steve Forgione and First Mate Terresa Siebert were our guides on another challenged trip this time from both the weather side (extremely low tides) and from an accident in the morning that closed the only route to their dock which shortened the trip by an hour. On this trip we had two goals in mind – shelling and seeing some wildlife (particularly dolphins or manatee).

Not far out of the dock one of these goals was quickly met when our captain cranked up his secret music of attraction for the dolphins that seem to know his boat very well. It was magical to see them surf in the wake not many feet from where we sat.

With the low tide we needed to implement plan ‘D’ for getting to a beach for shelling. It was a pretty good detour to get there and though I cannot say for sure if we were the first ones to step foot on it in the morning we still managed to find a lot of interesting samples you certainly would never see on a more accessible shore line. We are not shell experts and could not even begin to classify what we put in our bags. For us the fun was being on what seemed to be an untouched shore and exploring the world where the sea touches the land in a way we have never had the privilege to do before.

Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tour

It takes a little over an hour to get out to Wooten’s from the Bonita Springs area and it is well worth the trip. Along the way you will start to pass competitors as you start getting close and I really do not have much in the way to comment on what the differences might be. I know if you get to Wooten’s before 10:30 AM you should not have a problem pretty much getting right on a boat. They do have several classes of boats available to accommodate different sized groups so check their website and give them a call to make sure they fit in with your expectations. They did comment that they actually own the land they tour so obviously they are very familiar with every twist and turn and it makes for quite a ride.

This is my second time on an airboat (the first was on the other side of Florida not far out of Miami) and my comments for comparison would be as follows: The first time we went out there was more of a feel of exploration riding through the tall grass on a relatively quiet boat. We saw wildlife, even though it was very hot going into the summer period, and most interestingly we also saw homes that were built out in the glades. Yes, homes. I guess it would be Florida’s version of a mountain man? Certainly living way outside the normal grid though some have gone as far to run generators to power satellite dishes and so on. On the contrary, you will see more mangroves than grass at Wooten’s and they have large power plants on these boats. In other words, they are loud and fast. Thus, being so different it is a matter of preference as to which one would like better. For me, I believe I have seen enough in the Wooten’s area but would try another ride with Captain Parker Priest when I am back on the east cost.

Though we did not take advantage of it, you can spend more time at Wooten’s on a swamp buggy ride and touring their animal sanctuary. Overall they seem to have a lot going on there and it is up to you as to how much you want to get out of your travel time getting there.

Shark Tooth Hunting at Caspersen Beach

This certainly was a trip of challenges and trying to take the one and a half hour detour up to the Venice area to hunt for sharks teeth would be no exception. To hunt for teeth you really need to have a Florida Snow Shovel. Doing research online I knew Walmart sold them so I thought it would be as easy as going there first and then to the beach. The problem was the change for good in the weather cleared them out of all the stock they had and to make matters worse by the time we got to Caspersen there was no parking anywhere available. We snaked back towards Venice and found parking somewhere in between and at least walked the beach up to the pier.

The Florida Snow Shovels are supposed to be available at the bait shop on the pier but they were sold out as well. Their advice was to try Walmart – yeah, I know that is not going to work. We had a good lunch at the pier and on the walk back towards where we parked at least I found one tooth just laying there on top of the sand.

I even came prepared to look in the water for them with snorkeling gear but if there was not enough in the way already for this experience the jelly fish washing ashore certainly made for the icing on the cake! For next time the bottom line is to call ahead to see if Walmart has Florida Snow Shovels in stock!