Slow down and take in the scenery with a houseboat vacation
Rolling on the River
“We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then … It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud …” — Huckleberry Finn
While floating on an open raft might not be the best choice of getaways, some savvy travelers are putting a modern spin on Mark Twain’s fictional escape. Instead of checking into a landlocked resort for their vacation, they are taking the plunge and leaving the bustle behind by renting a houseboat.
Captain Bob Pektas of Paradise Vacations Houseboat Rentals rents houseboats that travel up and down the Caloosahatchee River, from Fort Myers to Boca Grande and all the barrier islands in between. ( The houseboats don’t go out into the Gulf.) The fleet includes three 41- footers and one 37- footer, all based out of the City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin.
You need no license to operate a houseboat, but the Captain personally oversees a few hours of training on the morning of your charter, and you must demonstrate that you can parallel park the boat before you are turned loose. ( For an optional $ 75, Boat USA’s towing service will rescue you if you errantly hit a sandbar.)
With a top speed of 10 knots ( 12 miles an hour), your houseboat will have a cruising area of about 50 miles. But as the captain points out, you could spend weeks exploring just those miles and never see the half of it.
“Our scenery is ever changing,” says Pektas. “From kayaking and bird- watching to walking a beach at midnight or stopping at Captiva for lunch, each day is unique and getting there is half the fun”.
The boats sleep eight and have full kitchens and two baths, with all linens and cookware provided. Capt. Bob’s wife, Maria, will even provision the boat with the list you provide for an extra fee.
A $ 1,000 refundable ( less fuel) deposit is required, and there is a minimum rental of three nights. Charters cost approximately $ 420 per day, plus fuel ( there is a military discount of 10 percent). Diesel costs around $ 3.60 per gallon, and a weeklong charter usually consumes about 60 gallons.
Bob Krueger and Jan King left their Colorado home and recently rented a 41- foot houseboat from Paradise Vacations. “We
were looking for a manageable adventure,” says Krueger, “and one that offered a certain level of isolation. We wanted to unplug.”
The couple spent two- thirds of their time at anchor at places like ’ Tween Waters Inn on Captiva and, when it got a little too windy, at South Seas Island Resort. But they fished from the boat every day ( catching sea trout, catfish and even a barracuda), rented a skiff to explore “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and marveled at the wildlife all around them. “An enormous ray came completely out of the water right next to the boat, and the dolphins were just spectacular,” says Krueger. “We felt like we were living in their world, not the other way around.”
The 10- day trip, including fuel, costs $ 4,000, but Krueger believes it was money well spent. “I would absolutely recommend renting a houseboat,” he said. “Jan and I realized how well we work together. We really were disconnected from the rest of the world and truly relaxed.”
To get even further from civilization, you can rent a houseboat that is docked at your own private island. The owner of rentmyisland. com, Robert Rainek, owns Charlie’s Island just off Marathon Key. Except for a cabana for rain shelter, a grill, a hammock and some tiki torches, you might think you’re on Survivor.
Fly into Miami, West Palm Beach or Key West and a staffer will meet you and take you out to the houseboat to acquaint you with its systems. Then you are on your own to enjoy snorkeling, fishing, kayaking or just sunbathing ( sans suits if you are avoiding tan lines!). The houseboat remains stationary, but a 17- foot center console boat comes with the rental for exploring nearby areas.
TO GET EVEN FURTHER FROM CIVILIZATION, YOU CAN RENT A HOUSEBOAT THAT IS DOCKED AT YOUR OWN PRIVATE ISLAND.
WE WERE LOOKING FOR A MANAGEABLE ADVENTURE AND ONE THAT OFFERED A CERTAIN LEVEL OF ISOLATION. WE WANTED TO UNPLUG.” — BOB KRUEGER, CUSTOMER OF PARADISE VACATIONS HOUSEBOAT RENTALS
“People with a sense of adventure enjoy the island,” says Rainek. “Families spending quality time, lovers, fathers and sons, people who love to camp— it’s like The Swiss Family Robinson with better accommodations.”
The two- bedroom two- bath houseboat sleeps six to eight, rents for $ 2,795 per week and is only a five- minute boat ride to civilization— though it doesn’t feel that way. “People love the peace of the island,” says Rainek. “Everyone who visits wants to stay longer.”
If you are less of an iconoclast, consider renting one of the docked houseboats at Gilbert’s Resort & Marina in Key Largo. Laura DeGroot and Bill Schramm, owners of Keys Houseboat Rentals, were themselves escapees from the frozen north ( Chicago) who left winter and the corporate world behind to go live on a houseboat. Now they own four boats, which rent from $ 120 to $ 220 per night in high season.
“Renting a houseboat makes for a unique and economical vacation,” says DeGroot. “You get a great floating hotel room, don’t have to eat out since you can cook a meal right on the boat, and our guests have full access to all Gilbert’s has to offer.” You can use the beach, swim in the pool, paddleboard, rent jet skis or boats, catch a fishing charter and sip a cold one at the tiki bar while listening to live entertainment.
“When it starts getting cold up north, people start booking the boats,” DeGroot says. “If a storm kicks up down here, the boats only rock and roll a little, and even that is fun.”
DeGroot and Schramm themselves had to downsize to live full- time on their houseboat, but they have never looked back. “The water, the sun and the people can’t be beat,” says DeGroot. “The guests who rent our houseboats agree.”
Gassed up and ready to go, a houseboat is a wonderful way to relax, explore and reconnect.
Unobstructed views are just one perk of renting a houseboat, which requires no license to pilot.
For a real escape, Charlie’s Island near Marathon Key comes with a houseboat for six to eight and little else but peace and quiet.
Sleeping up to eight with comforts like furnished kitchens and cozy living rooms ( top right), the docked boats of K eys Houseboat Rentals are like floating hotel rooms ( top left).