Southwest Florida’s Naples Grande Beach Resort hugs the Gulf of Mexico

by Sean Hillen

Hotel locations don’t get much better than the Naples Grande Beach Resort in Florida, surrounded as it is by two hundred acres of protected mangrove forest intertwined with elevated walking paths made from over four million recycled milk jugs leading to three miles of soft, powdery beachfront.

Here on 18 floors, 474 rooms including 29 suites, feature private balconies offering views over the Gulf of Mexico, plus 50 ‘Garden Villa’ bungalows with Asian-inspired décor and more than 83,000 square feet of meeting space.

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The resort’s many attractions mean one will probably find almost everything needed for a complete vacation.

Recently, owners, Northwood Hospitality, announced completion of an eight-million dollar makeover of its golf club, including a new clubhouse, complete re-grass (Bermuda) and leveling and expansion of tees. The 18-hole, 6,955-yard, par 72 course nestled along a lush landscape of native Florida pine hammocks, live oak, grand cypress trees and water, is best described as ‘coastal contemporary’ and is minutes from the hotel. For non-golf sports enthusiasts, the resort has an 8,000-square foot gym with spin-bikes, treadmills and eucalyptus and steam rooms to soothe aching muscles, as well as an impressive tennis facility with 15 clay courts.

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Photo used with permission from Naples Grande Beach Resort

The resort also features three heated outdoor swimming pools and has been designed in such a way that children have their own, the ‘Mangrove Pool,’ with a 100-foot twisting waterslide, while adults enjoy the ‘Palm Terrace’ pool and the Hibiscus hideaway offering lap lanes. The waters off the smooth, sandy beach area, reached by complimentary buggy ride along a boardwalk through the mangrove forest, are clear and shallow enough for safe bathing and guests can also rent kayaks and paddle-boards. A full array of other watersports including jet skiing, sailing, parasailing and deep-sea fishing can be arranged through the concierge desk, which also organizes tours through the Everglades National Park, including close-ups with alligators. A special two-hour tour photography tour includes encounters with wildlife such as manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, bald eagles, ospreys, herons, egrets, pelicans, alligators, rosette spoonsbills, as well as numerous species of fish and shore birds, depending on the season.

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Photo used with permission from Naples Grande Beach Resort

To further cater to young children, the resort has even developed its own ‘Explorers Club.’ Named after the cute loggerhead sea turtles native to the area, the club offers games including arts, crafts and sports, as well as star-gazing nights. Activities include ‘Little Chefs,’ where children make their own pizzas; watermelon eating contests; ice-cream socials; a water balloon Olympics; and a ‘Dive-In Movie Night’ where families pull up a float at the resort’s Mangrove Pool and watch movies on a 13-foot screen.

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Stepping from the open, lively lobby into the secluded spa area seemed like passing through a time warp. I was instantly conveyed into a tranquil Japanese-inspired pavilion in a village-like setting, an oasis–like landscape replete with podocarpus (a genus of conifer), colorful crotons, palm trees and a white bougainvillea espalier wall. A fountain, a waterfall and a small meditation labyrinth only added to the overall sense of restfulness. If mental relaxation is the prelude to the physical state then this sedate atmosphere achieved that. My one-hour deep-tissue massage enhanced it even more.

In terms of ‘wining and dining’ at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, there is ample choice, with five restaurants and bars spread across the property. The menu at ‘Rhode’s End’ focuses on capturing Mediterranean flavors such as octopus salad, hummus, pita flatbreads, friend baby squid and burgers with tzatziki sauce. For a more informal treat, the ‘Gulf Coast Oasis’ is located poolside with a menu of sandwiches, burgers and tropical drinks. An evening choice, is ‘Sunset Veranda’ at the beach, where guests can enjoy refreshing drinks by a fire pit while watching dramatic Gulf Coast sunsets slip into breezy twilights. Here also are themed nights including ‘Lemonade Lab,’ ‘Mojito Mondays’ and ‘Burgers and Brews,’ with live music. ‘Aura Restaurant’ is an international coastal cuisine serving breakfast, lunch and dinner while the ‘Spressi,’ bar is the place to go for coffee-lovers, serving a range of Italian-style drinks, as well as specialty breakfast drinks, light breakfast and lunch fare.

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As its name indicates, ‘The Catch of the Pelican’ specializes in seafood specialties including snapper, flounder, grouper and pompano. Located off the hotel’s spacious lobby, it offers relaxing yet sophisticated ambience with friendly service.

After an early pre-theater dinner, I can say that if a pelican enjoys such a feast I might consider reincarnating as one. Try starting with crispy calamari dipped in a fragrant pepperonata frisee dragon aioli or the restaurant’s most popular dish, stone crabs with cajun mustard aioli. The crab toes come neatly cracked so there’s little work to do. They’re large so order per piece. Grouper was my choice of main, served with seasonal succotash, fried green tomato, verjus and lemon butter. I enjoyed every bite. I also ‘borrowed’ some of my partner’s miso and maple syrup broiled seabass, with shiitake, tofu, aka dashi and coconut rice.

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Opportunities for shopping escapes are plentiful, including the resort’s own ‘Naples Grande Gift Shop’ with jewelry, souvenirs and beauty products. Fifth Avenue South in the heart of downtown Naples – a palm-lined street with over twenty restaurants and boutique stores – is an easy 15-minute drive away.

There are also enticing cultural activities near the resort, such as the Sugden Community Theatre, a multi-venue that includes the 326-seat Blackburn Hall and the 100-seat Tobye Studio and home to the talented Naples Players.

For a warm vacation by the sea, with a multi-faceted menu of fine dining, shopping and cultural productions to savor, the Naples Grande Beach Resort is a luxury property worthy of serious consideration.


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