Right about the time the snow starts falling in Detroit is when I start planning my winter getaways. Sunny, sand-swept beaches, waves of warm water and al fresco dining often lure us to Florida. I have long dreamed of visiting Marco Island for its relaxed pace, ample shelling and family-friendly local restaurants. Nearby Naples is also a gem with its soft, white sand, luxury shopping and dining, and fun family attractions.
So, I booked the trip. Read on to find out why the Paradise Coast is the perfect place to replenish your vitamin D.
How to get to Marco Island & Naples
The southwest Florida peninsula is only a three-hour flight into Fort Myers’ Southwest Florida International Airport and you’ll soon be surrounded by palm trees, powdery sand and the Gulf of Mexico. If you’d rather road trip, it’s about 20 hours, so plan some stops along the way. Temperature highs hover around the mid-70s and above year-round, and Marco Island is named one of the cities in the U.S. with the most sunshine. Soak it up by collecting seashells, lounging in the sand and eating fresh seafood. Naples is just 40 minutes from Marco Island with a zoo, botanical garden and more attractions.
JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
I had researched family-friendly hotels in the area, and the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort was one that families recommended again and again, and for good reason. Situated on a stunning beach with warm Gulf of Mexico waters and a variety of seashells for beachcombers to collect, this mega resort can be your home base that you virtually don’t need to leave.
Drink in blue sky views as you bob in the family-friendly pool lined with fountains. Take time to relax in the hot tubs. Rent a private cabana for a retreat to cool off in with your own mini fridge. When you’re up for heart rate-inducing adventures, you can find water sport rentals like wave runners and parasailing on the beach.
The JW boasts 12 restaurants, so you know you’ll never go hungry. Swing for a casual dinner at Taste of Quinn’s, where your toes can be in the sand while you gobble up black bean hummus and seafood cobb salads. The nightly Sunset Celebration includes a free fire dancer show. Watch ribbons of pastel colors layer the sky like sand art as the sun says goodnight and the fire dancer twirls a flaming baton. View the show from your seat at the restaurant or go pose for pictures with him.
Other eats and attractions around Marco Island
Marco Island offers a low-key vibe and many tasty local restaurants. You can’t go wrong with breakfast at Doreen’s Cup of Joe. Marco Island Historical Museum will provide some background on the island. Work up a hunger hunting for shells at Tigertail Beach, then dive into garlic knots at Joey’s Pizza & Pasta. Like bread sticks with a twist, they’re best enjoyed with homemade pastas and pizzas. Sweet Annie’s Marco Island serves scoops of ice cream so big that my daughter’s eyes almost popped out of her head. She was also a fan of the classic candy and games sold at the store.
The Ritz-Carlton Naples
Surrounding yourself in luxury can do wonders for the soul. Treat yourself to a stay at this recently renovated resort. In fact, damage from Hurricane Ian in 2022 caused a complete overhaul, so The Ritz-Carlton Naples feels completely new. Steps from the private beach and featuring two pools, one adult and one family, there’s plenty of space for fun in the sun.
Lounger couches on pool islands and fully-equipped cabanas encircle the heated waters. Choose from serene standard rooms to deluxe oceanfront suites. Service is always outstanding. If you go with club access, you can stop by the second-largest club lounge in the world for breakfast, snacks, drinks and desserts throughout the day. Otherwise, you can dine at a buffet, sushi restaurant, steakhouse and more.
Sofra is a vegetable-forward Eastern Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with house-made olive oils. Honestly, I was a little worried my daughter wouldn’t be thrilled with this dinner choice, but it was her absolute favorite. Our server was the most jovial person we’ve ever met. We started with a huge bowl of crisp crudité on ice. Talk about getting your veggies in! My daughter savored the potato dish while the mushrooms and cheese was my decadent indulgence.
The staff insisted I try their specialty bread and they weren’t wrong. Dipped in olive oil and zaatar seasoning, the chewy pillows of bread were heavenly. I also enjoyed the grilled octopus on beds of pureed peas. We shared Greek yogurt sorbet with honey for dessert.
One of few restaurants on the beach in Naples, Gumbo Limbo gives all the casually elegant vibes I hope to soak in on vacation. Again, many healthy options were on the menu. My daughter enjoyed fruit and vegetables with her grilled cheese, fries and virgin strawberry daiquiri. I mean, is it really a beach vacation until you sip a frosty daiquiri?
The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburon
A sister resort only 10 minutes away, The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburon can be reached via shuttle and features The Reservoir water park. Glide down two waterslides, float around the lazy river and watch the little ones play in a splash area. I can’t tell you how good it felt to soak in the sunshine and laugh together on the slides after the first snow in Chicago. It was so freeing to sit outside and relax. We rented a cabana (outfitted with a TV, stocked mini fridge and snacks). We thought it was hilarious to sing, “We’re in a cabana, ooh la la!”
We dined at Ria, an al fresco Latin American-inspired restaurant. The service was incredibly accommodating to my daughter’s gluten allergy. She enjoyed a gluten-free cookie and snacks, after her kids meal. I noshed on grouper tacos topped with mango salsa. The Mangonada mocktail with a Tajin-lined rim was a great way to soak in the vacation vibes.
Other attractions around Naples
If you really insist on leaving your lounge chair, you can visit the zoo, botanical gardens or take a dolphin cruise with your crew. Naples Zoo features a primate cruise that our friends recommended. You can also feed giraffes for extra giggles as their long tongues try to grab carrots from your hands. Naples Botanical Garden is a lovely place to stroll, with so many colorful flowers and peaceful views. Late November through early January, celebrate winter in the tropics with Johnsonville Night Lights in the Garden.
If you want to get out on the water, go with Pure Florida. You can cruise past Naples Bay mansions, island mangrove forests and near playful dolphins and manatees. Stop at Keewaydin Island for seashell collecting, then head back with your treasures. May your memories be as warm as the sunshine and Gulf Waters.
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