Florida Part I: Emerald Coast

When we were exploring options on places to stay in Florida we had a hard time making reservations in the State Park system. Some states allow you to make reservations for a specific amount of time, and the actual spots are not assigned until your arrival time – you get the best spot that is available at the time you are ready to check in. Conversely, the State of Florida assigns your actual spot in the park when you make the reservation. There were plenty of spots available at St. Andrews State Park for the time we wanted to spend near Panama City Beach – but no one slot was available on all the days we wanted to be there in a row. We decided it was time to bust our budget a bit and see what the fancy private RV parks were like.

We narrowed our search to two possibilities. From what we could tell by looking at a map and reading online reviews, our first choice was Emerald Coast RV Beach Resort… a Family and Snowbird Paradise. When I called the office to ask about availability, the lady said they did have slots open for the time we wanted to come stay with them. She informed me that the longest (82′) and most sought-after spot was #61. It was during this conversation that she casually mentioned they were next to a zoo and we might hear some tigers and lions roaring at meal times. I told her I would talk to my husband about this and get back to her. Mike and I discussed this interesting tidbit and decided nothing could be terrible for a week, so we should just book it and see what happened. I called back and arranged our reservation to begin our month of May (a few days early) in the sunshine state at “the highest rated resort in north Florida”.

A few weeks later our travel from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach was routine. We left around 11:30 and arrived to our designated spot around 3 in the afternoon. Mike was happy because, as we were getting settled, he saw two F21 Raptors fly over us on final to somewhere. They were low and loud and fast. It turns out we had our own personal airshow the whole week we were there. Several times a day we got to see Blackhawk helicopters, F18’s or those F21’s zooming over us while practicing maneuvers.

Another interesting thing we discovered about our new home was that the park wasn’t near a zoo… it shared an 8-foot residential fence with the establishment. Spot #61 was indeed a long private spot tucked into the corner of the RV park. We were inside a 90-degree angle fence line. The barnyard animals, monkeys and peacocks were behind us, while the lions and tigers were next to us on the driver’s side of the bus. I now realized the nice front desk lady mentioned the lions and tigers because they sound exotic and majestic – something we thought would be fun to hear a couple of times a day during our visit. She left out the fact the roosters crow ALL the time except for a few short hours in the middle of the night. Turkeys say gobble gobble frequently and forcefully. Peacocks loudly whine eerie noises that sound like “mmeeoouuwww” and “nnnooo”, or just plain screams. Monkeys are not loud all the time, but when they get worked up – it is a real symphony of grunts and screeches. The funny thing is, we never actually heard the tigers during our stay at the “cleanest and friendliest resort with spotless grounds and facilities and friendly, helpful staff who treat you like family”. It was a hoot, no pun intended… that is what the owl outside the window by my desk said over and over the last couple of nights we were there. As we camped at Zooworld we learned that the animal species start stirring around 4am and a few party animals don’t shut it down until around 10 or 11 at night. Earplugs.

A couple of guinneas roamed around our corner of the park each morning, which drove the dogs insane. One morning after we walked we tied them to their leash on the patio so they could enjoy outside while we had coffee. The guinneas were not interested in this plan. They planted themselves on top of the fence line and squablled at all of us. The dogs were even behaving and not barking. Piper and Cessna were just staring at them trying to decipher what they could be carrying on about. We finally gave into the birds and brought the dogs inside the coach. Then the small turkey birds flew down and began their ritual of scanning the grounds.

Piper had a stand-off with a couple of peacocks on another morning in Zooworld, I mean at Northwest Florida’s Finest Resort. I was inside with Cessna when Mike told me a peacock was on the fence. I went out with my camera and a female was about 10 feet away perched on the top of a post. Piper was sitting and trembling with a cement stare aimed at the creature. Just then the male bird flew up to the top of the fence, a little closer to us. I talked to him for a minute and asked him to show me the feathers on his tail. He stared at me for a minute and then turned around. I asked him to spread them out, but I think it would have been too much for my dog, so I’m glad he didn’t. I took a couple of pictures of the peacock couple, and then the male flew up onto the top of our coach. Mike was not interested in him scratching up or pecking sections of the roof on our “house”, so he sprayed him with the water hose and it flew away. All told, I thought it was a very cool experience and Piper was flabbergasted.

We didn’t really clue into the fact that the area is called the Emerald Coast until we saw the beach. Guess what? The water is the color of emeralds against the white soft sugar sand. As the depths change, so does the intensity of the clear blue green water. There was one section of the beach where dogs were allowed, so we packed up our chairs and coolers one day to check it out. We had a fun time soaking up some rays and watching a man with two labs throw a bumper into the waves for them to retrieve endlessly. One of the dogs would actual get the toy, but then his partner would grab the other half in its mouth so they could present this gift back to their owner simultaneously. They were quite a duo. Our dogs tested the water, rolled in the sand, and barked at seagulls or other dogs. Clouds showed up after about an hour in the sun, so we let the dogs wait in the car while we explored a retail/entertainment establishment across the street from the dog beach. We had a couple of drinks and a monstrous order of volcano nachos from Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café before heading back home. Another day we left the dogs in the coach and went to a section of beach on the other end of the strip in front of a bar called Schooner’s. We took in the sun and sand for a couple of hours, and then made our way to the patio for a cheeseburger and some fried seafood.

Panama City Beach is a small place so we got around on our bikes about half of the time. We rode over to the State Park (where we were unable to make a reservation) to check out the beach and jetties and campgrounds. We rode to dinner and lunch a couple of times. It was fun getting around with something besides a car. On one of our outings we were at a place called The Boatyard in a marina at the East End of the island at the entrance to the Grand Lagoon. We were there late in the afternoon on a Sunday so we got to watch all the boats come in after a day on the water. The most impressive was a cigar boat with a cabin and a t-top called BAD BOY. It had FOUR 300 HP Mercury engines on the back. We have a 500 HP engine in the coach that powers 44,000 LBs and tows a 10,000 LB car. That boat had twice as much power as we do. I’m pretty sure it could fly if necessary. A single guy with his black German Shepard got off of it before they hoisted it to its dry dock spot. Even the deckhand boys were taking pictures of it as they hosed off the salt water on its way up.

On our last day in Panama City Beach we ran errands and packed up for the upcoming long road trip to the Tampa Bay area. After stopping at Target, Dillard’s, GNC, Walmart, Goodwill, and Home Depot, we drove over to St. Andrews in Panama City for dinner at a local spot called The Capt. Table. I tried to ascertain wisdom from the owl as I fell asleep listening to him that night… and made sure my earplugs were within reach in preparation for my last 4am in Zooworld.

This is the boat the certainly lives up to its name.

This is the boat that certainly lives up to its name.

Our view from St. Andrews after we finished browsing the Saturday morning Farmer's Market.

Our view from St. Andrews after we finished browsing the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market.

Enjoying the beach on a beautiful day.

Enjoying the beach on a beautiful day.

We rode our bikes to Pineapple Willy's one afternoon, and then ate at a great Cajun dive called Dee's Hangout.

We rode our bikes to Pineapple Willy’s one afternoon, and then ate at a great Cajun dive called Dee’s Hangout.

A peek through a knothole in the fence revealed some exotic neighbors.

A peek through a knothole in the fence revealed some exotic neighbors.

A male and female peacock visited us one morning. I asked it to show me his tail, and he turned around for me!

A male and female peacock visited us one morning. I asked it to show me his tail, and he turned around for me!

There were two swimming pools at Emerald Coast RV Park - this one was the salt water pool.

There were two swimming pools at Emerald Coast RV Park – this one was the salt water pool.


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