Do you have a list of places in you want to visit in your town or neighboring cities?
One of my big dreams is to travel the world and explore the different cultures and although, I am not trying to make excuses here but that requires quite a lot of money and tons of flexibility which as a family of five, with two toddlers and an older child with ASD, we just do not have at the moment.
However, we live in a beautiful state so I decided to just start with where we live and make my dream of traveling and getting to know different cultures right here in Southwest Florida. To get me started, I built a list of all the great and interesting places I want to visit and one by one, slowly but steady, we are knocking them down.
This time was the Conservancy of Southwest Florida which I have been wanting to go back to ever since I visited the first time for work purposes. I didn't get the chance to see much during that visit but the information I received while there about the turtles and reptiles that inhabits this area, I couldn't wait to return and hear more about it.
Well, it's been nine years since that happened and it was about time I went back for a real tour of the place. It was a perfect winter day in Southwest Florida to explore, it wasn't too hot, it was breezy and a bit overcast. However, it was also high season, when most of the folks that live in Florida part time and people from all over the world are here to enjoy the great weather.
Nevertheless, here are couple of things and tips that I recommend to keep in mind when visiting the Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
1 - Admissions & Parking
Parking is free and admissions are $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids two and up. Children under the age of two are free.
2 - Bring Water and Snacks
Even during the winter it gets rather humid in Florida so bring a bottle of water. I recommend the filtered ones that you can fill it up and it will filter it for you so you don't have to worry so much about the quality of the water.
They do have ice cream available for purchase at the Bradley Welcome Center & Admissions but that's pretty much all they have with exception for bottled waters and soft drinks, so if you have kids or think you might get hungry during your visit then bring some snack and fruits.
Keep in mind to no litter! The conservancy is a natural habitat for many animals and they depend on a clean environment to thrive.
3 - Sign up for boat ride upon arrival
As soon as you pay for your admission be sure to get to the boat dock and sign up for the boat ride. Although it leaves every hour, it does gets filled rather quickly if you visit around high season.
4 - Walk the trails
There are two different trail paths but one of them was closed due to construction going on in the area but the one we were able to trail was filled with all sorts of native and invasive plants and it was informative as well.
5 - Rent a kayak
If you wish to do some exploring through the canal you can rent a kayak directly from the conservancy, however, you must be a member in order to do so. Basic memberships cost $65 for a family of 2 adults and 4 children.
Kayak rentals are for two hours and cost $20 plus tax for a single one and $30.00 plus tax for a tandem kayak.
Now, guided kayak tours are also available and both members and non-members can take advantage of this feature. Prices are $40.00 plus tax for members and $50 + tax for non members.
We did not complete this activity as our kids are too little to ride the kayak safely.
6 - Visit the Sapakie Wildlife Exhibits Hall
Check out the exhibit hall where kids can experience and dress up as a veterinarian, find out more about Florida water issues and how to help solve the problem as well as watch videos on animal safety and so much more.
7 - Bring something to keep kids entertained during the boat ride
We brought food but that wasn't enough, I wish we had brought toys and headphones so they could watch videos on the phone and not bother the other riders
8 - Little explorers play zone at the Ferguson Learning Lab
Probably the best attraction for kids in the entire place. There are costumes for the kids to play dress up, nature interactive magnet boards, crayons and coloring books, animal puppets and so much more.
We could have easily just spent the entire trip here and the kids would have had a great time.
9 - Bring binoculars or rent from the conservancy
If you want to scout real wild life, especially birds, I highly recommend binoculars. Now, if you don't have one, the Conservancy of SWFL have them available for rental and if I am not mistaken they are $2 per binocular.
I must say that while our family enjoyed our trip, I was a bit disappointed with the trip. Maybe I had higher expectations from the first time I had visited for work and it ended up not measuring up to my expectations.
My first disappointment was that the place isn't very kid friendly. Even though they have a couple of rooms designated for children, there are signs in certain areas asking to keep quiet because of the animals.
This one wouldn't have been much of a problem if they had at least been friendly which is the fact that all of their employees/volunteers are elderly folks who seem to have lost their ability to interact with and tolerate little children.
The boat ride was a nightmare! We weren't aware it was an educational boat ride and that the captain would be talking the entire ride, otherwise we would have never went. But we went and good thing that we brought food for our two and three year olds in order to keep them entertained and inside the boat (lol).
Mind you, we were told the rules of the boat the minute we sailed off and one of them did not include not eating on the boat.
So after my kid had already devoured one of the snack bags we had brought for the boat ride, that's when the captain told me that we weren't suppose to be eating on the boat, which he then concluded that it was okay because he never mentioned that as a rule nor did he have it posted it anywhere on the boat or dock.
To be quite frank with you, the boat captain seemed very frustrated and irritated, first by the noise my children were making and then because of our eating.
If I had to do the boat ride again with my children at the age that they are now I would not have done it, too much stress and not worth it.
Nevertheless, after the whole boat ride chaos we decided it was time for a treat and went to go get some food at Tin City which is only about two miles away from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
We ate at the small restaurant M&M's Cafe which we had been before to eat ice cream but never eaten one of their meals. A friend recommended their gyro and since I had never had one I figured "What the heck, let's eat something I've never eaten before"! So, we ended up getting a lamb gyro, a cheeseburger and two sides of steak fries.
The lamb gyro was delicious and I can now say I like gyros! Hubby also said the cheeseburger was pretty good and the kids were too busy eating a little bit of everything to say anything!
Since we had already promise the children ice cream after their meal, we had to follow through with it. Let me warn you that M&M's Cafe single ice cream scoop is not the regular single scoop you are probably used to. It's actually two big scoops! We got two two single scoops ice cream and that was plenty to feed our family.
I got the strawberry cheesecake and my husband got the chocolate chip mint cookie ice cream, the ladder was good but we both agreed that the strawberry cheesecake was the best strawberry flavored ice cream we have ever had. True story!
To finalize this post, here's a little confession; I love the city of Naples for its natural beauty, local shops and great local restaurants but the city remains a sanctuary for the elderly. While there's nothing wrong with that, the younger generation , especially the ones with children like ourselves, feel very much out of place.
Now, keep in mind that I am speaking from my own family's perspective and your views of Naples may be very different than mine so please be kind and think before you leave a mean comment.