Friday, January 18, 2013

The Emerald Coast: Sandestin and Panama City

November 9-11, 2012

We left Pensacola on a pretty, sunny morning, and followed Seaquel across Pensacola Bay to the Santa Rosa Sound, part of the Intracoastal Waterway. We were protected from the Gulf by Santa Rosa Island, one of the several long, narrow barrier islands along the coast, and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  This part of Florida is called the Emerald Coast, presumably due to the incredibly beautiful water.

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On the way toward Ft. Walton Beach, we passed the massive Eglin Air Force Base, which is larger than Rhode Island. Apparently there were some training exercises scheduled for the day, because there was a Navy ship positioned just offshore out in the Gulf, and we watched a series of large planes coming in and taking off for touch-and-go landing exercises right in front, over and behind us as we passed through the area. Each plane carried what certainly looked to be several bomb-like things. Interesting to watch, but a bit unnerving, too.

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On an entirely different note, we were also entertained by several playful dolphins.

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We were also stopped by a Coast Guard boat, which pulled alongside and asked to come aboard to do an inspection. We showed them our credential showing we had been inspected last May, and they said that was fine and didn’t board us. It’s our understanding that this may happen more than once in Florida waters.


We decided to bypass Ft. Walton and continue on the Sandestin.  That proved to be a great decision, because Sandestin is such a beautiful spot. We had spent a spring break vacation there 12 or 13 years ago, but the resort has really grown and improved since then.  It felt sort of like Disneyworld for adults without the rides – everything beautifully landscaped, a little tram that runs you from the marina to the beach or elsewhere, and a cute “created” Village of Baytowne Wharf, with shops and restaurants within an easy walk of the marina.


The first thing we did was have a quick lunch on the patio of the Marina Bar & Grill, where we were entertained by a pair of young macaws, brother and sister. Brother was molting and very mild-mannered, Sister was a noisy show-off.  She really had a few things to say about our dogs!

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After lunch we rode the tram to the beach, which truly has to be among the most beautiful beaches anywhere.  The sand is nearly pure white and the water is crystal clear and gorgeous shades of blue and green.  We walked for a couple of hours and had a perfect afternoon.  I had been saying all week that I’d be very disappointed to spend time on the Panhandle and never get to one of their lovely beaches.  I got my wish that day!

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After our walk on the beach, we had the tram driver drop us in the village so we could investigate a place for dinner later.  While we were there, the sun began to set and we walked out on the long pier to watch one of the most magnificent sunsets of our trip.  I realize that’s a tough statement to make, because there have been so many beauties, but this one was really special. We couldn’t tear ourselves away until it was almost dark.

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We walked back along the boardwalk to return to the boat for warmer clothes, then walked back to the village for dinner at a fun Italian (sort of) restaurant with blues and jazz music.  What a great day!


The next morning none of us wanted to leave, but we felt some pressure to keep moving on in the hope of getting to Carrabelle in time to cross the Gulf before Thanksgiving.  If we only knew then what we know now, we would have stayed in Sandestin another day or two.  We did give ourselves permission to have a late departure, so along with Joe and Edie, we took a long, early morning walk around the resort with the dogs, and stopped at the Marina Bar & Grill again for breakfast and more entertainment from the macaws.

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Reluctantly, we pulled out at 10:00 a.m. and continued on to Panama City, which is a pretty nice location when the crazy spring-breakers aren’t in town. We had a nice trip through Choctawhatchee Bay and some long narrow canals on the GIWW.  We also saw more frolicking dolphins.

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Seaquel had arranged to meet one of Joe’s former residents and his wife, who live near Panama City. We docked at the St. Andrews Marina and stayed for two days. The marina had some interesting boats and a lot of fishing vessels.

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Joe and Edie’s friends joined us for dinner our first night and returned the next morning to drive us to St. Andrew’s State Park on the beach. For the second time in three days we had a beautiful walk on the beach.

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We were surprised to be greeted by a family of raccoons who were raising their babies in the rocks of the seawall. They were very tame and curious, and although I’m not a fan of raccoons (certainly not their cousins who have opted to nest in our roof at home over the years!), I felt sorry for these guys. Some of the tourists seemed bent on harassing them, and as the park rangers said, these are healthy animals because they’ve never been exposed to any others, but if one of the kids were to taunt them and get bitten, the kid would be really hurting and the raccoon would be killed.  Some parents are pretty clueless.


We continued on down the beach, watched kite-surfers and just enjoyed the beautiful day.

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We had lunch at Schooners, a beach restaurant where we ate shrimp and grouper and onion rings and watched the activity on the beach and the blue, blue Gulf beyond. Once again, we marveled at the life we are leading.

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Another pretty sunset to cap off one more day in paradise!


Next: Further east on the GIWW, to Port St. Joe, Apalachicola and – finally – Carrabelle!

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