Aboard The Pirate Ship at John's Pass, sailors do not walk the plank—they limbo underneath it. Limbo contests are commonplace aboard the boat's daily two-hour cruises, all of which showcase the lighter side of pirate life. Crewmembers don costumes as they entertain guests with stories and dance performances, keeping their eyes peeled for dolphins in the waters of Boca Ciega Bay. The immersive experience gives passengers a taste of pirate culture—face paint helps them blend in, treasure hunts test their scavenging skills, and water-gun battles safely gauge their aim. Each cruise also awards its passengers with complimentary soda, wine, or beer. For those celebrating special occasions such as birthdays and family reunions, private charters reserve the entire boat. The captain can even perform wedding ceremonies, saving couples the trouble of finding a minister who can dog-paddle to them.
Looking out at the quiet, moonlit waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s impossible to know what’s on the line, other than that it’s big. Word has spread around the deep-sea-fishing boat, and now a crowd has gathered on either side of you. You pull the fishing pole back and guide whatever is snagged on the other end of the line nearer and nearer. The splashes gradually become louder. A few fellow fishermen help pull the creature onto the boat, and proudly hold the fish up for the crowd.
There are countless deep-sea-fishing tales like this one to be told at Hubbard’s Marina. During its many day or night fishing trips, its crew and guest fishermen board the US Coast Guard–certified vessels for excursions into the Gulf to reel in fish of all sizes. Not only does Hubbard's Marina offer fishing trips, but they also allow opportunities for people to visit and observe Florida wildlife in their natural habitat. Animals such as dolphins, pelicans,manatees, and bald eagles can bee seen from the boat. After cruises, visitors can go shopping along the picturesque boardwalk and enjoy the local culture and history in the quaint fishing village.
They also captain sunset cruises, dolphin-watching cruises, kayak tours, rent kayaks and paddle boards, and even take to the streets during segway tours.
The fleet of two-seater scooters is comprised of 2009 models with 49cc engines. Although these sportsters can zip around town at optimal cruising speeds, no motorcycle license is required—just a driver's license, eye protection, and a strong understanding of astrophysical thermodynamics as it pertains to scootering. The surrounding area is prime for pavement thrashing. For two hours, wheeled explorers can park and play on the pristine white-sand beaches, zip over to one of the area restaurants, or Evil Knievel over one of the bays, explaining the required $250 security deposit for each rider.
Though most vintners have made their wines from grapes, the Shook family turned their focus to other fruits. Starting in 1991, they began fermenting batches of juice from mangoes, red raspberries, limes, and oranges. In 1997, they opened their farm winery—a small barn-shaped building shaded by trees—where licensed winemakers and distributors ferment and bottle dozens of varieties of exotic wines stamped with the Sunshine Tree, the Florida Department of Citrus's mark of quality. Their eclectic selection encompasses citrus, tropical-fruit, berry, stone-fruit, and vegetable wines, each made entirely from the juice indicated on the label. The winery also makes and distributes wine-smoothie mixes and wine pouches, sherries, ports, and champagnes.
The veteran captains at Dolphin Landings Charter Boat Center promise tour-takers a 99% chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins during excursions in Boca Ciega Bay. That’s because the bay is home to more than 700 resident Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, along with manatees, and tropical sea birds.
During voyages, guests cruise in comfort on a US Coast Guard–inspected vessel. The boats serve complimentary soft drinks and water, and beer and wine are available for purchase.
From the moment seasoned nature tour guide Kurt Zuelsdorf first dipped his paddle into Clam Bayou, he knew the mangrove estuary would be the right place to set his kayak tours. But there was a catch—a garbage dump’s worth of rusting shopping carts and waterlogged plastic bags was strewn about the waterway. Undeterred, Kurt hit upon a clever cleanup strategy: people could launch his fleet of kayaks for free, so long as they toted a bag of garbage out of the bayou with them.
Numerous grants, media attention, and awards later, Kurt’s waterway cleanup program has reached its final stages. Now, kayakers and paddlers can freely navigate the mangrove channels, nabbing sights of manatees, herons, and tugboat captains hopelessly lost in the mangroves. An avid nature enthusiast who has kayaked waterways from Wisconsin to Florida, Kurt prizes Clam Bayou, citing the diversity of wildlife along the one-mile stretch. “It’s not like the zoo,” he says. “Every time you hit the water, it’s a completely different experience.”