Sometimes when you travel as much as I do, things can get repetitive. Fly to new destination, head straight to hotel, check in and get not-nearly-enough hours of sleep, wake up, do a whirlwind trip of new destination, try to cram 72 hours into each day, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. It can be a bit of a sensory overload at times, not to mention exhausting.
Which is precisely why some of my favorite travels are the places I’ve returned to time and time again.
I don’t have to get to know a new landscape, it’s all so familiar, I don’t feel that overwhelming traveler pressure to do/see/eat/drink everything—because I’ve been there before and also know I’ll be back plenty of times in the future.
This sums up my relationship with Florida’s Emerald Coast.
Not to mention, in familiar places, you already have your favorites. And they simply never get old. On three of my last four Panama City Beach vacations, for example, there was one such spot I wasn’t going to leave without visiting: Shell Island.
Growing up, despite our frequent family vacations to this popular Southern summer spot, I knew nothing about this seven-mile-long uninhabited barrier island. It wasn’t until I found myself in PCB two years ago for a Bucket List project that I took the ferry out there one afternoon on a whim. I was instantly hooked. Can’t you see why?
On one of our two days back in PCB, Jade and I hopped on board Captain Lorraine’s boat for an afternoon eco-tour out into the lagoon, across the bay and over to Shell Island.
But perfect sand, perfect surf and perfect weather with a perfect friend isn’t everything this day trip out to sea had in store for us.
That’s right, guys, there were … DOLPHINS!
So! Very! Many! Dolphins! Have you ever seen anything like it?
This particular part of the Gulf Coast is known for its wealth of dolphins, and I’ve never been disappointed by them in the past—but this visit, just cinched my love for PCB’s wildlife. Everywhere we looked, fins skimmed the surface, babies danced in the rolling waves, mamas went fishing for lunch.
It may not have been my first time to motor out on the bay by boat, but it was definitely the largest volume of dolphins I’ve ever spotted in a single ride.
Every time a group of jet skiers would try to invade our turf, Lorraine would whiz away, find a new place to camp out, and the dolphins would magically appear.
The ocean mammals weren’t all we saw either; a sea turtle started to paddle over our way before rethinking that plan and diving down under our boat. On past trips to PCB, I’ve also seen myriad rays and nurse sharks galore.
I’m not going to lie: It was insanely difficult to leave the dolphins, but eventually all of us on the boat agreed if we didn’t do it right then, we likely never would. So Lorraine flipped us around and we motored on to Shell Island.
Once we arrived, she dropped anchor and let us jump off board to splash around, snorkel a small shipwreck and explore what lies beneath the surface.
We also had an hour or so to walk around Shell Island, though the horseflies were so bad, Jade and I only used half that time then went back to the shallow waters on the other side to escape their wrath (tip: bring bug spray!).
I don’t care how many times I go to Florida, I will always discover a new reason for loving it, and this very quick jaunt only further solidified that feeling. Wouldn’t you agree?
Looking for other trip ideas to Florida? I’ve got a few:
- Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River
- 4 Ways to Explore Jacksonville
- Taking Your Dog to South Walton
- Planning the Ultimate Vacation in the Florida Keys
- Getting Your Water Park on at Volcano Bay
- Exploring the Elegance of St. Augustine
- Planning a Gulf Coast Bachelorette
- Experiencing the Magic at Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Going Wreck Diving in the Gulf of Mexico