Day Cruises From Sanibel and Captiva

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Visiting Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

From Sanibel and Captiva Islands you can take a day cruise to the nearby islands of Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, Cayo Costa State Park, and Gasparilla Island (Boca Grande). Various tour operators offer different packages that vary from half-day cruises to full-days. Some involve shelling and snorkeling, while others involve lunch and a short visit or dinner and a sunset.

The Lady Chadwick sails toward Cabbage Key, Florida.

We took the full day cruise to Cabbage Key and Useppa Island aboard the Lady Chadwick operated by Captiva Cruises out of McCarthy's Marina in Captiva. We got a two-for-one coupon out of a local magazine, so the price was right.

The Lady Chadwick is a large, stable and very comfortable boat with an air-conditioned lower deck and an open-air upper deck. The cruise is narrated during certain parts of the trip. The trip to Cabbage Key takes about 2 hours. The boat stops at both Cabbage Key and Useppa Island, so passengers can choose where they prefer to visit and eat lunch. We were allotted about 2 hours to eat lunch and explore, then back on the boat for a relaxing trip back to Captiva.

Cabbage Key began its modern evolution in 1929 when it was developed as the winter estate of the Rinehart family (think Mary Roberts Rinehart, the famous author). The main building has solar energy, six fireplaces, five porches, a storm shelter and a rain water system that stores 25,000 gallons in the building's concrete foundation. Don't worry about storm surges. The building is constructed atop an Indian shell mound and is 38 feet above sea level.

Various families have owned Cabbage Key, but for the past 30 years it has been owned and operated by Rob and Phyllis Wells, who also own the historic Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island. Cabbage Key does offer overnight accommodations. The best way to visit Cabbage Key of course is with your own boat. That way you can hang out for more than the two hours the tour operators allow. But there's something to be said for letting someone else steer the boat while you just chill out. No worries. Just cruisin'.

On the upper deck of the Lady Chadwick to Cabbage Key, Florida.

Cruising on the upper deck of the Lady Chadwick, which is operated by Captiva Cruises out of McCarthy's Marina in Captiva.

North Captiva Island, Florida.

Cruising by North Captiva, which is only accessible by boat, or by private plane (it has a tiny airstrip).

Dolphin jumping in boat wake.

Dolphins jumping in the boat wake always cause a bit of excitement.

Cabbage Key, Florida.

Approaching Cabbage Key. As you can see, there is not much development on the island.

The Lady Chadwick at the dock on Cabbage Key, Florida.

The Lady Chadwick docked at Cabbage Key. Useppa island can be seen in the distance.

Cabbage Key, Florida docks.

View of the dock at Cabbage Key. The gift shop is located at the dock in the white building. Great spot to grab a t-shirt, some batteries for the camera, and some insect repellent.

Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, Pine Island Sound, Florida.

Entrance to the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant.

My iphone grabbed this shot of my new bride chowing down on a mahi sandwich inside the Cabbage Key restaurant. Note the wall behind her papered with dollar bills. Also note the screened windows. The restaurant is not air-conditioned, but constant breezes and the shade of a huge and ancient banyan tree keep you cool--and the ice-cold beverages don't hurt either.

Lunch at the Cabbage Key Restaurant, Florida.

My standard order on Cabbage Key. Cold shrimp, cole slaw, and potato salad. Frankly I don't care for their potato salad. The shrimp is what I really want. Chase it down with a cold beer, followed by a slice of frozen mud pie, or key lime pie--and that's all I need to be happy. Don't come to Cabbage Key expecting fine dining and gourmet food. It isn't about the food. Cabbage Key is all about doing something different and having a glimpse of what life in the islands can be like.

Order simple dishes like shrimp or a sandwich. Relax and enjoy being where you are.  Warning: Cabbage Key can get crowded on holiday weedends, like Memorial Day. I've heard they can serve 700 people on a holiday. So if you want quiet, come during the week. Summer and fall weekdays can be really quiet.

Cabbage Key Restaurant shaded by ficus tree.

Nestled partly under the shade of a huge banyan tree, the Cabbage Key Inn provides a much needed respite from the heat.

Cabbage Key water tower.

The wooden water tower was build in the 1930's. It's about 60 feet tall and holds 6,000 gallons of water. While many of the nearby islands had water towers during their history, this tower is the only one not destroyed by hurricanes. 41 wooden steps lead to an observation deck just underneath the reservoir.

BeachHunter on the observation deck of the Cabbage Key water tower.

Beachhunter on the observation deck of the Cabbage Key water tower.

Cabbage Key nature trail.

A nature trail takes a circular path around the island. There are no beaches on Cabbage Key, and nothing to do but relax.

Useppa Island waterfront house.

Nearby Useppa Island is much more developed and "upscale."

Useppa Island marina.

The dock at Useppa Island. We haven't been on this island yet so I don't have photos of the island. We'll perhaps visit Useppa next time.

On board the Lady Chadwick. Lower Deck.

Despite the early October heat, all the passengers were on the upper deck. The lower deck is air-conditioned and has a bar.

Copyright: David McRee,