Well, we're back, and it was a great trip.
First some pre-trip info and then onto the trip portion.
Had to fix the van two days before going (more on that later). On the day before we left my 8-year-old son broke his thumb doing a backflip on the couch; something he's not allowed to do. He's a gymnast and we pay for him to do that at the GYM! So he had to wear a splint the whole time. Fortunately for him he was allowed to get it wet. Hopefully he's learned his lesson.
Anyway, onto the trip.
We stayed at The Seaside Inn and it proved to be as nice as all the reviews say it is. Breakfast basket brought to the room each afternoon for the next day containing bagles or danishes, and fresh fruit, juice, coffee, and yogurt. We actually didn't even eat all of it it was so much. Complimentary copies of The New York Times and the local paper each day as well as free bike rentals and DVD rentals and paperback books to borrow. The staff was super nice, and pretty much catered to every need. They put beach chairs and umbrellas on the beach every morning unless it was windy and then just the chairs. The air conditioning was pretty loud though (as I had read earlier) so instead of setting it to "auto" we had to leave the fan running all the time at night. When set to auto, any time it turned on or off you really noticed it and it would wake you up. With the fan running all the time it was just some white noise that actually kept us from hearing the neighbors, so it worked out well. Would be nice if they could update that so that it wasn't so loud though. That's really my only complaint about the Seaside Inn. It's not a luxury hotel, so you can't go into it expecting that, but for a nice clean beach-type cottage, it was perfect. Very nice salt water pool too.
On the way to Sanibel Island, we stopped at one of the places to stop on the causeway. My daughter immediately found a live starfish. Very nice beginning to the week. We stopped at the visitor center and picked up a few things and then checked in a little early. Low tide that first day, and we walked WAY out from the beach. We were amazed immediately at the number of shells on the beach and started collecting. We noticed that by the next day we had become WAY more picky, so when we were going through the shells to keep and the ones to throw away, we always said the really bad ones must have been found on the first day.
My daughter found a decent-sized live whelk -- I'll post a picture later. We put it back of course. We also found three live sand dollars, seven hermit crabs, lots of live shells, two star fish, a sea star, and lots of anoles (74 according to my son).
On our first evening, our car conked out like it did a few days earlier in Ohio, and the check engine light came on. I took it to the BP on Periwinkle about a mile and a half from the Seaside Inn first thing Monday morning. They found the problem and fixed it, and I had it by 4:30 that afternoon. It was a bad cam shaft sensor (same as before) but it was attached to a part that was broken that was making the sensor go bad, so they replaced both things. No problems with the car from then on; so if you have car problems there, I recommed the BP on Periwinkle! I dropped the car off and ran back to the Seaside Inn and joined my family and my sister's family at the beach, so hardly any time lost.
My sister, her husband and her two boys were staying at Ocean's Reach, so we got to see the beach there and swim in their pool. It was very nice, and their place was much bigger and nicer than our room at the Seaside Inn, but of course they paid more for it too. I'm sure the beach changes all the time, but I much prefered the beach in front of the Seaside Inn to the beach in front of their place. They agreed, and so we all spent more time at the Seaside Inn beach.
We went to Ding Darling twice on one day -- once at 10:00 and then again at 7:00. Saw more birds at 7:00 as the tide was going out. At 10:00 as we were paying our $5 to enter, a Yellow Crowned Night Heron flew in front of our car and ate a crab! We saw cormorants, blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, reddish egrets, and lots of ospreys. Those ospreys were everywhere. They've really made a comeback.
The bugs weren't horrible. We all got a few bites, but it wasn't a problem. We did have to spray bug spray on when we went to Ding Darling in the evening. We didn't have time to go to the Bailey Tract, and we decided that we wanted to be on the beach more than we wanted to kayak, so we didn't do that either. We did get a big dose of nature by going through Ding Darling Twice. It was awesome.
We drove to Captiva one evening with the hopes of seeing a nice sunset. The small parking lot at Blind Pass was packed though with people waiting to park there, so we didn't get to stop there as the sun was setting. We drove around a little and then went back and parked after the sun had dropped below the horizon -- still very beautiful, and it is there that we saw three dolphins swimming VERY close to the shore by the big rocks there. That was very cool.
We were trying to keep from spending too much money on food, but we did eat dinner out 4 times. The first night we ate at The Island Cow. The food was very good. My wife had the fried shrimp and shared with me. It was perhaps the best I've ever had. I had the crab cake sandwich, and it was just ok. We would have really liked the Island Cow, but our waiter was really bad. He took our drinks for refills and then finally came back with them 20 minutes later. Also, after I asked for the check he just never came back. I had to ask the hostess for the bill and she went to find him, and he finally appeared. With the wait and then the long time it took to get the bill, we were there for 2 hours. It wasn't even that crowded really, and everyone else seemed to be serving their customers well. We were a little miffed because we didn't want to spend our first night on the island sitting in a restaurant. We also ate at the Hungry Heron, and we all liked it. My wife and I got the crunchy grouper sandwich, and it was very good. We also ate dinner twice at Jerry's, and we found it to be very good with GREAT service. My son doesn't like to eat meat, so the salad bar there along with some french fries did the trick.
All in all a great trip. I hope to go back some day. It's quite a drive from Central Ohio though, so perhaps next time we fly.