20 March 2019

Travel Guide: Marco Island, Florida

I should start by thanking my Mom and Dad for this trip - it was better than any Christmas gift I have ever received... even that Muppet keyboard I used until it literally exploded battery acid. Travel is better than any tangible item.

We were in Marco Island, Florida for a relaxing week over Christmas. A good thing to know is that most people LEAVE Florida for Christmas only to return on Boxing Day. I'm glad we were on Marco Island during a quiet time because it meant we got to experience SO much more, without the crowds and without outrageous traffic getting on and off the island.

Six of us flew from Toronto to Fort Myers on December 22 on a very quick (only 3 hours) Air Canada flight. Our airplane was HUGE! I have noticed that airplanes to and from Florida are always gigantic because it's one of the most popular destinations for Canadians -- granted most are retirees or families with young children!

Anyways, we arrived in Fort Myers and picked up our rental car and headed straight for the nearest Chick-fil-A... not a joke. After feeding our chicken craving (note: their grilled chicken nuggets are an amazing gluten-free menu option), we also hit up Target and Costco for some essentials (the Kirkland version of Bailey's is so yummy!) and then hit the highway for Marco Island.
Approximately 45 minutes south of Fort Myers, lies one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. White sand and sea shells line the nearly 6 miles of beach surrounding Marco Island. Our rental home was located on the south end of the island right on the river. Boats, ski-doos, kayaks and paddle boards are often seen floating down the river, but more exciting were the many dolphins we saw swimming by our dock!

I absolutely loved having my own home, complete with a full kitchen and private pool. I definitely recommend booking a home through VRBO or AirBNB if you are going to Florida. That being said, I also highly recommend the JW Marriott Marco Island if you do decide to go the hotel route - read more about this Marriott property below.

Where to Eat:

Snook Inn
We love to ask family and friends for food recommendations in any new destination we visit. One of Tyler's friends recommended the Grouper Sandwich at Snook Inn and we were happy they did! Snook Inn is also one of the most happening places on the island, so expect a 45-60 minute wait to be seated, loud music, tight quarters but GREAT times!
Quinn's on the Beach
Quinn's was a lucky find one evening while we were checking out the Marriott property. I had heard it was a really nice hotel, but when I arrived I was even more impressed by the number of amazing restaurants and bars on the property. Naturally my favourite one was located directly on the beach and had a fire thrower perform every evening at sunset. The drinks are expensive, but worth it, and the food was delicious. We went here a few times!

Marco Island Brewery
The only true brewery on the island, Marco Island Brewery has the largest selection of draught beer on the island. They also have an extensive menu and some fun games to play!

NeNe's Kitchen
There is always a line-up to get into this place, which means it has to be good. I didn't go, but I read reviews that breakfast here is delicious. I won't lie, the line-up deterred me, I hate waiting in line especially on vacation. But if you want a great breakfast, I'd definitely suggest checking out NeNe's kitchen.

DaVinci's Ristorante
The best Italian food in Marco Island, DaVinci's is tucked away in a strip plaza near the north end of Marco Island, conveniently just a few blocks from our rental home. The food is so amazing, though very carb and dairy loaded. It's no wonder I gained at least five pounds on this trip considering all of the good food we were eating.

What to Do:
Tigertail Beach
Known as a secret beach that requires you to wade through a muddy swamp, we found a longer but much more desirable route to the beach. Head south along the beach and follow the curve until you reach the white sandy beach at Tigertail. It's a windy beach but the sand is beautiful and a lot less shelly than the rest of Marco Island Beach.
Kayak the Canals
If you love to see wildlife - and by that I mean dolphins - I suggest kayaking through the canals. The dolphin sightings in Marco Island are unreal. We saw at least 2 a day and they would linger and play in the canals for hours. If you take a kayak out you can get up close and personal with them. So fun!
Bike for Ice Cream at Sweet Annie's
Marco Island is an awesome place for biking. The roads have bike lanes and it's small enough for little adventures by bike. We took the bikes and rode for ice cream at Sweet Annie's a local ice cream shop that has so many dairy-free, nut-free options so the whole family can enjoy a cone - or cup!
Take an Everglades Airboat Tour
We did an airboat tour of the mangroves in the Florida Everglades. We chose the most popular tour company, Captain Jack's, because it had such great reviews. If I could have snapped a photo of my Dad's face the entire ride, I would frame it and look at it daily - it was just TOO good! Unfortunately, we had the craziest airboat driver who warned us that anything in our hands WOULD end up in the water, never to be seen again, so I couldn't get that shot. But basically it was the widest grin, and he possibly had his tightest grip on the seat in front of him. It was just SO much fun, and even though we didn't see any wildlife beyond a family of raccoons, this tour was a major highlight of the trip. The mangroves are stunning, and the boat ride was such a thrill. I even learned a little fun fact - Did you know? From December to April, the mangroves are full of salt water, and from May to November when the tide changes the mangroves turn to fresh water. Since Alligators thrive in fresh water, we didn't see any on our tour. If you go, ask for Troy to be your leader/driver and you're guaranteed to have a blast! Note: If you're there at the wrong time of year, like we were, and don't get to see much wildlife on the tour, with your airboat tour ticket you also get admission to the animal sanctuary where you can see SO many protected alligators and crocodiles.

I will say, as a family of shoppers we found it hard to get our shopping fix in while in Marco Island. That being said, if you drive into South Naples (20 minutes away) there are a few great stores, but for the best shopping head to the Miromar Outlets in Estero or the Waterside Shops in Naples.
The Shops at Old Marco
If you catch it at the right time you might be able to shop the colourful shops at Old Marco. Most of the time the shops seem to be closed though ... Island time! So if you go and nothing is opened, don't be surprised. But there is a really great seafood restaurant that is always open that you could sit out on the patio and enjoy.

Where to Stay:
If you aren't booking a vacation home through VRBO or AirBNB, I highly recommend staying at the JW Marriott Marco Island. We spent nearly every evening watching the sunset from one of their beach bars or on their beach. They have so many amazing restaurants on site, and 2 gigantic pools. If we weren't going with a large group, we'd stay at the Marriott, but house rentals are easier for large families, and I liked that we had our own pool and boat dock.

A Day Trip from Marco Island:

Did you know you can take a CRUISE from Marco Island to the Florida Keys? I didn't until I was reading some local magazines on the island. It's $150 per person for a one way trip to the keys and around a 3 hour boat ride! So worth it to see some of Florida's most sought after real estate! We didn't have time for it this visit, but maybe on our next trip ...

In the meantime, here are a few more shots from our trip!

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