The Marco Island Princess offers a lot of tangibles to Marco Island visitors and residents alike. However, there’s a special intangible the venerable 80’ vessel delivers that can only be earned through time on the water. It’s called Marco Magic.
Marco Magic was definitely in the air Saturday night as the Marco Island Princess left Rose Marina under threatening skies.
Robin Shiflett was there early. She’s in charge of group sales—and she’s also the sister of Rodger Parcelles—the one who started Sunshine Tours back in 1984 and later introduced the Princess to the island.
As the island—and the Princess—ease back into action during this Coronavirus Pandemic environment, tonight would be considered a slow night by normal standards. A small wedding is taking place on the upper deck. A collection of passengers are enjoying the lower deck.
Like everyone else, Sunshine Tours, who operate the Princess and a fleet of fishing charter boats, is learning on the fly how to operate during these trying times.
“We’re adapting our business model while trying to keep everybody safe,” Shiflett said. “Keeping the boat afloat as they say. And the Charter fishing boats—we have five charter fishing boats. We just started offering shared charters again—and that was just a couple of days ago. I think it’s just a matter of ‘we’re still here, we’re still sailing.’”
A number of changes were made aboard the Princess to conform to social distancing standards, but the vessel retains its familiar charm.
“We’ve removed a bunch of tables,” Shiflett said. “Usually we can seat 72 people downstairs. Upstairs we can normally seat 34 inside. We’ve removed tables. We’re keeping everything six feet apart. The staff has masks—which we don’t have to do, but it makes them feel more comfortable. And I think it makes the guests feel more comfortable. We have the hand sanitizer. It used to be a buffet-style service. Now we’re just offering plated dinners. So those are the biggest—and most noticeable things.”
They’ve also modified their schedule.
“We’re doing a reduced schedule,” Shiflett said. “Normally, this time of year, we sail six days a week. In season it’s seven days a week. Right now, we’re only offering three days. A history and nature lunch cruise, which is fully narrated, and then the sunset dinner cruise. We’re hoping to add a day here, a day there, as we go on and get a feel for it.”
Now back to the Marco Magic.
Parcelles started Sunshine Tours in 1984 with a popular party fishing boat named Double Sunshine. That’s where he became an expert in working with the Marco clientele. Decades later, that experience has been bred into his crew. From Shiflett herself to Captain Cedric Davis, who has captained the vessel for many years, the Princess has a core of old hands. The influence of the veterans makes the rookies seem like veterans.
“I’ve been running these waters for 30 years total,” stated Captain Davis as he checks for clearance before he blasts the Princess’s bighorn.
“We always give a beep at the Snook Inn,” Davis explains as he checks to make sure there are no passengers on the foredeck. “I’m going to use the bighorn. If there’s anybody on the foredeck, I don’t want them jumping in the water,” he joked.
The couple who exchanged their vows on the top deck certainly experienced the Marco Magic, overlooking the Marco River and the Gulf of Mexico as they pledged themselves to each other.
Downstairs you have Nicholas and Jamie Burch and their 3-year-old daughter Kinsley experiencing their first dose of Marco Magic, drinking in the sea breeze and thrilling to the sight of dolphins frolicking in front of the Princess as it navigates its way toward the Esplanade. Nicholas is an IT executive from the Orlando area.
Minutes later, Kinsley exclaims to an adult passenger, “My favorite color is pink!” The outgoing youngster made friends with everyone on the lower deck by the end of the cruise. She asked one of her new friends, “Are you going home with us?”
Richard Chilton, who is nearing his 50th birthday, is doing big things as an exporter based in the Turks and Caicos. A timing issue related to the coronavirus has him stranded in the states until the end of July when the Turks and Caicos re-opens.
“This has been a really stressful week for me,” Chilton related, but the Marco Magic is working on him too as avid outdoorsmen Chilton points out pods of dolphins and feeding fish for other passengers to enjoy.
A couple sits at a quiet table for two as Princess staff brings out a birthday cake for the Mrs. and serenades her as her husband beams. More Marco Magic.
Finally, a New York City police officer tells of how happy he is to spend a few precious days with his family on this island paradise. He’s heading back to the Big City in the morning, reinvigorated by a dose of Marco Magic.
And this was a slow night on the Marco Princess—we haven’t even touched on the succulent prime rib dinner and the tart key lime pie dessert.
For information and reservations on the Marco Island Princess and Sunshine Tours, call 239-642-5415 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.