The Accidental Tourist: 36 Hours on Florida’s Marco Island
Even “hardcore” travelers need an honest-to-goodness vacation, right? Since recently turning 30 [cough]4 years ago[cough], I’ve begun to embrace all manner of travel – cruises, resorts, Disney World. (OK, not Disney World. Never Disney World actually …)
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Which is what led me to the Marriott Resort Marco Island on Florida’s west coast. It’s big, bold and … I can’t think of another alliterative “B” word … but it’s everything you imagine a resort to be. The website evokes images of sipping generous pink Lady-ritas poolside, while forgetting to reapply sunscreen every eighteen seconds under the beautiful, ever-present Florida sun. And on our latest trip to the Sunshine State, we decided that’s exactly what we needed.
So we spent two days at the Marriott, fully embracing the resort tourist lifestyle. Here we present our best recommendations for your next visit to Marco Island …
Just after crossing the bridge to Marco Island, head north to Lee Be Fish Company. Upfront: this no-frills seafood joint catches and cooks everything on the spot. Unless you’re diving face-first into the Gulf to take a marlin down with your teeth, it doesn’t get any fresher than that. I highly recommend the mahi mahi and black beans + rice (served with sour cream and cheese salsa) which were excellent. Bonus: outdoor seating!
2p / Enjoy the Sun + Surf
From Lee Be Fish, head to the Marriott Resort, drop your bags and prepare to do nothing. No true resort vacation is complete without a few hours of doing absolutely nothing near a large body of water. Pool lovers will dig the massive water “complex” (for lack of a better word) at the heart of the resort.
Can we agree that everything is better with your toes in the sand? Which is why dinner and drinks on the beach is the best thing god ever did for us (after peanut butter and beer of course).
Back at the Marriott, embrace the rustic “castaway” feel of Quinn’s on the Beach. The no-nonsense atmosphere includes a clear 180-degree view of the Gulf of Mexico – ideal for some of the best sunset viewing in all of western Florida, like so:
Not surprisingly, the menu is Caribbean-inspired with plenty of seafood, including conch chowder, fish + chips, baked oysters and coconut shrimp. We really dug the grouper sandwich and blackened mahi tacos. As an unabashed fish taco snob, I’m happy to put the Vagabondish Culinary Stamp of Approval on the latter.
Overnight at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort
The Marriott describes itself as:
… a Florida island paradise. Located on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico, along 3.5 miles of tropical powder sand beaches, our newly renovated Balinese-styled resort offers 727 casually luxurious rooms and suites that surround you with feelings of well-being, balance and harmony.
A wide variety of rooms is available, although I highly recommend a Gulf Front Room, but you didn’t need me to tell you that. They face directly west, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico with stunning views of the beach and (did we mention?) the spectacular Florida sunsets.
Our room was plenty clean and spacious with a fairly open, well-thought out floor plan. The resort recently underwent a massive renovation, providing every room with with floor-to-ceiling tinted windows and new outdoor furniture to relax on. The interiors received a facelift as well, boasting new HD plasma TVs and incorporating fancy new bedding, including a 300-thread count duvet, triple-sheeted linens, and (wait for it …) topped with a decorative bed scarf.
Honestly, they could’ve just given us a balcony with a bathroom attached as that’s where we spent all of our time. Seriously, the sunsets are out of this world.
8a / Breakfast @ San Marco Cafè
Keep it simple this morning with a quick stop at the onsite San Marco Cafè. They offer all the trappings of your typical Starbucks – lattes, cappuccino and espresso in hot and iced varieties, as well as baked goods and pastries. The iced mocha was particularly delicious with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you up till your flight home tomorrow. Bonus: grab your breakfast to-go and head to the outdoor terrace nearby to soak up some (more) sun.
9a / Shelling + Sailing Experience
Depart directly from the beach (weather-permitting) at the Marriott on a 2.5-hour excursion aboard a six-passenger catamaran. You’ll take a leisurely trip along the Gulf where you’ll have the opportunity to spot sea turtles, dolphins and manatees. Along the way you’ll also be able to scour the beaches for some of the most beautiful and exclusive seashells on Florida’s west coast.
1p / Lunch @ Sand Bar
For a taste of serious no-frills island eating (and drinking), check out Sand Bar. With 40 HD TV’s, wireless speakers at every table, dirt cheap food and a booze menu that’s available daily from 7 a.m. (!) to two in the morning, it’s like someone transplanted a Key West eatery to Florida’s left coast. Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville …
Over the last decade, the island populations along Florida’s west coast have grown immensely. If you’re looking to trade the resort sanctuary for an island sanctuary, take the forty minute trip to Keewaydin Island. This mostly undeveloped haven just south of Naples isn’t reachable by car – you’ll have to make your way via tourist boat or by bribing a local.
The atmosphere changes with the wind. On most days — particularly during the week or offseason — the vibe is relaxed, island chill. It’s ideal for beachcombing, floating in the crystal waters of the Gulf or chasing the huge iguana population. During high season and Spring Break weeks, the atmosphere is more akin to a Ludacris video (probably NSFW) – loud, brash and boozy.
One local noted:
It’s anything you want it to be. You can fish, go for walks, collect shells, grill, party, etc. When the tide is right you can grab a beer and float your way from one end of the island to the other. Then take a nice walk back to where you started.
It’s always a fun, friendly hang, but it all depends on what you’re looking for.
Dinner @ Korals Sushi & Cocktail Lobby Bar
It’s your last night on Marco Island, so why not cap it off with fancy cocktails and a tapas-style sushi sampler? Korals Sushi & Cocktail Lobby Bar provides floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and a sushi bar with a funky, ultra-modern tile mural backdrop. The 11-foot tall, three-foot wide, 3,600-pound aquarium column in the center is a rather nice touch too.
Adult beverages run the gamut from “beach classy” (think local Florida IPAs) to “downright fancy” (mojitos, sake and Asian pear martinis). The menu may seem limited, but it offers a decent range of excellent appetizer and sushi options.
Overnight at Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort
Before retiring for the night, take one last stroll along the beach. Part of what makes sunsets on Florida’s west coast so stunning is the completely unobstructed view of the horizon. It’s one of the few places on the east coast of the U.S. where you can witness a near-perfect “green flash” sunset:
… every once in a while, the setting (or rising) sun puts on a show that is truly awesome. Lasting but a few seconds just as the sun lies at the horizon, a dazzling phenomenon known as The Green Flash sometimes occurs. Those lucky enough to have witnessed this elusive event describe it as an abrupt strong green flash, lasting mere seconds, that occurs at the top of the setting sun just as the last part of the disk is about to dip below the horizon.
It occurs only when the proper combination of atmospheric scattering, dispersion and absorption are present. Although very thin, the green rim is magnified by the atmospheric lens so that a momentary — and breathtaking — pulse of green appears on the crest of the sun.
I’ve spoken to very few people who’ve ever even heard of the green flash, let alone actually seen it. Here, you could become one of the lucky few …