This summer, we hooked up with a group of journalists in a zany convoy across South Florida that included a vintage Airstream trailer, a Jeep and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Our gig was to look at the light side of serious meetings in the Sunshine State, well known for its mood swings “from la-la to loco,” as they say around these parts. Here is the first in our series: Marco Island Marriott Resort & Spa.
On the southwest coast of Florida, Captain Steve is a 5th generation “Gladesman” who knows every backwater in the massive Big Cypress National Preserve, located just 20 minutes from the 727-room Marco Island Marriott Resort & Spa. The big guy loaded us onto his home-built, fat-tire swamp buggy for a wild ride towering 12 feet above the mud, swamp water and tangled wilderness. We saw a wealth of flora and fauna, and there wasn’t a plant or bird Captain Steve couldn’t first identify and then weave a yarn around.
The lore of the area goes back to his great-great grandfather, who came to Florida to raise cattle after the Civil War, and his great-grandfather, who was a pioneer in guiding the first ever tourists through the uncharted Everglades. In addition to the varied bird life, the many alligators and deer, we explored the remains of an old rail bed harking back days when cypress logs were hauled out of the swamps by train. It’s a great place to learn about the history of the Glades and how people like him are working to protect it.
Marco Island Marriott Resort & Spa
Marco Island is the largest of Ten Thousand Islands that pepper the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s mainland. The sprawling Marco Island Marriott Resort & Spa offers 65,000 sf of meeting space and quick access to one of America’s largest undeveloped coastal regions. There’s also a mesmerizing array of group activities on-property.
“Our ‘Day at the Beach’ group activities are the most popular,” says Tracy Tirrell, destination sales manager. “Groups get their own, private section of beach plus umbrellas, motorized beach toys, sailboats, kayaks, music and much more, all just footsteps from the resort. We can provide Wii games, laser tag, volleyball, even a beach barbecue.”
The best part is you’re right on the private beach, so it’s easy to create all kinds of beachfront events.
“Ours is the largest private white sand beach in Southwest Florida, and we’re the only resort that is really on the beach without boardwalks to cross or shuttles to ride,” explains Tirrell.
Off property, Tirrell can arrange kayak or wave runner tours of the mangrove islands, shelling on offshore sand spits, and tee times or activities at two private, 18-hole championship courses. For non-golfers, a wacky scavenger hunt in golf carts starts with Rum Runners at the bar and proceeds to the roving refreshments cart. No clubs required.
“Bicycle tours of the island are also popular, offsite packages here,” says Tirrell. “We take guests on a 2-hour scenic tour with stops at island landmarks. Or, our Extreme Green Guided Cycling Tour lasts 3 ½ hours with stops at protected wildlife sites.”