By latitude (as the – pelican? – flies), only ≈40 miles separate Marco and Captiva Islands, and Sanibel sits just south of Captiva, across a narrow channel. Driving Captiva/Sanibel to Marco is more roundabout, at ≈65 miles. However you measure it, Captiva, Sanibel and Marco Island could not be more different. Each one offers a unique “vibe” sure to appeal to whatever type of “island getaway” you seek. I want to leave room to talk about the HGVC properties, but let me try to briefly paint a picture of each island.
By car, Captiva is the most remote (you can only drive to it by first traversing Sanibel). Captiva’s small size and (relative) remoteness contribute to the feeling that you’re at land’s end; road-wise, in geographic fact, you are. Captiva has a more “bohemian” vibe: it reminds me very much of Provincetown or Nantucket in New England (sans funny accents); Sedona in the southwest (sans rock monoliths); or the quirky/artsy areas of NYC (sans…pigeons). This past October was our first stay on Captiva, and it felt different – slower, calmer – than Sanibel or Marco. Another comparison that took us by surprise, walking our first night towards sunset across the golf fairways: Hawaii. If Sanibel or Marco are where one might go to get away – Captiva is where one might go to get away from getting away.
Sanibel is by no means any less charming, though by comparison “bustling” – more people, more shops, more restaurants. I should point out that we always visit in October – well after the summer rush, and just before the early weeks of peak season (“Gold” weeks, in HGVC parlance). Charming in its own right, Sanibel may be to Captiva what Martha’s Vineyard is to Nantucket. The nice thing about staying on Sanibel or Captiva is that once you’ve crossed the (toll!) causeway to Sanibel you can easily enjoy the best of both without ever needing to go back to the mainland.
Marco is different again than either of the other two. Far more populated, and with a variety of recognizable chains (none is allowed on either Sanibel or Captiva), it feels more familiar. It has, by far, the most shops, restaurants, activities, etc. Because of this, Marco (≈23 mi2) paradoxically feels bigger than larger Sanibel (≈33 mi2). Marco feels more spread-out, while Captiva’s narrowness and single main road give it a greater sense of seclusion.
Size yields yet another paradox, property-wise: tiny Captiva (≈11 mi2) has the most HGVC timeshares: six; Sanibel and Marco each has five. My primary goal in this article has been to give a flavor of each island, to allow the reader to match a location to their personality or “getaway” type. In the remaining space, I’ll provide some brief comments on the properties with which I’m familiar:
Harbor View Villas (Captiva) are very nicely-appointed, single-level 2BR units that look out (as the name suggests) over Captiva Harbor. Walking distance to both the harbor and the sunset beach (complete with beachfront tiki bar) make it an ideal property. However, all Captiva HGVC properties are in the same, private complex – so you really can’t go wrong choosing any of the other five: Plantation Bay Villas, Plantation Beach Club, Plantation House, South Seas Club, and The Cottages at South Seas.
Tortuga Beach Club (Sanibel) also are nicely-appointed – but two-level – 2BR beachfront units. My brother-in-law owns here and he loves the duality of enjoying sunrise from his screened, east-facing lanai, and then – during his 2nd week, on Marco – enjoying sunsets from his west-facing one. We toured the other Sanibel properties when he was looking to buy a few seasons ago, and, here again, you really can’t go wrong at any of the other four: Casa Ybel, Hurricane House, Sanibel Cottages, or Shell Island.
Club Regency (Marco Island) is, in my opinion, the best-kept HGVC secret on Marco (so…shhh – don’t tell anyone else!). It is low-rise (only 2 stories, total), has both beach-front and garden/pool units, and – partially by the “accident” of surrounding development – is nestled among other, taller structures in a way that results in a most private oasis – yet sits mere steps from the spectacular 5-mile, white-sand beach. Three of the other 4 properties – Eagle’s Nest, Charter Club, and Surf Club – sit along the same beach, offering different vibes of their own. The fourth property – Sunset Cove – is closer to the Marco Island causeway and sits on a canal. We stayed there once, a few years ago, and the 3BR penthouse units offer a spectacular island vista.
From a mainland U.S. perspective, each of these islands and properties – served by abundant, affordable domestic air carriers (use airport code “RSW”) – can give you the sense of being much farther away than you are – think: the Caribbean, or even Hawaii. If you’ve been before – you already know; if you haven’t – these locales are truly hidden gems.