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Pensacola provides rest, relaxation with family-friendly environmentcomment (0)

April 14, 2009

By Linda Holloway

In the early morning, I relaxed on the veranda of our condominium while listening to a concerto presented by cawing seagulls. Visual effects included miles of sugar-white sands stretching like ribbons of white satin along the Gulf of Mexico. Acrobatic dolphins teased me with their hide-and-seek antics in the emerald waters. Later in the day, I returned here to witness fingers from the sunset painting pastels onto the night skies. The location — Pensacola Beach, Fla., where nature is the star attraction, history is celebrated and Blue Angels fly.

Spring fever has many symptoms, and for our family, there is only one cure — a trip to the beach. Florida’s Pensacola Bay area boasts a variety of attractions for tourists, including sparkling-white beaches. TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel community, recently named Pensacola among the Best Family-Friendly Vacations in the United States and Canada. With more than 8,800 rooms, there is lodging to suit every family’s budget. “Studies show that when times are tough, families need to get away for rest and relaxation more than ever,” said Ed Schroeder, director of the Pensacola Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Portofino Island
Our family selected a condominium at Portofino Island, a resort that boasts views of the Gulf and Santa Rosa Sound. Portofino Island is where Gunnar, our 7-year-old grandson, enjoyed the High Tide Kids Club, which includes the best kid magnet I have found — a water trampoline at the bayside water park Adventure Cove. Children outfitted in life vests (and with instructors) tread water to a gigantic island of rubber where they can jump and slide into the bay.

Beachside at Portofino Island, Gunnar and our son Lance scoured the ocean for gigantic crabs, Larry snapped photos and I relaxed under a beach umbrella. Other families were contented collaborating on important projects such as sandcastle construction and skipping waves. Nature lovers will want to visit nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore, the largest tract of protected seashore in the country. Here ranger-led programs for youngsters are popular as well as bird-watching.

For adventures beneath Gulf waters, scuba divers can observe marine life by exploring the area’s wrecks, including the USS Oriskany, a retired aircraft carrier that is the world’s largest artificial reef. Here divers enjoy underwater photography and spearfishing dives. You may want to try your luck for red snapper and grouper by casting a line at the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Celebrate the history
You know your party is a “big deal” if a king and queen make an appearance. Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited Pensacola in February to take part in the 450th anniversary celebration of the first major European settlement in the United States. Pensacola, founded by Spain in 1559, is known as the City of Five Flags, having been ruled by Spain, Britain, France, the Confederacy and the United States. Tourists are invited to celebrate with the locals during the 2009 festivities.

Visitors also can take part in the commemoration of the Battle of Pensacola (May 8–9) with a children’s day at Fort George and the Torches in the Night historic tour Friday and the Galvez re-enactment Saturday. If you are vacationing June 3–9, then visit the Juan Sebastian de Elcano.

The world’s third largest tall ship will make its way to Plaza de Luna in downtown Pensacola, where families will have the opportunity to meet the crew at public and private events. For more anniversary events, visit www.CelebratePensacola.com.

In downtown Pensacola, you’ll find Pensacola Historic Village, which includes the oldest church in Florida and several furnished homes and museums. Be sure to visit Quayside Art Gallery, the largest cooperative gallery in the Southeast.

Hungry for seafood? Gunnar’s favorite spot was Flounder’s Chowder House, which has been voted Best Seafood by the Locals. Here children can play on a pirate’s ship playground while they wait for their food.

Since 1859, the Pensacola Lighthouse has guided mariners safely into Pensacola Bay.

Visitors can tour the keepers quarters and tower by climbing the 177-step spiral staircase. It is the fourth tallest brick lighthouse in the nation and has withstood cannon fire, lightning strikes and a rare earthquake in 1886.

Aviation museum

And keep your eyes upward, because you may see blue streaks in the sky.

Known as the largest naval aviation museum in the world, the National Naval Aviation Museum features 150 vintage aircraft. The museum is an attraction that will be enjoyed by all, as history is combined with interactive fun. View the SBD Dauntless that flew at the Battle of Midway, A-4 Skyhawks (four of them in a diving-diamond formation as flown by the Blue Angels) and the Apollo command module, Skylab 2.

Gunnar and Lance enjoyed the collection of cockpit trainers that allowed them to climb into cockpits and operate the control sticks. Try the flight Motion-Based Simulator, the closest you can get to the real thing, and the IMAX theatre is a must-see thrill.

Experience the dioramas in which visitors feel as if they are transported back in time. My favorite was Home Front U.S.A., which depicts a typical main street on the American home front during World War II.

The prisoner-of-war (POW) exhibit gives visitors a look at a real Vietnam POW camp.

For more information about the museum, call 1-800-327-5002 or visit www.navalaviationmuseum.org.

Blue Angels soar
Most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November, an aviation museum visit can be coupled with watching the spine-tingling aerial maneuvers of the U.S. Navy’s precision flying team, the Blue Angels.

There are bleachers behind the museum, but because of the popularity of these practice shows, you may want to bring a lawn chair. Check the schedule prior to your visit at www.blueangels.navy.mil.

For tourist information, call the convention and visitors bureau at 1-800-874-1234 or visit www.visitpensacola.com.


Pensacola freebies

  1. Play on stunning white-sand beaches.

  2. Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum — the largest naval aviation museum in the world.

  3. Browse works from more than 200 local artists at Quay side Gallery in downtown Pensacola, the largest co-op gallery in the Southeast.

  4. Bring a lawn chair and enjoy an outdoor concert at Evenings in Old Seville (Thursdays, May–September).

  5. Learn about sea life and coastal ecology at Gulf Islands National Seashore ranger-led programs for children.

  6. Watch the world-famous Blue Angels practice (most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, March–November) at the National Naval Aviation Museum.   

  7. Explore nature and take a hike at the Edward Ball Nature Trail, located on the University of West Florida campus.  

  8. Head to the Gulfside Pavilion on Pensacola Beach for Bands on the Beach concerts (Tuesday evenings, May–September).

  9. Visit the Veterans Memorial Park, featuring a World War II memorial, a Korean War memorial and The Wall South, the nation’s only full-name permanent replica of Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.   

10. Stroll through Pensacola’s Palafox and Seville historic districts, where you’ll find a wealth of shops, galleries and restaurants.  

11. Play a game of disc golf at Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze.

12. Enjoy the Sounds of Summer concert series at the Quiet water Shell on Pensacola Beach (most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, June–August).

13. Play tennis, enjoy walking trails or take your dog to the dog beach while overlooking beautiful Bayou Texar in Bayview Park.  

14. Plan your stay around one of the many festivals: Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival, Pensacola Seafood Festival, Pensacola Jazz Fest and Goombay Gulf Coast, to name a few. For a complete list and details, see the calendar of events at www.VisitPensacola.com.  

15. Enjoy free admission on Tuesdays at the Pensacola Museum of Art, featuring traveling exhibits of national prominence such as Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. 

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