Travellers planning a summer trip to Florida and dreading negotiating increased American airport security, watch out for the new terminal opening before the summer holidays at Southwest Florida International Airport, handy for the Gulf Coast, Sanibel and the Great Calusa Blueway, 75 miles of waterway designed for canoeing or kayaking and wildlife spotting.
The first terminal to be designed and built in the US since September 11, 2001, it has incorporated all the features necessary to make the check-inout experience as painless and connections as seamless as possible. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley last year, almost all hotels in the area have reopened, refreshed and redecorated.
Locals marvel at how well local wildlife and vegetation have survived. "All the birds left the area hours before the hurricane hit," says Nancy Hamilton, of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, "then they came right back." Nor have the airport's designers forgotten that eco-tourism is a big draw of the islands and beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. Since work on the terminal began in 2003, native plants such as oak, cypress and pine trees, bulrush, pickerelweed and sawgrass have been planted and 550 acres of wetlands created in a new Mitigation Park.
The 7,000 acre park, which forms a wildlife corridor ultimately linking to the Everglades, has been discovered by white pelicans, eagles, herons, wild hogs and turkeys, and there is also evidence of panther and bobcat activity.
One drawback: as yet, there are no direct flights announced from Britain.
However, airlines such as Delta and Continental offer "open-jaw" tickets through various American hubs, meaning self-drive families can, for example, combine nature with theme parks, arriving in Orlando and leaving from the new terminal at SFIA. And specialist British tour operators such as Bon Voyage are experienced at tailor-making holidays in the area.
www.flylcpa.com; www.fortmyers-sanibel.com; www.bon-voyage.co.uk