Destin’s Your Destiny

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This great seaside town's got you covered no matter when your family visits!

If you have kids and love the beach, you’re destined for Destin at some point. This “luckiest fishing village,” combined with Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach, make up the beautiful Emerald Coast. While famous for its fishing (it has one of the largest fishing fleets in Florida), most families head here for an upscale, high-rise condominium stay combined with mega-watt family amusements like go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars, bungee jumping, simulated skydiving, the area’s best water park, golfing and some of the Florida Panhandle’s best restaurants. We stayed in a three-bedroom resort condominium called Jade East – one of Resort Quest’s holdings – and enjoyed having our beach umbrellas and chairs preset for us each morning, making the stroll to the beach just an elevator button press away. We’d sunscreen ourselves in the condo then head out with towels and cold drinks with a plan to return for lunch which made meals easy. Long stretches of white sand make up Destin’s coast where I enjoyed strolling each morning, and at night, when we weren’t swimming in the condo’s lovely ocean-side pool, we could see people night crabbing with flashlights up and down the beach. Of course, Destin is filled with fun, and that’s just about all our kids had in mind!

Destin in the Fall … or Summer?
While families may only think of Destin as a spring or summer destination, the fall is a lovely time to visit. Temperatures are a good 10 degrees cooler than they are in July or August, and there’s plenty of fun to be had from the annual Destin Seafood Festival in October to the Sixth Annual Rootin’ Tootin’ Rodeo Roundup for fishing lovers ages 12 and older. Find a complete year-round calendar of events for Destin and the surrounding area at the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau online at destin-FWB.com. Of course, if you aim to make plans for Destin next summer, that’s where the big fun for kids kicks in!

Big Kahuna Water Park

There I was, glistening in the shining hot sun with icy cold water swirling around my ankles where I perched, fiercely staring down the rushing rapids before me. I can do this, I told myself, I can DO THIS! Do what? Oh, no biggie! Just throw my mother-of-four self down a tubular Maui Pipeline Speedslide filled with rushing water waiting to spit a helpless body down, down, down before finally shooting it like a bomb into six feet of water below. My husband, standing at-the-ready on the slide next to me, gave me a steely, competitive nod. We were on … Go! Our happily drenched day at Big Kahuna Water Park was our kids’ favorite part of a recent trip to Destin. The water world complex has more than 40 rides plus slides, water falls, sprays, waves and pools to satisfy any water craving. But take note! Big Kahunas is seasonal – only open May through September. So, if you want this kind of fun, make plans now for next summer’s trip!

The Gulfarium
Open year round, this old-time marine park in Fort Walton Beach opened in 1955 and sits just west of Destin. Since my boys love marine life, we headed there one morning and were delighted to savor a taste of days gone by – even seeing old black-and-white photographs from the park’s heyday. The Gulfarium presents 25-minute shows with dolphins, sea lions, penguins and more all day long. Wide open-top tanks allow visitors to get up close to sharks, stingrays and alligators, and my boys and I stood for an eternity watching a large sea turtle swim past a shark only four feet from where we stood. Special programs at the Gulfarium include a Spotted Dolphin Encounter where participants can get up-close-and-personal with the help of a trainer.

The Track

Go for big-time action at this family fun zone boasting different go-kart tracks (the Wild Wooly is a three-tiered spiraling wooden track!), bumper boats, mini-golf, a tot’s area of rides (a Ferris wheel, swinging boats and mini airplanes) and a big-kid area for craziness like bungee jumping and simulated skydiving. We squealed when a mom and her young daughters took the bungee leap; they screamed at the top of their lungs before bursting into uproarious laughter followed by relieved grins as they gently bounced before the watching crowd.

Time to Eat
Our kids get up before we do, so condo living is conducive to having necessary breakfast foods at-the-ready, but there are great options for breakfast out, too. On Highway 98, The Donut Hole offers fresh bakery goods and great American meals all day long. Another Broken Egg in Destin serves amazing Bananas Foster pancakes that will keep you full all day long. While we ate lunches at our condo, dinner brings more tasty options, but be prepared to wait for your table. The Back Porch is a local favorite, as is The Crab Trap. If you don’t want to deal with crowds (or just can’t leave the beach), then buy fresh-as-it-gets seafood and prepare your own meal in your condo’s kitchen. One afternoon we bought fresh grouper and Dad whipped up one of his famous dinners: lightly breaded grouper sauteed to a golden brown and served with mushrooms, olives, lemon juice and a light tomato sauce, all atop pasta which our seafood-loving kids happily devoured. These days of big play, ocean swimming, salt air and good meals will more than relax you – they’ll about do you in!

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.

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