Naples (Florida): The road trip continues!

If you thought about getting in your car and heading west from the Florida Keys through the Everglades to the gulf coast, what would you expect to see? Crocodiles crossing the road? Panthers peeking out from behind mangrove swamp? Thick bush towering over the sides of the roadway? Well, that’s what we were expecting when we set out from Key Largo (first stop on the recent road trip) to Naples. Instead, what we saw were flat sawgrass marshes, mangrove marshes and lots of signs to beware of panther crossings. Oh, and then there was that line of traffic and no place to pass. But, then, that’s what road trips are all about.

We set out from Key Largo and the trip through Everglades National Park was actually quite a boring couple of hours. We arrived in Naples to find ourselves in automobile city. The traffic was unexpected and the fact that this is a city of cars not pedestrians really did surprise us. Since we are “walkers” (no, we do not have walkers), we found ourselves the only people out walking almost wherever we went except “downtown” where locals and tourists alike walked from the (many) parking lots to restaurants and the odd boutique. Surprising to us, that’s all there really is downtown.

Patty gets such a kick out of the “Florida style” ala Gretchen Scott (here) and the storied Lily Pulitzer. Not her style but quintessential Florida.

When we thought about Naples, and what we’d heard from people we know who winter there, we expected something more cosmopolitan than a town with a population of around 20,000 and miles upon miles of suburban sprawl. That explains the need for driving everywhere!

We, on the other hand, actually walked the kilometre-and-a-half from our hotel to the mall where there was – not kidding – no sidewalk or pedestrian access. Really! We had to tread in the roadway to even get near the place. But the parking lot was enormous! Clearly, they do not expect anyone to walk. And we walked much farther. It’s the only way to see a place. We did, however, join the locals by taking our car downtown so that we could walk in that area.

Downtown Naples

We drove down Gulfshore Boulevard to downtown (we walked the boulevard the next day) past incredible mansions.

We parked at 12th street then walked for two hours. The downtown is really just a few streets of small, upscale boutiques and some rather nice restaurants. We had lunch at the Ridgway Bar and Grill where the food was delicious and the outdoor, covered patio was a lovely way to sip a glass of wine with a leisurely lunch.

We walked to the Naples beach which is a very long public beach.

Naples beach

Unlike many tropical destinations, there are no hotels on the beach until you get much farther from the downtown area. Many lucky (and well-heeled) residents, though, do have beachfront houses and condos. There are lots of condos!

Three days in Naples was enough. On this road trip we have two and three-night stops. This one could have been two nights but we managed an extra 11 kilometers of walking on the extra day! Next stop: Sarasota.

Grand Old Hotels: Some are grander than others

There’s something so romantic about the idea of those grand, old hotels of yesteryear. The long, low buildings with those wrap-around porches overlooking a tranquil lake, palm plants in the lobby where a string quartet plays. And the guests are elegantly attired and enjoying a serene holiday away from the heat of the city. Epitomized in that 1980 film Somewhere in Time, these hotels have always held an allure for us. Remember that movie? Just look at the hotel!

Well, that hotel, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan is still on our bucket list, but we’ve visited a few others and have just returned from one that we thought might be the luxury experience they advertise. We have just returned from The Sagamore Resort in upstate New York.

The Sagamore Resort with its porch facing Lake George, New York.
The entrance to the Sagamore. This is the historic hotel where we stayed, but there are many modern “lodges” on the resort property.

When we first visited their web site to book, we were enthralled by the drone footage of this incredible resort on a private island on Lake George. And there was the iconic hotel design. It was love at first sight. They refer to themselves as “Lake George’s premier luxury resort” and with a price tag of nearly $800.00 a night for a water view room in the main historic hotel, how could we go wrong? Let us count the ways.

Being on a summer road trip, we had just come from the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, another of the grand old hotels that we have visited many times.

Their grounds are not nearly so grand as the Sagamore’s, but their main historic hotel rooms are wonderful and the price? We paid less than $300 (Canadian) for what turned out to be a far superior room and a more luxurious experience. But, what about the Sagamore? Our story covers the good, the bad and the very ugly.

Let’s start with the good bits. When approached, the staff are, to a person, attentive, friendly and personable. From the valets parking our car to the housekeeping staff, we had not complaints in that department. Then there was the food. It was exceptional for hotel dining. We enjoyed La Dolce Vita, their main dining room as well as al fresco dining at The Pavilion.

Margaritas on the deck at The Pavilion.

But the pièce de résistance had to be the wonderful Grill at the golf course. Off-site, it was serene, peaceful and served wonderful steaks. And the service was impeccable. And the grounds are lovely (we enjoyed them as long as we stayed away from the pool, beach and anywhere that was populated – more about why in a minute).

A cruise on the Sagamore’s “The Morgan” is included in your resort fee. We highly recommend taking advantage of this.

So, those were the good bits. Now for the bad bits.

The room. Furnished in an historic style, the room was just a very ordinary, tired-looking hotel room. For the price, we have had so much better. Can we talk about dust encrustation on parts of the bathroom and dust in the crevices of the old dressers – and there were lots of crevices. The carpets were not fresh either. But the bathroom had been renovated and was acceptable (except for that dirt).

Patty enjoying a glass of champagne (which we brought with us) in our $$$ room. Yes, that’s how small it was.

The hotel is old so the noise tends to permeate, but that wouldn’t have been a problem if it were not for…the ugly bits.

The place was crawling with children. Loud children. Whining children. Children running amok through dining rooms, hallways, outdoor walkways, the “beach”, the pool. You name it, they made the experience like being in Dante’s ninth circle of hell. We chatted with a young couple from Boston who had just arrived and were surprised to see so many children. You see, they had read the promotional material and had left their children at home with the grand-parents for a brief, romantic getaway. At that point, it wasn’t looking so romantic to them.

Overall, we tend to be able to have a good time wherever we go, but this was such a disappointment that we will not make that mistake again. It is not a luxury experience in any way, shape or form. It is just expensive. We will head to The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in the off-season and hope for that serene experience.