By early 2023, mere months after Hurricane Ian roared through Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, as a strong Category 4, people were heading back to the beach, and properties like Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, DiamondHead Beach Resort and the Sanibel Island Inn were welcoming guests.
Such has been the story of recovery in Lee County, where business slowed but never stopped as word got out that major renovations were under way, to the point where, at press time, it’s business as usual in much of the county.
“With almost 70 percent of pre-Hurricane Ian rooms back online, and many more new and newly renovated establishments coming soon, our industry partners are rebuilding, restoring and renovating to ensure visitors have a first-class experience when they come to the destination,” says Tamara Pigott, executive director of Fort Myers—Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods. “We’re confident that it will be an experience your entire group will enjoy.”
One experience no group should miss are the Old Florida charm and vintage attractions of Bonita Springs, set against the Gulf south of Fort Myers Beach. Here, one of the state’s original roadside attractions—Wonder Gardens, opened in 1936—is still going strong, home to rescued alligators, turtles and tortoises, and all kinds of exotic birds, including magnificent umbrella cockatoos. An event lawn and exquisite open-air “tea houses” are available for group events.
Set your meeting and offsite events in the Roaring Twenties at places like the boutique Shangri-La Springs, built in 1921 and offering unique event space for up to 400. Or go back even farther at the rentable McSwain Home, built in 1915 and charmingly updated, with period furnishings and pioneer architecture intact.
Savor Bonita’s history—and scrumptious barbecue—at the local favorite Buffalo Chips, offering private dining areas overlooking historic U.S. 41.
In fact, group dining spaces are everywhere in the Fort Myers/Sanibel area, from the casual Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille offering alfresco seating in Sanibel, to the intimate Bruno’s of Brooklyn, a slice of New York City right in historic downtown Fort Myers. Blocks away is the bustling River District and the new Luminary leisure and convention hotel.
With its combo platter of city, beach and outback adventures, Fort Myers offers a group event like no other in the state. —Lisa Simundson