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Day Six Of Our First RV Trip: Ft. Walton, Mary Esther and The Gulfarium
Another beautiful morning in Florida!
Well, actually it is the first beautiful morning in Florida for us. Yesterday began with showers and these continued off and on for about an hour or two before subsiding enough for us to venture forth; but today just blue skies and sunshine above!
We are destined on down the coast a ways today, through Navarre, Mary Esther (yes, that is actually the name of the little town) and on towards Ft. Walton and its cavalcade of wondrous sites. In particular, we will be visiting a place called The Gulfarium. This is a combination Marine Park/Aquarium and is home to different animals like seals, sharks, penguins, sea turtles and let's see, there was something else, something my family really wants to see. What was it?
Oh yeah! Dolphins!
Yes this park has several dolphins that will perform a show and enjoy the life only a location such as this can offer. So we will begin driving shortly and find our way East along the Gulf.
So we headed out on 281S and paid our $3.75 toll to cross the bridge and head towards Highway 98. This highway runs east-west across the Florida panhandle from Mobile, Alabama almost all the way to Tampa, Florida and remains in sight of or close proximity of the Gulf of Mexico virtually the entire time. This makes it a truly beautiful and relaxing drive.
We move through Navarre first and it is an enjoyable little town. We continue east and encounter a place that seemed lost in time to a great degree, Mary Esther, Florida. Here we see what I always thought of when I thought of an ocean side resort area in Florida: pine trees, other trees filled with Spanish Moss, palm trees and beautiful houses set back from the road behind little walls as if they were protected from the invasion of people. It was beautiful! Then we continued on and came to a tight main street lined with shops and people walking hither and yon just enjoying the sights. We all enjoyed this area and if the fates allow will come back here sometime just for the town itself.
Then it was Ft. Walton Beach and more of the same before we crossed another bridge and arrived on Oskaloosa Island, home to our destination of The Gulfarium.
The sky was so blue it hurt your eyes, the sand so white it shone. The water was a shade of green I had never seen and my wife exclaimed "This is why they call it the Emerald Coast!" as we were entering the parking lot and finding a place for our SUV. Then it was out of the truck and making our way to the front of the building.
The Gulfarium houses many different species of sea life and other animals native to Florida. We paid our entry fee and walked into the building, coming face to face with the underwater portion of the Dolphin Pool, complete with portholes for underwater viewing. A show was going on upstairs so we enjoyed it from a rather unique angle: beneath the seas. We could see the dolphins performing their antics and see how they maintained their above the water stances as they danced and swam, tail-walked and jumped high above the surface before re-entering the water with a flourish of bubbles. It was quite an experience!
Then we moved on around the inside, seeing the actual aquarium portion of the park before moving outside to the pools and beach. As we left the building the first exhibit we saw was what my wife had longed for, a Sea Turtle. Standing alongside this wonderful animal was a fulfillment for her and I enjoyed just being there watching her smile. Then it was on to the Seals before backtracking to the Stingray pool. There we watched as a young son and his mother were swimming with the rays and even a shark; yes, I said swimming with them. For an additional price you can actually enter and swim with several of the animals here including dolphins. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity!
We then meandered around here and there, taking in the penguins and shark areas. By the way, did you know that not all penguins require cold weather? That some prefer warm to even hot weather? Neither did I!
There was a Sea Lion exhibit, a native to Florida fish exhibit, Otters, Alligators, Birds and another Sea Turtle exhibit all for our enjoyment. At the end of a walkway we found a baby Alligator exhibit and enjoyed them for a bit until the door suddenly swung open and we found ourselves wandering up to a large swimming area which housed three female Dolphins, one of which was 42 years old! This is another encounter area, one which allows you to swim with them and be introduced to them up close and personal.
We also found ourselves at an exhibit that made me chuckle. After watching "Finding Dory" a couple of weeks ago and seeing one portion of the film which detailed what it would be like to be a member of an exhibit like the one we found ourselves standing at I had no choice: I had to laugh. You see, in the film there is a display filled with harmless sea creatures which are part of the touch and feel program, allowing visitors to place their hands into the water and feel the shells of Hermit Crabs, Conch Shells, Horseshoe Crabs and other sea life. However, in the film it was anything but benign; it was utter chaos. From beneath the surface hands are seen being thrust in much like asteroids landing on the planet, with terror and mayhem ruling the day. Fish and other creatures were darting here and there, attempting to hide as these disembodied hands and arms were searching for them, grabbing the creatures and squeezing them tightly to lift them up to be looked at. As I stood there looking at this area it was so like what we saw on the screen I had to laugh and feel sorry for the creatures down below as children (and adults) were grabbing here and there, feeling for the denizens wherever they might be. Someone who wrote that script had been to a place much like where I now found myself and did a good job of including it in the film.
Before long it was time to head back upstairs and find our seats for the next Dolphin show and enjoy it from the normal perspective.
This is a short show, not much over 15 minutes but one gains a perspective for how the animals are treated, trained and cared for. These are Dolphins that for whatever reason cannot be released into the wild so are cared for here, and they are very well treated. It was fun and enlightening at the same time and everyone had a blast here.
So we headed back to the Pensacola Beach and more wave action for the afternoon. Again, it was a blast for the kids but I remained above the fray a bit, watching out for the denizens of the deep who might desire to swim close and have a taste of my children. Call me paranoid if you want to but I saw my job as standing watch as they played; sorry, that's my daddy duty. Then we spent a lot of time beach combing for sea shells and such, finding sand dollars and unique (to us) shells to carry home as memories. It was another amazing day for my family and we were sad to see it end. But with tomorrow comes our next adventure and we will be on the road to Naval Aviation Museum and the Pensacola Lighthouse on the morrow. Stay tuned!