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One of our favorite things to do as a family is to head to Panama City Beach, Florida for vacation. The beach is absolutely gorgeous, the water is nice, and there is always a lot to do there. Being only a 12-hour drive for us, we typically visit the Panama City Beach area at least once a year. We recently had the chance to spend my daughter’s birthday there and found a great little touring shop called Blue Dolphin Tours.
Located very near to St. Andrews State Park, Blue Dolphin Tours is a wonderful adventure on which to take your family for a special event. The 2-hour boat tour brings you out into St. Andrews Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. There you will be able to ride on the water, enjoy the sun, and visit the popular Shell Island.
We spent about 30 minutes actually on the island, searching for shells and swimming in the calm gulf waters on the bay side. Our captain dropped the anchor in the sandy bottom of the bay, just off the coast of Shell island, allowing us to get out of the boat and explore. The captain pointed out several different trails that we could use to walk to different parts of the island, and we took off to find some shells!
Shell Island itself is extremely narrow and very manageable, even with a 2 and 5-year-old. The island gets its name from the vast amounts of shells that used to inhabit the island. Although there are no longer as many shells to be found as there once was, and many of them are broken, our kids didn’t know the difference. They were all smiles as we traipsed along the island’s coast line, picking up their favorite sand dollars and seashells the entire time.
Swimming with dolphins
The highlight of the Blue Dolphin Tours experience is getting up close and personal with Panama City’s resident pod of wild bottle-nosed dolphins. Our tour took us right off the coast of St. Andrews State Park, which is where many of the dolphins love to hang out. There, you will have the opportunity to see dozens of dolphins in their natural habitat. Blue Dolphin Tours even allows you to get out of the boat, jump in the water, and swim with the dolphins yourself! According to our captain, they try to limit the human impact on the dolphins. Therefore, they typically allow the swimmers to get into the water before spotting the dolphins. This gives the curious creatures a chance to come up to the swimmers and examine them on their own. The tour also provides snorkeling gear, so you don’t even have to bring your own in order to get a good look.
We actually took the tour on my daughter’s birthday and planned to get into the water and swim with the dolphins. However, the weather did not cooperate with us. It was pretty windy that day, and – for safety reasons – we were unable to get into the water. Lucky for us, the dolphins did not disappoint! We were still able to see dozens of dolphins from the boat, swimming and jumping so close to us that we could almost reach out and touch them. My daughter was convinced that they were putting on a show just for her on her birthday, and they just may have been!
Blue Dolphin Tours Pricing
Priced at just $49 per person, the 2-hour tour is definitely worth the money. Unlike many of the larger dolphin cruise boats which carry up to 50 people, Blue Dolphin Tours has 4 smaller boats that carry just 6 people. This allows for a more intimate experience that leaves a lighter impact on the dolphins’ environment. The regular tours leave 4 times a day, with the first tour beginning at 9:00 A.M. and the last departing at 4:30 P.M. If you have a group of 6, or if you’d just like a private tour, you can rent out the entire boat yourself for $249. (Price is reflective of the date this story was published.) This is what we decided to do, and I would totally recommend this option.
The tour and the captains are very family friendly, and my daughter was even able to “drive” the boat on her birthday. All in all, I think Blue Dolphin Tours offers a highly enjoyable wildlife experience, and I would highly recommend them to anybody hoping to take a dolphin cruise in Panama City Beach!