Destin Dolphin Cruise

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Whether we like it or not, our summer is quickly coming to an end. We’re trying to make the most of the last days of freedom before school starts by spending some time at the beach with our extended family. We’d like to get out on the water in some way, but we’re still deciding exactly what we’ll do.

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Last year, our family went on a dolphin cruise out of Destin Harbor. A company called Boogies operated the glass-bottom boat, which docks directly behind the Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grande. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did, because it is a quintessential Destin tourist excursion. I got over my reluctance quickly though, because dolphins, sunshine and gorgeous Destin water make it impossible to have a bad attitude.

cruise in DestinWe set sail out of Destin Harbor and cruised through the turquoise waters of East Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins followed our boat and swam alongside us for much of the trip. It was great fun. The kids loved it and we snapped a million pictures.

dolphins-swim-with-boatThe boat also cruised into the shallow waters known as Crab Island, a popular spot where boats anchor down for easy swimming and play. We had fun watching other boats, wave runners and even a few paddle boarders as we passed through the area.

DSC_0312Our boat stopped briefly to toss out a net. The crew members pulled the net up a few minutes later to see what, if anything, had been caught. I’m not sure what they were hoping for – fish? crabs? – but it seemed like mostly seaweed, shells and a few hermit crabs made it into the net. The kids loved seeing this and my children we thrilled to hold one of the hermit crabs.

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The Destin dolphin cruise cost our family of five just under $100. Similar cruises are offered in Panama City and Pensacola Beach. Occasionally, I’ve seen Groupon offers for discounted dolphin cruise tickets, so it may be worthwhile to look for deals before you go. It’s definitely something I’d do again.

Gator Bait in Destin

the-swampThis crimson-blooded Alabama native has seen enough Gators after a football weekend trip to The Swamp, in Gainesville, Fla. The raucousness of the University of Florida crowd after a triple overtime win over the University of Kentucky Wildcats looked much like the scene at another reptilian retreat I visited a few weeks ago.

The scene: Destin’s Fudpucker’s restaurant at alligator feeding time.

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Just like the diners at this popular eatery, real, live alligators come hungry. Trained staff and regular restaurant-goers alike have a chance to feed these gators, which reside in a manmade swamp just outside the front door at Fudpucker’s.

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I ate at this restaurant years ago, but I don’t think they had alligators on the premises back then. (Fudpucker’s opened in 1982.) Just as I remembered, guests can (and do) leave their autographs on the walls, tables and just about any other writeable surface inside this colorful establishment.

Fudpucker’s hadn’t been on my short list of places to go in Destin for quite a while, but it’s funny how having children leads you to all sorts of places you might not otherwise go. Surprisingly, some of them are not so bad. Fudpucker’s, in fact, may be brilliant because what I remember as an area to wait for a table is now a semi-educational attraction, thanks to the alligators.

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For $3, you can purchase a bag of alligator food. Your four pellets of food are presented to you with a fishing pole-like contraption that you use to lower the bait down to the surface of the water below. Then, watch the gators swarm and CHOMP!

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The pellet snacks are an appetizer to the raw chicken pieces a staff member feeds them during a narrated demonstration. “The alligators here are young gators,” he explains. “Once they reach five or six feet in length, they are moved to other habitats as they’d become too aggressive for this environment.”

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A rare albino alligator named Pearl also resides at Fudpucker’s. She is older and has her own tank that is shielded from the sun to protect her skin.

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My children loved seeing Pearl, feeding the other alligators and asking questions about them. It was certainly a unique experience, and it would be an easy way to pass the time with young children if you in fact were waiting for a table.

On this visit, we didn’t have to wait. We were having a late lunch on Labor Day, when most of the summer vacationers had packed up and gone home. Service was good and the food was better than I expected at a big, popular tourist stop.

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Our entrees were around $10-12 each. The fish sandwich I ordered was seasoned well. My mom enjoyed a fresh salad with chicken, fruit and nuts. The kids’ menu included the usual fare and portions were good.

If you don’t go to Fudpucker’s for the food, go for the gators (even if, like me, you don’t usually “go for” Gators).

 

Fudpucker’s has locations in Destin and Ft. Walton Beach. Somewhere on the restaraunt’s walls is written “Roll Tide Roll!”

Destin: Kids Love The Track

the-track-destin-flThere is no shortage of things to do in Destin, Florida, but if it were up to my kids, the amusement park known as The Track would make the short list of favorites. Bumper boats, go-karts, miniature golf — what’s not to love if you’re a kid?

The activities available at The Track are largely geared toward school-age children, with the exception of an area known as Kids Kountry. Three and four-year-olds can enjoy the small rides in this area, including a carousel, ferris wheel and the classic train.

The older set, if they meet height requirements, can enjoy riding solo in the bumper cars, go-karts and bumper boats. If they are not yet tall enough, an adult should be prepared to ride with them. Such was our luck on a recent visit when the attendant found my daughter to be one inch too short for the bumper boats. So I rode along with her, trying to maneuver our boat around the large pool while dodging squirts of water from the other boats. Yes, you will get wet on the bumper boats! Be prepared. For a reason I still don’t understand, I quickly became the target of a ten-ish-year-old boy who was trigger happy each time his boat came near ours. He didn’t just spray me with water, he squirted me right in the face over and over and over again (Parents, tell your kids not to aim relentlessly at the adults who are just riding along to the delight of their children. Tell them to have a field day with other kids who are game, but show some mercy to the grown-ups. It’s just good manners).

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Each ride, as well as the miniature golf, requires points for admission and the points are purchased inside the arcade building. On our recent visit, we took advantage of an offer that The Track’s website says is available now through Labor Day: Receive double the points when you purchase between 9 a.m. and noon. These points are valid through 4 p.m. One employee told me this is the best deal, but a sign at the cash register also advertised discounts for locals, military and seniors so it’s worth inquiring about those offers at other times of day if you qualify.

Don’t forget to save some money for the arcade — you know, where your children will burn through their tokens in a matter of minutes, collect tickets and redeem them for all sorts of candy and worthless junk they don’t need. It makes them happy so count your losses, play skee ball, and have your wine chilled and ready for when you get home.

There are cold soft drinks and Icees available for sale in the arcade, which are heavenly after you’ve spent some time in the sun. It’s a good idea to bring sunscreen if you visit The Track during the day, too. go-karts-the-track-destin-fl

In all, our family of five spent about $30 for rides and arcade time during the 2-for-1 points hours. You can do as much or as little as you like when you visit so costs will vary.

Although I have not been there, The Track also has a location in Gulf Shores, Alabama, according to their website. Wherever you visit, have fun and check this off your list of kid-friendly vacation stops.