The island’s Sundial Beach Resort & Spa makes a perfect base camp for family groups
As soon as you hop onto the causeway that leads from Fort Myers to idyllic Sanibel Island, your shoulders seem to drop. Easy living awaits on this barrier isle off the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida.
A subtropical paradise, Sanibel Island has few chain stores, and no building can be taller than a palm. Fringing the Gulf of Mexico, its powdery beaches are perfect for family-friendly activities like sandcastle building and shell collecting.
Sundial Beach Resort & Spa, offering supreme comfort and loads of recreational options, seems custom-made for family reunions based on Sanibel Island. Situated along a mile of white-sand beach, the resort’s four-story condo buildings are spread across six courtyards, and some are directly on the water. Of the 400 individually owned units, 227 participate in Sundial’s vacation rental program.
Accommodations to Suit Any Family Group
Guests can choose from newly renovated studio and one-, two- and three-bedroom condos. The three-bedroom unit, perfect for large groups, features two full bathrooms, a full eat-in kitchen and a living area with a queen sleeper sofa.
All accommodations have a patio or screened lanai (balcony), cable TV, wireless internet and a kitchen with range/oven, refrigerator, microwave, toaster and coffeemaker. Decor varies by residence. My one-bedroom condo featured framed pastel art of manatees, pelicans, dolphins and a map of the barrier islands. The four chairs around the white table in the dining area each were a different color—blue, green, pink and yellow. The lanai overlooked a grassy courtyard planted with palms and hibiscus, and there was a view of the sea.
Sundial guests can stock their pantry with groceries from Bailey’s Marketplace, a convenience store located at the resort entrance. Part of Bailey’s General Store, which has been serving Sanibel Island since 1899, it also carries beer and wine, beachwear, personal care items, and games and toys. Delivery to your unit is free.
Take-out and delivery also are available from Sundial’s restaurants, which are clustered in the Resort Center, or main building. The Sea Breeze Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offers locally sourced seafood, burgers, tacos, seasonal salads and seafood chowder, along with dinner entrees like seared scallops and pistachio-crusted snapper. For lunch, I recommend the blackened grouper sandwich on toasted brioche bun. The breakfast buffet serves up all the favorites, from pancakes to custom-ordered omelets, and the biscuits and gravy is excellent. Tables on the cafe’s terrace look out on the main swimming pool and Gulf of Mexico.
Diners enjoy an entertaining hibachi experience at Shima Japanese Steakhouse, acclaimed for its sushi and steak. Shima Grab N Go serves the same sushi in a take-out shop in the resort’s lobby.
Down by the main pool, guests can dine at the bar or on the poolside patio at thatch-roofed Turtle’s Tiki Bar. The casual menu includes pina coladas, frozen daiquiris and other signature cocktails with a tropical twist, plus salads, nachos, conch fritters, fried clams and peel-and-eat shrimp. Also poolside, Slice of Paradice offers pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, subs, calzones and strombolis. Sundial has a total of five heated swimming pools.
Beachcombers on Sanibel Island have a field day collecting shells, sorting through the pink and white specimens that wash ashore. One of the best places for shell collecting in the world, Sanibel’s shores are literally strewn with the shells of clams, scallops and other mollusks, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The hunched-over position exhibited by serious shell hunters is known as the “Sanibel stoop.” Beware that it’s prohibited to collect any shell with a living creature inside.
Activities, Programs Keep Families Busy
For total relaxation and privacy, families can lounge in a beach or poolside cabana. Besides sunbathing and napping, they can take advantage of an extensive array of resort facilities and recreation programs. Sundial offers six HydroGrid tennis courts, 12 Plexicushion pickleball courts and a fitness center. Bicycles, kayaks and paddle boards are available for rent. (A popular bike ride on the island’s flat paths is a three-mile trek to the lighthouse.)
Turtle Scouts Kids Club, designed for ages 6-13, keeps young guests engaged through crafts, games, sports and campfire nights. There are morning, afternoon and evening sessions. Sanibel Sea School classes, for kids and adults, cover subjects like shells and wildlife.
Adults looking for some “me” time can get pampered while taking in stunning views of the Gulf at Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa & Boutique in the Resort Center. Founded on beauty and lifestyle expert Kay Casperson’s inspirational philosophy of Beauty Inside Out, it offers services that range from pedicures to couple’s massages.
By Randy Mink
Lead photo courtesy of Sundial Beach Resort