It’s a gorgeous late Sunday afternoon in November as this writer and his family board the Lady Chadwick at McCarthy’s Marine, a two-deck cruise ship that’s the de facto flagship of Captiva Cruises. Along with perhaps another 100 passengers, we’re excited to experience the Dolphin Watch and Wildlife Adventure Cruise — and get up close and personal with some of Southwest Florida’s favorite creatures.
The cruise is but one of 12 unique adventures that Captiva Cruises offers both locals and visitors to experience — and they’re all the brainchild of Paul McCarthy, native Bostonian and former Chicago big-firm attorney, who launched the Chicago Architectural River Cruise in the early 80s. While successful, it didn’t take McCarthy long to realize that the boating season in the Midwest is quite abbreviated due to weather, and that a warm weather locale could be far more profitable. And fun.
“I never tire of going on the water here — morning, afternoon or evening,” he says. “It’s really the ultimate tropical island experience, to see and appreciate the pristine beauty and nature we have here.” That’s a fact, because McCarthy is often a passenger on his many cruises, serving to narrate the island lifestyle he loves.
The year 2016 will mark 30 years since McCarthy decided to throw lawyering overboard to pursue his passion and become a full time cruise owner. Having vacationed in the early 80s on Captiva, McCarthy knew where he wanted to make his move — so he cruised a new excursion boat he had built in 1985 down the Mississippi River to Southwest Florida, and set up shop so to speak originally at South Seas Island Resort.
Captiva Cruises’ daily cruises depart from McCarthy’s Marina located at the intersection of Captiva Drive and Andy Rosse Lane as well as South Seas Island Resort Marina. Captiva Cruises also offers charter cruises on any of their seven vessels out of ‘Tween Waters Marina, Sanibel Harbour Marina and pretty much anywhere in Southwest Florida you can belly up a boat to a dock.
Among the 12 adventures that Captiva Cruises embarks upon include sojourns to the islands of Boca Grande, Useppa, Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa, Pine Island (many including lunch at historic restaurants); Eco-Heritage, Marine Naturalist, Night Sky Astronomy and sailing outings; plus classic dolphin watch and sunset cruises. And should you desire, you can also charter your own boat for everything from a private family expedition to weddings or receptions, for parties as small as six to 150.
McCarthy has also been instrumental in the creation of Captiva Holiday Village, an island celebration that presides over five weekends — from Thanksgiving to Christmas — and includes Arias on the Beach, a tricked-out Golf Cart Parade, a Decorated Boat Parade along Roosevelt Channel and a lot more craziness. Now in its sixth year, the event (co-founded by local realtor Denice Beggs) is “pretty much what you’d expect out of Captiva. A little quirky, a little creative, a lot of fun.”
Sure enough, 30 minutes into our Dolphin and Wildlife Cruise, we’re joined by guests first off the bow, then off the stern — a host of dolphins jumping in Lady Chadwick’s wake for pretty much the next 45 minutes, much to the great delight of all on board. Mike Ortwein and his family — spouse Jennifer, along with Peter (six), Jack (four) and Charlie (two) — are long-time visitors to Sanibel and Captiva, but first-time cruisers. “We have three little guys who were eager to see some dolphins, that’s why we’re here today,” he says. “They sure haven’t been disappointed!”
Delighting guests is why Captiva Cruises has been such a success over 30 years and has grown from one boat to a fleet of seven — perhaps because to Paul McCarthy, it’s never really been work. “The only way to really enjoy the islands is to get out on the water,” he advises. “From dolphins and birds to sunset on the Gulf — maybe catching a green flash — those are amazing memories that last a lifetime.”
By John Sprecher | Images by Milissa Sprecher