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A few years ago, I was approved for Citi Expedia Rewards credit card when the bonus was 50k points. My main reason for getting it was the ability to receive double the value towards VIP properties. Unfortunately, Expedia discontinued this option as of January 31st of this year, so I was forced to use up the points at a favorable rate before the deadline.
After some research, I chose Sundial Beach Resort and Spa Sanibel and booked a 2-night stay there over Labor Day. We live only two hours away, so unless there was a hurricane threat, a weekend here would be a fun/easy getaway.
I absolutely love Sanibel island and highly recommend it if you are looking for a low-key Florida beach vacation. There are no high-rises or kitschy stuff to be found here. Although, it’s still Florida with some weirdness you’ve come to expect and love.
While the resort itself didn’t exactly blow me away, I do think that for the right price it’s a solid choice for a family vacation. I would come back if I found a good deal. The resort is currently bookable via Ultimate Rewards portal, so if you happen to have a CSR, redeeming points at 1.5 cents apiece could certainly make sense.
For reference, we paid $850 all-in for a two bedroom/two bath condo. The bonus from Expedia card covered most of it, so I feel I got solid value, especially considering the fact we stayed over holidays.
Keep in mind that rates on the resort’s website are often better compared to Expedia, and they throw in free breakfast as an incentive. In low season you can occasionally score a “get a third night free” deal.
You can also book some condos via AirBnB, though you are usually required to stay a whole week.
Confusing layout, magnificent beach and lots of rabbits
I’ll start with the main negative. The resort is huge and it can take a bit to reach the main pool and restaurants. Here is the map of the property:
Unless you book through an individual owner, you could be put at the far end on the resort, which is what ended up happening to us. It wasn’t a huge deal, plus walking is good for you. But it could be a nuisance for those who have small children or who travel with elderly relatives.
One thing my kids absolutely loved was the abundance of rabbits on the property. They were everywhere, and didn’t seem to be afraid of people.
The best units are the ones facing the beach, and would be my top choice. However, they go for a premium, and the price difference could be a deal breaker. If you plan to stay a whole week, booking through an individual owner on AirBnB will be considerably cheaper. That said, you won’t technically have access to the main pool, beach loungers or bicycles unless you book directly through the resort or via a site like Expedia. But every building has its own pool, so depending on the difference in price, it may not be a deal breaker for some.
If you only plan to stay two or three nights, then you will have to book through the resort or another major travel site. Keep in mind that not all units are listed on Expedia. If you absolutely insist on having a beachfront condo, book direct and read the unit description carefully.
The thing I value highly on any beach is the ability to get shade. My husband has had cancer spots cut off from his face, so as you can imagine, we take this quite seriously. If you book your condo through the resort, you will have the use of loungers and umbrellas included in your resort fee ($40 per day).
Keep in mind that not all loungers have umbrellas, and those that do fill up rather quickly. However, I imagine you can request one if needed. The loungers are located only in the section of the beach closest to the pool.
Speaking of the pool, it’s pretty decent. It’s a nice size, which allowed my kids to keep distance from other guests. The little slide won’t impress older children, but my 10-year old son had a ball. I loved the fact that they have a covered section with loungers, and there are fans to keep you cool. If you don’t want to splurge on a cabana, this is the next best thing.
There is a hot tub right next to the pool, another amenity I value. You can also order food and alcoholic drinks in the little shack next to the pool, which is very convenient. My kids had an absolute blast in the pool. So, overall, I give it a thumbs up.
The resort lets you borrow bikes, which are stored next to the pool area. During cooler weather, it’s something I would take advantage of, for sure. Sanibel is a great place for that. You can also borrow kayaks and other water equipment.
There is no lazy river and the slide is nothing to write home about. Still, between the beautiful beach and the fact that all the resort amenities are conveniently located in one spot, I feel this place gets it right where it counts.
There are several sit-down restaurants located near the pool, but due to Covid pandemic we didn’t go to any of them. Normally, I would love to check out their Japanese steakhouse, but the risk didn’t seem worth it. So, instead we bought groceries at a nearby Publix and used UberEats app for delivery.
So, we stuck to outdoor activities only where I felt my kids were relatively safe. I told them they were not allowed to play with other children, and they complied. Fortunately, they seemed to get along on this trip (a rarity), so they had fun hanging out with each other.
We stayed at the resort for most of the weekend, but did take the time to drive to Captiva island, which I also love.
Since each unit is individually owned, my review will likely be of limited use to the readers. Still, I wanted to make a few observations.
For the most part, I would not recommend staying here if you want luxury. The unit is perfectly functional, and that’s about it. It was very clean, which is the most important part to me. Also, everything worked and beds were decent. What more can you ask for? Overall, I would describe the decor as “coastal redneck chic.”
Pretty bland, but you don’t come to Sanibel to stay in your condo
Since we had two bedrooms, we brought my mother-in-law, who enjoyed spending time with her grandkids. The condo was quite spacious and we all had plenty of room. One bedroom had a king bed, and the other one two full beds. The sofa turned into a sleeper.
We also had a screened porch, a fun place to watch the rabbits, but not much else. A fun fact: the unit was described as “partial ocean view” and indeed, if you got binoculars, you could spot a sliver of ocean in the distance.
I was happy to get a unit on the first floor, which made it easier to unload all of our junk. Everything is open air, a big plus during the pandemic. The only time I was indoors was during the check in, and I wore a KN95 mask.
They do give you some supplies and there is a Keurig coffee machine in the rental. As a VIP property, there is a free bottle of wine promised when you book through Expedia. It wasn’t in the unit, but when I called the front desk, it was brought to us within 10 minutes. Every worker we’ve encountered was super friendly, something that really impressed me. There is a huge emphasis on customer service here, and it shows.
Should you book a stay in this resort?
Maybe. It largely depends on whether you are fine spending real money or if you insist on using points. In my case, I needed to use up Expedia points, and burning them here was a great decision. I love staying on the beach anyway, and we were fortunate to have good weather during our short trip. However, I don’t like to spend cash if I have points, so I would be reluctant to drop close to a grand on a weekend stay.
By the way, there are a few Vacasa properties on Sanibel, bookable via Wyndham points. All of them are 2-bedroom condos and cost 30k points per night. One rental allows stays of only two nights in low season, which would be ideal for someone like me. Given a choice of spending $450-$500 per night and using 30k Wyndham points, I will pick the latter each day and twice on Sunday. But I’m kind of cheap.
As far as resort amenities go, if you don’t insist on a beachfront location, booking a suite at a Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs would probably be preferable. It’s not located on Sanibel, but you can easily come to the island on a day trip. At Hyatt resort you will have access to a lazy river, several amazing slides and a private island just a short boat ride away. My kids love it. However, it’s probably a more risky option during a pandemic.
If you are looking to do a weeklong beach stay in a unique Florida location and don’t mind splurging, I think booking a private house on North Captiva would give you a better bang for your buck. See Nancy’s review of her rental. For many dates the price will be comparable to Sundial units, but you would get a far more secluded/upscale experience. This option is much more appealing to me personally. But I realize it’s apples to oranges kind of thing.
Still, as resorts go, Sundial resort on Sanibel is absolutely worth considering. And unlike North Captiva rentals, you can simply drive down to it by crossing a bridge, no ferry required. I will be keeping an eye on it, and if I find a great price on an oceanfront unit, I will consider booking. And if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.
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.