During these past few weeks cruising the Gulf of Mexico, your wife has mentally mapped the sun lines burrowed into every pore on your face. Tired of looking at you, her empty eyes glare longingly toward shore. Her nails tap a merciless drum roll on the table as her right leg, crossed over her left knee, rocks like an impatient child in an amusement park line. For her, boredom came and went days ago. Its indignant older brother, resentment, is settling in for a long, long stay.
It's time to get off the boat.
There's no better-civilized shore leave in Florida than Naples, a last stop between the Gulf and the Keys. Your wife can empty the bank account in upscale shops, and you can polish your putt on championship links. This city of 30,000 is quickly growing to cater to the 225,000 snowbirds who stroll its streets each winter. Perceptive travelers will note a distinct charm just off the City Dock, where what appear to be typical shops and restaurants house unexpected delights.
The Dock at Crayton Cove is an open-air restaurant with a surprising oyster menu and a bar that features a different vineyard monthly. The nearby Boathouse restaurant is a little fancier; you can eat outside while watching the sunset melt into the harbor, or in the air conditioning while watching diners outside melt into their chairs. Both eateries are part of Crayton Cove. It includes the Naples Ships Store, with supplies in the back, past the sign that reads, "Old fishermen never die. They just smell that way." A pizza shop, deli, and fishing shop follow. Crayton Cove Gourmet sells fudge and preserves.
It's fairly standard fare, until you reach the Bahamian-colored storefronts the next block up. There, you'll find highbrow hints you're on the edge of real civilization.
Bleu Provence offers "cuisine gourmande" from rack-of-lamb to Maine lobster bouillabaisse. A purple sidewalk leads to Oil Lady Aromatherapy's moisturizers and scented oils. Adjacent orange, pink and yellow storefronts include fashionable ladies' boutiques.
The strip is like a multi-hook lure cast from the heart of Naples, with enough panache to bait you into a stop at each of the city's shopping districts.
There are a few ways to get around. You can board the Naples Trolley Tour at the City Dock, get off at any stop and re-board the next trolley. Stops on the two-hour route include all three upscale districts-Third Street, Fifth Avenue and The Village on Venetian Bay-but Third and Fifth are faster by foot. Cabs are a phone call away, and Enterprise rental cars will meet you at the dock.
About one-fifth of the Third Street shops are galleries. The Mediterranean-style storefronts include Rumah Saya, which has teak furniture crafted in Bali and Indonesia. Stretches of designer stores await along Fifth Avenue, where pastel buildings are shaded by towering palms along wide sidewalks. (The Manhattan-named strip is decidedly Rodeo Drive.) The Village on Venetian Bay includes fabec-young&company, with Italian pottery and faux anaconda place mats.
In all the districts, wares are exquisite, but customers are welcome to hoof through in well-worn boat shoes.
With your wife out shopping, you can enjoy a round of 18. Naples hovers near or atop the list of U.S. cities with most golf courses per capita. The dockmaster suggests the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, a semi-private course. "Charles Lindbergh used to land his plane there, play a round of nine and take off," said Chamber of Commerce President Dawn Jantsch.
Current buzz is about Greg Norman-designed Tiburón, which opened in November 1998. Now's the time to tee off, as it will go mostly private ($95,000 initiation fee, plus dues) when the city's second Ritz-Carlton opens there next year, said general manager Gary Wilcox.
"Probably starting in the fall of 2001," he said, "you'll need to be a member or be at one of the two Ritz-Carltons to play here."
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Where to EAT AND PLAY
The Boathouse is open seven days, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are accepted. (941) 643-2235.
The Dock at Crayton Cove is open seven days, 11 a.m. to midnight. (941) 263-9940.
Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club has a golf course, tennis courts and a spa. (941) 261-2222; fax (941) 261-7380; www.naplesbeachhotel.com.
Tiburón likely will close to the general public in 2001. (941) 594-2040; www.wcigolf.com.
Naples City Dock has 10 slips for transient boats, 30 feet to 130 feet. Cost is $1.25 per foot per day, including water and electricity. (941) 434-4693; fax (941) 434-4773; www.naplescitydock.com.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car will meet you at the City Dock. (941) 643-3332; fax (941) 643-7578.
Naples Trolley Tours run from 8:30 a.m. until just after 5 p.m. Tickets are available at or near all trolley stops. (941) 262-7300; fax (941) 262-6967; www.naples-trolley.com.