Panama City Beach flight with Panhandle Helicopter

The Perfect Day in Panama City Beach: A Helicopter Ride Over the Gulf Coast

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My trip to PCB earlier this month was full of a lot of firsts: first time diving in the Gulf, first time taking a helicopter ride and first time doing SUP yoga.

On social media, people seemed shocked that I’d never been in a helicopter before, which beckons the question: What do you people do exactly where helicopter rides are a part of your everyday life? Truth be told, because my biggest fear in life (uh, after great white sharks) is small, confined spaces, I’d never really cared to try it before. And then I got the opportunity to do so—and with friends at that—and I shoved any intimidation I had to the back of my mind.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

I had no cause to be concerned: the helicopter cab, while small, was open on one side and that coastal breeze felt magnificent. Jade, Christy and I went up together with Panhandle Helicopter, and I can’t say enough nice things about those lovely people. JR, the owner, is a trip, and I think we could have sat there forever listening to his stories if we didn’t have a schedule to maintain.

Panama City Beach flight with Panhandle Helicopter

Once in the air, it was smooth sailing. Others had warned me I might get a bit motion sick—me who vomits on a half-hour ferry ride—but I didn’t feel a thing. I loved that we had a female pilot and that she was so quick to circle around if we missed a photo opp or wanted to see something a bit more closely.

Panama City Beach flight with Panhandle Helicopter

And I was surprised how low we actually flew, somewhere just around 200 feet above land.

Panama City Beach flight with Panhandle Helicopter

The view of the 27 miles of coastline spanning Panama City Beach was just WOW.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

I’ve been coming to the Gulf Coast my entire life, but the color of that water never ceases to impress me.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

We saw everything: rays, pods of dolphins, schooling fish, a turtle or two, even some nurse sharks.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

It never occurred to me that you’d be able to pick out individual marine life in the ocean so far below.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

I couldn’t believe it took me 31 years to make it up in a chopper—what was I waiting for?

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

In a funny twist of events, I’ll actually be up in a helicopter again in just one week…and with this girl once more.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

On my last morning in town after Jade and the crew had left me behind to return to their respective homes, I got my balance on with a little standup paddleboard yoga. Now I’ve done SUP plenty of times across the US and Caribbean, but I’d never attempted yoga on a board before.

SUP Yoga with Mermaid Heather

It was super fun. And also super hard. It’s interesting how the easiest poses on land (like bridge) become impossible on the board. Instead, I focused on my favorites in the classroom, like headstand and tree, that luckily I was able to ace on the SUP. Unfortunately, my instructor, while awesome and pretty and charming and sweet, did not know how to operate a GoPro and thus got no proof of my various headstand poses. So instead just pretend I’m on the water here in paradise rather practicing on the grass in my backyard:

Forearm Balance

If you want to read more about the SUP Yoga experience, I documented it over here for Travel Mindset. And Mermaid Heather is the sweetest; definitely take a class or private lesson with her if you happen to be in PCB.

Panhandle Helicopter in PCB

What firsts have you checked off your list lately?

  • May 31, 2014

    Thanks for sharing. We will be in PCB in the fall and will definitely check out the helicopter flights – looks amazing! The best one we took was in Hawaii over an active volcano; amazing photos!

    • June 1, 2014

      You will LOVE the team at Panhandle Helicopter–so nice and fun. And they have an office dog and a few cats chilling out in the hangar!

  • May 31, 2014

    great pics! That dress is so cute! I took an open door helicopter tour in Kauai! It was the best experience. I was scared but I loved seeing the island from the air.

    • June 1, 2014

      Ahhhh talk about a place to do a helicopter ride! I’m guessing you went with Blue Hawaiian?

      • June 1, 2014

        It was with Jack Harter. I think that blue Hawaiian only had the standard helicopters (closed doors) with room for 6 passengers. The open door helicopter is only for 4 passengers, so everyone gets a great view.

  • May 31, 2014

    Glad you enjoyed your trip to our beaches. There is a lot as you have seen Kristin to take advantage of. Stand Up Paddle-boarding is something that everyone should do at least once on any beach. Sometimes you get really lucky and get to experience a pod of active dolphins or a group of marine life that makes for the ultimate experience. One question I have to ask, Were you sore the next day? For those who never done it what a bucket list item.

    • June 1, 2014

      Not really, surprisingly. But I do two hours six days a week with the gym and work out with a trainer, so that could be why 😉

  • June 1, 2014

    Looks like a lot of fun.

  • June 2, 2014

    Congratulations on your bucket list. I’ll tell you a secret. I haven’t been up a helicopter either LOL!
    The water looks gorgeous by the way, and lucky you for getting the opportunity to spy out all that wonderful wildlife! Nice one. 🙂

  • June 4, 2014

    Great photos! I wish I wasn’t so afraid of heights or I’d definitely go on a helicopter! I did find it funny about how you mentioned seeing marine life so far up. A few years ago my family and I stayed on Sanibel Harbor in a high rise condo and we could see everything in the water perfectly including dolphins, manatees and even a shark.

  • June 5, 2014

    Nice shots! I specially like you shot on the kayak.

  • June 5, 2014

    Awww, now you made me homesick. My in-laws live in PCB and we made it a yearly pilgrimage until we moved to London. It looks even better from a helo…What *is* that thing swimming under the pier? Yikes.

  • June 8, 2014

    Panama City Beach is a great location to go. I haven’t been there in a while, but it is such a fun place.

  • June 9, 2014

    Wow Nice Place and Lovely Shots !

  • June 11, 2014

    Wow! nice shots. I am glad you at last managed to ride a chopper. Keep on doing that yoga.

  • June 16, 2014

    Checked off surfing in Bali and housesitting in Vancouver … what’s next?! 🙂

    P.S. Awesome view of the parasailer … you think you’re high up when you’re doing that … talk about perspective!

  • June 23, 2014

    Wow! Great post! Thanks for sharing. I am glad you at last managed to ride a chopper. Keep on doing that yoga.

  • June 25, 2014

    nice post……. I always love to be in beach. I will share it with my friends. and here i want to share, if anyone is in search of adventurous travel then please visit to Kathmandu Guest House for unbeatable Nepalese hospitality service in Nepal “the country of 8 highest peak” .

  • August 2, 2014

    Panama City Beach is a great location to go. i really liike this beach. I haven’t been there in a while, but it is such a fun place.

  • August 2, 2014

    The helicopter ride looks like so much fun – never knew that they had ones where one side was open – was that scary ? 🙂

    The view from the top is quite spectacular. I recently did a bungee jump in South Africa – that was a first for me !

  • August 19, 2014

    Omg this is bringing back college spring break memories for me!

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