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Earlier this month, my family of five (with kids ages 10, 13 and 16) traveled to North Captiva Island for spring break. We had a wonderful time! Here is a full review.
About North Captiva Island
When I say North Captiva, many people assume it’s the same as Captiva Island. It’s a different island. The island was separated from Captiva during a hurricane in 1921. North Captiva is not accessible by car. You can only get there by boat or small plane. Once you are on the island, the most popular modes of transportation are golf carts and bikes.
North Captiva is around 4 miles long and is situated off the coast of Fort Myers, Florida. It has only 300 houses and less than 50 permanent residents, and half the island is a state park.
Why Did We Pick North Captiva Island?
Originally, my family was scheduled to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise for spring break. Last year, when it appeared that cruising might not yet be back to normal for our trip, we decided to change the trip to a land beach vacation.
Initially, I was looking on vrbo.com for rental houses on Sanibel and Captiva islands. In case the pandemic was still going to be an issue, I really wanted a house instead of a condo to promote distancing. I found Sanibel was full of condos but not many single-family homes. And, houses on Captiva were very expensive.
However, vrbo steered me to other nearby houses, many of which were on North Captiva Island. That prompted me to research the island, and I liked what I saw.
Getting to North Captiva Island
My family flew into Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. We used American Airlines miles (of course!) We then took Pine Island Taxi to Four Winds Marina on Pine Island. Due to Covid, we opted to rent a private charter boat to take us to North Captiva Island. We used Emmy Girl Charters, which ended up only being slightly more expensive for 5 people than the public ferries (Island Girl and NCIC).
If you own a small plane, it’s possible to fly to the island and land on the private grass runway that is flanked by beaches at both ends. We saw a few planes taking off from the runway, and they were fascinating to watch. Here is a video (not mine) of a plane landing on North Captiva Island:
Our Vacation Rental House
We stayed in a 3-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house called Havana Breeze. All of the houses on North Captiva have their own cute little names. I picked this house because it seemed like a good compromise between price and location. I wanted to be as close to the beach as possible with a heated pool and a “reasonable” price. This house is located one row back from the beach, but it has terrific views and a super short walk to the sand.
Honestly, the inside of the house is a bit of a work in progress. The bathrooms and the kitchen could really use some updating and new appliances. But, thankfully my family isn’t picky about that sort of thing, and we all ended up loving the house. It’s really hard to beat that view and location.
My husband and I shared the main bedroom with a King-size bed. Two of my kids shared a room with twin beds, and our 3rd kid had a queen-bed room all to himself. The floor plan was flipped, with the kitchen and living room on the top floor.
The house came with a grill and a heated pool as well as a golf cart. We paid $200 extra for a weekly membership at the NCIC club, but only because my oldest son needed a tennis court to practice. We had access to two larger heated pools and a hot tub with NCIC membership.
Things to Do on North Captiva Island
We arrived on North Captiva in the early evening, so we barely had time to get settled before admiring the sunset and unpacking. But admittedly, the next day, we were at a loss for what to do. The environment was just so different than what we were used to during our busy lives at home.
Being on North Captiva Island is kind like going camping. There is no pre-fabricated entertainment like mini golf, aquariums, etc. You have to create your own fun. But soon, we got into the swing of things.
We spent hours at the beach every day. The island has the best shells!
We found sand dollars in the morning, and we saw dolphins right off the beach at all times of the day.
Every day, we drove around in the golf cart, visiting different parts of the island and admiring the cute houses. We saw a lot of wildlife, including starfish, tortoises, bald eagles and osprey. Sometimes, we would stop by the docks to say hello to the manatees.
My two younger kids went to a wildlife class on the island, Mackie’s Island Quest. They had a blast.
My older son played tennis. My husband and son used fat-tire bikes to explore the state park on the south end of the island.
One day, we hired Emmy Girl Charters to sail us around the area. We saw more dolphins and manatees, and we learned about the different islands near North Captiva.
We stopped at Cabbage Key island for lunch at the place that inspired the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
In the evening, after the sun went down, we played games. We played Uno, Monopoly Deal card game, Cards Against Humanity Family Edition and chess.
But mainly, we swam, walked the beach, ate, watched the sunset, rinse and repeat. By Thursday, the kids were already worried that we were running out of time.
Restaurants on North Captiva
We ordered food from Publix grocery store for our rental, but there are four restaurants on North Captiva.
Mainstay/Barnacles is a bar and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and fun games. We ate lunch here one day. The upstairs has an ice cream shop and small gift shop.
Mango’s is a bar/restaurant at NCIC club. It’s all outdoors. The food was delicious.
Over the Waterfront is a very small restaurant that is literally on the water. The inside has glass panels in the floor. This restaurant requires reservations for dinner (and for lunch during peak periods). My husband and I ate outside here for lunch one day. The key lime pie was out of this world delicious!
Lastly, NCIC has The Boathouse restaurant that overlooks the marina. We did not get a chance to eat there on this trip.
What Makes North Captiva Special
It’s hard to put into words what makes North Captiva Island a special place. It’s like a whole different world. We felt so far away from the mainland, even though it was only a 30-minute boat ride from Pine Island.
Every person we interacted with, local or visitor, was super nice. It was kind of like going to a small town with a great sense of community.
While my kids didn’t totally disconnect from their electronics, they disconnected more than I thought they would. The wildlife was varied and abundant.
Even though we went during a peak week when all but three of the houses on vrbo were rented, the island didn’t feel crowded. The beaches had plenty of space. It was the perfect setting for a pandemic getaway.
I love that North Captiva can accommodate such a large variety of budgets. There are smaller homes and townhomes without private pools that are less expensive. On the other end of the price spectrum, there are large beach homes with every amenity imaginable. There’s something for everyone.
Tips for Visiting North Captiva Island
Research before you go! North Captiva Island is not for everyone. The island is not a shopping paradise or full of luxury spas. If you like to constantly be on the go or be at the bars late each night, North Captiva is probably not for you. The island’s two bars close by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., and the island is fairly quiet at night. You can get more information on the island’s Facebook fan page.
Consider renting direct. While it involves some risk, you can save money by bypassing vrbo and renting directly from an owner. Check out this Facebook page.
Use a grocery delivery service. Most rentals offer a grocery delivery service. You can place your order and have your groceries delivered to your ferry or even directly to your house for a surcharge. We stocked our house with groceries for most of our weekly meals, and they were already put away in our kitchen when we arrived. It was very convenient and totally worth the expense, in my opinion.
Book transportation well in advance. Book your ride from the airport to the marina and your boat ferry to the island well in advance. During peak times, these services sell out and you may not get your preferred time.
Bring water shoes! Parts of the beach are covered in shells that feel very sharp on the feet.
Check out the dips at Mainstay store. In the upstairs part of Mainstay, there are several dips you can buy (guacamole, crab dip, queso, etc.) These are delicious and are restocked throughout the week. They also have take and bake pizza there.
After missing a year of travel, our trip to North Captiva Island was a much-needed getaway. I am trying to figure out how to get back there next year, maybe for Thanksgiving week. It’s definitely a trip worth repeating.
Here is our vacation music video with more photos from our trip:
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.