Cheap Family Fun at Panama City Beach, Florida
Family fun in the sun...for cheap
Why Panama City Beach?
The answer is simple: we found a hotel there that allowed us to bring our 12-pound min-pin. After our short stay in Branson a few years back, we discovered that our daughter travels better and enjoys herself more when she knows her dog is not cooped up in a kennel. "All I want is a hotel on the beach, a room that is beachfront that takes pets," my husband said.
Is that all?
Actually, it's not all. Because on top of that, my added requirement was that our stay had to be affordable. The Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort gave us what we needed.
***** DISCLOSURE: I am not paid by any of the businesses mentioned for this review. This is based on my own family's experience after two vacations in Panama City Beach, Florida. *****
Our first summer there, 2014, we had a studio kitchenette on the first floor. It had one king bed and a sleeper sofa. The room was so small that we couldn't even really use the drop-leaf table, but in all fairness - the dog's kennel did take up a chunk of the room.
We had more room in 2015. Again, we had a studio kitchenette on the first floor. This one had two full/queen beds and there was a lot more room. We actually used the drop-leaf table this time around and still had room for the same dog kennel. (By the way, dogs are allowed at the hotel, but not on the beach.)
The problem with reserving rooms at the Sandpiper Beacon is that you don't get to request which room format you want. They assign it to you. When you call to make reservations, you can tell them if you want a kitchenette, one room, two room, etc., but you cannot tell them that you want two beds or a bed and a sleeper sofa.
Both times, the rooms have been clean.In 2014, we had to call to ask for extra towels on occasion. In 2015, however, the housekeeping crew was on top of things. They worked in teams of two or three and are friendly and helpful. They visited our room daily.
Photo App Fun
How to Save Money at the Sandpiper Beacon
I'm cheap, I know. But when sticking to a budget is your goal, there are a few things you can do to save money at the Sandpiper Beacon:
- Don't buy anything at the ice cream parlor/snack shop. It tends to be pricey.
- Beach loungers rent for $30/day or $50 for 2 days, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hit the beach before or after those hours and the loungers are available for free...without the padded cushions.
- Consider taking your own lounge chairs and beach umbrella. One local retailer had both available for $40 plus tax. I'd have done that, but we were traveling in a vehicle with limited space.
- Give your family some variety by splitting time between the beach, hotel pools and the indoor lazy river.
- Get a room with a kitchenette and eat out only one meal per day. There are several grocery store options at Panama City Beach, so stock up when you get there.
- Make the free evening luau your entertainment for the night. The hotel holds the luau one night per week, so be sure to check the schedule.
- Kids' craft and sand castle-building activities are offered for a nominal fee, but why not spend that time with your kids for free? Build a castle as a family or use the outdoor patio or balcony table to make crafts from shells you find.
- Take your own photos. In our first visit, a photographer approached us on the beach and gave us a flier about her photography service. She said we could buy an entire CD of our photo shoot for only $75...which was true if we'd spent something like $300 on purchasing a set of photos. Take a selfie stick or ask another family on the beach to shoot a photo or two of your group.
Get there easily
You've got a lot of souvenir options at Panama City Beach, but some are better than others quality-wise and cost-wise. When shopping for souvenirs, take my advice:
- Shell Port, 9949 Thomas Drive, offers a great selection of inexpensive post cards, shells and other souvenirs to fit all budgets.
- Alvin's Island, various locations, has cute t-shirts and boxes of salt water taffy. You can find something to fit your budget.
- Beachcomb with the family to collect you own shells and sand dollar pieces.
- STAY AWAY FROM the $1 souvenir stores. We went there the first year and the kiddo bought an inflatable dolphin. We got home, took it out of the package and blew it up...it had "BOSTON" imprinted on the side. We still laugh about that.
Other things to do at Panama City Beach
Dave & Buster's
It's like Chuck E Cheese on steroids! People of all ages enjoy playing arcade games to accumulate points to win prizes. And these prizes are not shabby! Your kid will walk away with more than a plastic pencil topper and a sticker!
We haven't been there yet, but it's on our rainy day contingency plan.
We're not into riding rides, but if your family is, be sure to check out Pier Park. I've seen a big slide, Ferris wheel and merry-go-round.
The Pier Park stores are awesome. You might have to extend your budget a little, but it's worth at least walking through and window shopping.