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Even though I was born in Eastern Europe, at this point in my life I consider myself to be a 100% Floridian (cue all the weirdness that comes with it). Seriously, have you noticed that most bizarre news items are somehow connected to the state of Florida? Anyway, over the last few years readers have asked me to share tips on off-the-beaten-path local places that are not yet overrun with tourists. So today I will talk about one such place.
Introducing Don Pedro Island State Park
Nope, it’s not near Orlando or Miami, otherwise, it would be crawling with visitors. So, you will have to put forth an effort in order to experience this natural wonder. Oh, and the only way to get there is by boat. What, you don’t know how to operate a boat? No worries, you can take a ferry from Case Haze marina. Here is the link to schedules and instructions on how to make reservations.
The ferry is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Half-day excursions go from 9am–12pm and 1–4pm, and cost $20 per person. Sunset cruise costs $25. This is actually reasonable, considering how exclusive the whole experience really is.
I’ve been to this island a few times, except we went by boat owned by my father-in-law. It’s a rinky-dink contraption that cost him $1,000 all-in. But it works! While sailing to the island, it’s not unusual to spot Indian manatees, gopher tortoises, and even bald eagles. It’s about the journey as much as destination.
My sister-in-law with kids
It’s kind of funny to see these super expensive yachts passing us by. One time a group of young guys made fun of how slow our boat was. Well, yeah, we didn’t pay 1 million dollars for ours’ like you did! Theirs’ was yuuuge. It’s like comparing Spirit off-peak redemption to Etihad residence. Apples and oranges, people. But in the end, whether you came by a fancy yacht or a tiny old boat, everyone gets to enjoy the same scenery:
Nature, the great equalizer
There are hiking trails and a beautiful beach where you can look for shells and shark’s teeth. The park has a covered pavilion ( for picnics and parties) and clean restrooms. You’ll have to bring your own food and drinks.
As I’ve said earlier, the island is off-the-beaten path, so a day trip from Orlando, Miami or Clearwater is not an option. You’ll have to spend at least one night in the area. But where? I highly recommend you consider a vacation rental in Manasota Key or Englewood. There are plenty of options listed on VRBO and AirBnB (my referral link, where we’ll both get $35 credit) You can even use sign-up bonuses from Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, Merril + Visa Signature or Capital One Venture Rewards to offset the cost (read about them here).
If you are a low-key traveler, I recommend Chalet Laun apartments We’ve stayed here many times over the years, and the views can’t be beat! Beach is usually pristine, but it depends on what time of the year you are visiting. The rates start at $200 per night for a 2-bedroom apartment that will fit 6, so it’s a decent option for a larger family.
There aren’t any hotels in the immediate area that you can reserve on points. That said, there are quite a few properties in Sarasota and some in Venice, which you can use as your base. Here are a few you may want to consider:
I enjoy it, but it’s no fancy resort, so keep that in mind. Here is my review The property costs 40,000 IHG points per night, not cheap. But if you are thinking about using your annual certificate from IHG co-branded credit card, it becomes a no-brainer. It takes about an hour to reach the ferry dock.
Don’t be fooled by the name Ramada. Check out the website because the property looks very nice. A bonus: you can reserve a suite that has a separate bedroom area. You will want to utilize Go Fast rate:
The same suite goes for $165 per night, so for $55+3,000, it’s definitely a good deal. The property is located only few miles from a nice beach and close to Venice downtown. There is a pool and a hot tub, but breakfast is not included. I’m thinking about taking my family here on a short getaway. It’s not right on the beach, but I like the fact that it’s been recently remodeled. Cape Haze marina (for cruise to Don Pedro island) is less than 30 minutes away.
You can check Awardmapper for other hotel options.
Your closest major airport will be Tampa, but you can also fly to Fort Myers or Sarasota.
A Hyatt alternative (yes, really):
Book a stay at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa (see my review) It’s located in Bonita Springs, a bit more south. Your 15,000 Hyatt points per night will cover lodging and ferry to a private island.
Don Pedro island is just one of hidden Florida gems, and there are many more to discover. So, go to Orlando/Miami/Clearwater, but consider taking a detour to some lesser known parts of our state. You’ll be glad you did.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.