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Times of the Islands Magazine

Traveling by Ferry


Enjoy the journey ... and the destination

Imagine kicking back and taking in a panoramic view of the water, catching a sea mist, watching a sunrise or a sunset, and capturing “Kodak moments,” all while getting from Point A to Point B via ferry. Allowing a captain to deal with the nautical navigation offers passengers a chance to put up their feet and enjoy the journey to their destination.

“I’ve driven to Key West and have taken the Key West [Express] ferry out of Fort Myers Beach. The ferry is a lot more fun,” says David Matte of Fort Myers.

Key West is Florida’s southernmost point and is located about 90 miles from Cuba. Known for its green-tinged waters, eclectic and colorful heritage, thriving arts scene, diving and snorkeling opportunities, amazing sunsets and superb cuisine, it’s a very popular spot.

“There is always something happening in Key West year-round and something for everyone, which makes it an internationally popular destination,” explains Linda Miller, general manager of the Key West Express ferry.

The ferry is faster, too: A car ride from Fort Myers to Key West takes about five hours and the Key West Express takes about three and a half hours.

 Above: The Key West Express is a popular way for Southwest Floridians to travel to Key West.

Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island between Sarasota and Fort Myers, is another popular place to visit via ferry. Once onshore, there are great beaches, parks, trails, dining and shopping. Ferries from Bokeelia, on Pine Island, to Boca Grande are offered by several local operators. The trip takes about 30 minutes, with the chance to see dolphins breaching, sea turtles swimming, manatees meandering and waterbirds fishing.

Cape Coral resident Sherry Denger enjoyed her recent trip from Captiva to Cayo Costa State Park, via Captiva Cruises. “We saw several pods of dolphins on our way over,” she says. While there, she had fun walking on the beach and shelling.

Captiva Cruises offers half-day and full-day beach/shelling cruises to Cayo Costa, which is accessible only by boat. It has 9 miles of pristine beaches and the ferry ride from Captiva is about 30 minutes.

One of Island Girl Charters’ options is traveling from Bokeelia to the private Useppa Island, accessible only by boat or helicopter. The trip takes about 15 minutes and upon landing, guests can have lunch at the Collier Inn and visit the island’s museum.

Tropic Star Adventures of Pine Island offers a ferry trip from Bokeelia to Cabbage Key for lunch at Cabbage Key Inn, stopping at Cayo Costa State Park beforehand. The ferry ride is about 80 minutes, including both stops.

Guests of Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs can take a 15-minute ferry ride to Big Hickory Island in Estero Bay. It runs hourly every day from 9:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. “The island has a covered and screened beach pavilion, boardwalk, nature trails and spectacular beach,” says Patricia George, marketing communications manager.

Above: For hotel guests, the comfortable ferry to Big Hickory Island departs from the property. 

Passengers can watch dolphins and manatees during the boat ride. Once on the eco-preserve, guests can play volleyball, go shelling, hike the nature trails and photograph migrating birds and wildlife.

Florida has 4,510 islands that are 10 acres or larger; many can be accessed only via boat. And even if you are able to drive to your chosen destinations, those with ferry routes will enable you to truly relax.

Ann Marie O’Phelan is a Southwest Florida resident and a regular contributor of TOTI Media.

The Ferries 

Captiva Cruises travels to Boca Grande, Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa State Park, Useppa Island. 239-472-5300;

Boats depart from:

·      McCarthy’s Marina, 11401 Andy Rosse Lane, Captiva

·      South Seas Island Resort, 5400 South Seas Plantation Road, Captiva;

Ferry to Big Hickory Island. Boats depart from:

·      Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, 5001 Coconut Road, Bonita Springs;


Island Girl Charters offers trips to Boca Grande, Cabbage Key, Captiva, North Captiva, Pine Island, Useppa Island. Boats depart from:

·      13921 Waterfront Drive, Bokeelia; 239-633-8142;


Key West Express. Boats depart from:

·      1200 Main St., Fort Myers Beach; 463-5733;

·      951 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island; 239-463-5733;