As the morning waned and the sun warmed, the kids ventured farther from that safe place where the sand meets the surf, and it wasn’t long before all three of them were neck-deep in the ocean for the very first time, alternating leaping and diving like the dolphins we hoped we’d see in the wild.Later, we visited the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, at the suggestion of my neighbor who spends part of the year on Sanibel.One day, we boarded an open-air tram that motored slowly along Wildlife Drive into the “Jurassic Park”-like heart of the refuge.
Brayden dipped his toes into the cool, cloudy water, and I imagined him wondering why we’d left Orlando.
Soon, Autumn, Justin and Grandma Mary joined us and we scoured the tide-soaked beach for bone-white sand dollars that twinkled like stars at twilight.
I’d promised the kids a trip to celebrate their teen birthdays, and for them — Minnesotans who love to swim and had never seen the ocean — Florida was an obvious choice.
But how do you hit the state with children, even those who have edged into their teenage years, and not visit Mickey? So I booked two days at a Disney resort — and a week on Sanibel, a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico.
We learned about mangrove trees, which thrive along Tarpon Bay, a massive estuary where a tangle of freshwater streams and ocean water mix.
At a black mangrove tree, we plucked a leaf and licked it, tasting the saltiness of the plant’s own desalination system.When I told her I was worried there might not be enough action on the island for our teen travelers, she told me not to worry — there was plenty of action on the beach to keep them entertained.“Shells lead particularly violent lives,” she’d said.They began with mammal-to-mammal kisses before the kids and Grandma Mary took turns holding on tight as a dolphin swam with them across the lagoon. we were on the road to Sanibel Island, which is only a 3½-hour drive from Orlando, but seems a million miles away.In moonlight we crossed the 3-mile-long bridge from Fort Myers to Sanibel, a barrier island that’s 12 miles long and 3 miles across at its widest. The island has only two main roads and not a single stoplight, but also 25 miles of biking and walking paths that wind through a wildlife refuge and lead to hidden beaches and other places cars can’t reach.Down the road, our naturalist pointed to an alligator, 5 feet long at least, that was sunning itself in the tall grass along the path.