Lee County 101: What the Florida Gulf Has That The Atlantic Doesn't

with Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

L-R: Stephanie Zinke, International Sales Manager with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau; Jeanette Faria, Account Manager with the Bureau.

Can you guess which mammal Harriet is? A manatee, of course! Fort Myers and Sanibel are fantastic destinations to catch a glimpse of these vegetarian sea cows.

Greg Tom, Travel Expert with TravelOnly, holding up his Fort Myers & Sanibel swag bag.

L-R: Maureen Maheu, Director of USA & Cruise Division with Sunwing; Nilda Dalla Costa, Director of Revenue Management with The Westin Cape Coral Resort At Marina Village; Stephanie Zinke, International Sales Manager with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau; Reg Mendes, VP of the Cruise Division with Sunwing.

Arie Itzkovsky (L) and Naomi Schwarzberg, Senior Travel Consultants with Peerless Travel.

Colin Skerritt, Regional Director with Brand USA (L) and Jeanette Faria, Account Manager with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Each destination event has its share of esteemed guests in attendance, whether they are destination marketing representatives, government officials or company executives.

But Fort Myers and Sanibel had a highly unusual guest attend to help present their destination to agents at a Toronto gathering. 

Her name is Harriet. 

And she is a manatee. 

The warm and tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico attract these gentle giants to the area, something not nearly as common on the Atlantic side of Florida.

In a talk-show style "Islandology" presentation that invited Fort Myers Beach, Cape Coral and Captiva Island into the hotseat, Jeanette Faria and Stephanie Zinke with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau gave agents and media an look at why this region makes a pleasing alternative to the bustle of Florida's east coast. 

"You may have noticed this thing called sunshine that was happening today here in your sky," said Zinke. "You're welcome. It's a courtesy of the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel."

If your clients want to catch more rays, perhaps suggest they head for Southwest Florida. The region enjoys more than 240 days of sunshine each year, perfect for activities like shelling, playing golf, craft beer tasting and tarpon fishing. 

Fort Myers Beach, known for its iconic fishing pier, is quaint and colourful with a little side of "romantic lost little beach town," says Zinke. The 11-km stretch of beach is easy to navigate with the historic beach trolley, for only about CAD$1 per ride. 

Surrounded by preserved waters, Cape Coral is a boating paradise with more waterways than Venice, Italy. Many house rentals even come with a boat included as a means of transportation.

The only four-star resort in Cape Coral is The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village -- located at the south end of the city. The resort offers one, two and three bedroom suites with full apartment-style units. There are no accessible beaches at the resort, which is surrounded by an ecological preserve, but a simple water taxi ride takes you right to the beach.

And getting around by boat is only half the fun! Nilda Dalla Costa with the Westin Cape Coral says dolphins are often spotted on the hotel-beach commute. 

For boating enthusiasts – or those who simply enjoy people-watching -- The South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island will host the Hobie 16 World Championship NOV 16-19, attracting 300 teams to the island to compete in the prestigious sailing event.

Guests at the Lee County event were treated to a sampling of the locally-inspired fare that SW Florida is known for.

With the region boasting some of the freshest seafood coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, fish tacos and breaded shrimp were on the menu, garnished with a mango salsa. 

The mango-obsessed Pine Island -- the largest island in the state of Florida which is known for its tropical fruit production – hosts a Mango Mania festival every year with this tropical fruit at the base of many dishes. The event even crowns a Mango Queen!

Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, a resort accessible only by boat, inspired the cheeseburgers served at the event. The restaurant claims its burgers inspired the Jimmy Buffet song "Cheeseburgers In Paradise."

Ending on a sweet note, there were slices of traditional key lime pie and the scrumptious orange crunch cake muffin, which Zinke says links to Captiva Island's renowned Bubble Room Restaurant.

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Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.



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