Sanibel and Captiva Islands are known for their world class beaches, fishing, and outdoor recreation, but the island also hosts some of the most unique and popular holiday events in Southwest Florida.
Visitors from the mainland participate in old-fashioned holiday events like tree lightings, singing carols, and hayrides within the island's uniquely "small-town" atmosphere, as well as new twists on old traditions, including luminaries, lighted boat parades, golf cart parades, and a Mullet March.
The festivities kick-off after Thanksgiving with the 29th Annual Luminary Festival Weekend, hosted by the Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce, and the community-led Holiday Village on Captiva Island.
The Captiva Holiday Village Golf Cart Parade. PHOTO PROVIDED.
During the luminary, volunteers from the Sanibel Captiva Lions Club place hundreds of white bags, filled with sand and containing a lit candle, along Periwinkle Way. Island businesses open their doors with refreshments, music, special holiday sales, and even visits from Santa Claus. The Sanibel Community Church also hosts a live nativity scene.
It's suggested that visitors park wherever there is space and use trollys that will pick up passengers at nine different stops. The chamber will produce a trifold with details about where to board the trollys and what special events are being hosted along Periwinkle Way.
"Luminary Festival Weekend is the one time a year that the entire island community comes together to celebrate the season and we are delighted to be able to help bring light to our amazing island family during the holidays," said Ric Base, president of the Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce.
The Fourth Annual Captiva Holiday Village begins after Thanksgiving with tree lightings at 'Tween Waters Inn and the South Seas Island Resort. Holiday Village events have grown so popular that a production crew from the Travel Channel's "Xtreme Xmas" filmed the golf cart parade last year.
Locals decorate golf carts with decorations, lights, garland, hats, stuffed animals and even plastic flamingos, and the drivers wear over-the-top outfits. Awards are given for the best decorated golf carts and proceeds benefit the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.
"This was such a great opportunity to bring our quirky island festivities to the world," said 2012 Golf Cart Parade Chair Denice Beggs. "This parade is such a unique and fun event for locals to be involved in. The competition has really increased, and many participants plan their decorations a year in advance."
Holiday Village events are scheduled throughout the entire month of December, ranging from holiday strolls at South Seas where guests can access the resort's grounds and marina for lights, entertainment, and arts and crafts, to a lighted boat parade in the evening.
"There's something for everyone to enjoy, from live entertainment to arts and crafts, games, S'mores, and of course old St. Nick," said Dorothy Fitzgerald, an island resident and chair of the Holiday Stroll. "This holiday stroll is sure to become a new holiday tradition for families.
Proceeds from the South Seas Holiday Strolls benefit the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.
For more information or a complete schedule of events: Visit the chamber's website at sanibel-captiva.org to learn about the 29th Annual Luminary Festival Weekend and captivaholidayvillage.com to learn about the Captiva Holiday Village.