We were wondering the same thing! We're thinking about a trip there in August.
It seems like there are more choices of hotels/motels on Sanibel. More choices usually means more competitive prices.
It depends what you're looking for. Sanibel has more dining choices and places to shop as well as miles and miles of bike paths. Captiva (in my biased opinion) has more charm and a more laid back character. On Captiva you can walk miles of beaches, parasail, rent jetskis, paddle boards and kyaaks, or take one of several cruises from the marinas. That being said my favorite activity is plopping my increasingly aging carcass in a chair on the uncrowded beaches. If you look to stay on Captiva I would suggest maybe staying at Tween Waters.
Yeah, I'm all for plopping my aging carcass on a chair too. Sometimes I leave the chair to float around on a raft though.
The most 'bang for the buck' would be Sanibel in one of the more modest beachfront places or better still a condo rental. Services - especially housekeeping - is an expensive deal, so 'hotels' are pricey compared with off island places. You are paying for location.
There are no true full service resorts - 24 hr room service, turn down, lots little extras and mini-bars. South Seas Resort and Tween Waters Inn are as close to classic resorts as you'll get. They have extras, but Tweenies is an historic place, so don't go expecting things like at a new resort - and that includes soundproofing. There is a spa, pool bar, marina, beach across the street, a good inside bar, live entertainment (not every night), and the best restaurant on Captiva, Olde Captiva House.
South Seas has a wide rage of options from rooms and suites to condos (called villas) to private beach homes (some duplexes and all share two pools), to free-standing estate type homes with private pools. Pricey and the best pools of any resort. They have many additional fees that are annoying. Tennis, 9 hole par 3 golf, beach equipment, and a fabulous location. History of crappy service.
On Sanibel, the most resort-ish place Casa Ybel. Nice restaurant, lovely location, like the two above, popular for weddings, pool bar, all rooms are 1-2 bedroom condo style and in very consistent condition as all are owned by the resort.
All three of these properties can be very expensive.
Places like West Wind Inn, Sunset Beach Resort and others are more like glorified motels. Limited facilities, but fun, family friendly and Sunset Beach was nicely remodeled. West Wind has a pool bar that's pretty fun place. Again, these are NOT JW Marriott or Grand Hyatt resorts. No bell stands, no valet service, you take care of yourself - and some places have no elevators, so if it matters ASK.
There are no high rise hotels - in fact, other than an old Holiday Inn, no chains at all. Strict building codes bar them. Both islands are well suited to 'carcass parking on the beach', fishing, biking (better and safer on Sanibel) watersports (Captiva for the motorized stuff, like jet skis), Sanibel has the better restaurants and more of them. Captiva has a more Caribbean feel and is quieter, has a charming small village area, and is generally more expensive.Edited: 18 July 2012, 00:01
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