TORONTO — There’s a curious phenomenon known as the ‘Sanibel Stoop’ that causes visitors and locals in The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel to stoop over at any given moment.
What is this mysterious affliction attributed to? Shelling, one of the destination’s top tourist draws, is so prevalent and popular that people can be seen in a constant stooped state in search of gorgeous, one-of-a-kind shells.
Of course, shelling is just one of many reasons to visit this beachside destination, says Jackie Parker, Communications Manager at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, who spoke exclusively with Travelweek. Located just 35 miles north of Naples and 150 miles from St. Petes/Clearwater, Fort Myers & Sanibel has gained a sizeable Canadian following (about 250,000 each year) for its ‘Old Florida’ charm, its 50 miles of coastline and its incredible natural scenery and wildlife.
“Over 250,000 Canadians arrive each year, with winter being the most popular time to come,” says Parker. “If you compared the way the destination looks now with how it did 20 years ago, it would look the same, thanks to the fact that three-quarters of the island is protected land.”
This is great news for nature lovers and leisure travellers looking for a laidback destination where “your breathing slows down, your shoulders relax and where you can totally unplug,” adds Parker. And being just a three-hour drive from Orlando’s theme parks, Fort Myers & Sanibel is a great add-on to any family getaway.
Here are the latest updates and the destination’s top selling points:
- Beaches are open! Though last year’s red tides wreaked havoc along Florida’s coast, Fort Myers & Sanibel’s beaches are officially open and its waters are safe to swim in. Visitors can view current beach conditions via webcams on FortMyers-Sanibel.com.
- It’s easily accessible. Direct flights from Canada to Southwest Florida International Airport are available with WestJet (from Toronto and Ottawa) and Air Canada (from Toronto and Montreal).
- It’s got an island. Sanibel is a barrier island that’s so shallow, “you can walk a good ¼ mile out into the water,” says Parker. It’s accessible via the Sanibel Causeway bridge, which costs US$6 one way to cross.
- Wildlife is abundant. There are 6,400 preserved acres on Sanibel that make up one of the largest mangrove wildernesses in the U.S. Suggest the ‘Wildlife Drive’ from where clients can spot birds and alligators.
- You won’t find shells like these anywhere else. Local beaches, especially on Sanibel and Captiva, offer the best shelling in the United States, if not the world. The rarest of shells is the Junonia – find it for some major bragging rights! Also, don’t miss the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
- It’s a great place for families. Aside from shelling and incredible beaches, many local attractions offer kid-friendly activities. At CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), kids can help ‘diagnose’ injured animals such as turtles and birds. Kids will also love kayaking in Hickey’s Creek Mitigation Park, and hiking at Caloosahatchee Regional Park, not to mention canoeing and bird watching at J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
- It’s got a vibrant music scene. Each year in September, Fort Myers & Sanibel hosts the Island Hoppers Songwriting Fest, now in its 6th Taking place from Sept. 20-29, the event welcomes more than 70 musical acts on Captiva Island, Downtown Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach. Guests are then encouraged to ‘hop’ from island to island!
- It was Thomas Edison’s favourite winter hangout. Thomas Edison first came to Fort Myers in 1885 and loved it so much he purchased more than 13 acres along the Caloosahatchee River. He returned with his wife in 1886 and spent the next 60 years returning to their winter retreat. Visitors can explore the Edison family home, now a historic home, which includes original furnishings.
- New hotel alert! Upon its grand opening on Aug. 6, 2020, the Luminary Hotel is set to be a game-changer in Fort Myers in the MICE market. The 12-storey hotel in downtown Fort Myers has already booked its first convention for two months following its opening date.
For more information on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, go to https://www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/.