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I hope everyone is having a great day so far. I am still missing Sanibel Island and vacation this morning. It has been just over a week since we got back from there and everyone is my house has said three or four different times how much they wish we were still there and can’t wait to go back. I am already thinking about planning a trip for next May after nursing school graduation (hopefully).
I think when you are planning a family vacation one of the most important components is the hotel where you will stay. This can REALLY set the tone of the trip. There have been times when I have opted for a cheaper and less nice accommodation and only ended up saving just a small amount of money. I guess the point I am trying to make is sometimes you can spend a bit more but get A LOT more for the money. When researching a beach accommodation there are a few things that I look for:
- good value for the money
- proximity to the beach ( for us we like ocean front or ocean view)
- kitchen (if possible)
- onsite restaurants &activities ( or options within walking distance)
- proximity to other activities
- large rooms
- established history of positive reviews via orbitz, trip advisor, booking.com, travelocity ect.( VIP READ said reviews).
When I was trying to pinpoint exactly which hotel we wanted to stay on Sanibel, I used the above to make my decision. There are TONS of accommodations on Sanibel and the great news is that no matter where you stay you are always fairly close to the water and the activities due to the shape and size of the island. After doing extensive research on orbitz ( I usually jump around between all of the options listed above) I had narrowed it down to two or three really good options that had the majority of my “wish list” from above. BUT, there was only one of the options that hit EVERY single item- The Sundial Resort and Spa.
It had every.single.thing. that I felt our family needed for this trip and turns out it offered A LOT of benefits I had not even considered. I initially booked the room through Orbitz and got what I consider a good price for a one bedroom condo that was around 800 sq ft. There were not a lot of pictures however on orbitz on the actual room which made me little nervous. I decided to venture over to the actual hotel website ( not something I often do) to see if I could get an idea of the pictures and layout of the actual room there. Once I did I learned that the hotel had A LOT of different style rooms beyond what Orbitz had available from a studio all the way to a 3 bedroom and everything in between.
**FUN TIP** that I did not know until semi-recently, when you book a room through Orbitz, Travelocity, Book.com ect they are often given only a certain number of rooms to sell and once those rooms are sold then it will indicate there are none available. Make SURE to check with the hotel directly.** So, as I was saying when I checked the hotel’s website I found a style room that I liked MORE that had a partial ocean view, was about 400 sq ft larger, AND was cheaper. I then found a deal on their list of incentives where you bought two nights and got the third night free!!!! Even sweeter this deal gave you a $50 food and beverage credit AND a free poolside cabana for one day. My inner deal loving diva was turning cartwheels. I quickly canceled the orbitz reservation – WITHOUT penalty- and booked the bigger cheaper rule with bonuses. I say all that to say this, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. The independent sites won’t always be the best, the direct hotel websites won’t always be the best, but if you don’t check you will not know 🙂
Fast forward several weeks after lots of anticipation, excitement, packing, and one long and rainy car ride, we finally arrived at the Sundial shortly after check in on Sunday afternoon. As soon as pulled into the parking lot I was impressed with how huge the resort was. There were tons of buildings! The property was landscaped to perfection and I especially loved the reflection pools and the many various sized cobalt blue planters that adorned the entrance to the lobby. I stepped inside where I was greeted by a lovely young lady who efficiently checked me in and provided me with detailed directions around the property, a map and several pamphlets with welcoming information, and made sure all of my questions were answered. As I was headed back to the car and anxious hubby I stole a moment to look around the lobby. It was beautiful! There was a huge impressive staircase, gorgeous chandelier, and it was just overall perfectly decorated. In the lobby are also the entrances to Shima Japanese Steakhouse, The Sea Breeze Cafe, and the Shima “grab and go” sushi shop ( More on these shortly). I could not wait to try all of these restaurants and explore more!
Next, we headed to our room. Our building, H, was located a short walking distance from the lobby. We were able to find parking very easily in front of our building. We then realized our room was on the fourth floor and while there was an elevator ( PTL) we did not see a luggage dolly. We had an insane amount of luggage, beach equipment, groceries, and two semi-cranky kiddos. Genius hubby thinks quickly on his feet and decides we can use our brand new beach wagon instead!! These wagons have one million uses ya’ll seriously. Once we made it to the fourth floor and opened the room door- ya’ll I almost cried. It was so clean, smelled so good, was decorated SO well. The first thing I could see was a huge screened balcony looking down to numerous palm trees on either side of the Gulf of Mexico. Also I could see one of the FIVE pools directly in front of the room. I think the car ride might have had us all a little disoriented but we all sort of looked amazed. My expectations of the room were definitely surpassed.
My husband was VERY impressed and that is not an easy feat in regards to hotel rooms- if you have read my other post you will know I lovingly tease him as being a bit of a hotel snob. Our condo had a huge gourmet style kitchen with all stainless appliances, granite countertops, and almost every kitchen necessity as far as plates, glasses and cookware were concerned. There was a very nice sized dining area which led into the large living room. There were two huge and very nice sofas which BOTH pulled out into a queen and full sized beds. There was also a large tv in this space which the kids were particular excited about. The living room wall facing the ocean was entirely glass and had the most amazing blackout door/screen I have yet to see in a beach condo. Whoever picked that out was serious about being able to block the lights out. The unit had one nice full bath that had plenty of space for what we needed and was again very well designed and decorated. The master bedroom was very large and had a super soft king bed. The entire wall of the master also opened onto the balcony and faced the ocean. It too had the superhero blinds. There was a large walk in closet and tons of storage space in the ample bedroom furniture. For two adults and two kids this unit was the perfect size.
After we finished checking out the room, we decided to go explore what we had all really come to see- the beach! It was a pretty short walk from building H to the beach. On the way we noticed more beautiful landscaping and strolled right part the pool we had seen from the balcony earlier. The pool was actually only one of the five pools on the property but was very large and heated! I think once we got to the beach we pretty much sprinted the rest of the way. We hurried down the most picturesque little path between all of the dune’s vegetation and all of a sudden it opens up to turquoise green waters, sand, and SHELLS! Everywhere we looked were shells. The kids took off and left us in the dust hurriedly running from shell to shell and excitedly turning back to show us each and every new discovery. Their excitement was honestly more enthusiastic than Christmas day. We took a long stroll down the beach and hardly saw anyone the entire time. It felt like we were the only ones there. I chalked it up to maybe the fact that it was the late afternoon but I continued to feel this way to entire week. For me this is a WONDERFUL attribute. I had assumed based on the size of the resort to see tons of people and there were certainly days that were busier than others but we continued to feel like we were one of the only families there. It was heaven on earth.
Everyone was tired after a long day on the road so we figured that night might be an excellent opportunity to check out the first of the hotel’s five restaurants, The Sea Breeze Cafe. I have found after staying at a few properties with onsite restaurants that this is SUCH a bonus especially with kids. I can’t tell you how nice it was to walk 5 minutes to the lobby and have a wonderful meal with an ocean front view after having been in a car all day. The Sea Breeze Cafe is located in the main lobby and has an attractive bar area and main dining room that all look out over the gulf. They also offer outdoor dining with a killer view. We were too late to enjoy the view so we were sat at a very nice table in the main dining room. I had grilled mahi which was delicious and Brandon had shrimp over pasta which also looked amazing. The kids had chicken fingers and spaghetti respectively with zero complaints from them. After we selected a desert to go, we were all ready to turn in and get ready for an exciting week ahead.
I plan to cover activities and restaurants in detail on a future post, but I want to highlight for you the other onsite dining and amenities that we sampled during the remainder of our stay
On our first full beach day ( which happened to be our second day there due to tropical storm Emily) we played on the beach all morning and early afternoon. We had breakfast at the room and had snacked on the beach but everyone was STARVING. We decided to check out Slice of Paradice which is the Sundial’s resident pizzeria. We called and ordered delivery to our room and for around $40 got two of the biggest and tastiest Chicago style pizza I have ever seen. The pizzas were enormous. The four of us were barely able to eat one. But I was happy because we had plenty of leftovers for snacking on the next few days. A few days later we went and checked out the Slice of Paradice in person to get some ice cream. They are located right next to the main pool area near the lobby and main building. Brandon’s and the kids all got enormous servings of ice cream and from the lack of talking and smiles it must have been good.
While they were enjoying the ice cream from Slice of Paradice I wandered over to Turtle’s pool & beach bar which was located in a huge tiki hut poolside. I decided to check out the happy hour specials (3-5pm daily) and sampled the pina colada. I am a self proclaimed pina colada critic and this one did me proud! I wasn’t hungry since we had grabbed something earlier at the room but I did look over their menu and it looked SO good. The “no woman, no cry” burger sounded especially delicious as well as the various soups, salads, and other sandwiches. They had TONS of options that you could eat at the bar under the tiki hut, order to take poolside, or take back to the room and I love that convenience mid beach day or after a long morning at the pool. That is what I am talking about- EASY!
Later in the week we decided to check out another onsite dining option which was Shima Japanese Steakhouse. This restaurant is also located in the main lobby. If you plan well in advance I recommend trying to schedule this on a Tuesday as they currently offer a buy one get one deal on Tuesdays only and it is VERY popular. Shima is the only Japanese steakhouse on the island and is popular with sundial guests and draws people from other resorts to eat here as well. You definitely need an advance reservation regardless of what day you plan to go. The food was very good here and provided lots of entertainment for the kids. It was probably the most pricey of the onsite meals we had but we both had the shrimp and filet meals as well as the two kid’s entrees so I thought the price was in line with what I would expect to pay at similar type restaurants. I feel Shima is a must do. Shima also offers a grab and go shop in the lobby that sells fresh sushi to go. While we love sushi we unfortunately never had the opportunity to check it out but if the quality of the food in the main restaurant is any indication, then I am certain it too is phenomenal.
Last but certainly not least I want to touch on a treasure at The Sundial, Bailey’s Marketplace. Had I only walked in there that first day we would have spent A LOT more time in there. Onsite at The Sundial they have their very own general store, Bailey’s. I went in there towards the end of the week looking for a wine key. I found that and SO much more. This is just the neatest little store and I am not exaggerating. They have fresh bakery goods, fresh salads and sandwhiches, any kind of sweet you can imagine ( fudge, brownies ect), coffee and other specialty drinks, all the best grocery staples, souvenirs, bathings suits, beach essentials, and things people commonly forget. I mean they seriously have it all and I am not kidding. I was amazed how MUCH they have organized in a somewhat smaller size building. The people that worked in there were SO kind and helpful. I went in there on the last day after checkout to grab a breakfast sandwich and my bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant was HEAVEN. I expected that the items in Bailey’s would be marked up in price but I found their prices to be very reasonable and in line with what I would pay at Publix ect. Also, a wonderful tip is that you can pre-order your groceries from Bailey’s and they will have them waiting for you in your room upon check in. This is almost too good to be true.
The onsite restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg of the Sundial’s offerings. In addition other amenities they offer include:
- Full spa & salon onsite– I tried to make an appointment here for a pedicure but they were full the only day I could go. It looks wonderful and I love that they have this option available but I definitely suggest booking in advance. Massage- YES PLEASE!
- Sanibel Sea School– another onsite offering. The Sanibel Sea School looks SO neat. We were originally supposed to take a class on Wednesday but due to some scheduling conflicts we ended up not being able to attend. We were able to watch the class daily on the beach though and the children looked to be really enjoying it and finding tons of shells. I would say this is a must do and will be a priority when we return for sure.
- Volleyball Courts- complimentary for guests.
- Pickleball– I am not familiar but I do know this is an up and coming super popular sport. The Sundial recently constructed state of the art pickleball courts and are supposed to be some of the nicest in all of Florida. They also have a pickleball pro and lessons are offered.
- Tennis courts and tennis pro
- Complimentary bicycle rentals, complimentary kayak rentals, complimentary paddle board rentals– all included with your stay!!! Need I say more?!?! That would cost a lot to go rent all of the above for a family of four but no worries, The Sundial has you covered.
- Fitness Room
- Complimentary umbrellas, complimentary chairs, and complimentary beach towels on the beach– it can really save you a TON of headache not to have to deal with all of the chairs and umbrellas!!!!
- Shelling– FREE!!! There is over a mile of beach in front of the resort and over 250 species of shells here. This is a free activity and you can get as much of it as you want. I can’t tell you how much of our trip the four of us spent scouring the shores for treasures. The kids loved it and it was so nice to find something to drag them away from screen time and get them engaged in nature. This was probably my favorite thing we did at the Sundial and it did not cost a dime!!
The Fine Print
There are a few details that were important to me and that I would be remiss to not mention in this review. The housekeeping staff was phenomenal and came every single day and did an outstanding job. It was so nice to come in after a long day at the beach to a clean room with fresh towels and fresh sheets. I have stayed in lots of condo style accommodations that did not offer daily housekeeping and so with two small kids I especially appreciated this detail.
We used the kitchen a lot and I was really pleased with the kitchen and kitchen items in our room. Such a perk!!! There are not washer/dryers in the room but there are washing machines and dryers on each floor. We did not use them but this is a really nice feature to have available especially with all of the wet/sandy clothing items from the beach.
The staff at this resort were all SO kind, accommodating, and friendly. Any request we made was addressed above and beyond my expectation and with friendliness and efficiency. I can’t say enough about this resort or endorse it highly enough other than to say- We WILL be back and hopefully very soon. It would be hard if not impossible to top what they offer at The Sundial Resort and Spa.
I remarked to my husband as I was wrapping up this review that you could really stay at The Sundial for a month and not do everything there that there is to do, not to even mention the things off the property. I have left out so much I am sure but I hope if you find yourself on this gorgeous island you will check out The Sundial and Sanibel. I know you will not be disappointed.