Monday, January 16, 2012

Exploring the Bonita Springs/Naples area

Jan 9- Jan. 15,  Bonita Springs, Florida

"Stand back, smell the rose, and feel the sand between your toes."--Kenny Chesney
My mom and step-father in their 1977 Pace Arrow
My mother used to travel in a motorhome in the late 70s through the 80s. She and her husband would close their restaurant in Chassell, Michigan after New Year’s Eve and head south to Florida until they re-opened for Mother’s Day in May.  One of her favorite places was Bonita Springs as she had a friend, from her days working for Helena Rubenstein at Marshall Fields in downtown Chicago while in her 20s, who owned and operated a steak and seafood restaurant here called "Lucky's Landing" until the early 90s. (So this friend went way back and they had a lot in common in their later years both running similar types of restaurants.)  I have no idea where they used to park their motorhome and wish I could ask her now, but it seemed like they often stayed in people’s driveways as their motorhome was 32’ with no slides—a little more compact than ours. I also remember my mother saying how much she liked the beaches in this area, especially the shelling on Sanibel.  I used to feel jealous to hear from her while in Florida as these were the years I was going to school and working in Missoula, Mt. while starting a family.  No time off or beaches for me then, but here I am in my own retirement appreciating this connection with my mom.
The park we are staying at in Bonita Springs is Bonita Lakes Resort—about twenty or thirty minutes from the beach in light traffic.  Because of its proximity to the beach, the sites were closer than we like with only a few feet separating us from our neighbors.  The park was a mixture of park models, fifth wheels, trailers, and motorhomes—with the majority being fifth wheels. 
Looking West along Trixie Lane Jan 2006.jpg

Womens Bean Bag League Jan 2006-1_0.jpg
There is a small pool and a full activity calendar with bean bag toss being the most popular activity in the park. Another major highlight of this place is its close proximity to a well-known bar called Buffalo Chips which used to be part of a brothel.  After settling in the first day, we heard it was wing night there (.60 wings).  The place was packed even at 5:30 (the q-tip crowd), so we had to wait at the bar (a shame) and drink a mug of ice cold draft beer while waiting for a table. Turned out to be delicious food, worth waiting for, and a colorful place to hang out complete with live downhome live country music.
We heard from our new friends, Mike and BJ, who were about 45 minutes away at Seminole, and invited them to spend the day at a beach near us. They showed up at our door  before 9 a.m. just in time for coffee and we headed out to Barefoot Beach where we spent a great day combing the beach for shells (found lots of kitten paws and jingles) and enjoying the turquoise water views.  Mike and BJ brought their shelling scoops and had much better luck than me sorting through piles of shells from deeper waters.  We thoroughly enjoyed another special time with good people, good food (stopped at a waterfront restaurant), in a fantastic locale.  Now I get why my mom so enjoyed this area.  It is a special part of Florida—even in dealing with the snowbird traffic on Hwy 41.

While in this area, we decided to go and check out two Class A Motorcoach resorts in Naples.  I had seen both of these advertised with excellent reviews (as well as top of the line prices).  The first one we went to was called Naples Signature Motorcoach Resort.  The place is exquisitely landscaped with a hotel-like activity center and large lots with pavers.  Many of the sites are privately owned with unique cabanas, storage areas, and formal outdoor furniture. The downside, aside from the nightly rate or the exorbitant cost of the lots—over 100k, was the distance from the beaches.  They did have a lake with a fountain, creating the feeling of water, but it would take at least 45 minutes to get to the beaches (on a good day without much traffic.) 
Naples Motorcoach Resort clubhouse--photo from their website

The second motorcoach resort at Pelican Lake was even further out.  This place was equally attractive with a large lake in the center, but much less inhabited.  We had the feeling that maybe the park was in receivership as it seemed like they were struggling to fill the place.  We took a tour of the main building and were very impressed with the music stage, dance floor, library, exercise room, and luxurious movie theater with large overstuffed leather chairs. They also promoted theme nights with free happy hours and food—sounded pretty good to me!
Pelican Lake clubhouse gazebo on lake


On the way back to our park, we spotted another RV resort that had not been on our radar called Neapolitan Cove RV Resort in Naples.  This was a lovely small park right off Hwy. 41, but only a few miles from the famous 5th Avenue in downtown Naples, and only a few more miles to the Naples beaches.  The park had a very small pool and no exercise room, but the close proximity to things made it stand out, plus the landscaping was quite attractive.
Neapolitan Cove RV site

The last stop on our RV park tour was a quick trip to a place in Naples called Tin City.  It sounded very cool in the Places To Go in Naples flyer, but we discovered a place that seemed a little tired and run down. Tin City got its name from the tin-roofed buildings that were the center hub of activity in this old fishing harbor in the 1920s. In the 70s, some of the buildings were restored and the area was turned into the Old Marine Marketplace.  The shops turned out to be mostly well-disguised souvenir gift shops with a few ho-hum looking restaurants mixed in.

We learned that our park was having a senior prom with a live band on Saturday night, so we decided to give it a whirl.  Formal dress was not required and you could bring your own drinks and snacks. About an hour before the prom, I took a walk and saw several couples having a pre-prom dinner in formal attire complete with corsages and boutonnieres.  Thankfully, I also saw guys with sport coats, shorts, and flip-flops. We dressed up moderately and, most importantly, put on our dancing shoes and headed to our first senior prom together,  It was a fun evening and cute to see couples in 60s prom attire such as white and baby blue tuxes as well as the range of Hawaiian shirts and tropical wear.  The band played mostly music from the 60s and 70s, very nostalgic and good for dancing swing, cha-cha, waltz, and night club two-step.  A good time (but forgot to have someone take photos of us!). I have heard that senior prom dances are a popular ritual at many of the  parks in Florida--too funny.

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