Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bubbling up on Sanibel & Captiva

This is a photo of me and my little brother on my last visit to Sanibel Island off Ft. Myers. Much has changed since then, but it is still a wonderful place to visit. Sanibel and it's neighbor, Captiva, to the north, have been discovered since the Kilby boys picked up shells on its pristine beaches years ago.

Here's what I remember from my first visit: it was hot, our cabin was uncomfortable, there was an alligator in the pond near the cabin and you had to get up early to get the best shells. Here's my impressions from my second visit: there's lots of traffic, it seems like a playground for the wealthy, they've done a good job at protecting wilderness areas, and there are nice bike paths. We didn't spend much time on Sanibel, however, as our real goal was Captiva, the home of the original Bubble Room Restaurant.

The Bubble Room was one of my favorite Central Florida restaurants for years. Located in Maitland, it was the kind of place you went on birthdays or on really special dates. The Bubble Scouts (waiters and waitresses) would make you feel foolish on your birthday; the Bubble Bread would make you feel full every day. And they had amazingly huge desserts. I was sitting in the bar the night they closed and watched patrons sneak memorabilia out past knowing restaurant staff. I'm proud to say I left with nothing other than a clear conscience.

Captiva is home to the original Bubble Room that opened in 1979 and it is every bit as quirky as the one in Maitland. Built in a 3 story house, the flow of the space is crazy and the decor is zany and full of mischievious mirth. Colorful antiques and collectables litter the place and our table featured a wonderful shadow box full of retro toys and ephemera. The background music is vintage forties and the food is just as fun as I remembered. This trip to SW Florida was to celebrate my wedding anniversary and although our anniversary was a week and half away, this was our anniversary dinner, and it was very memorable. The Bubble Room is a sure thing.

Our early dinner left us just enough time to make a quick dash to the J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Reserve on Sanibel. The Reserve, named after the artist and New Deal administrator who is known for getting duck illustrations put on postage stamps, was lacking in birds this day, as we saw fewer birds than we normally see on our walks around the neighborhood in Orlando. But we were there at a bad time of day, and a bad time of year for bird watching.

But perhaps it was good fortune that we couldn't stop to gawk at spoonbills, because we raced down to the beach and caught the sunset. There's something about being on the beach at sunset... it's a communal experience you share with everyone else gathered to watch the glowing orb descend below the horizon. At my favorite restaurant on Ana Maria Island further north, they actually cheer when the sun goes down (and it gives me goosebumps.) On the beach this day, there was an environmental art installation made from recycled materials that added even more to the beach's ambiance. My wife and I both agreed that the sunset we shared on Sanibel was our favorite moment of our excursion to Southwest Florida.

Many things have changed over the years, but the feeling of walking down the beach with someone special is still the same.

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