Last Friday I surveyed a stretch of Florida panhandle in person to see how the beaches really look and to meet with tourism officials in Panama City Beach (above), Seaside, Sandestin, and Fort Walton Beach. I was bracing myself for a heartbreaking sight. But what I found was reassuring.
In each location I scouted, the beaches looked great. My untrained eye detected no trace of oil or tar. If I hadn't seen the news over the last few weeks, I doubt I'd have noticed a difference. Except for those 5-foot waves, courtesy of Hurricane Alex and a rare sight in what my surfer pals call the "Lake 'o Mexico." Otherwise, it was the same blue-green water and sand so white that when I first saw it as a child, I mistook if for snow.
It was a beautiful holiday weekend at the beach. But the crowds seemed thinner than ever on one of the biggest beach weekends of the year. Despite the oil-free guarantees that are shrinking cancellation policies from 30 days to 24 hours, now widely adopted by resorts and hotels along the coast, people are still canceling their vacations.
It's a shame. Not only because the coast needs our support now more than ever, but also because there are some pretty neat things going on. For the next few posts, I'm going to focus on some fun things to do in each location, both on and beyond the beach. Stay tuned for tips on Panama City Beach, Seaside, Sandestin, and Fort Walton Beach.