Discovery Cove: Snorkeling in a manmade lagoon brings tons of fish sightings without any surprise waves (discoverycove.com; 1-407-513-4600).

Walt Disney World: This complex of amusement parks provides moments of awe and utter delight (disneyworld.disney.go.com; 1-407-939-5277).


Where to eat: We saw only two chains — a Subway in a strip mall and a retro Dairy Queen. The best options are local, including several excellent delis that sell prepared foods for easy meals on a deck or beach. Our go-to spot was Bailey's General Store and Jerry's Foods. Looking for family-friendly restaurants? We liked the Lazy Flamingo (lazyflamingo.com; 1-239-472-5353). For ice cream, don't miss Pinocchio's Italian Ice Cream (pinocchiosicecream.com), which is on the way to the island's scenic lighthouse.

Where to stay: Residents of Sanibel and neighboring Captiva have worked hard to minimize the impact of itinerant tourism on the islands, so you won't find any big hotels. Nor will you find much in the way of traditional all-inclusive resorts. Lodging options range from single-family house rentals to upscale boutique resorts. Most condos require seven-night reservations and some houses require monthly rentals. There are several offices that manage condo vacation rentals; my favorite was Island Vacations of Sanibel and Captiva (sanibelislandvacations.com; 1-888-451-7277). We stayed in a three-bedroom, three-bathroom two-story condo on the beach. Other economical family options: Tween Waters Inn (tween-waters.com), Castaways Cottages (castaways-cottages.com) and Island Inn (islandinnsanibel.com).

Best beach: The south shore of the island is best for shelling, swimming and picnics, especially Bowman's Beach, which was recently named one of the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geographic. We spent most of our time on the beach in front of our condo because it was most private and convenient.

Jim Buchta