Two decades ago, a strip mall, parking lot, and acres of invasive plants stood on this land, hosting crowds of shoppers bustling through their daily routines. Now, serene greenery has once again reclaimed the expanse, replacing the concrete and metal with 170 acres of flourishing gardens and pine flatwoods. Naples Botanical Garden's 90-acre preserve is home to seven ecosystems, including untouched forests, marshes, and mangroves, where hundreds of animal species and more than 300 species of native and exotic plants dwell.
Cultivating a diverse array of subtropical flora, the seven garden habitats enchant and educate adults and children alike. Visitors meander along 2.5 miles of walking trails, dropping into the Lea Asian Garden to admire a northern Thailand riverside scene and relax at the Balinese--temple water garden, spying on frogs trying to have a conversation with their own reflections. Throughout the Kapnick Caribbean Garden, guests stroll beneath a vine-covered arbor and through the coconut grove, which showcases plants from Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific that had great economic impact on the islands. Wee ones splash in jets of water in the Smith's Children’s Garden, where they can visit a butterfly house, caper about treehouses, and drop by the healthy-eating garden to ask organic vegetables why there are no mummies in the food pyramid. In addition to engaging the senses, the botanical gardens enlightens minds of all ages with myriad educational programs and events.
Reel Kind Fishing charters boats on which adventurers explore backwater wetlands, protected freshwater, and saltwater regions that are home to diverse marine life. Along with licensed and experienced captains, the company supplies rods, reels, tackle, and bait, ensuring that even novice fishers can participate. Tour-takers might nab snook, redfish, spotted seatrout, and tarpon, the four of which can be housed together in a jumbo aquarium for a fish reality show, as long as a sassy blowfish joins the mix. Each boat seats up to three people for half-days, three-quarter days, or full days, with the vessels heading either inshore or offshore near the Gulf of Mexico. Explorers might bring a hat, sunglasses, snacks, and jackets, according to the weather, and smocks depending on how neatly their co-tourists can eat.
Modeled after The Juilliard School in New York, the Naples Performing Arts Center celebrates dance, drama, music, and film. When speaking with Fox 4 News, the center's owner proudly proclaimed it a facilitator for the "love of the arts for our children." Kids do receive ample opportunity for creative expression in the creative beginners program, which fosters a fun and supportive environment for preschoolers' imaginations to blossom with songs, stories, and future Internet dance crazes.
Both older children and adults can expand their creative capacities with classes and workshops that are both social and instructional. Dance lessons teach the choreography of Latin, swing, and ballroom dances, and music instruction legally marries hands and minds to the keys and strings of pianos, guitars, and violins. In the drama department, students can challenge themselves with the center's Broadway studio series.
Driving a motor vehicle into a swamp generally sounds like a recipe for disaster, unless the vehicle in question is a swamp buggy. Outfitted with balloon tires and gun racks, swamp buggies originated in the 1930s as a mode of hunting in Naples’ otherwise impenetrable bogs. Years later, buggy owners started an off-season tradition to complement their hunting: swamp-buggy racing. For more than 60 years, Swamp Buggy Races has kept the tradition alive, growing from informal competitions held in muddy potato patches to a thrice-yearly event at Florida Sports Park. Drivers zoom around a track dubbed the Mile O’ Mud, dotted with sinkhole-like “sippy holes” that can only be traversed with sufficient horsepower or with help from a chivalrous man willing to lay down his sturdy coat. As buggies whir past, fans cheer on their favorite buggy from grandstand-style seats and delight in the race’s finale, the Swamp Buggy Queen’s Annual Mudbath, in which the year’s beauty pageant queen is dunked in the track’s sloppiest segment.
Luxury and expense often go hand in hand. Not so at Vantage Yacht Club, where members and prospective members alike test the waters of yacht ownership without diving in. Guests have a number of options when it comes to setting sail: they can rent boats for a few hours for a picnic on the waters surrounded by their local scenery. They can also choose to lease them for a whole season, or commission a longer Vantage Voyage, which require a larger commitment because their destinations may range from Australia to Spain.
Finseeker Guided Adventures leads kayak eco-tours, beach-based fishing expeditions, and fishing charters. Tour-goers board single, sit on top kayaks to explore the mangroves in local estuaries while on watch for manatees, alligators, and birds of prey. For fishing trips, flyfishers and spinfishers can search for tarpon, trout, and redfish in the backcountry waters.