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A Family-Friendly Vacation in Panama City, Florida

Updated on June 13, 2013
The beautiful emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City, Florida
The beautiful emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Panama City, Florida

Over the years, Panama City Beach, Florida, has become "the" place for high school and college spring breakers. However, if you plan your vacation at the right time, you can miss all the hoo-ha and the teenagers and have a wonderful family-friendly vacation.

Note that there are many more family-friendly things to do in Panama City than I have listed here. As I live in a vacation destination myself, my community and Panama City share some of the same attractions, such as WonderWorks and Ripley's, so they are not reviewed here. Also, our absolute favorite Panama City destination - St. Andrews State Park - is so special, I devoted another hub entirely to it.

Thinking . . . thinking. . .  at Gulf World Marine Park
Thinking . . . thinking. . . at Gulf World Marine Park | Source

Gulf World Marine Park has been around since 1969. We had never visited until recently and really enjoyed it. Generally, I would describe it as a mini-SeaWorld. There are entertaining dolphin, sea lion, reptile and bird shows. Tropical birds, penguins, sharks, sting rays and sea turtle and more are also exhibited.

Cost ranges from $17 to $27 and the price includes all shows, including the nightly show that is either "Maximum Magic" with Noah Wells or "ShowTime" with Todd Herendeen, depending on the day of the week. More hands-on activites for an extra fee are also available, such as "Trainer for a Day" or "Swim with the Dolphins."

Camp Helen State Park

is a great, peaceful destination that is far removed from the busyness of the public beach area. Only a state park since 1996, the 180 acres was previously a summer company resort for employees at a mill in Alabama. Some of the 1940s era buildings remain. Thousands of years ago, Native Americans also roamed the land and the park is considered an archeologic and historic site.

There are a variety of things to do. Swim or fish in the Gulf of Mexico, fresh water fish in the rare coastal dune Lake Powell, picnic, hike, watch the abundant wildlife that includes deer and bald eagles, canoe or kayak. The entrance fee is $2 - $4 depending on the mode of transportation. Pets are permitted in designated areas only. Camp Helen is a day-use park that is open from 8 am until sundown every day of the year.

The pier at Pier Park
The pier at Pier Park | Source

Pier Park

This outdoor mall area across the street from the beach and city pier has everything you could possibly want in a shopping experience. Eclectic shops, standard mall stores and restaurants abound. There is usually a long line at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, so plan accordingly if you want to eat there. For a change of pace, walk across the street to the 1500 foot pier. There is a $2.00 per person charge to walk out on the pier where you can watch the waves, fishermen or just enjoy the atmosphere from one of the park benches. Parking is free.

Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise

This is a great adventure for families with young children. If you have to choose only one "pricey" vacation treat and your children are twelve or younger, this is the one for you. Board the 85' pirate ship, the Sea Dragon, for a two-hour cruise. Depending on everyone's ages, the cost is from $12 to $24 per person. On your cruise, the adults sit and relax, enjoy a drink and watch the dolphins while the children engage in sword fighting, games, dancing, water gun fights, face painting and bringing up treasure from the depths of the Grand Lagoon. The boom of the cannon is also a highlight for all.

Public Beaches

are Free! There are dozens of entrances to the public beaches and they are well-marked with parking usually across the street from the beach. Note the beach flag warning system to indicate water and swimming conditions. A green flag flying means that there is a low hazard, yellow - a medium hazard, red - high hazard, double red flags mean that there is no swimming permitted and purple - dangerous marine life (usually jellyfish) are present. Swim, wade, build sandcastles, collect seashells, rent a couple beach loungers with an umbrella, go parasailing or wind surfing. There is no shortage of things to do at the beach.

Fun for All

Don't miss all the fun in Panama City. Whether you just want to enjoy the scenery or get involved, a family-friendly vacation is there for you!

Where is Panama City?

A markerPanama City, Florida -
Panama City, FL, USA
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