Towering oak trees and a sun-kissed waterfront surround the historical Burroughs Home & Gardens, providing comfortable blankets of shade and cool breezes while exemplifying the reverent collaboration between classic architecture and the natural world. The 1901 Georgian Revival mansion—once the setting for a silent 1920s reality show starring businessman Nelson Burroughs, his wife Adeline, and their glamorous daughters, Mona and Jettie—currently facilitates tours throughout its parlors, dining rooms, and sweeping verandas.
Guides share anecdotes from the family's journals and oral histories and point out examples of such turn-of-the-century luxuries as indoor plumbing, electricity, and steam-powered Nintendo. In keeping with the grounds' esteemed history, the public can also arrange to schedule weddings and social events like those that once hosted members of the Fort Myers elite, including the Edisons, Fords, and Firestones.
It only took two weeks on the picturesque shores of Tahiti and Moorea to send Craig Stewart into a tailspin. He and wife Evelyn fell in love with the South Pacific’s crystalline waters and beachy breezes, so much so that the prospect of remaining in their native Oklahoma turned gloomy. Six years after the Stewarts’ Pacific vacation, they stumbled upon Sanibel Island. With a love for the waters still coursing through their veins, they uprooted and moved there, making it home base for Adventures in Paradise. In 1986, they started out with one boat—Miss Paradise—and one tour, the sunset dolphin cruise. Today, the Stewart family maintains a much larger operation. Their tour topics range from fishing and shelling to dolphin watching to historical sightseeing on a trolley.
Gulf Coast Kayak sits on the edge of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, a scenic sprawl of estuaries, back bays, and mangrove tunnels roofed by the interlaced branches of waterside trees. Their single and tandem kayaks give paddlers a way to drink up this scenery, instead of waiting on the shore, thumbs-outstretched, hoping to catch a ride from a passing mermaid. Alternatively, paddlers can opt for a guided tour, such as the Sunset Birding Tour, which can afford birdwatchers glimpses of osprey, herons, and spoonbills. For those who cannot make it to their storefront, Gulf Coast Kayak is able to deliver kayaks anywhere in Matlacha or Pine Island for a fee.
Captain Will Olds is an aquatic Renaissance man. The U.S. Coast Guard master mariner has dedicated his life to the water—from time spent piloting charter boats across Lake Superior to his days teaching boat safety at the Chapman School of Seamanship—and to his passion for history and the natural world. The multitalented skipper translates his many skills into a daily roster of eco-tours and excursions that whisk visitors along the fluvial highways of southern Florida.
From behind the wheel of his trusted ship, the Calusa Queen, the captain delivers entertaining and educational anecdotes along with views of Charlotte Harbor Estuary and Cape Haze. While not included in this offer, the Matlacha Art Community cruise features stops on terra firma to visit local galleries, and the Peace River Eco-Tour and Cruise wends through a nature preserve for a peek at manatees, alligators, and dolphins. Named for the Native American peoples of Florida’s southwest coast, the ship is inspected and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard and can hold up to 28 passengers along with their spare sets of sea legs.
Pirates cheer as cannons fire smoke across the sea. Yet while the pirates are actors and the cannons are just miniaturized toys, the ship they sail upon is anything but pretend—it's a 65-foot steel-hulled vessel designed by a naval architect to look like a Spanish galleon.
Named for the prized Spanish currency of yore, Pieces of Eight Pirate Cruise evokes the golden age of buccaneering as it sets sail from Salty Sam’s Marina. The ship is helmed by a merry band of pirates—such as Pick Pocket Pete, Peg Leg Meg, and Fancy Face Phil—that bookends lessons on pirate history with sing-along chanteys and skits. The 90-minute family-friendly cruise also includes map-reading trivia, face painting, yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum. During the ride, passengers are welcome to explore the upper and lower decks or step inside the grand salon for ice cream, pretzels, and other treats.
In addition to its all-ages cruises, Pieces of Eight hosts an adults-only cruise on Friday nights, which includes cocktails and its own revue. It also charters private cruises to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions.
Jet Boat Fun LLC rockets groups across the water aboard Hot Tuna, a yellow-painted vessel packing 375 horsepower and specializing in 360-degree spins. A USCG master captain helms all supersonic voyages, which are available in 30-minute jaunts or extended, 60-minute tour that explores Mantanvas Path and San Carlos Island. During rides, passengers hang tight as the boat zigs and zags atop the water's surface, blurring past local sights and defeating dolphins in hotly contested drag races.