FloridaHome ExchangeUnited States

Marco Island, FL – Dolphins, golf, gators, turtles-retirement paradise

What a relaxing change! After a few days of diving in Key Largo and a crazy few days in Key West (at a busy, noisy, fun time of year), we were ready for a slower pace. Fortunately, we had arranged a home exchange in Marco Island on the extreme south end of Florida’s gulf coast. Our exchange hosts had already visited our home while we were in French Polynesia, so this was a non-simultaneous exchange.

Getting to Marco Island, Florida

Marco Island is way south of Tampa, south of Fort Myers, and even south of Naples. It’s only about 23 square miles big and almost half of that is water in the form of backyard canals. The vast majority of homes have a boat dock in their backyard with access to a maze of canals that eventually can get you to the Gulf of Mexico. The population is just over 16,000, but that number definitely fluctuates between the steamy summer months and the near perfect winter weather.

Marco Island is primarily residential and mostly single family homes. High rise condos and a few hotels dominate the southern beaches. Sure, there are all the normal services and basic shopping, but for significant shopping you need to go north to Naples or Fort Myers. The restaurants are quite good, but there aren’t many. The only real industries are tourism and real estate.

 

Perfect canal home for a Florida home exchange!

Dave and Debbie have a beautiful home – immaculate, quiet, comfortable, modern, well-organized, roomy, with a swimming pool and a hot tub with a view. It was located on a quiet street and backing to a canal. If we had our own boat, we would have had great access to the gulf and the mangrove waterways.

Golf – The only golf available on the island is very private.

However, there are a handful of nice courses within 20 minutes and dozens more in the Naples area. In October, prices were very reasonable and Tom had no problem getting reservations as a single using GolfNow.com. The courses were in very good shape and, typical of coastal Florida courses, they were flat with lots of water hazards. Other hazards included occasional gators, so care must be taken when retrieving errant golf balls. Lots of waterfowl and a few turtles added to the scenery.

Wildlife viewing is everywhere in the Marco Island area.

The Everglades are very close along with several wildlife sanctuaries and nature preserves. Yes, there are dangerous critters like alligators, snakes, spiders, and nasty biting bugs, and being aware of that is important, but it’s so peaceful you forget. If you take advantage of guided tours, beauty abounds and lots of learning opportunities, too. Just driving across highway 41 en route to Marco Island from the Keys, we passed numerous airboat tour operators and turnouts to various official Everglades National Park attractions. One of the visitor’s centers was closed for the day, but we wandered onto their adjacent boardwalk to view many gators, garfish, turtles, and water birds at close range. The gators just east of the center were merely feet away with only a highway guard rail between us. Sheila’s lucky her naive enthusiasm didn’t get her eaten.

The Everglades Swamp River

We drove to Everglades City (just under an hour from Marco Island) to experience one of the National Park Service tours. While waiting for the tour to begin, we watched a well-done educational video about the Everglades (contrary to what most would think, the Everglades is not a big swamp, but actually a very wide slow-moving river). The tour took us (and 4 others) on a small motorized boat, zigzagging through the mangroves. Our guides pointed out and named many aquatic birds including herons, spoonbills, egrets, osprey, and more. The highlight was a mangrove tunnel where we saw gators, crabs, and some very large scary spiders. The area also has a number of private airboat tour operators, but we didn’t try one. Friends of ours did and enjoyed it. Everglades City has an interesting shady history, if you’d like to google that! Later we learned that the son of a friend of ours offers guided fly fishing adventures within the Everglades National Park and Ten Thousand Islands. He is Captain Andy Lee of Everglades Fly Fishing Guides.  

Playful wild dolphins!

An excellent excursion we experienced was the Dolphin Explorer, a 30 foot catamaran outfitted to carry up to 28 passengers. A dolphin survey crew takes passengers on daily three-hour expeditions for sighting and studying the dolphins of southwest Florida. The captain and first mate double as naturalists and explain all about dolphin habitat and behaviors, and point out all the other landmarks and wildlife on the journey. Over 200 dolphins are named and catalogued. Because of its design, the boat is perfect for both navigating the water of the Gulf and the backwater estuaries. You don’t jump in to swim with these wild dolphins, but you do get up close and personal. The dolphins seem to like showing off for the passengers, wrestling and goofing around within arm’s reach, and they are attracted to the boat’s wake. Their antics, jumping and vying for position, make fabulous photographs. Here’s a 50 second video Sheila took.

She says: Our guides, Captain Bob and Bob, identify each dolphin by the markings on its dorsal fin!  They told interesting stories about the individual dolphins and they genuinely seem to love their work and care about the dolphins.

The boat also made a stop at a remote beach for shelling. Beach conditions were markedly different from the protected estuaries we’d been exploring. The winds were extreme! It was actually hilarious to watch the power of the wind pushing the sand and the tide SIDEWAYS. We got sandblasted (but this is unusual). We highly recommend the Dolphin Explorer. It’s fun, educational and we were well treated. Their website is http://www.dolphin-study.com/Home.htm

Seafood and pizza

We went out for dinner a handful of times during our stay and enjoyed every one of our experiences. Snook Inn had an excellent seafood buffet, plus the staff dressed up for Halloween. The Sunset Grill had good food and an excellent location overlooking the beach and we timed our arrival for a spectacular sunset. Joey’s pizza was also quite satisfying.

Marco Island has beautiful beaches.

Typical of the Gulf Coast of Florida, the waves are usually non-existent or very small – not many surfing opportunities. The beach is wide and gradual and the sand is powdery white and soft. While the entire length of the beach is public, the access areas are few and far between. There are only two large public parking areas and each charge $7 a day. On the one windy day, dozens of kite surfers took advantage at Tigertail beach.

Could I really retire in Marco Island, FL?

There are plenty of great things to say about Marco Island, but could I really live here full-time? The weather is fabulous, the town is immaculate, pretty, and well maintained. Folks are friendly. There are great beaches and loads of water sports opportunities.

Tom says: I could certainly handle a few months a year here and the golf is great. Unless I had my own boat, I think I would get bored – just not enough action, but maybe.

Sheila says: The lifestyle is very appealing and I’d be interested in a community like this, but closer to great diving and snorkeling. Nearby Cape Coral and Port Charlotte are excellent communities to consider, too.

RTG Helpful Hint

We highly recommend our Marco Island hosts! View their Home Exchange profile.

Trip Date: October 2014

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