5 Must-Do Experiences in Destin, FL Besides the Beach
Hello adventurers, travelers, and vacationers alike!
I know it's reaching that time of year where everyone starts bundling up in cozy sweaters and sipping their pumpkin spice everything, but I wanted to stretch the summer out just a bit with one last summer-days post. However, our focus today is on Destin, Florida, where fall won't hit until late November, so I can justify it, right?
Back in July, Daniel and I had the opportunity to vacation down in Miramar Beach and Destin for a week with his family, and we packed in so many fun activities! As with everything we do, I did a lot of research on each outing to ensure that we'd be doing something that would be enjoyable and top-notch.
I am happy to report that we were not disappointed with any of the activities we chose! That makes me even happier to share these excursions with you and give them my highest recommendation for a fantastic vacation in Destin! So dispell your autumn notions for a few minutes, and let me share some warm-weather memories with you!
1. Parasailing with Gilligan's Watersports
If you've never gone parasailing and don't mind heights, this is something you won't want to miss. As a first-time parasailer, I was positively thrilled to take my virgin flight over the Gulf of Mexico.
Now, if you haven't gone parasailing before, it's nearly impossible to imagine how utterly peaceful it is up in the air. At 500 feet, it's silent except for the wind, and the whole ocean seems to be laid out at your feet. The grand hotels on the beach and the ships in the bay look like tiny toys. And if you're lucky enough to go on a calm day, you can see dolphins, turtles, and fish dashing about beneath the water. It's practically an out-of-body experience, and one you won't forget--I still get nostalgic thinking about it. That is why I cannot recommend parasailing enough! Everyone should experience it at least once!
After some research, we ended up going with Gilligan's Watersports over all the other parasailing companies in the area. My main reasons for choosing them were their amazing reviews (4-4.7/5 stars depending on which website I looked), their great prices ($45 per person), and the ability to fly in groups of 2 or 3 people since we had a party of 7.
When we arrived, the check-in hut was packed, but the process was easy because they had plenty of iPad stations set up to complete waivers and sign in. Despite the crowd, we were able to leave right on time.
The tour lasted about an hour and a half out in the Gulf of Mexico. The sky was a beautiful blue, although the waters were somewhat choppy. Half of the fun in this experience is the boat ride. As the captain cruises around the bay, you can get a great view of the Destin harbor and all the other ships passing by while the wind tousels your hair and the sea mist cools you off.
We had a full boat with six parties, so every group got about 10-15 minutes up in the air. I will say the time went by quickly, but that's what happens when you're having fun! Unfortunately, the waters were choppy the day we went, so we couldn't see below the water, but it was still incredible. Just being that high in the sky was surreal and beautiful!
I was worried the descent back to the boat would be terrifying, but the captain did a fantastic job of keeping everyone's return smooth. He would dip each group halfway in the water then pop them back up to be reeled onto the deck. The first mate also did a great job of efficiently switching groups in and out of the harnesses, and he took so many amazing pictures for us. In fact, both of the photographs in this section were taken by him! The crew works for tips, and they definitely earned them.
We ordered the photo package and ended up with about 225 pictures to remember the outing. If you don't have a Go-Pro or don't want to take a camera out with you, I'd highly recommend getting the photo package when you do this.
All in all, I had 0 complaints about the experience with Gilligan's Watersports. They were professional and delivered on everything they promised while still having some of the lowest parasailing prices in the area!
2. Escape from Escapology
Are you a fan of the escape room trend? Then Escapology is the place for you.
I was impressed with Escapology from the moment we walked in. The dark waiting room sports steampunk decor and a mysterious aura, and the couches were extremely comfortable.
This large escape room center has 6 different escape room experiences to choose from in a wide variety of plot lines. Currently, their stories include a Cuban missile crisis, an FBI agent trying to outsmart a hacker, a WWII submarine sinking to the bottom of the ocean, a team of infected scientists racing to find an antidote before the lab self-destructs, a train murder mystery, and shanghaied prisoners trying to escape a life of slavery.
Each room has a difficulty rating and in-depth description on the website, so you can choose which plotline works best for your group.
We chose a 7.5/10 difficulty story and ended up finishing with time to spare, but had to use all three clues. Overall, we were very pleased with the difficulty level and how the plot progressed. And for $29 a person, it was more affordable than other escape rooms I've been to.
3. See the Alligators at Gator Beach
No trip to Florida is complete without a little gator action! I will preface this by saying Gator Beach is not an all-day excursion. However, it makes an entertaining hour adventure on its own, or you can tag it onto dinner at Fudpucker's restaurant where it's located.
Gator Beach is a fun place decorated in a bright splash of color, albeit with a strong hint of alligator smell. The main area centers on a large pool where hundreds of alligators lurk beneath the water and sun themselves on rafts. Guests can walk a circuit around this pool from a second-story balcony and watch the gators do their thing. Most of these are relatively small alligators (up to 6' or so) because the larger ones get really aggressive.
Gator Beach is free to visit, but you can get a couple fun add-ons for a decent price. For a dollar, you can purchase gator bait and feed the alligators with long poles that have a clip at the end to hold the bait. I really enjoyed this part, because several of them will all dash toward the food just like feeding fish, and some will even jump a little to reach it. And if you want to get even closer, $10 will get you a picture holding a gator.
Additionally, there's a museum-like area where you can read all about alligators and see a tank full of baby gators! When we went, most of them piled onto the platform near the top of the container in a giant dog-pile cuddle situation. I had some mixed feelings about the babies, but I have to admit that some of them were pretty cute--others just looked diabolical.
Another cool point of interest here is Pearl, one of only 40 albino alligators in the United States. She's pretty docile in her exhibit, but that doesn't make her any less fascinating! If you visit Gator Beach, be sure to catch a show because that's what really makes the trip worth it. One of the Gator Handlers gives a fun but essential lesson and demonstration on gator safety and some other interesting facts.
Now, if you're really gator obsessed, you can spend about $80 and sign up for a VIP experience in the morning. You'll help the handlers get the gators ready for the day, feed them up close, and even be able to hold one. But if that's not for you, the normal tour will give you plenty to do.
4. Dolphin Watching on a HydroJet Tour
Very few things beat a classic dolphin boat tour, but going on a giant jet ski takes the win. The HydroJet is the world's largest jet ski, taking about 25 people at a time skipping over the waves. It's a great option for those who like the jet ski experience, but not the price, or maybe have small children who couldn't handle it alone. Regardless of your reasons, you can't go wrong with the HydroJet Tour. Tickets range from $25-$29 a person for a one-hour tour that's jam-packed with speeding along the waves and dolphin sightings.
The HydroJet is set up in 3 long rows where riders straddle the seat and hold onto a set of bars just like a normal jet ski. A few regular seats are available near the back for those who prefer. Guests sitting along the sides will get splashed more, but also be able to see everything better.
The one-hour tour starts with a fast-paced sprint across the Gulf toward Fort Walton Beach. You'll get a great view of the beachline and the other ships in the harbor as the HydroJet skims the waves. Eventually, you'll start to hear cries of "dolphin!" or maybe even see one yourself as the group comes upon its first dolphin pod. If you're lucky, you'll see a few babies and even a couple different kinds of dolphins while you're out!
Just like our Gilligan's Watersports experience, I was very impressed with the crew. The ride was great, and the crew members were accommodating, pointing out dolphins, listing exciting facts, and even taking pictures for everyone. Each time dolphins came by, the captain would slow down or even stop so we could all see them and take some photos before taking off again. Because of this, we were able to enjoy everything fully without feeling rushed.
If you do decide to do a HydroJet tour, go at sunset! It is the most expensive tour of the day (by $4), but it is entirely worth it. The sun setting over the Gulf is incredible, the temperatures are more bearable, and plenty of dolphins come out to frolic around! It's definitely worth the $4 extra dollars for the experience!
5. Experience the HarborWalk Village
Many of the area's attractions happen right near the HarborWalk Village, a hub of shopping, dining, concerts, and other attractions. It's also the starting point for many water activities like pirate ship tours, fishing charters, snorkeling, and paddleboard rentals. You could easily spend a full day and a lot of cash checking everything out.
Some of the highlights of the HarborWalk onshore include Margaritaville, a mirror maze, aqua spheres, caricatures, the HarborWalk Adventures freefall, zipline, and LED rockwall, the Harborwalk Theater featuring comedians, magic shows, and concerts, the Laser Maze, and a 7D interactive movie ride. Add these to the extensive list of local restaurants and classy shops, and you'll undoubtedly have plenty of entertainment to choose from!
My only cautionary comment here is to arrive before the evening rush to get good parking. Some places charge $20 to park, so be sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy everything and get your money's worth! However, on the nights of certain events, you can find parking for free, so be sure to check their website before you go!
Now you know about 5 of the best activities you can experience on your next trip down to Florida! I highly recommend the Destin/ Miramar Beach area for a fun, relaxing vacation because it has such a wide variety of entertainment options and beautiful beaches! It's a very different vibe from what you'll find in other Florida destinations like Orlando.
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