Overcast   33.0F  |  Forecast »
Edit Module

Emerald Coast in Florida, a Family Nature Vacation

One southeast Michigan family's quest for a fun, Disney-free trip found them spotting dolphins and sharks – and trying a 'Swapvette' and Snuba

(page 1 of 2)

It's not the word you ever think you're going to yell for real while on a vacation with your kids. "Shaaaaarrrk!" I squealed during a recent trip to the Emerald Coast in the Florida panhandle, where sparkling green waters and soft, white sand meet around Destin.

The goal of our "adventure south without the mouse" crystallized in that moment: creating nature-based vacation memories in Florida.

Zach, 12 and Jimmy, 10, have already had fun at places like Sea World, Disney and Ripley's Believe It or Not. And they enjoyed the Magic Kingdom, Shamu and "Are they real?" displays of the weirdest things on Earth.

But this vacation was going to be different: Enjoying what the ocean, sand, seashore and swamp had to offer, instead. Here's what we discovered.

Gone (shark) fishing

Our adventure began with deep sea fishing with Swoop II (there's also a Swoop I). The six-hour trek is a commitment but well worth it at $55 for adults and $45 for kids 12 and under. Take a brown bag lunch and a couple of drinks – you'll be too busy for anything else!

On a sunny, 80-degree April morning, we set sail on our 65-foot-long vessel, about 20 miles off the shore of Destin. The boys, especially Zach, had done surprisingly well being patient during the 1.5-hour trip out to our fishing spot with about 40 people ready to drop line along the sides.

I earned mom-points weaving raw squid on our hooks, and we laughed clutching our you-drop-it-you-bought-it $250 fishing poles as we let out our first line. But the moment a shark broke through the navy blue waves – and latched onto Zach's bait – it was all mom yelling for help. Zach gasped, "It's a shark!" under his breath.

He kept calm as he reeled it in and I frantically summoned the crew. They wouldn't land mini-Jaws in the boat, as the shark flipped its tail and banged against the side. But we made our way back with a great fish tale and plastic baggie of little snapper fillets ready for a Michigan fish fry.

On other tip on this trek: Be sure to check the weather before booking, because tickets are non-refundable.

Dolphins galore

If there was a theme to our adventure, it proved to be dolphins. A couple years ago, we'd tromped across southeast Florida's Melbourne Beach with a locally based naturalist to see sea turtles nesting. It's a not-to-miss adventure-of-a-lifetime at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. (For a virtual tour, visit Tour de Turtles to follow sea turtles' three-month migration starting in August.)

As soon as we mentioned going to Florida again, though, both boys talked about swimming with dolphins. As I searched guide books and blogs, I found most interactions happen in the not-so-natural environment of giant fiberglass pools. Determined to stick to the plan, I kept looking.

The result was a highly touted but disappointing trip – by dolphin standards – on a smaller boat to swim with dolphins in the wild with Blue Dolphin Tours. In gray skies and blowing drizzle, we set off in six-foot swells. Our directions: Our captain would maneuver the boat near a pod of dolphins and shout for us to jump in.

But the dolphins disappeared as soon as they heard the slapping of our bodies on the surface – a distress signal that something's wrong in dolphin-speak. Another deckhand on the boat said it's easier to get close and slide off the back of a personal watercraft in less wavy conditions. We wished someone would have told us that before we shelled out the cash!

While disappointing from the dolphin perspective, the trip became another adventure when our boat pilot decided to hunt for his dinner. So as the boys and I snorkeled around looking at urchins and fish below us, they were also entertained by our captain spearing a flat-eyed flounder and breaking off crabs' claws for his food. Who needed character breakfasts?

If you want to take a chance on swimming with dolphins in the wild – or just take a fun, $49 ride on a six-passenger boat to snorkel along the coasts of Panama City Beach – give this option a go.

For dolphin experiences with little ones, try Southern Star Dolphin Cruises, a glass-bottomed boat cruise on a sturdy, tug-like ship. Tickets are $29 for adults, $15.50 for ages 4-14 and free for kids under 4.

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Craft Review: Epson's LabelWorks Printable Ribbon Kit

Craft Review: Epson's LabelWorks Printable Ribbon Kit

This cool family crafting tool isn't just great for creating ordinary labels. It's also a handy holiday tool for gift wrapping and other creative DIY projects.

Make Cute Penguins with Candy Aisle Crafts Book

Make Cute Penguins with Candy Aisle Crafts Book

This delicious title features super creative, clever and easy crafts that southeast Michigan families can make with a simple trip to the grocery store.

Michigan Mitten Free Printable Greeting Card Craft

Michigan Mitten Free Printable Greeting Card Craft

Want to make the season bright, with a distinct dash of hometown flair? Our template is the perfect starting point for an easy, impressive card kids can make.

Meet Angelina, Metro Parent December 2014 CoverKid – VIDEO

Meet Angelina, Metro Parent December 2014 CoverKid – VIDEO

All bundled up and ready for winter, this 6-year-old Canton kid is ready to lead southeast Michigan to some fun events – and make you laugh out loud!

Elsa's Icy Braid: How to Create a Disney Princess Hairdo

Elsa's Icy Braid: How to Create a Disney Princess Hairdo

The super cool character has a signature hair look. Recreate it with this guide from the book Disney Frozen Hairstyles: Inspired by Anna and Elsa.

Tips on Teaching Kids The Joy of Giving Presents

Tips on Teaching Kids The Joy of Giving Presents

How to help kids learn the value of giving presents this holiday season – not just receiving them.

College Blues: Signs and Solutions

College Blues: Signs and Solutions

Things change once teens graduate from high school and sometimes those changes can really impact their mental state. Here's how to identify and help with kids' at-school problems when they're home...

Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement