It may be something of an exaggeration to say you can have Marco Island, Fla., all to yourself in September. But it wouldn’t be much of one.
This is the lowest point of low season, when the summer visitors have left and the snowbirds have yet to arrive. The remaining would-be guests are staying away because of the weather (too warm, they think, or maybe there’ll be a hurricane) and as a result, large parts of Southwest Florida’s resort areas are virtual ghost towns.
We checked into the newly refurbished Marco Island Florida Marriott Beach Resort on Thursday afternoon, and it was so quiet that for a moment we wondered if the resort was open. But it was. Our room at the Balinese-themed A-frame property offered an unobstructed view of the Gulf of Mexico, where that evening we watched the outer bands of a tropical storm make landfall.
On Friday morning we caught the Dolphin Explorer, a 30-foot catamaran that took us out into the 10,000 islands to look for dolphin and collect shells (see photo, above). The Explorer’s captain, Chris Desmond, has a knack for spotting pods of dolphins, but they can be elusive and difficult to photograph.
Our timing was excellent. The previous evening’s weather had deposited mountains of shells on the beaches, some of which are rarely seen in this area. Here’s a picture of the boys with their shell collections.
That afternoon we left Erysse and Iden with a sitter and participated in one of the Marriott’s signature attractions, the island jet ski tour. Kari, Aren and I squeezed on to a late-model motorcycle-on-water and took a rip-roaring, high-adrenaline tour of the mangrove-dotted estuaries around the resort.
This jet ski tour is the yin to the Dolphin Explorer’s yang. As soon as you throttle up your own version of Hell on Water, you are not so much looking for dolphin as you are pursuing them. Which isn’t to say that’s we did. Our able guide Brian made sure we were respectful of the wildlife. And with two passengers on my vessel, you can bet that we did this tour by the book.
Still, there’s something about flying along the water at more than 35 miles an hour that almost makes you hear Born to be Wild in the soundtrack of squawking birds and distant late afternoon thunderstorms. That’s right, folks. Yours truly is hearing things.
If it were up to me, we’d be planning a visit back to Marco next September. Room rates are really reasonable at this time of year, and there’s no waiting list for any of the tours or for a table at one of the Marriott’s restaurants, like Quinn’s on the Beach (if you go, try the Bali Chicken) or Kurrent’s.
Although I’m sure this place will be hopping in a few months, I prefer the slowness and solitude of late summer. When the guy at the front desk says, “Welcome to paradise,” I really feel like he means it.
(Special thanks to Bob at the Marriott and JoNell at the Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB for their hospitality.)