By Marion Rose
When you’re already blessed with gorgeous, sandy beaches, lovely seas and a laid-back community bracketed by nature, what can you do to gild the lily? In the case of the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, you sit back and let the heavens come to you.
Comet ISON, nicknamed “the Christmas Comet” is expected to make its first pass by Earth between early November and early January 2014. It is already incredibly bright. Assuming it doesn’t disintegrate or break up, the sun will melt off its ice, releasing gas and dust and forming a long tail that could stretch across a quarter of the sky. Florida tourism officials say that at the comet’s closest swing past Earth, about 40 million miles away, the sky should be moonless, adding to the comet’s glow. Area accommodations and attractions are planning special offers and tours to commemorate the comet.
The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village is offering a “Christmas Comet” package that includes rooms with enclosed balconies for viewing the comet, a US $30 resort credit per stay and two “Christmas Comet” beverages per reservation. Rates start at US $139 per night with a minimum of two nights. The package is available November 1 through December 26. Details and reservations: 239-541-5000. Reference rate plan COMET. www.westincapecoral.com
Visitors may also view the comet from clear, dark skies over the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on J.N. “Ding” Island, where strict light ordinances mean no light pollution. Join a local astronomy club on specified days throughout the comet’s visibility, between U.S. Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Meet for a brief program and telescope viewing. Sitting in a kayak in the “Ding” Darling would be thrilling at night even without a comet. The event is hosted by “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge. For current information on Christmas Comet observation dates, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org
Technology is playing a role in all this natural wonder. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (CVB) is planning what is believed to be the first tourism promotion involving Google Glass. Five Google Explorers visited Lee County in September. Selected for their expertise and following on social media outlets, they documented their local adventures through Glass. The visit was competitive in nature as the working title is “Find Your Island Challenge.”
Everyone else can connect with these Glass Explorers on Twitter using the hashtag, #FindYourIsland. Next: the VCB plans a “Find Your Island” Facebook Sweepstakes, featuring a free trip to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel and Glass when it becomes commercially available. Stay tuned for more information. www.fortmyerssanibel.com
And for more tech-wavy experiences, INature Trail is the first of its kind. If you have a smart phone that downloads apps, you’re ready to experience the latest innovation at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Designed to get techies outside, the Refuge iNature Trail along Wildlife Drive has two components, one for kids and one for adults. This is the first interactive trail of its kind in the 550-plus national wildlife refuge system. www.fws.gov/dingdarling
The Florida Park Service has launched a PocketRanger® mobile app for iPhones and Androids. The interactive guide allows visitors to plan their next adventure in local state parks including Cayo Costa State Park, Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Koreshan State Historic Site, Lovers Key State Park, and Mound Key State Archaeological State Park. It features photos, maps, park information, activity and location search tools. (850) 245-2112 or www.floridastateparks.org
Guests checking into the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs will meet two very friendly greeters for visitors arriving to the resort when Hoss and Honey Bear, two Newfoundland dogs, take their places at the front desk. The breed is known for their sweet temperament, gentle nature and kindness to people. (239) 390-4280 www.coconut.hyatt
Lee County VCB/www.FortMyersSanibel.com