Minutes before my children and I arrived at our seaside resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I got pulled over and given a speeding ticket ($113.50!). It was last March, and like most kids and their parents, at that point in the school calendar we were in extreme need of a hiatus—from pop quizzes, piano scales, and 20-pound book bags. College students may claim spring break as their own, but families need to reboot too.
As for me and my crew, we were minus my husband, whose work would only allow him to wing in at the end of the week. So I picked an easy, all-about-the-outdoors destination: South Seas Island Resort, on Captiva Island, which connects to neighboring Sanibel via a tiny bridge. The two are barrier islands—largely given over to nature preserves and bike paths—and in 2004, the tip of Captiva took a direct hit from Hurricane Charley. We checked in just as South Seas was reopening, after a $140 million resuscitation. Even the sand in front of our Gulf cottage was new.
Also new to these parts: our friends the Neills—Bruce, a marine biologist; Evelyn, until recently the president of creative at an ad agency; and their two young daughters. After many spring trips to Sanibel from their home in New York, they decided to stay. They’ve since opened the Sanibel Sea School, a nonprofit specializing in educational eco-adventures for local and visiting kids.
On our first morning, the Neills whisked us by boat to North Captiva Island for a swim off a sandbar followed by fish tacos. Dolphins swooped around us, and Evelyn pointed out a flock of prehistoric-looking ibis. Back at South Seas, life was equally enchanting: We ate Cheerios on our porch overlooking the water, and had a stretch of beach—plus a nearby tennis court and small pool—nearly to ourselves. We sampled the resort’s two main pools, kids’ tennis clinic, pizza parlor, and game room, all of which were a ways down the road from our quarters. But mostly we didn’t budge.
We did, of course, sign on for a day at Sea School, housed in a 1942 Army cabin at the cozy East End of Sanibel. As we ate coconut that Bruce had shredded with an electric drill, he showed us seashell fossils found just outside the school. Then he led the way to the beach, where he let us discover for ourselves that what looks like spiraling seaweed is actually filled with baby whelks, that the ocean floor is strewn with sand dollars—and that it can be a good idea to let a vacation redirect your entire life.
I’m a sucker for pretty lollies, especially ones that evoke a particular place. We found the die in Vegas, the fish on Sanibel Island, and the cactus in Phoenix. I’d like to say we display them as sweet souvenirs, but they never last that long.