Marco Island Marriott
Billie Swamp Safari Airboat Ride
As our captain handed out earbuds to drown out the
roar of the engine, I knew I was in for a wild ride. Yes, we were
in South Florida, but after driving along the highway known as
Alligator Alley, we were far removed from the famous beaches. We
wanted to experience Florida's wild side, and gliding through Everglades National
Park on a fun, although loud, airboat tour of the swamps was a
great way to do it.
Airboat rides bring you face-to-face with the animals who call
the Everglades home, including alligators, crocodiles, turtles,
herons and egrets. Billie
Swamp Safari is a popular Everglades tour operator, introducing
visitors not only to the wildlife, but also the native Seminole
Indians. For truly adventurous families, they even have rustic
cabins in the swamps you can rent.
We decided to make the
Gulf Coast's Marco Island Marriott our home base. It's just
over an hour away from the Everglades, but feels like another
world. Here you'll find wide stretches of shell rich, powder soft
sand boasting magnificent sunsets.
Marco Island is an hour south of Fort Meyers, two hours west of
Fort Lauderdale. Off Marco Island's coast lies the Ten
Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, named after the many
small uninhabited mangrove islets. Although there really are only a
few hundred of them, these mangroves are home to an abundance of
wildlife. Most importantly for my kids, they are bountiful in
We learned plenty about the bottlenose dolphin during our
three-hour tour as citizen scientists aboard the Dolphin Explorer. Our
energetic naturalist guide, James Livaccari, enlisted our help in
the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Research Project. Dolphins are
identified through their dorsal fins. During our boat ride we were
asked to try and photograph the fins. "Dolphin jumping at 2
o'clock!" yells a passenger, and we all quickly point our cameras.
Photos are shared with local agencies that use the images to track
the animals. It's a fun, kid-friendly way to learn about the
dolphins and their habitat.
There's also plenty to do on land in Marco Island. An al-fresco
lunch on the patio of the Old Marco Lodge, in the historic fishing
village of Goodland, is a great catch. At night, head over to the
kitschy nautically themed Capt. Brien's Seafood and Raw
Just two blocks from the Marco Island Marriott, I had a
world-class lobster bisque and sesame seared ahi tuna salad. Not
only is the food phenomenal, this charming restaurant has fun decor
and at night turns into a comedy club. The day we were there, Louie
Anderson was performing. Other nights you'll find SNL's Kevin
Nealon, Pauly Shore and Drew Carey reeling them in at Off the Hook Comedy
Southwest Florida provides plenty to entertain the whole
family, from shell collecting to dolphin and gator spotting and
even a few laughs for the grownups. Next time you're planning a
Florida vacation, consider taking a walk on the Gulf Coast's wild
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