The Shell Factory and Nature Park in Fort Myers is one of the few "Old Florida" tourist attractions that has survived the decades following the arrival of Walt Disney World and the subsequent influx of giant theme parks to the central part of the state.
Opening its doors for the first time in 1938, The Shell Factory has also overcome hurricanes, bankruptcy and, more importantly, the devastating diversion of north-south tourist traffic from US 41 (where the attraction sits) to I-75, the fast-moving interstate about five miles east.
Despite challenges, The Shell Factory has not only survived but thrived, continuing to add new features and exhibits while keeping its charm. The newest and most highly anticipated in years is the Soaring Eagle Zipline across the park's pond.
Bumper boats make for some crashing good fun at The Shell Factory — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
Participants are securely strapped into a two-man bench and then transported to the top of a 110-foot pole. Before you have a chance to catch your breath, the seat is released and thrill-seekers go flying 649 feet, across the water.
If you’d rather watch than participate, grab a seat at the new Soaring Eagle Café at the base of the ride. Order up some snacks and beverages (including the adult kind), and enjoy the show.
A new exhibit inside The Shell Factory store is the Fossil and Gem Museum, where local collectors generously display their precious finds. See things like a mammoth jaw, a giant megalodon shark tooth, fossils from sea creatures and beautiful, sparkling gems. Best of all, you get to check them out for free.
The nature center also pays homage to living animals; it's full of exotic and native creatures, 350 in all. You’ll be able to see creepy, cool things like reptiles, alligators and hissing cockroaches.
The newest addition to this section is a camel, one that you can actually ride for a mere six dollars. Kids can also ride ponies, feed turtles and meet goats, sheep and a potbelly pig named Skeeter in the Petting Farm. Look for the zebra and butterfly garden, too.
A friend to wild animals, The Shell Factory is also a friend to your domesticated one, offering a canine church service on Sunday. Or put your four-legged pal’s skills to the test in the dog agility course.
The new zipline features secure seats rather than uncomfortable harnesses for your ride — Photo courtesy of Gina Birch
If animals aren't your thing, the Fun Park features a host of water activities such as bumper boats and paddleboats. Participate in a friendly game of miniature golf, or get lost in the many arcade options.
When your stomach starts growling, there’s no need to leave, thanks to the popular Captain Fishbones, which cranks out local cuisine in a nautical atmosphere. DogBones Café welcomes your pets, while serving you big portions of weekly dining specials. If all you want is a cold beer and some live music while the rest of your party does some shopping, then the tiki bar has your name written all over it.
With some 68 thousand square feet of retail space, The Shell Factory shop is one of the best places in the Fort Myers area to purchase authentic Florida souvenirs. As its name would imply, the shopping is "shell-tastic," with some five million seashells, the largest collection in the world.
Purchase piles of shells or just about anything made from them. You might be surprised to also find some fine jewelry here as well as a Holiday House for year-round Christmas shopping.
The Shell Factory provides hours of entertainment and discovery at a price that will make even the most budget-conscious visitor happy; it's a feel-good place for the entire family.