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1/19/13

2013 Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers. Part I: The Logistics.

Less than a month for Pitchers and Catchers to report to Fort Myers so it is about time for you to make your arrangements to go to Fort Myers (I made mine late last year) and it is about time for the second annual Fort Myers Guides.

Last season there were two Spring Training Guides: the Spring Training Guide to Fort Myers and the Fort Myers Culinary Guide .  This season there will be three guides and will be different than last year's.  After I went to Spring Training in 2012 and about in the middle of the summer last year, the dice were rolled in such a way that I now go to the Central and South Central Florida area on a multiple times a month basis and I do have a list of additional tips on how and where best to get to Fort Myers.  This will be the first guide:  The Spring Training Logistics Guide, where the area is described and the best and least expensive ways of getting to the Twins' Spring Training home.  Knowing what I know now last season, I could have saved at least a couple hundred dollars in airfare, at least that much in a hotel and about that much in a car rental, money better spent watching the Twins and buying Twins' (and Miracle) gear.   As a bonus, I will list the official Twins' hotel, which is the place where a lot of Twins' people stay and a great place to rub elbows with Twins' players and staff.

The second guide will be about what to do once you are there.  And this is all about baseball.  What is going on at the Training Complex, tips and tricks about watching the games at Hammond Stadium (based on my fresh experience from last year) and other ballparks you might want to visit.  This with be the Spring Training Baseball Guide

The third guide will be a Food Guide to Fort Myers, but changed from last season's.  Last season's it was cuisine-specific and I think that it is still a valuable resource.  This season will be more restaurant-specific.  As a bonus, I will list established hangouts of Twins' players.

These guides are mainly from the Twins' perspective but useful for Red Sox' (and soon Nationals') fans

How to get to Fort Myers:

Unless you want to have a non-rental car with you (a good choice if you are a player or will be there for a month or so, or you live close to Fort Myers) flying is probably the best choice. There is a local airport (Southeast Florida International, code: RSW) served by a variety of airlines, but there are a total of about 75 flights a day into and out from there. Alternative airports are the larger Tampa International (TPA) and Miami International (MIA), about 2 and 2.5 hrs drive respectively as is the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is slightly over an hour drive from Fort Myers and slightly larger airport than the Southwest Florida International at Fort Myers.  Fort Lauderdale (FLL) is also an option, and a potentially fairly attractive one if your home airport has airlines like Frontier, Spirit and Allegient and you are willing to fly them, because they have inexpensive and relatively frequent flights there.  Flying into Fort Myers is probably the most expensive option in the list but you do not have to drive far.  Also, the TSA checkpoints in the return trip are a mess.  Budget an extra hour to go through.  My favorite option (and what I am doing this year?) Orlando.

Orlando International (MCO) is about 3 hrs away from Fort Myers, but it offers the benefit of having the lowest airfare and lowest car rental prices in Florida, in combination to more that 60 mainstream carrier flights daily.  Plus, as a bonus, if you have a family, you can spend a few days there with the kids, which will help them palate more 8+ hrs of baseball-related stuff that you would do once at Fort Myers.  As far as airfare prices go and where to find the best ones, go to the ITA Matrix software portal, chose the "show a calendar of lowest fares" and play with it.  This is the tool that travel agents are using.  Once you find a flight, go online to the airline or an online travel agency and reserve it.   My fares in and out of MCO have been in the $150-200 range from the North East, but YMMV depending on departing city.

As far as rental cars go (and you do need one since the public transportation in Fort Myers is non-existent,) the best value in Florida is Dollar.  And here is a trick:  Go to the Dollar web site and register to be an express member for free.  This way you will have the car waiting in a predetermined spot and you by-pass the counter.  Next, make your reservation, by selecting view all car types and picking the least expensive option. Once you make your reservation, check it often and early and "modify" it to see if there are any lower prices posted.  Dollar is notorious of dropping their car prices, especially close to the reservation dates.  I usually rent cars at about $12-16 a day.  But you have to check and change those prices a lot.  Refuse the automatic toll machine ($8ish/day) and the GPS ($13ish a day) and deal with the insurance as you normally do (i.e. if you refuse because you are covered by your own car, refuse it.)

If you want to drive down there, the fastest was to get there is via I-75 that goes through the town. From most points of the Midwest or Northwest, the best way is to catch I-75 around the Metro Atlanta area. From South and South West, I-10 hits I-75 in North Florida about an hour east of Jacksonville. From the East Coast, the best bet would be I-95 all the way to Daytona Beach, then I-4 through Orlando and catching I-75 at Tampa. If you live at the Twin Cities area, Minneapolis is about 1700 miles away from Fort Myers, which means about 3 days of 8 hours driving each, each way.  Enjoy :)

This is a map of South & Central Florida, to let you see where Fort Myers is situated in Florida (all maps and satellite images used in this post are screen shots from Bing maps) :




The Metro Area and the City:

Fort Myers (and, btw, it is not Ft. Myers) is the smallest of 3 cities in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral Metropolitan area. It has about 62,000 people, whereas the Metro has about 650,000 people most of them living in Cape Coral, a city planned and started in the late 50s as a huge retirement community. Interestingly enough the planners wanted to make every property close to water, so they created and extensive system of Canals. Cape Coral has more miles of navigable waterways than any city in the world, including Venice (Italy, not FL) and Amsterdam. About 400 miles of canals. Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Pine Island are popular beach front communities with a lot of beach-related tourism.

Here is a photo of the Cape Coral- Fort Myers metro:



An important note, especially to people from northern climates: Average temperatures in March are 80 for high and 60 for low, so make sure that you pack sunscreen, hats, glasses, shorts, t-shirts and a swimsuit, if you are so inclined.  And if you get sunburns, you will get a sunburn there, so please plan accordingly

The city of Fort Myers itself is very easily navigated. Here is a map of the City with the Twins' Spring Training Headquarters noted with an orange Marker:





You can click here for a larger picture in a new window.

Where to Stay:

The Fort Myers Airport is about 6 miles due west from Hammonds Stadium and the Spring Training Complex. Daniels Parkway (that becomes Cypress Lake Dr in the City) will take you from the Airport to the town and the Twins' complex. If you are on a budget and looking for a hotel, the ones on Daniels Parkway and that area west of I-75 offer good bargains and are fairly close to the Twins' Spring Training Complex. Another area for reasonable accommodations is the S. Cleveland Avenue North of Page Field.

Mostly everything can be found within a large triangle defined by S. Cleveland Ave to the West, Colonial Blvd to the North and the Ben C. Pratt Pkwy going Northeast to Southwest. The Twins' Spring training complex is on the South part of Ben C. Pratt Pkwy, just South of Daniels Pkwy.  Traffic, other than when the games are over, is not an issue at Fort Myers.

If you want to rub elbows with Twins' players and staff, the Twins' official/unofficial hotel in the Fort Myers' area is the Hilton Garden Inn Fort Myers (not the one by the airport, but the one "in town").

Alternatively you can stay at Naples (offers more things to do at night) or Port Charlotte (offers less expensive rooms and it is the Rays' Spring Training Home).  Both are about half an hour easy drive away.

The best bargains for Hotels (unless you are a frequent guest and can use points for free rooms) are either Hotwire or Hotels.com, but the establishments are sometimes name-less so it can be a gamble.  On the other hand, if you stay pretty close to the ballpark and away from the downtown area, there are not any seedy places.

This year I will be staying at Port Charlotte and will be watching some Twins' games there as visitors as well.

The Twins' Spring Training Complex:

Here is a satellite image of the Lee County Sports Complex:



More about the complex, how and when to get there and all the things about the Twins' Spring Training home in the next guide.

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