We whiled away our morning with a prolonged frolic on a powder-sand strand, with nary a condo in sight. By lunch hour, we were tying up at the most exclusive address in the area, Useppa Island. Access to the island requires a boat and an invitation. The entire island is operated as a private club, and membership grants access to marina docks, restaurant, clubhouse, beaches, and other public areas of the island.
From Useppa, we idled a short distance westward, across the ICW to the decidedly more democratic island resort of Cabbage Key. The hill that commands the center of Cabbage Key is actually a shell mound created over many generations by the region’s indigenous Calusa people. In the 1930s, the family of novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart settled on this high ground, constructing a home that was subsequently transformed into the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant.
The Wells family acquired the vintage inn in the mid-1970s, and has since done a marvelous job of restoring and maintaining this charming slice of Old Florida. Returning after a prolonged absence, I found Cabbage Key as I remembered. Visitors can climb the water tower to catch a sunset over the Gulf; still enjoy a fire burning in the lounge hearth on cool evenings; and wonder at walls of the dining room still covered in an inch-thick coating of autographed dollar bills. On busy weekends, a small armada of daytrippers still come ashore to consume the inn’s signature cheeseburgers.
Come evening, the atmosphere at the Inn downshifts. Burgers may be the dining room’s bestseller, but the dinner menu gives evidence of a far greater talent in the kitchen. After a quiet, savory meal and the ritual signing and attachment of fresh dollar bills to the wall, our crew adjourned to the den-size bar, where Rob Wells, Sr., was dispensing advice on snook fishing and recollections of years past.
Cabbage Key marked the midpoint of our cruise, but just the beginning of possibilities. Pine Island Sound offers a rich mix of destinations—far more than we could experience in the time remaining. Pelican Bay is the bestknown anchorage, but there are dozens of other secluded gunkholes scattered through the expanses of the Sound. Those more interested in the lush life can stop into the South Seas Island Resort for some golf and spa time. Recently, South Seas has undergone a $140 million upgrade that includes some spectacular new public areas and a complete rebuilding of the marina docks.
Another area favorite is the ’Tween Waters Inn, where marina guests are just a short stroll away from Gulf beaches, and an easy taxi ride away from Sanibel and Captiva’s dining and entertainment scene. At the ’Tween Waters, the concierge can set you up to play 18 holes in the morning and get a spa treatment in the afternoon, and then you can head over to the Crows Nest to watch the crab races.
Farther south, the immaculate Sanibel Harbor Resort and Spa sits at the mouth of the Caloosa River, and Estero Island’s working fish docks now share the waterfront with a trio of eateries. Just across the way, the Pink Shell resort provides boaters and resort guests with an upscale option that’s a cut above the strand’s traditional offerings.
Ultimately, the choices outweighed the calendar. Regardless of where our ramblings took us, this cruise mirrored so many of my previous excursions on the Sound. We headed for home having revisited long-time favorites, discovered a couple of new venues, and postponed others till next time. And that’s why, when the destination is Pine Island Sound, there will always be a next time.