If you’re taking a family vacation to Panama City Beach (PCB) this summer, you’re likely looking forward to long days relaxing in the sun, surf, and sand while finding a few fun diversions along the way. However, finding excursions that are safe and suitable for the whole family can be a challenge, especially if you’re dealing with a variety of ages, interests, and mobility levels.
Fortunately, Panama City Beach’s well-deserved reputation as a premier family vacation destination means that there is no shortage of age-appropriate activities for everyone in your family. Read on to learn about a few aquatic adventures that are likely to appeal to just about every member of your tour group.
Dolphin Jet Ski Tours
While riding jet skis over the gently rolling waves of the Gulf can be a great way to experience the exhilaration of traversing the open water (as well as a decent way to burn some calories), adding schools of playful bottlenose dolphins into the mix can only improve the experience.
If you’ve always wanted to spend time swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat, you’ll want to check out a jet ski dolphin tour. During this guided tour, you’ll be provided with personalized instruction on the operation of a two-seater jet ski (including training on the “kill cord,” a safety mechanism that immediately shuts down the jet ski when the driver falls off). With some instruction, you’ll have the confidence you need to power through the open water.
Next, you and your fellow riders will be guided out into the Gulf of Mexico toward the raw and pristine Shell Island and the wildlife-filled St. Andrews Bay. Once you’ve arrived at St. Andrews Bay, you’ll disembark from your jet ski and swim with the dolphins, head on over to Shell Island to find some one-of-a-kind souvenirs, or tour the border of this island to see if you can spot any other wildlife.
Although you’ll need to be of legal driving age to operate a jet ski on one of these tours, life vests and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are available to fit children as young as five years old, ensuring that the youngest members of your group are just as able to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience as the adults.
Pontoon or Banana Boat Rentals
If you’d like the feeling of traveling through the open ocean but aren’t sure you want the responsibility of driving a jet ski yourself, you may want to consider a banana boat or pontoon boat rental.
Banana boats derive their name from their unique banana-like shape; while they might look funny, they’re lightweight and capable of cutting through the waves at high speeds, providing the rider with an exhilarating experience. These boats can accommodate up to six riders, making them the ideal excursion choice for larger groups and families.
Although these boats can travel quite quickly, the use of PFDs and life jackets (as well as the lack of any propellers or other mechanical devices beneath the banana boats themselves) ensure riders are always safe, even if one (or more) members of your crew happens to slip off mid-ride.
In fact, some might argue that falling off the boat is part of the fun; because of the high speeds these boats can reach as they ride the waves, riders are ensured a wet and sometimes slippery experience.
Pontoon boats are better suited for groups that would like to take a slower and more deliberate tour around the gorgeous coast of Panama City Beach. These boats are operated by a powerful engine but derive their flotation ability from twin pontoons on either side of the hull.
Pontoon boats have canopies, seating areas, and other comforts that may not be available on jet skis and banana boats. If your group includes very young children or older adults who aren’t keen on the idea of being buffeted around in the waves, a pontoon tour of the coast can be the perfect compromise.
Shell Island Tours
If you’d like a souvenir that doesn’t come from a gift shop, you may want to consider taking a tour of Shell Island in Panama City Bay. As the name indicates, this island boasts a higher-than-average proportion of shells in its seven-mile span; the location also features sand dunes, dense forests, pine groves, and even an inland freshwater lake.
The temperate climate and relative remoteness of this island provides the perfect habitat for a wide variety of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals; whether your family includes budding naturalists, shell hunters, or those who just want to dip their toes into a crystal-clear body of water, everyone in your group should be able to find an appealing activity or two.
Regardless of whether your family shares mutual vacation goals (or interests), PCB has something for just about everyone. By pre-planning an excursion or two during your trip, you’ll be certain to generate some lifelong memories with your loved ones.