The Naples area offers a mind-boggling assortment of ways to while your leisure time away, from the tres chic to down home.But after you've taken your guests to the Naples Zoo, Everglades Wonder Gardens, Naples Botanical Garden, the Philharmonic, a show at Germain Arena, movies at Hollywood 20, Marco Movies or the Silverspot Cinema, headed north to the Shell Factory and the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, and then east to the Clyde Butcher Gallery and the Fakahatchee Boardwalk, you'll want to get them out on the water.
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This is a boating community, and for many people, relaxation and boats are synonymous. And you have myriad choices, even once you limit yourselves to boating. In addition to canoes, kayaks, parasailing and paddleboards, you can rent a runabout, pontoon or deck boat to skipper yourself; hire a captain and go fishing; take an excursion boat cruise or leave the area altogether.
For complete calm and relaxation, go to sea in a sailboat — with someone else hauling on the lines and watching the wind. Sweet Liberty, a 53-foot sailing catamaran owned by Capt. Lenny Wassmer, makes three daily trips out from the Naples City Dock unless it's booked for a special event, such as a wedding.
"We've married over a hundred couples," Wassmer said. "We always get the sails up — we're all about sailing."
Chartering the whole boat costs $500 per hour, but you can take a two or "three-hour tour" — that sounds familiar, somehow — aboard Sweet Liberty for $30 or $40, with child's fare $20. The morning cruise goes to Keewaydin Island for shelling, and the afternoon dolphin watching and evening sunset excursions are "cruises to nowhere," just out for the enjoyment of the water. Sweet Liberty takes up to 40 passengers, and moves at a good clip for a windboat.
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If you don't want to depend on the wind, the Naples Princess and Marco Island Princess will have you out on the water for $30 for adults and $15 for children in large, comfortable vessels with daily sailing schedules.
Back at the small-boat end of the spectrum, airboat excursions into the Everglades offer a chance to see the wilderness — and alligators — in a way possible nowhere else in the world. Wooten's Airboat Tours has been showing the back country to city folks since 1953. If you're not familiar with the unique craft, airboats use airplane engines and propellers, up above the back of the boat, allowing them to operate in extremely shallow water and even skim over grass and mud flats.
"Come with us, and you'll see the authenticity," said Danny Sylvest, who has been at Wooten's for 24 years. "We don't run deep river channels. We'll take you down an old Indian canoe trail, sometimes in a quarter inch of water."
Alligators are routinely sighted, but not guaranteed, he said — at least in the wild. Wooten's also has an animal sanctuary with local wildlife, and offers swamp buggy rides in addition to the airboats.
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For some, it isn't boating without a fishing rod in your hand. One local phone directory contains 85 listings for fishing charter boats and captains, even though today, the most common "net" is the Internet. Anything from private deep sea charters for more than a thousand dollars to "head boats" in the Gulf with a score of other anglers and backwater charters of all types are as close as your telephone and your checkbook.
Capt. Tom Marvel has been a charter captain in Naples since 1979. A day of deep sea fishing on his 43-foot custom sportfishing boat, also named Capt. Marvel, will cost — up to six of you — $1,170 plus gratuity, and a half-day goes for $630. These rates, he said, are near the top of the range, reflecting his experience and larger vessel. You could find a half day for $450 and up and full day charters for $850 and up, he said.
"With us, you get a full, nine-hour day out on the water, having a good time, and almost always have something great to take home," said Marvel, who fishes primarily offshore for grouper and snapper. "Two rounds of golf costs more for six guys, and all you take home is frustration."
If you don't need the whole boat, Pure Naples will take you out on the Lady Brett for $79 per adult and $49 per child, up to 20 miles out, departing every morning and afternoon from downtown Naples. The company's smaller Naples Explorer, with tickets priced the same, fishes closer in or in the backwaters, depending on the conditions. The two vessels carry up to 20 and 17 passengers, respectively.
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Suppose you want to be your own skipper. Boat rental outlets in Naples, Marco Island, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach would love to hear from you. Just remember, even though it has a steering wheel and a throttle, driving a boat is not the same as driving a car.
From Pure Naples at Tin City, boat rentals cost from $185 for two hours up to $475 for eight hours. For the seagoing equivalent of a motorcycle, you can rent a jet ski for $105 per hour, up to $475 for eight hours.
For something different, the Key West Express departs daily to Key West from Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island for a four-hour, 100-mile cruise. Fort Myers Beach also hosts the Pirate Cruise, 90 minutes of "interactive friendly pirate fun" that families "aarrghh" going to love. And since "nearly native" Neapolitans are probably like New Yorkers — who wouldn't think of going to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building unless out of towners with them — it's our chance to see a side of the area that is missing from the land.
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If you go
■ Capt. Marvel Fishing Charters: Naples City Dock, 12th Avenue South and Eighth Street South, Naples. 239-261-7159 or www.captmarvel.com
■ Key West Express: Rose Marina, 951 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island. 239-394-9700 or www.keywestexpress.us
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■ Marco Island Princess: Rose Marco River Marina, 951 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island. 239-642-5415 or www.themarcoislandprincess.com
■ Naples Princess: 550 Port O Call Way, Naples. 239-649-2275 or www.naplesprincesscruises.com
■ Pirate Cruise: Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventures, 2500 Main St., Fort Myers Beach. 800-779-4163 or www.piecesofeight.com
■ Pure Naples: Tin City, 1200 Fifth Ave. S., Naples. 239-263-4949 or www.cruisenaplesflorida.com
■ Sweet Liberty: Naples City Dock, 880 12th Ave. S., Naples. 239-793-3525 or www.sweetliberty.com
■ Wooten’s Airboat Tours: 32330 U.S. 41 E., Ochopee, about 35 miles outside Naples. 800-282-2781 or www.wootensevergladesairboatrides.com