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At the Marco Island Marriott, nature takes its own course, and so will you

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. - When you check into the Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa and walk through the lobby to see the view, you get the sense you're on the edge of something.

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The Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa is a watery playground in the sun.
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You are. You're on the edge of Marco Island, which is itself on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and the 10,000 Islands, which slowly segue into the Everglades. Technically, Marco Island is not the first of the 10,000 islands, though it might as well be.

The resort is everything you'd expect of a Marriott in a well-heeled island community - eight restaurants, a spa, plush lodging. Not that you'll be spending much time in the rooms. This is a watery playground, luxury living on the edge of a vast and primitive wilderness, a rugged and beautiful area few venture far into without a guide.

On one day alone, my wife and I went on an eco-shelling tour in the morning, rode sea scooters into the nearby islands around lunchtime and ended the afternoon parasailing high over the gulf. We literally collapsed in our room.

Marco Island Watersports has been operating in the area for 25 years and will take you on all kinds of journeys through the estuaries and subtropical ecosystems that surround the island. Whatever method you choose, you'll almost surely see dolphins. Just leave your room, walk out on the beach and pick your personal water craft, parasailing boat or touring vessel.

The Calusa Spirit leaves directly from the beach and takes groups on slow rides around the islands to Cape Romano, the biggest barrier island just south of Marco. You'll find shells of every imaginable shape and color and get a close-up and personal view of the mangroves, not to mention the multi-million dollar homes the rich and famous.

The WaveRunner tour lets you ride through the islands, though you'll have to follow one of the leaders. Still, it's a high-speed through the mangrove jungles (lower speed around the dolphin grounds). You can also rent personal watercraft and set off on your own, for $130 an hour.

For the really adventurous, there is parasailing, where you glide 300 feet over the gulf, lifted by a parachute and pulled by a boat, with views of Tigertail Beach. It looks impossibly scary, but it's actually soothing and serene once you lift off.
The resort's eight restaurants include a coffee shop, a pizzeria and a lobby bar. Kurrents serves seafood and steaks; Quinn's on the Beach has more informal food and great views.

Many of the rooms overlook the gulf and the three miles of beach. The waterfront rooms look directly over gulf, and the coastal-view and tropical-view rooms, though not as spectacular, all have private balconies, mini-bars, refrigerators and high-speed Internet access.

The Lanai suites have flat-screen televisions, wet bars and master bathrooms with marble flooring and whirlpools. The corner Lanai suites have incredible views.

Then there are the terrace suites with private furnished terraces, as well as one and two-bedroom suites. There is also a penthouse suite.

The 24,000-square-foot Balinese-style spa has 24 treatment rooms and six seaside terraces offering everything from massage to Bali baths.

The resort has been undergoing upgrades that are expected to last through December.

As for the golf, it isn't exactly on the beach. In fact, it isn't even on the island, though it is still perched on the edge of the 10,000 Islands, a little inland. Shuttles to the course, the Rookery at Marco are free.

It's a terrific setting for a golf course, even with the presence of a big upscale development. The vast expanse of southwestern Florida makes itself known via the wide marsh views and the many swamp critters that haven't yet learned to pay resort fees.

The place is crazy with hawks swooping around, and it isn't unusual for their shadows to pass over as you traipse around the course. On a recent August outing, my playing partner spotted one with what appeared to be a baby alligator snared in its talons. In the interconnected canals, you're liable to see anything that swims or crawls in this swampy part of the world.

The course does its setting justice, letting its surroundings speak for itself. The Rookery is a beautiful, low-key layout, with wild, native grasses and fountain grass set off by muelhi (which shows a purplish-pink flower in the fall), yellow "dune daisies" and the brilliant red of firecracker weed. The watery interior of the course is open, with sabal palms dotted throughout the terrain.

"It's inside an upscale development, but at the same time it's got a very natural feel," said course General Manager Chris Major.

Sort of like the resort itself.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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Dates: January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
Experience nature's beauty at Raptor Bay Golf Club, a spectacular Raymond Floyd designed championship course. Vacation package includes lodging at Hyatt Place Coconut Point, two rounds of golf inclusive of cart fees and tax, six beers or one bottle of Canvas house wine, and a $10 appetizer voucher per stay.
Price range: $229