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CAPTIVA CRUISES TO CABBAGE KEY FOR CHEESEBURGERS

Story and photos by

Sign for Cabbage Key Restaurant, Bar and Inn
Sign for Cabbage Key Restaurant, Bar and Inn
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Where is Cabbage Key? The 100-acre (41-hectare) mangrove island is in the Gulf of Mexico, 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Fort Myers, Florida.

Located directly across from marker 60 on the Intracoastal Waterway, Cabbage Key is separated from Useppa Island by Pine Island Sound.

Lunch cruise from Captiva

How do you get to Cabbage Key? If you have your own boat you can dock it by the restaurant.

Water taxis depart from Punta Gorda, Boca Grande and Pineland Marina at Pine Island. We took a Cabbage Key lunch cruise on the Lady Chadwick, a 148-passenger ferry operated by Captiva Cruises.

From McCarthy's Marina, travel time for Captiva Cruises to Cabbage Key is about one hour, a distance of eight miles (13 kilometers). We had two hours to eat lunch and explore the island.

Cabbage Key Inn

The only buildings on the property are seven cottages and an inn with six rustic guestrooms. Alan Rinehart, son of the mystery novelist and playwright, Mary Roberts Rinehart, built the inn in 1938 as a winter residence. Four years later, new owners converted it to a fishing lodge.

Lady Chadwick docks at Cabbage Key.
Lady Chadwick docks at Cabbage Key.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Although Cabbage Key Inn is only one-story, the building is one of the highest spots in Florida's Lee Island Coast. It sits on top of a 40-foot (12-meter)-high mound of shells deposited by Calusa Indians, who inhabited the island several hundred years ago.

Waitress in doorway covered with US dollar bills
Waitress in doorway covered with US dollar bills
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Dollar bills cover the walls

The restaurant, which used to be the library, owes its decor to a thirsty fisherman who, years ago, taped a dollar bill to the wall so he'd have a frosty beer waiting when he returned.

Today, autographed and dated U.S. dollar bills cover the walls, ceiling, pillars, lamps and tables in the restaurant and bar. Even the piano and its seat are plastered with $1 bills, except for a sign reading: Piano Player Wanted—Good or Bad.

How many dollar bills are on the walls of Cabbage Key's restaurant? Our waitress estimated that there were nearly 70,000.

"If you stand still long enough, someone will tape a bill to your forehead," she joked. "Every year, $10,000 to $25,000 falls off the walls. We donate the money to child-related charities with Cabbage Key guests identified as the donors."

She wasn't concerned about people stealing money from the walls. "You can't spend it anywhere. Now and then, a bartender will call us from Fort Myers, saying: 'Some fool is trying to spend one of your dollars.' Everyone recognizes them, so it rarely happens."

Cabbage Key restaurant is open every day of the year for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The inn has an open door policy, with the coffee pot always on for the marine patrol, coast guard and boaters.

"Cabbage Key is one of those 'We-doze-but-never-close' type places," stated another waitress. "People know that they can always stop by to warm up and dry off if there's a storm on the waterway."

Terry Forgie, former dockmaster
Terry Forgie, former dockmaster
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Restaurant menu

You can order a beer or a Cabbage Creeper drink (a piña colada made with rum and Kahlua) at the Dollar Bill Bar. The menu features shrimp, mahi-mahi, grilled chicken and steak, but most people come to Cabbage Key for cheeseburgers. Why?

Local legend says that Cabbage Key inspired Jimmy Buffett to write his song, Cheeseburger in Paradise. The singer's autographed dollar bill hangs in a frame above the bar.

Jimmy Buffett

We heard several stories about Jimmy Buffett, because he was a frequent visitor and performer at Cabbage Key. Everyone had good things to say about him.

On our first visit to Cabbage Key in 1996, Terry Forgie, who was dockmaster at the time, said he knew Jimmy Buffett well. "I once mentioned to him that my wife, Joleen, was a great fan of his but she had never met him. He landed here in his float plane one day and waded out in waist-deep water, just to shake her hand and say hi."

In addition to Jimmy Buffett, lots of celebrities have visited Cabbage Key. "Julia Roberts was here. So was Ed McMann, John Kennedy Jr., Norman Schwartzkopf and Hulk Hogan, to name a few," recalled Forgie. "No one ever bothered them."

What to do

Without a doubt, laid-back Cabbage Key is a real-life Margaritaville. There aren't a lot of things to see and do, so relaxing is the main activity.

Osprey and nest on top of water tower
Osprey and nest on top of water tower
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

There are no roads or cars on Cabbage Key, but golf carts are allowed. Neither are there any beaches or swimming pools. (If you want a beautiful beach, take a short boat ride to Cayo Costa State Park.)

The dominant landmark is the water tower, which was home to an osprey nest when we were there. You can climb the wooden tower and look out over the casuarinas and red-flowering royal poinciana trees to Useppa and Cayo Costa islands.

Some visitors fish off the dock or rent boats to fish with local guides. We followed the 45-minute nature trail and admired blossoming orchids, live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and cabbage palms, which inspired the island's name.

Enjoying the good life

What Terry Forgie told us about Cabbage Key, years ago, still applies today. "Whenever visitors return to Cabbage Key, it is always same. This is very reassuring to people," he stated.

"No matter what disasters they have in their lives—failed businesses or marriages, financial or emotional calamities—they know that Cabbage Key is the one thing that's permanent," he said.

"Life is good here."


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Captiva Cruises: www.captivacruises.com

Cabbage Key: www.cabbagekey.com

Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau: www.FortMyers-Sanibel.com

Visit Florida: www.VisitFlorida.com

More things to see & do in The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel area:

Ding Darling Canoe Trips - Sanibel Island

Saving Sea Turtles at Fort Myers Beach