Although true time travel is still a thing of science fiction, Teddy and Jenny Meeks have captured a similar sensation at Pier Park. In 2009, the couple purchased the 1964 Allan Herschell Carousel that had been an iconic attraction at the now-closed Miracle Strip Amusement Park. The 30 horses and two chariots were immediately swarmed with giddy riders—some children, and some adults who fondly remembered feeding the horses wooden apples at the carousel's former home. The spinning steeds so charmed the locals that Teddy and Jenny began a more comprehensive revival. They bought Miracle Strip's 1985 Balloon Race and 1952 Red Baron rides, and when they couldn't find the park's original 1975 Ferris wheel, they hunted for one of the same make and model.
The Big Eli wheel now awards its guests views over the Gulf of Mexico and several other classic rides, including a Tilt-a-Whirl and train cars that kids crank by hand. Flowers cloak hanging baskets, and topiaries mimicking animal figures accent sandy paths, adding to the venue's picturesque nostalgia. Teddy and Jenny have also installed a butterfly pavilion, about which Bay Life magazine reports that visitors can glimpse 700 flying specimens, hatching cocoons, and caterpillars drawing up blueprints for wings.
Panama City visitors and natives are never more than a hop, a skip, and a parasail away from aquatic amusement, thanks to Adventures at Sea’s more than 60 locations, most stationed behind Panama City Beach's hotels and condos. The staff rents out pontoon boats for trips to Shell Island and pulls up to six riders on inflatable banana boats with a speedy jet ski. Experienced crews captain charter fishing trips and give fishers everything they need to catch trophies such as king mackerel, red groupers, and Stanley Cups that got away. After action-packed days filled with sunny memories, visitors can rent a lounge chair and soak up the sunset.
For more than two decades, Bud & Alley’s, winner of Florida Trend magazine's 2010 Golden Spoon Award, has sated appetites with steak and seafood fare and filled eyes with panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. After taking a seat in the relaxed yet elegant dining room, guests peruse the dinner menu's tempting entrees, such as steamed Prince Edward Island mussels flavored with thyme, feta, and a kick of chili flakes on grilled tuscan bread ($24). Southern-inspired sides enhance seafood plates, from a seared red snapper teamed up with sweet dill succotash and okra ($31) to seared diver scallops paired with creamy grits, fried capers, and an edible bust of William Faulkner ($32). A fillet steak served with portobello mushrooms and asparagus ($33) sets the stage for a classic romantic meal as couples clink and enemies hurl martinis or glasses of wine across the table ($8+). A visit to the rooftop bar infuses meals with a festive mood as revelers enjoy spectacular ocean views and sample a selection of top-shelf tequilas from Jose Cuervo, Patrón, and Sauza ($9).
The Boathouse Oyster Bar has shucked local Apalachicola oysters and ladled specialty gumbo at their harbor-side restaurant for a quarter-century. With gulf winds gently blowing through the open-air dining area carrying breezy live tunes, customers can slurp raw oysters ($5.95 half-dozen, $7.95 dozen) or polish off prepared pearl-maker varieties including the Baked Action oysters, doused in butter and flavored with onions, bacon bits, and melted mozzarella ($13.95 dozen). In addition to rib-sticking bowls of gumbo ($7.95), The Boathouse Oyster Bar's chefs prepare savory fruits of the sea such as grilled or fried mahi-mahi ($15.95) and a one-pound-plus stack of Alaskan snow-crab legs, which can be placed on fingers to span large intervals on the piano ($18.95). Landlubbing appetites can be sated with juicy burgers ($8.95+) and sandwiches such as grilled chicken ($8.95) or Black Angus prime rib ($12.95).
Captain Larry maneuvers the Sea Blaster––a 73-foot speedboat––on four different cruises in the Gulf, departing from the HarborWalk Village. Dolphin cruises speed through the water during the day, coming up close to dolphins as they leap out of the sea in an effort to distract humans while they steal their sunglasses. With the addition of snorkeling, passengers strap on a simple breathing apparatus and paddle through the crystalline waters. Others spy dolphins during the sunset cruise, as the horizon burns pink and orange, or watch fireworks burst over the water from the Sea Blaster’s deck every Thursday evening.
As its website states, it's always 5 p.m. at Wine World. Since 2000, the restaurant and retailer has proved that wine, beer, and spirits bring out the best in food and vice versa. Several locations serve bistro fare, such as fresh salads, classic mac 'n' cheese, and local seafood, including swordfish, shrimp, and grouper. The retail side of Wine World shows that gourmet foods complement libations. Guests sample the stores' wares during Wednesday night beer tastings and Friday night wine flights, among other events.