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.
A 5,000-square-foot splash park, 50-meter Olympic pool with diving well, covered picnic shelter, and full concession stand await visitors to PCB Aquatic Center, which invites bathing-suit clad citizens to revel in its refreshing, state-of-the-art facilities. After emerging from locker rooms with heated showers, patrons can plunge into classes on lifeguarding, water-aerobics instructing, or basic and advanced pool figure-drawing or just relax and lap alongside other swimmers in the temperature-controlled waters. As scuba-geared divers explore underwater views in certification courses, children can splash their way into swim lessons led by certified water-safety instructors, before winding down from their amphibious education by winding down one of several water slides.
A giant fan comes to life, you take a few steps, and in just a few seconds gravity loses all meaning. That breathtaking experience happens time and again thanks to the instructors at Freedom Flight Center. During tandem paragliding flights, they help people soar beneath an open canopy, allowing for 360-degree views of everything below—the beach, the ocean, perhaps even dolphins. The paraglider can take its passengers up to 1,000 feet, nearly twice as high as the person who always sits in front of you at the movies.
Before entering the upside-down laboratory of Professor Wonder, visiting scientists must pass through the psychedelic, spinning lights of the Inversion Tunnel, reorienting themselves in preparation for a day of activities both entertaining and educational. More than 100 interactive exhibits inspire excitement about natural phenomena, including a replica of NASA's Mercury capsule that visitors can climb inside of, a gallery of mind-bending illusions, and the lab where new scientists are grown in bed-sized petri dishes. Experience the winds of a category-one hurricane inside a simulator, guard a virtual soccer goal, and lie down on a bed of nearly 3,500 sharp nails without so much as a scratch. Additional activities include the indoor Ropes Challenge Course, which exercises bodies and minds as challengers navigate several stories of swinging beams and suspension bridges, and a laser-tag arena (not included with regular admission).