By DEBBIE FLESSNER

GO! Columnist

“This is a happiness business.”

That’s what Captain Chet Zoltak told our group of four as we prepared to leave Sarasota’s Bay Island Park on one of his Island Time Tiki Bar Hopping charters.

Originally from New Jersey, Captain Chet had made the decision to move to Southwest Florida in 2014 after he “discovered” Sarasota while sailing. He now passes his love of the water and of this state along to others aboard his Grady White boat with a bunch of tours: fishing, sunset cruises, sightseeing, eco-tours of the area mangroves, painting by boat (with an onboard artist), and the one I went on, tiki bar hopping.

He picked us up from Bay Island Park, which is a public park just west of the Siesta Drive bridge. Our group’s tour had actually been postponed from the week prior, because we had been rained out, so we were all a little worried that the same thing would happen today. But we put it in the hands of our very capable Captain, figuring he would never put us in danger of getting caught out in a storm, and we were right.

On an Island Time Tiki Bar Hopping cruise, you are given a four-hour window in which you can visit up to five different waterfront spots and maybe even take a dip in the water. How many places you go depends on how you manage your time. Captain Chet really leaves it up to his groups, and will tell you how long you will be able to spend at each bar, based on the number of spots you want to visit.

From Bay Island Park, we headed south on the Intracoastal Waterway. It was, so far, a beautiful day, with full, white, fluffy clouds and views of dolphins in the water. We had decided to make our first stop the Casey Key Fish House, so Captain Chet deftly pulled up alongside the tiki bar and allowed us to disembark and go sit for a while.

We were four women, so a little while became a longer while, as we talked and laughed, and then we made our way back to the boat to cruise to our next spot. Pop’s Sunset Grill, in Nokomis, is another popular waterfront eatery/bar and their new addition with a large tiki bar is an outstanding asset. This time, we laughed even harder and took even longer, which is why Captain Chet eventually came up and asked if we’d like to stay there or head to another spot. We decided to stay.

Afterward, as we headed back north to Bay Island Park, the storm clouds began to roll in pretty quickly, however our Captain had his eyes on the sky and made sure we made it back safely. We had a fantastic time, and Captain Chet seemed to enjoy himself, too. After all, who doesn’t want to be in the happiness business?

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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