The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, “City of Palms,” is celebrating Luminary Hotel & Co.’s revitalization of the downtown River District and a new robust and responsible arts and culture program that makes up for a quiet spring season.
The destination is becoming more accessible with 14 new direct flight routes launching before the end of 2020 to Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers. In addition to Alaska Airlines’ new direct service from West Coast markets Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA), airlines including JetBlue, Southwest and United have also announced flights from New York, Cleveland, Boston, Raleigh, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Louisville, Columbus, Indianapolis and Milwaukee. As of October, RSW now provides nonstop service to 49 destinations by 11 airlines, with additional flights and destinations to be added as demand increases.
With six new hotel properties under construction, the City of Palms is set to add 671 guest rooms by the end of 2021. Having debuted earlier this fall, Luminary Hotel & Co. is paving the way for an economic restoration of downtown Fort Myers. The property pays tribute to the neighborhood’s electric history nearly 134 years after Thomas Edison put down roots in “The City of Palms.”
Tapping into the collective energy of a city built by a cast of inventors and innovators, the $91 million, 243-room waterfront property features six food and beverage venues, including its signature restaurant, Silver King Ocean Brasserie, that opened on Nov. 12. Beacon Social Drinkery rooftop lounge offers sweeping views of the Caloosahatchee riverfront. Luminary also features The Workshop, a state-of-the-art, 2,300-square-foot interactive culinary theater. In 2021, guests will have access to a new retail center and outdoor amphitheater.
While spring is typically the peak season for arts and culture in The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, the destination needed to shift its offerings in the wake of COVID-19. Keeping safety top of mind, many venues have launched new programming during what is typically a quiet period and some have even introduced virtual experiences:
- Local community playhouse The Laboratory Theater of Florida is showcasing hybrid live virtual performances, such as “The Realish Housewives of Fort Myers” (Nov. 15-28) and “The Eight Reindeer Monologues” (Dec. 11-20). These productions have filmed stage elements and are only viewable online.
- Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, celebrating its 27th anniversary, welcomes guests at 50% capacity for its production of “Mamma Mia” (now through Nov. 14) and “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn The Broadway Musical” (Nov. 19-Dec. 26).
- Florida Repertory Theatre, Southwest Florida’s premier professional theater company located in the beautifully restored 1915 Historic Arcade Theatre, is now offering virtual showings through its “2020 PlayLab: Virtual Festival of New Works” (Nov. 5-Dec. 11). The weekly program spotlights local playwrights, having selected five plays among more than 80 submissions. Viewers can also virtually tune into “William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night On-Demand” now through Dec. 31.
- ArtFest (Feb. 5-7, 2021) is Southwest Florida’s premier art festival, enlivening the River District with booths displaying exceptional handcrafted art and offering family-friendly activities. The iconic festival has teamed up with Luminary to debut a special pop up to light up the new property. Taking place Nov. 19 and Dec. 10, the intimate event will feature specialty cocktails and small bites as guests peruse works from local artists. The hotel is even offering an overnight package for $169 for two with complimentary parking. To accommodate travelers who are unable to attend in-person, the festival recently launched a virtual version called ArtFest at Home.
- The Fort Myers Mural Society has tapped local artists to create a 17-panel mural called “Buck’s Backyard” for McCollum Hall, once a commercial center and dance hall that served as a United Service Organization (USO) for Black troops during World War II. “Buck’s Backyard” aims to memorialize the venue’s historic significance in the Black community. Work on the first mural begins in November.
- A new amphitheater is currently underway to transform part of Centennial Park to be used for outdoor concerts that will allow for social distancing. The space is expected to be ready for use by summer 2021.
- Bringing a sense of nostalgia in honor of mid-century diner culture, IMAG History and Science Center has unveiled a new exhibit that pays homage to Fort Myers’ 1950s Snack House. The display features reminiscent memorabilia such as the original diner sign, a larger-than-life mural inspired by a 1960s photograph of the diner’s interior, original menus, news clippings, matchbooks and more.
New offerings in the City of Palms celebrate the destination’s nature and wildlife, perfect for travelers seeking to get outside and stretch their legs:
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 6,400-acre area for native species, is celebrating its 75-year legacy of wildlife protection. The refuge is throwing a ticketed gala for guests to safely enjoy live music in a drive-in theater format. The refuge education team also recently debuted a virtual plant identification program named Plant ID on the Go along 25 miles of trails. Visitors can use the QR code found at each of the four trailheads, which gives access to an interactive presentation identifying native plants.
- Peppered with beaches and mangrove forests, Lovers Key State Park is set to open a brand new Welcome and Discovery Center in spring 2021. Set to host music performances, lectures and other events, the new center will include an exhibit hall, picnic area and outdoor discovery areas for educational programming, as well as large glass walls that open up to large observation decks.
- Set in the “Seashell Capital of the World,” the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2020 with a $6 million expansion. The new permanent exhibit “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks” transforms the visitors’ experience and connects them to the little-known live animals that contribute to the ocean’s stunning shells. The bright new space features 11 aquariums that showcase cold and warm water species, like octopuses, squid and nautilus. Visitors duck into a pop-up bubble for a 360-degree look at mollusks and fish, and immerse their hands in two engaging 15-foot touch-pool experiences.
“In these unprecedented times, we are so proud of our local partners who are shining a bright light on our destination and bringing about positive news through exciting openings and vibrant programming,” said Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB).
Need a beach break for your ears? Wanderlusters who can’t make it to the destination in the near future can tune into Shellcast, the official podcast of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. The new podcast gives listeners the chance to soak up some virtual sun and experience a slice of Southwest Florida from the comfort of their homes. Listen to the crashing waves and sounds of nature from Florida’s unspoiled sanctuary. Hear interviews with locals, take a boat ride on Pine Island South with outdoor guide Capt. Brian Holaway or find out what Thomas Edison might have thought about podcasts as you experience Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Episodes are available on fortmyers-sanibel.com, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.