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
Cute! I just realized I’ve never seen dolphins in real-life.. I went to two destinations where they’re incredibly common (Musandam, Oman and Klein Curacao) and I completely missed them. Granted, once was because I was hanging over the side of the boat due to unexpected seasickness 🙂
Ah, you didn’t see any in Bonaire? Sad! I had the craziest experience six years ago in Bonaire where we had a pod of, literally, hundreds of dolphins escort our boat back to the dock. It was a dream!
Nancy and I are on the emerald coast
Jealous! Where did you go/stay?
Oh wow! I would love to experience something like this! Unfortunately, whenever I visit somewhere that’s known for its huge dolphin populations. they go AWOL! I’ve come to terms with it now. Dolphins just don’t want to hang out with me!! Loving your beach gymnastics by the way! Very impressive!
Ahhh, that’s so frustrating. I went to Iceland on a whale-spotting tour with a 99% chance of seeing them, and I guess they were all sleeping that day! If you ever make it to PCB area, I guarantee you will see a dolphin!
It is absolutely incredible to see animals in their own habitat – and definitely the only way wild animals should be seen. What a magical destination! I’m wondering what affect the jetskis have on the dolphins? Can they harm them?
I actually don’t know, Lauren! I imagine it’s the same as a boat, right? But to be fair, everyone was super careful around the dolphins.
Fabulous! We’re just planning a 5th visit to Florida, we love it there too. We got back from Greece less than a week ago, I’ve got itchy feet already.
Awesome! Where are you going in Florida this visit?
1) The part of me that still has a Lisa Frank folder from grade school is super jealous that you got to see dolphins.
2) It’s a good thing I didn’t see this post until just now, or I would have threatened your life in exchange for that swimsuit. Bonker fabulous!
We had the same Lisa Frank folder! (I’m not surprised.)(#soulmates)
And the swimsuit is Mossimo from Target. This season. Go get it so we can be twins!
Just incredible! I really loved this post. In real I have never seen dolphins. I would love to see them & want to touch them. hahaha. Thanks for sharing such a great & very uncommon post.
Thank you so much, Rosalie! I really hope you get the opportunity to someday, as well!
I’m so jealous! I just went on a dolphin watching cruise in San Diego this Summer and we didn’t see anything! You got some great photos too. Looks like fun 🙂
Ack! Well, you need to do it in the Gulf Coast because you are pretty much guaranteed to see tons of them, whether you take a cruise or just camp out at the beach along St. Andrews State Park!
So much better than those cruel, tourist-trap “swim with the dolphins” places! Nothing better than seeing them in the wild!
You can actually swim with dolphins at Gulf World, I believe, but who would ever want to do that when you can see them in the wild anyway???
Argh! You’re making me miss Florida so much. Have you ever been to St. Pete/Tampa area? Crazy amazing beaches and weather. It’s literally a peninsula with something around 30 miles of open white sand beaches ?
Ps Dolphins are the bees knees
I haven’t! I mean, I’ve embarked on cruises in Tampa but I haven’t really explored it at all. Dying to go to the beaches of St. Pete and many of the islands off of that section of the coast. Oh, and snorkeling with manatees in Crystal Springs has *still* not been checked off my life list.
Oh this looks like a much better place to spend a week than my desk at work in rubbish winter weather 🙁
Ahh, you must be in Australia/New Zealand then! Come visit Tennessee—it’s been more than 100 degrees here this week (HOT!).
I didn’t know Florida is so worth mentioning.I was not expecting so many things,but after seeing this blog,I’ll definitely give it a try.
But what made me really change my mind where the dolphins.So many dolphins in just one place is truly a one time opportunity that I’m not going to miss.