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RSW Living Magazine

Visiting Useppa by Air: Getting there is half the fun

Mar 09, 2021 08:04PM ● By KATHY MONTGOMERY

There are just two ways to reach Useppa Island—by air or by sea. Land-based vehicles cannot travel to the 100-acre, bridgeless private island off the coast of Southwest Florida.

Elite Jets’ new “Escape to Useppa Island” helicopter tour is a novel mode of transportation to the island, popular among couples looking for a quick romantic island getaway, as well as families eyeing a laid-back destination to create lasting memories.

The trip begins at Elite Jets’ private terminal at Naples Airport, where passengers are greeted by Joe Fragione. Chopper Joe, as he’s affectionately known, is Elite Jets’ chief helicopter pilot, who doubles as a concierge, historian and tour guide.

Useppa-bound passengers board a Bell 407, a luxury helicopter that whisks passengers around southern Florida in air-conditioned comfort with leather seats, Wi-Fi, snacks and drinks.

After liftoff, the helicopter heads northwest and passes the million-dollar beachfront mansions and luxury condos that define Collier County’s coastline. Near Estero Bay, the trip becomes an airborne eco tour. “Along the coastline, we fly at about 300 feet, low enough to see dolphins, manatees, stingrays, schools of fish, mangroves and coastal marshes,” Fragione says. “Southwest Florida is beautiful from the ground, but nothing compares to the breathtaking scenery and pristine environment you see from above.”

The journey takes passengers over Fort Myers Beach, the Sanibel Causeway and Pine Island before crossing Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, home to numerous species of wading and diving birds.            

Chopper Joe lands the Bell 407 on Useppa, an exclusive island with an extraordinary history. Former inhabitants include the Calusa Indians, pirates and wealthy business tycoons such as Barron Collier. Useppa Island was even used as a military training ground prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Today Useppa offers guests the elegant charm of Old Florida, where time stands still and nature reigns supreme. Days are guided by sunrises and sunsets, not meetings and traffic jams. The island is an updated version of a vintage Florida postcard from generations ago.

Upon arrival, Elite Jets passengers are transported via golf cart to Useppa Island Club, a private club defined by gracious hospitality and a laid-back atmosphere. Elite Jets is a member of the club through a unique partnership that extends privileges to passengers.

Lunch at Useppa Island Club’s Collier Inn restaurant can start with a signature “docktail,” such as the Shipwreck or Dockside Scrambler, or a bowl of hot soup, salad or appetizer. The lunch menu’s sandwiches, paninis, burgers, baskets and fish tacos feature locally caught and grown ingredients.

After lunch, passengers have free time to explore the area or rejoin Chopper Joe for a guided, narrated walk around the lushly landscaped island’s white-sand walkways and beaches.

Then they all climb back into the Bell 407 for the return trip to Naples.

“When passengers fly privately or commercially on a jet, it’s more about quickly traveling to a destination,” says Stephen Myers, executive vice president of Elite Jets. “When they fly on a helicopter, it’s usually more about the journey and what they see along the way. The Escape to Useppa Island tour offers both a memorable journey and spectacular destination.”

To book the Useppa Island tour, visit or call 239-900-9000.

Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.