Thursday, December 18, 2014

Visit a Louisiana Plantation and You'll See This...

Oak Alley Plantation
I had the chance to visit Plantation Country this past week. Plantation Country is a region Northwest of New Orleans that has several Plantations strung along the Mississippi River. Some of the Plantations are open for tours and events, but most are private and still in operations (Sugar cane farming). Back in the 18 and 19th century, Plantations owners were near celebrities and very wealthy. Most of the families had lavish lifestyles and had more money than they knew what to do with! This allowed them to build incredible homes that travelers get to tour and appreciate to this day.

During my visit, I went to three different plantations: Laura Plantation, Oak Alley Plantation, and Houmas House. Each Plantation has its own unique story and different things to see. Oak Alley Plantation was my first stop. I was met with 200+ year oaks and well manicured grounds. We took a tour of the house and learned about the Roman family, who occupied the home during the 19th century. After the tour, we stopped for lunch and ordered some gumbo, which was absolutely delicious. Before leaving, we met with a civil war historian that gave us some insight about how Oak Alley fared during the war. Due to a corrupt union general, most of the plantations were spared at the cost of being taxed heavily to use shipping ports. Before we left, we made sure to take plenty of photos because it's insane for someone to not take photos of this incredible place!

Laura Plantation was our second stop, which is one of the few original Plantation homes still standing. When I say "Original", I'm talking more so about the architecture. The typical plantation homes you see in modern media are actually not what most plantations looked like in Plantation Country. The Greek architecture was brought to New Orleans from the Northeast as men studied in colleges and brought the ideals back to the region. Laura plantation has a deep French history and their tour guides even offer French speaking tours. The part I enjoyed most about the tour is the basements where the family had a wine distribution business during early 19th century. It was said to be one of the first in the region to distribute fine French wines throughout the South.

My last stop during the trip was at Houmas House. This plantation is notably one of the most lavish of them all with incredible grounds and gardens. I can't imagine the cost of keeping up this place because it's so big. The tour guide was very informative and we learned a great deal about the history of Houmas House. The most interesting fact was that the land was sold by the Houma Indian tribe for only $150 (300,000 acres) in the the late 1700's. We had lunch on-site and the meal was excellent. As always, don't forget to bring a camera or else you are just missing out on some incredible memories.




Thursday, November 20, 2014

You Will Regret Not Booking These Extraordinary Low Rates During Black Friday

It's that time again, BLACK FRIDAY. I'll be honest, I could care less fighting aggressive shoppers for a half-off blender at Walmart, but I'm no stranger to a great deal. This year, we have some incredible deals on 2015 lodging that need to be taken seriously. Why do I say that? 50% off during Spring and Summer is just ridiculous considering the whole area will be 100% sold out! Popular resorts such as Sterling Shores in Destin and Calypso in Panama City Beach are booked up weeks in advance at full price, but starting 11/29 you can take advantage of 50% OFF.

Our top offer for Black Friday weekend is 50% OFF activity gift cards. They can be used on over 150 tours and attractions we offer. There is only a 500 limit on the gift cards so don't wait until the last minute to buy! Here is a running list of all of our BLACK FRIDAY/CYBER MONDAY offers.



Seascape Villas Black Friday Promo - Up To 50% OFF 2014-15 Stays!

Nov 19, 2014 09:47 am | Destin


BLACK FRIDAY SALE STARTING 11/26 through 12/5

11/26 through 03/10: BOGO + FREE 8x10 beach portrait, 2 FREE dolphin cruise tickets, and 50% off Golf!

3/11-8/31: 30% off all stays regardless of length of stay or 5+ night stays 35% off plus $50 resort credit, FREE Beach Service, 2 FREE dolphin cruise tickets, and Free 8x10 beach photo.

Blackouts: July 1 – July 8 ONLY 10% off PLUS FREE Beach Service, 3/15 – 3/30 NO Resort Credit

50% OFF Laketown Wharf Panama City Beach - Black Friday Sale

Nov 19, 2014 09:47 am | Panama City Beach


BLACK FRIDAY SALE 11/19-12/1

50% OFF travel dates 11/28/14-12/31/15 with minimum 3 night stay. Black Outs Dates: March, May 23-May 26, July 2- July 7, Sept 2- Sept 7, Nov 4- Nov 8.

Black Friday &Cyber Monday @ Sterling Resort Properties: 50% OFF 2014-15!!!

Nov 19, 2014 09:47 am | Destin/PCB


BLACK FRIDAY SALE: 11/28-12/1

50% OFF Sterling Beach Properties in Panama City Beach and Destin with travel dates 11/28-12/31/15. Minimum of 3 nights required. 

Properties Included: 
Splash Resort -PCB
Calypso Resort - PCB
Laketown Wharf - PCB
Sterling Breeze - PCB
Sterling Beach - PCB
Sterling Reef - PCB
Sterling Shores - Destin
Sterling Sands - Destin
Huntington By The Sea - Destin

Black Outs: March 20-April 4th (Sterling Beach and Sterling Breeze ONLY), April 23- April 27 (Calypso, Sterling Reef, Splash and Sterling Breeze ONLY), May 22-May 25, June 5- August 16, Sept 2- Sept 7 (PCB Properties ONLY)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why It's Worth Hiring A Destin Photographer For Your Next Family Portrait


Over the past several years, TripShock has sold thousands of beach photo packages along the coast. Although the price can be more than most families can afford, the real cost is losing the opportunity of taking home a vacation memory that lasts a lifetime. I go to the beach often and always see families trying to get the perfect group shot without professional help. I'm not an expect by any means as my photography knowledge is limited, but its unfortunate that these families will not achieve their desired results using timers, make-shift tripods, and my most favorite - asking the guy walking by to snap a few photos.

Hiring a photographer may seem like an expensive service, but it's really not. Most photographers have a variety of options that fit almost any budget. On TripShock, Destin photographers offer packages starting from under $99, which is no more than a nice meal for 4 at a local restaurant. If this next vacation or getaway is a rare occasion, it's even more of a reason to make sure the moment is captured just right.

Here is what the photographers have to say.

1- Hire a photographer to find the best landscapes for your photos
Locations like Destin and Panama City Beach have beautiful beaches, but local photographers can find the best locations that offer incredible backdrops.

2- Hire a photographer for their expertise and capture techniques
A photographer will make sure everyone in the group is posed to perfection. It's also good to consider the candid moments during a photo session, which a great photographer will capture.  

3- Hire a photographer because they can edit photos
A photographer spends more than half of their time editing photos. Don't let a strand of hair or a bird flying by ruin another photo.

4- Hire a photographer because you're on vacation!
This is my favorite point of all. You are on vacation so let someone else do the work! Some people will get very upset if their photos don't turn out right since they only have limited time to get it right. There is no need to have this added stress.







Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Military Museums On the Gulf Coast

Next time you're visiting the Gulf Coast, stop by one of the many popular military museums. There is so much history to be told about how the Gulf Coast helped shape the wars of our past. From New Orleans to Fort Walton Beach, there is story to be told in each city. Here are a few stops that you can't miss on your next trip.

Pensacola Naval Air Station - Pensacola, FL


Fort Pickens - Pensacola Beach, FL


Air Force Armament Museum - Fort Walton Beach, FL


World War II Museum - New Orleans, LA


USS Alabama - Mobile, AL



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Destin Real Estate Tours Turn Tourists into Locals

Bluewater Bay in Niceville

Have you ever wondered what it's like living on the Gulf Coast? Is owning a beach condo a dream of yours? TripShock has partnered with a local Realtor to offer a glimpse of what home ownership can be like. Take a trip down 30A where life is a little slower or go West to the Destin Harbor where lively entertainment happens nightly.

The most interesting part of the tour is seeing the latest trends in Florida home architecture. Most people would think of Florida architecture as stucco and tile, but it has come a long way from that. Depending on what tour area the customer prefers, the agent will take guests into several homes and condos. Towards the end of the tour, lunch is even included at some of the areas best local restaurants.

We recommend booking the real estate tour in advance on TripShock. Rates start at $79.95 and includes transportation and lunch.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Gulf Coast Has History - Learn About it With These Exciting Tours!


If any of you are like me, a vacation is not complete without a little destination history. I recall my first vacation up in Northern Michigan when we took a tour of Mackinac Island. As a kid, I really enjoyed seeing and hearing about this culture and way of life in this part of state. Ever since then, I grew to love exploring the culture and history of an unfamiliar place. The best part of learning is doing something fun to compliment the history lesson. Here are a few things you can do on the Gulf Coast that are fun, but still offer some insights on the local history.

1. Historic Segway Tours in Downtown Pensacola

2. Dolphin Watch & Destin History Cruise

3. Downtown Pensacola City Tours 

4. New Orleans Super City Tour By Motor Coach Bus




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Big Fall Festivals On The Gulf Coast You Can't Miss!

The Fall season is definitely my favorite time of the year. The traffic is tolerable and the weather is amazing. We also love the fact that there are many great festivals throughout the Gulf Coast that give even more reason to come visit. Although there are a lot of good ones, here are a few you might want to checkout.

1) Destin Seafood Festival | www.destinseafoodfestival.org
Dates: October 3rd-5th
The Destin Seafood Festival is one of the longest running festivals on the Gulf Coast. The festival is comprised of many events such as live music, arts/crafts, local seafood, and kids activities. The Seafood festival runs along the Destin Harbor on the West end of the city. This event is free to everyone!

2) Gulf Shores National Shrimp Festival | www.myshrimpfest.com
Dates: October 9-12
The Gulf Shores National Shrimp Fest is a weekend celebration of seafood, arts/crafts, live entertainment and more. This is one of the largest annual events on the Gulf Coast with more than 60,000 people planning to attend. There will be plenty to do including activities for the kids, carnival games, and more. The event is held at the Hangout on the West end of Gulf Shores. 

3) Pensacola Seafood Festival & Fiesta of Five Flags | www.fiestaoffiveflags.org/
Dates: September 26-29
The Pensacola Seafood Festival and Fiesta of Five Flags go hand in hand. The fiesta is a celebration of Pensacola's heritage that dates back to 1559! The 37th annual seafood festival takes place in downtown Pensacola and offers everything from fresh local seafood to art/crafts and live entertainment. It's worth taking a trip to Pensacola for this exciting event.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

5 Ways You Can Propose To Your Girlfriend in Destin, FL

There is no better place than Destin, FL to capture a moment that will be cherished for the rest of your life. Destin is full of so many exciting things to do with a backdrop that is made for the movies. It's a pretty normal week for us to hear from a handful of men trying to find the best way to propose to their significant other. That is why we decided to dedicate a blog to different ways you can propose in Destin. Which one will you pick?

1) Sailing Excursion


Take a private sailing excursion along the Destin coastline. Bring some of your favorite foods and drinks or arrange something with the captain. Sailing is an amazing experience even if you're not planning to propose. The nostalgic aspect makes for an intimate experience on the water. Without the grumbling of an engine or the smell of diesel fuel, there is little to break your concentration so you can relax and say those 4 words.

2) Helicopter Tour


Helicopter tours have been one of the newer Destin activities and proposals have been very popular. Take a sunset flight and see the Destin coastline and emerald green waters. All tours are private so you will have the entire helicopter to yourself. 

3) On The Beach


This may be the most popular way to propose in Destin and you certainly can't go wrong! With the emerald green waters and sugar white sand in your backdrop, it's a sure way to win the moment. Propose at sunset for the best experience. Make sure to hire a photographer so you can get some photos during or after the big moment!

4) Dinner Cruise


Enjoy a night out on the Solaris, a 150 passenger fine dining yacht located at the Sandestin Resort. The yacht cruises weekly and offers the best environment for proposals and even weddings. Enjoy a 3 course meal with live entertainment and table service. Be sure to book your seats early as this cruise does sell out in advance.

5) Norriego Point


Norrego Point offers some of the most stunning views of Destin, especially during sunset. Bring some drinks and snacks and spend the evening at this public spot before you pop the big question. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why I Don't Worry About Sharks Anymore

It's a pretty common question we get here at TripShock.

"We are scared to go on this tour because of sharks...."

Let's face it, we all think about it when we get into the ocean no matter how many times we've stepped in. Even though it's still in the back of my mind when i go ocean swimming, I had a moment in my life that made me completely forget about those worries.

Several years ago, I had my peace with sharks after I went fishing in the Destin area. We had a really great time and caught two 5 foot sharks in the bay. When we brought these sharks on the boat, they were absolutely helpless. Without water or space, they sat there exhausted and with little to protect themselves. Aside from the occasional tail whip, they were at our mercy. We took some photos and put them back in the water.

that's me in the middle!


After I got done fishing that night, I thought about the sharks we caught and how these infamous creatures were no different than any other animal. They didn't posses any supernatural powers nor did they eat us alive on the boat. To make myself clear, they are a really big fish with teeth!

So are these teeth for eating humans? No.

Sharks eat fish, just like other fish like to eat fish too. Shark attacks are typically caused from humans being confused as fish. Sharks are also not the only fish that confuse humans as food as even the pin fish will nibble at your fingers and toes!

If I ever get bitten by a shark in the future, I will know it was a big fish confusing me for food and it was totally random. We have to accept in our society that random and freak accidents do occur and we have to live our days with the possibility of anything happening. 

If I still don't have you convinced to let your guard down, you can take a few preventative steps to lower your odds of being bitten. Happy swimming folks!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why You Need To Take Your Children Sailing

Photo courtesy of Emerald Lady Sailing in Destin, FL
I had the opportunity to experience sailing a few years ago and it wasn't soon after we departed that I knew I'd be doing this a lot in the future. After my first trip, I was taking every opportunity I had to get on a sailboat. I don't really know why I love sailing so much. Maybe it's because the nostalgic aspect of sailing intrigues me. We live in a society that is consumed by electronics and machines so the fact that we are using the power of mother nature to enjoy this experience was gratifying. Without a boat engine grumbling in the water, the calm and serenity of the wind and ocean is all you can hear. I'm sure most American who sailed before can relate to my assessment!

I know that most of our customers that book sailing charters are typically older, but I'm here to say that sailing is a must for children. Every time I see a child get behind the wheel and get the feel for what being a captain is like, I can see a sense of pride and excitement. In a world dominated by machines, children are prisoners of their own devices and sailing is something that liberates them. They know that they are completely in control and its very real!

There are private sailing tours all over the Gulf Coast and they are not much  more than what a dolphin cruise costs. The captains are very accommodating and have an interest in sharing their passion with families and children. Next time you visit, don't miss out on this opportunity to enlighten your children who may be consumed by a world that is leaving behind these amazing experiences. Happy Sailing!

Monday, August 11, 2014

5 Reasons Why Fall Is The Best Time To Travel To the Gulf Coast


As the Summer starts to wind down and the kids go back to school, the Gulf Coast changes from a bustling tourist town to a sleepy beach destination as it was before the area was promoted worldwide. Those that are able to visit the Gulf Coast in the Fall can take advantage of less traffic, short waits at restaurants, and discounted lodging and tours. Here are the top 5 reasons why Fall is the best time to visit the Gulf Coast (In no particular order).

1. Weather

The weather on the Gulf Coast would be considered perfect by some. Mild humidity and temps (75-85 degrees) make it comfortable to be outside for long periods of times. It may get a little cool at night, but a light jacket or sweater is all you need to fix that. Just because it's cooler out, don't underestimate the powerful sun! Use sunscreen when on the beach at all times to prevent sunburns.

2. Traffic

The traffic on the Gulf Coast during the Summer is worse than any major city in the US during rush hour. It certainly makes you want to stay in your hotel all week long! However, in the Fall the traffic is 1/4 of what you'll see in the Summer. Don't waste your precious vacation time sitting in a car.

3. Deals

My favorite part of visiting in the Fall has got to be the deals! Hotel rates will decrease by up to 50% from Summer and activity prices also drop significantly. This makes a great opportunity to make a quick getaway if you're on a budget. Visit TripShock.com for a lot of great deals on hotels and lodging

4. Festivals 

Some of the best festivals on the Gulf Coast happen in the Fall. In Destin, the annual Seafood Festival is in September that kicks off the October Fishing Rodeo. Also, the popular Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores kicks off in early October. Check out the city or county websites for your Gulf Coast destination for more information on festivals and events in the Fall.

5. Parking & Restaurant Waits

Who likes spending hours trying to find parking spots at crowded shopping malls or wait hours for a table at a restaurant? In the Fall, you don't have to worry about that! Restaurants are so hungry for business that not only do you get seated right away, but a lot of coupons and specials are available. 

Did we make a good case for the Fall? :-)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Travel Reviews Make Vacations Better For All

Some of you that are reading this may have just come back from a vacation and want to share your experiences about the places you visited. I certainly hope that most of the experiences were great, but there are always a few dreadful ones here and there. Over the years, I have personally read thousands of reviews on everything from toothbrushes to hotels. It's important that consumers leave reviews because it makes the buying experience better for others and helps good companies grow. However, I have increasingly noticed that reviews have gotten lazy. It's becoming rare to find reviews that are helpful to travelers even though they have good intentions. I would like to take a moment to explain how to make a helpful review.

1) Briefly explain why you bought and who was involved.

Bad Example: This was a great hotel! All of us had a great time.

Good Example: We booked this hotel for a family vacation and enjoyed our experience. Our family consisted of 2 teenagers (14 & 16) and 2 adults in their mid 40's.

2) Explain what and why you purchased. Be somewhat specific as a broad review is not helpful.

Bad Example: We booked the TripShock Suites and we loved it. There was nothing bad to say about it.

Good Example: The reason we selected the TripShock Suites is because of it's large lazy river and proximity to the harbor. We decided to go with the two bedroom condo because we wanted the privacy and full kitchens it offers. It was a great selection for our family.

3) Although some reviews can be novels, discuss two pros and two cons of the purchase. 

Bad Example: We hated the front desk, they were very rude. However,we enjoyed the pool and the easy walk to the beach. 

Good Example: The stay started off a little concerning as our room was not ready until 6pm. The front desk told us that they were short on housekeepers. We also experienced very slow service at the restaurant downstairs and decided not to eat there after our first time. We did however find the hotel concierge very helpful and put together some exciting tours for us. The property also is very clean and the furnishings are modern and classy.

4) Offer constructive criticism and recommendations for the property and other guests.

Bad Example: All the hotel staff needs to be fired. I would never stay here again and will tell everyone never to go.

Good Example: If we stayed again, we would suggest to the hotel to improve their staffing situation and make sure there is enough housekeepers and servers. It was an inconvenience for us to check-in late after driving all day. Also, considering the high cost of the meals at the hotel, we shouldn't have waited over an hour to get our meals. We recommend to call the hotel on the day of arrival just to make sure the room is ready because if it isn't, then you can hit up some of the attractions nearby while waiting. 

5) Close out the review with your overall feelings

Bad Example: Stay away, this was the worst place you'll ever go to.

Good Example: Overall, we enjoyed our stay and will make a trip back again. 



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why is Destin's Crab Island So Popular?

Over the past decade, most tourists would make a pit stop to crab island to hang out on the sandbar and enjoy the views. It wasn't much more than a safe place to anchor the boat and socialize with the various people hanging out at the island. As each year passed, the scene at Crab Island has slowly turned into an attraction of it's own kind. A mixture of family fun and adult entertainment (the non-pornographic kind) has overrun this sleepy little spot, which has some people excited and others upset. Regardless of what type of atmosphere you prefer at Crab Island, there isn't much that can be done to stop the growth of this party spot.

So what makes Crab Island so Popular? The answer is not one sided as there are several factors that come into play. The main reason people go to Crab Island is because it's a social scene. Tourists and locals get to enjoy each other's company over food and drinks. There are volleyball nets setup and even a floating stage with live music nearly every day in the Summer. Floating restaurants and watersport companies have made themselves a home at Crab Island with providing more family entertainment with slides and ice cream. Kids enjoy the shallow water and play games while mom and dad float around the island. The scene can be hectic at times on a busy Summer day, but sometimes more people make it an interesting experience.

If you're looking to make Crab Island part of your next Destin vacation, take a few of these tips provided by MyCrabIsland.com

1) Crab Island is more adult orientated after 1pm. We recommend families visit in the morning.
2) Leave early to find a good spot to anchor your boat.
3) Make sure to use the restroom prior to departing to Crab Island. There are no restrooms available at the site.
4) Lock up your personal items when your boat is unattended.
5) If you are not an experienced boater, it's sometimes best to have some of your people get out in the water and guide the boat into a spot rather than trying to drive through Crab Island.




Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Record Summer on The Gulf Coast - Sun, Sand & Happy Travelers

The Summer season is nearly half over and there are very little complaints about how great of a season it's been (Other than the traffic). The weather has been favorable with only a few days of rain days making this outdoor destination very favorable for travelers. If you have traveled to the area last year, you may have noticed the significant rainfall the Gulf Coast had that made for a very tough vacation for some. With more than 80% of our activities based outdoors, the area loses it's appeal when the fishing charters and waterparks are closed down most of the week.

Because the Summer has been so busy, travelers are noticing that booking tours and other activities last minute is difficult. Even some of the most flexible tours are being booked up several days in advance. Even more, the hotels are completely sold out entirely for the month with occupancy percentages near 100%! We are definitely not saying to avoid the Gulf Coast because it's so busy, we are just making sure that there is some advanced planning going on. Here are a few tips we recommend to make sure your vacation is a win during these busy times.

1) We know you hate waking up early on vacation, but as they say, the early bird gets the worm! Most tour companies will have last minute availability and maybe even a discount if you take early tours. Sometimes, it's not bad to take an early trip because the weather is nice!

2) Book your hotel Sun-Thur for the best chance of getting a room. If you only can travel weekends, I would call the hotels directly and keep checking if they have cancellations. If you are put on a waiting list, they will probably NOT call you back because they are so busy. Just keep calling and you should get a room!

3) The traffic is really bad here right now due to the influx in tourism. Make sure to plan your routes carefully and show up extra early for your tours so you don't miss them.

4)  Confirm your reservations with the hotel or tour company because with it being so busy, people make mistakes and you don't want to be on the short end of the stick. Have an itinerary planned out just to make sure you are on time and have the right tickets and contact info.

Lastly, have some patience during this busy time. With the influx of phone calls and customers these businesses are getting, they are very busy and may need some more time to assist you. Vacations are supposed to be a relaxing time so kick back, enjoy and think a little less. Enjoy your time on the Gulf Coast!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Check Out The Latest Water Attractions in Destin, FL!

2014 seems to be the year of thrill rides here in Destin. We have introduced two new boats here on the Harbor that offer a fast paced, wave ripping, arm throwing good time!

The Screaming Eagle is an American themed boat with a beautiful wrap of old faithful. The trip will take you through the East Pass while the captain and first mate offer the recollections of the history of Destin. Once you hit the East Pass, get ready to hit some waves with speeds over 45 MPH! This trip is great for families with the exception of young children (under 3) and pregnant women. Book the Screaming Eagle Online on TripShock today. 


The Hydrojet (AKA The World's Largest Jet Ski) is a 24 passenger vessel that sits customers like they are actually riding a jet ski. There is no boat quite like this so get ready for a most unique experience. Exceed speeds over 40 MPH while hitting waves and spinning 180 degrees at a moments notice! Hang on tight and enjoy this exciting excursion! Book your seats online for the Hyrdojet through TripShock.  



Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer is in Full Swing, Here are some Happenings on The Gulf Coast!



Summer is officially here and families from all over the country are pouring into the Gulf Coast for some sun and fun. There is a lot going on in the next couple months and we invite you to explore your destination for cool happenings. Here are a few popular events you can't miss!

1) Red White & Blue Celebration - Harbor Walk Village in Destin, FL
Every Thursday night through Labor Day. Fireworks display on the harbor at 8pm, live music, art, and more. More info at http://www.emeraldgrande.com/harborwalk-village.aspx

2) Star Spangled Spectacular - Pier Park in Panama City Beach, FL
Pier park is having a neighborhood block party on July 4th from 11am-5pm with food, music and vending. Then fireworks start at 8pm. 

3) Wings, Rhythm, and Blues Festivals - Elbert Town Park in Elberta, AL
2-day event starting July 19th from 8am-8pm featuring art, music, food, water slides, kid's games, and blues! 

4) Gallery Night - Downtown Pensacola, FL
Gallery night is one of the hottest places to be on the Gulf Coast. Art vendors and street musicians line up on Palafox for 1 night of great entertainment. Gallery night is June 20th and starts at 5pm. 

5) Runny of The Bulls - New Orleans, LA
Ok, so this is not the real running with the bulls, but you do get chased down by "bulls" in roller blades and fuzzy bats if you're too slow! The festival runs from July 10th-13th. Go here for more info - http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/festivals/multiculturalfestivals/runningofthebulls.html

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

6 Ways To Have a Terrible Gulf Coast Summer Vacation


In the past, I have posted numerous ways to have a great vacation to the Gulf Coast, but some travelers seem to find a way to spoil their vacations some way or another. Avoid any of these below to insure you have a great vacation.

1) Don't wear sunscreen (or not enough) - People underestimate the power of the Florida sun and the reflectiveness of the white sandy beaches. If you have light skin, YOU WILL get burnt and it could ruin your vacation before it even starts.

2) Eat at chain restaurants - If you come to visit and spend your evenings at TGI Fridays or Chilis, you might as well have stayed home. The Gulf Coast has all sorts of local restaurants with reasonable pricing. Visit TripAdvisor.com for some reviews and recommendations or maybe ask the front desk for their favorite.

3) Book a hotel far away from the city - The traffic on the Gulf Coast in the Summer is bumper to bumper and some of you will find that a little extra $$$ for the hotel room could have improved the efficiency of driving to and from the beaches and attractions. It's true that the further you are away from the city center, the lodging prices are typically much less, but is it worth the additional 5-6 hours of driving you will do?

4) Book your tours and excursions last minute - Making arrangements ahead of time will not only save you money, but it will insure you have a seat for the time that works best for your schedule. The Summer season means sell outs happen OFTEN. Before you arrive, make sure you book the tours that are top on your list. Start booking your attraction now on TripShock. 

5) Packing the wrong attire - Keep in mind that you are traveling to the SOUTH. Bring light clothes and maybe a sweater just in case it gets chilly at night. Jeans and heavy shirts are just not going to cut it and you'll be miserable within minutes of walking outside. The humidity can be brutal and usually underestimated. It's always good to check the weather forecast before arrival.

6) Bring Electronics To The Beach - If you're wanting to bring a music player or smart phone to the beach, I'd think twice. All it takes is one drop in the water or sand and you'll be wishing you kept it in the car. I've also had situations where the sand gets up and under the cell phone case and erodes the plastic exterior.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Walking Tour is The First Thing You Should Do When You Get To Your Vacation Destination


When I first visited New Orleans last year, I remembered checking into the hotel and opening up my laptop to browse the numerous attractions, restaurants and things to do in the city. I found myself spending 2 hours going through various reviews when I realized that I didn't want to waste another minute of my vacation on the computer. So my first thought was to find a local to ask about the city, so I went to the front desk as it would be the most economical thing to do. Although the front desk was willing to help, I felt like I was being referred to certain businesses that gave kick-backs in return for my participation - This wasn't going to cut it! All I wanted was some non-bias feedback of New Orleans from someone that wasn't trying to profit off of my visit. 

So I decided to book a French Quarter walking tour of New Orleans because it would be my chance to not only ask the tour guide questions, but an opportunity to meet with tour participants and ask them for their opinions. It seemed like a good idea at first, but it turned out to be an even better idea when the tour was finished. For the $40 I spent on the tour, I not only learned a lot of great things about the French Quarter, but it was very informative and gave us ideas for the next 3 days of our stay. The tour participants also were helpful and gave us some restaurant and nightlife ideas. One participant was also nice enough to give us some safety tips, that saved us when we were approached by a scammer on Bourbon Street later in our vacation.

That $40 investment was the best thing we could have done for our vacation. I highly recommend a walking tour for any city vacation is the first thing anyone should do before they get started. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why Parasailing Is One of the Safest Activities Your Family Will Do





















Parasailing has taken a lot of flack as of late because of the serious incident of two teens in Panama City Beach in 2013. Before I continue, I just want anyone to know that I'm extremely saddened by this event and this is by no means a blog about protecting the parasailing companies. Florida's government has recently made moves to regulate the industry to make sure things like this don't happen again, and it's about time they did! Most parasailing companies welcome the regulation because they want the outfits that are not following the rules to stop before others get hurt and insurance premiums sky rocket. With that said, some tourists still believe parasailing is a very dangerous sport and it's far from it.

I have sold various tours and excursions along the Gulf Coast for several years and I have witnessed it all. From people nearly drowning on snorkel trips (in shallow water) and jet ski's losing control and nearly colliding with concrete bridges. These type of stories are on the news almost every week in the Summer and garner almost little reaction from concerned parents. However, any miscue with a parasailing trip that results in even a minor injury can get regional or national attention very quick. I have worked very closely with parasailing operators and I do know they are very caring individuals and safety fanatics. They make sure everything is just perfect to avoid injury or issues at all costs. They know the world is watching them because with one injury, the negative PR can put them out of business and hurt them financially.

When I talk to a customer wanting to parasailing, I first tell them it's a very safe sport and it's among the safest you can do next to a boat tour. I would start by searching online and finding companies with great reviews before going for best price. One you find the company you want to fly with, here are some questions I would considering asking before flying just to insure the company you are flying is reputable.

1) Are you insured?
2) Is the equipment new? If not, when was it last inspected?
3) Is the captain & crew experienced?
4) Do you fly near buildings or condos? If so, can we go someone more open? 

Websites like Tripshock.com make sure the companies are reputable and insured so it's one less step you have to take when finding the right company.

Even some of the most experienced companies will have isolated incidents where the rope breaks or a rogue storm blows in with some strong wind gusts, but the flyer should fall to the water with no harm. Thing will happen, but having a professional team will make sure there is a plan B. 

I hope this post is more of an informative one that can help you enjoy this exciting activity without the worry. How about we end this blog with a cool parasailing video! If you're visiting the Gulf Coast, check out TripShock for finding the best parasailing companies. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Add This To Your Bucket List When Visiting Gulf Shores, AL - Hot Air Balloon Rides


I know what you're thinking... "I would never ride in one of those" or "Is this really safe?". Although it may appear to dangerous, it is actually a very safe activity and a one-of-a-kind thing. This is why I recommend putting hot air ballooning on your bucket list because it's not something you don't typically get to experience when visiting Gulf Shores. So what are some things you need to know about taking a hot air balloon ride?

Weather
Hot Air Balloon Rides may seem like a simple activity, but they can be more complex since many factors need to be right for flight. In fact, the weather plays such a huge role in the planning that a lot of trips tend to get delayed due to the weather conditions. The wind, humidity, cloud cover and temperature all play a major role in the lift off. This is why a balloon captain might as well be a meteorologist since they need to know these patterns and conditions so well.

Your Captain
The hot air balloon industry is regulated by the government just like helicopter and airplanes. Those who fly a hot air balloon are considered captains and must be licensed and insured. Hot air balloon captains are not your typical captains and they must be weather experts due to the prime conditions required to fly.

How Does The Balloon Move?
The balloon will move with the wind currents. At certain heights, the winds will move in different directions therefore steering the balloons.

Is It Fun For Kids?
Kids will love it, but I would not bring young kids under 7 on a balloon ride. You are in close quarters and there isn't much room to move. Parents will know their children best and can ultimately make the call whether or not they are mentally and physically fit to go.

When Is The Best Time To Go?
On the Gulf Coast, The Fall  months are prime time for ballooning due to the ease of weather conditions. However, rides are available all year round based on current weather conditions.  On most days, the balloon will take off morning or sunset because the extreme temperatures and wind conditions during the day are not fit for take off.

Are you ready for a ride? Click here to book your balloon ride on your trip to Gulf Shores.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Best Time To Take a Dolphin Cruise in Panama City Beach



One of the most frequent questions I get asked is when the best time to watch dolphins is. I may not be an expert on dolphins, but I have been on several dolphin tours in Panama City Beach. Fortunately enough, I have never been on a tour that has not yielded a dolphin or two. These tours are a must do and they are great for families looking for some inexpensive entertainment in Panama City Beach. If you're trying to figure out what time is best for the best dolphin interaction, maybe I can help bring a little insight for you.

First off, I learned on one of my most recent tours that dolphins do not sleep like most animals do. They have the ability to shut down parts of their brain, while other parts are still active (to protect from predators and such). This means that dolphins really don't have a concrete schedule, but they are generally most active during the day as the sunlight is necessary for hunting and other social activities. 

When it comes down to it, I always recommend to tourists to go when the boats are less crowded and the water is the most calm - Morning or Noon. When the afternoon rolls around, the temperature rises and the wind kicks up. Having calm water allows for better visibility. Some tour boats also don't have A/C so it can be uncomfortable on a 2 hour cruise in very hot and humid conditions. Going for a late afternoon sunset cruise sounds like a great idea since the humidity and temperature has cooled down, but this is prime time. Expect higher ticket prices and maxed out capacity (In the peak season anyway). It's never fun being on a crowded boat when you want the perfect dolphin photo.

During the Fall and Winter, most tour companies will shut down or cut back their schedules due to the limited demand for tours. This by no means has any impact on the dolphin sightings as they can be seen all year round.  You'll not only find great rates on tours, but smaller trips gives you plenty of room to move about the boat. 

There are many dolphin cruise companies in Panama City Beach to choose from. They all offer different variations of tours that combine activities such as snorkeling and shelling. I would highly suggest booking online for the best dolphin cruise discounts and coupons. 

Check out this video from the Sea Screamer taken on one of the day trips. These are really amazing creatures and people can't get enough of them!



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Best Snorkeling Spots in Destin, FL



Not many people would think Destin could be a great snorkeling destination, but it really is. It may not have the coral reefs with several species of bright tropical fish, but the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico has some surprises in store. Popular marine wildlife such as crabs, fish, urchins and even dolphins make friendly visits during a snorkel excursion. So you're probably thinking where to go when snorkeling in Destin so let's run down a few hot spots.

Destin East Jetty
The East Jetty is without a doubt the best location for snorkeling. The large rocks make a hot bed for marine wildlife. You can access this location by boat or through the Osteen Public Beach Access. Most tourists go with a snorkel tour company because they provide the gear and the fish food. There is also someone available as a life guard in case something goes wrong during the trip. 

Crab Island
Crab Island could be congested during the season with several boaters lined up to hang out, but on the outskirts of the sandbar are shallow weed beds that make a fun snorkeling experience. You will find popular marine wildlife such as fish, crabs and more in this area. It's best to rent a pontoon boat to access this location or take the popular Crab Island Excursion that departs from the Destin Harbor. 

A Beach Near You
The beach can be a perfect place to snorkel when the water is calm and clear. Typically, the mornings are best for snorkeling and there are typically pockets of shallow areas that are protected by waves. Walk down the beach some to find that perfect place. Look for structures such as large rocks or parts of old docks that are still in the ground. You may be close to a great snorkel spot that you won't have to travel far to enjoy. 

Wherever you decide to snorkel, the beautiful emerald green waters of Destin should never disappoint those looking for the experience! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Destin vs. Panama City Beach - What Destination is Best For You?



















So you're looking to vacation to the Gulf Coast and you have to make this burning decision to stay in Destin or Panama City Beach , FL. Both locations have beautiful emerald green water, sugar white beaches, and a lot of great attractions and things to do - so what's the difference? If you talk to any die hard vacationer that habitually visits either city, they will swear one is better than the other. However, I've decided to go a little further in this debate and break it out piece by piece for a clear picture of the advantages and disadvantages of each. Which one will get your vote?

Affordability
This topic is first on the list with most tourists so I decided to lead with it. The hands down winner for affordability is Panama City Beach. In almost every facet of the vacation experience, Panama City Beach wins in pricing for hotels, tours, restaurants and retail. By comparing hotel/condo rates on and off the beach, Destin averages about 15% higher in lodging using a model that compared similar star hotels/condos. Tours and attractions on average were also about 15% higher in Destin compared to Panama City Beach. 

Culture
Although both destinations are not widely known for their culture, Destin does have an advantage with their long standing history with recreational fishing. The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is very accessible and is home to a fleet of nearly 200 charter boats and watersports. Fishing is in Destin's blood and it's a major contributing factor among the local economy. The restaurants, bars and shops that line the harbor boardwalk make it a nostalgic and fun place to hangout from morning to night. Panama City Beach does have a few landmarks that show a past-time of beach culture such as the clubs that line Thomas Drive, but nothing quite like Destin.

Traffic
If you've been to Destin or Panama City Beach, you know the traffic is bad during the peak travel season. So which destination gets the honor of worst traffic? Without a doubt, it's Destin. Destin has one main highway that runs through the city and there are a few side roads that help the locals get around. As a tourist, it can be a  nightmare getting from point A to point B during peak travel months. Panama City Beach has 3 different roads that allow tourists to travel back and forth from East to West. 

Crime & Safety
Before I go into detail on this subject, I want to say that both destinations are safe for tourists and pose a very small risk for crime. However, Panama City Beach does have a reputation due to its notorious Spring Break during March and April. In addition, the low quality and inexpensive lodging facilities in Panama City Beach attracts visitors that are more likely to cause issues with law enforcement. Staying at a complex with security is always a plus so there is no unauthorized entry into the resort or the parking lots by non-guests.

Activities & Nightlife
Both destinations offer many attractions and things to do. Neither destination stops short of offering great family entertainment off and on the water. The biggest difference between the two destinations is nightlife. Although Destin has some great clubs and bars lining the Harbor, Panama City Beach has a much wider selection of entertainment that caters to all ages. Advantage goes to Destin with the most accessibility as the Harbor allows people to hop from one club to the other in a matter of minutes.

Shopping
Panama City Beach has made some strides to revive their shopping centers, but Destin still is the place to go. The Destin Commons and Silver Sands Outlet Mall offer 200+ stores with all the popular brands you would expect. There are also several small strip centers throughout the area that have fun nostalgic beach souvenirs for the frill seeker. Panama City Beach has it's popular Pier Park, that continues to grow and be a staple of Panama City Beach. Maybe Panama City Beach will catch up to Destin, but not anytime soon.

Dining
It took some thought, but Destin has my stamp of approval for better dining facilities. The restaurants in Destin have such a variety compared to Panama City Beach. This by no way means that PCB doesn't have some good grub, but the selection and quality is more appealing in Destin. For example, Destin is home to nearly 3 times as many upscale/fine dining restaurants compared to Panama City Beach. There is also more selection in cuisine and service. Destin is even home to the only Dinner Cruise in the area

Lodging
The accommodations in either destinations vary depending on the type. Destin is home to a beautiful Hilton and also offers a variety of comfortable chain hotels such as Marriott and Holiday Inn. Panama City Beach also offers hotels, but the majority of these brands may appear to be more run-down from their Destin counterparts. The condo rental market in both destinations is virtually the same in regards to quality and abundance. The biggest difference is the luxury home rental market, which Destin takes the cake. If you're looking for a beach home to accommodate the extended family, look no further in Destin.

Conclusion
Whether or not you agree with my assertions, it's clear that a vacation to Destin will cost a little more, but it could be worth it depending on your preferences. No matter what destination you choose, you will still get beautiful white sand beaches and breathtaking sunsets. You can't go wrong visiting these beautiful places.