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Panama City Beach offers more than sun, sandcomment (0)

April 12, 2007

By Linda Holloway

Outline the emerald colors of the Gulf of Mexico with 27 miles of sugary white beaches, and you have a good enough reason to visit Panama City Beach in Florida. But there is more. Panama City Beach is home to many attractions, including a water park, condos and hotels with family-friendly amenities.

While there, make plans to visit some dolphins that are big show-offs and don’t forget to try some fresh seafood. Church groups are also visiting Panama City Beach for deep-sea fishing and Christian fellowship.

The beauty of the northwest Florida beach has been widely recognized. It was named one of America’s Best Beaches in the February 2006 issue of Condé Nast Traveller.

"This honor comes ... when Panama City Beach is experiencing major growth and development," said Bob Warren, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. He projected that by the end of 2007, the city’s accommodations will have grown to more than 27,000 rooms.

Most beach visits include chasing the surf or searching for sea critters and shells. You will also find families designing sand castles. But after fun in the sun, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy.

If you gather around the fishing marinas in the late afternoon, you will find smiling sailors with a bounty of fish to show after an adventure on a charter or public fishing boat. Or you may hear a sad tale about the trophy fish that got away. Either way, a day of group fishing around Panama City Beach is good fellowship.

The largest marina in the area is Capt. Anderson’s located on Lagoon Drive. Owners Anderson Pier Inc. and the Ken Anderson and Grover Davis families have hosted many groups since the marina opened in 1957. Home to private boats as well as deep-sea and sport-fishing boats, the marina offers private charter and public trips, explained Pam Anderson, operations manager for Capt. Anderson’s Marina & Cruises and a member of St. Andrew Baptist Church, Panama City, Fla. She noted that charter trips are a popular choice for church groups.

"Those that go on the ‘open-to-the public’ trips will sometimes have Bible study or sing-alongs on their way out to the fishing grounds — a great testimony for the other passengers," she said.

Capt. Mike "Stretch" Haglund steers the marina’s Capt. Anderson, a deep-sea fishing boat. On the 10-hour trip, he transports guests more than 20 miles offshore where they can drop their lines to reel in red snapper, king mackerel and other fish. "I have noticed that the church groups have two things in common," he said. "One is that they have a good time on the boat fellowshiping, and the other is that their mood is not dictated by how many fish they catch."

You do not have to be a fisherman to enjoy floating in the Gulf waters off Panama City Beach. The Lady Anderson Dining Yacht operates a gospel music dinner cruise on Thursday evenings April through October.

Another family favorite is taking boat tours to Shell Island to see dolphins. Shell Island is a seven-mile-long uninhabited island that has calm, clear water on the bay side and white, sandy beaches on the Gulf. According to www.VisitFlorida.com, the state’s official vacation guide, Shell Island’s waters are home to one of the largest concentrations of bottlenose dolphins in the world.

For families seeking an adventure, make reservations to sail the high seas on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise, owned and operated by Philip Adams. "Fearless Phil" and crew will whisk you into a fantasy world of swashbucklers and pirates. A favorite activity for children is helping the crew pull a treasure box from the sea.

Fishing and cruising are only some of the reasons visitors come to Panama City Beach. It is little wonder that USA Today named it a Top 10 Family Beach Destination in 2005.

Families also can make reservations for various programs at Gulf World Marine Park. They can swim with or train dolphins. Other headliners include sea lions and loquacious parrots, along with penguins and exotic birds in another exhibit.

It’s not so bad being a castaway if you’re at Shipwreck Island Waterpark. Noted as one of Florida’s largest theme water parks, it is favored by little ones for its Tadpole Hole, while others seek adventure in the Ocean Motion Wave Pool. For thrills, try the White Knuckle River, a 600-foot family tube ride.

Those who enjoy miniature golf will have fun on the African safari of the Coconut Creek Family Fun Park’s two 18-hole courses. When the safari ends, journey on to the park’s challenging Gran Maze.

For history buffs, the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida will host the Titanic exhibit May 23–Sept. 3.

For more Panama City Beach information, call 1-800-PCBeach or visit www.thebeachloversbeach.com.

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