Panama City is one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. There simply is no match in the continental U.S., for pristine sandy beaches, aqua blue waters, and relaxed beach atmosphere.
There are a lot of fun water sports and other activities that are worth the money and will make your visit more memorable. However, there are also a handful of tourist sites where I have been burned. Sometimes, it was an adventure designed to save money. Other times, I fell prey to exciting photos and advertising. Enjoy your trip to Panama City by avoiding the following tourist traps.
Two of the worst tourist water sports at Panama City Beach are The Sea Screamer and the Sea Rocket.
The Sea Screamer is advertised as the “World’s Largest Speedboat.” It is an oversized speedboat that takes you out via St. Andrew’s Bay and into the Gulf along the beaches of Panama City. There is no covering. My family and I were miserable in the searing heat.
We fell into this tourist trap when the kids were young and we were looking for an inexpensive family activity. The Sea Screamer is probably the cheapest family adventure, but it isn’t even worth the money we spent on it. Put fifty people in a large speedboat, none of whom know each other, ride the Gulf for an hour and a half and you have sunburned, wind burned crabby kids and adults. We couldn’t wait until this ride was over.
One final note regarding the Sea Screamer, they promote the fastest ride along the beaches. In my opinion, the ride along the beach is nothing but an advertisement to lure other unsuspecting tourists into finding out more about the big yellow speed boat that comes whizzing by a couple of times a day.
I have not ridden the Sea Rocket. But it appears to be a smaller version of the Sea Screamer. Oversized and speedboats don’t work well together. If you want to ride a speed boat, find a speed boat. If you want to waste your vacation money, ride the Sea Rocket or Sea Screamer.
More expensive and just as cheesy are “Swim with Dolphins” tours. The boys were older and we wanted to give them and adventure to remember. We booked on “Island Time: Swim with Dolphins” tour. This is a catamaran that assured us that they would anchor no deeper than 4 feet, one of the boys was young and we wanted to be sure he could get out and snorkel. First, when they handed out the snorkel gear they were at least three short. They had overbooked the tour. We thought it was no big deal and since we were supposed to be in shallow water and we had a hired sitter with us, that the kids could go and we’d pass in order to allow others to snorkel.
My children have been swimmers since they were three and four years old. Both of them could swim like fish at the time. However, we were anchored in at least six to eight feet of water in the Gulf. Swimming with ocean waves is not like swimming in a pool. One of the boys refused to get off, he was young, and I couldn’t blame him. Our oldest son got off at the captain’s assurance that they could swim fifty yards to water they could stand in. When he got in the rough waters he swam about twenty feet then turned back with a terrorized look on his face. One of the crew said, “Oh, he’ll be alright.” The mother in me wanted to toss him overboard, but I was focused on my child’s safety.
I threw him a safety line and pulled him back to the boat. I offered to put a jacket on him and allow him to go back out with me or his dad. He would not.
This all happened in the snorkeling area.
The tour boat called everyone aboard and took us over by the St. Andrew’s reefs where dolphins hand out. They anchored in no particular place and threw out a ring about thirty feet in diameter. Told everyone to put on a life jacket and get in the water if you wanted to “swim with the dolphins.” Fifty or more people jumped into the circle. People were flailing around in the cold water. After about fifteen minutes one dolphin swam beneath the group of corralled people.
We got back in the boat. There were no more dolphins that day.
You are told upfront there is no guarantee that you will have a dolphin encounter, but they know the best spots and will do their best. This was a terrible experience and a big waste of money.
If you want to explore in a boat, I recommend you rent your own. It’s cheaper and a lot more fun. Reserve and rent a pontoon early. Pack some snacks and drinks. Bring your fishing gear and head out for a day of fun.