The Thirty-A Review September 2020

l o c a l b u s i n e s s

Blue Dolphin Tours Takes Families on a Journey of Life b y C a r o l B a d a r a c c o P a d g e t t

Add in the area’s rich bays and estuaries and the dolphins’ ability to travel all over the waters and feed, back and forth between Destin and Panama City is as good as it gets for a dolphin in the 30-A. “Being able to show this to families and teach them how to have fun, it’s really a dream job,” the 30-year business veteran says. “I’ve been in the marine industry my whole life. My family and I are passionate about families having fun on the water, fishing, and experiencing the local marine life.” With all of this knowledge comes a deep appreciation for safety, as well—always of chief concern for Blue Dolphin Tours, and especially now with the coronavirus. “With the virus, it works well that we have private boats for just you and your family,” he says, adding, “Safety is the no. 1 thing we review before we leave dock. We set expectations, put safety first, and cancel if the weather is bad.” Another key safety factor considering COVID-19: Blue Dolphin’s vessels carry just six people per boat. At the end of the day, the family-focused business teaches lessons its passengers carry away with them. “Our whole team of experts is teaching families how to have fun,” looking outward to the sea during tour time and inward to one another for a lifetime.

As any local knows, these extraordinary mammals exist within a pod, interacting with one another, protecting one another, and hunting for food as a team. Automatically the connection to family and what humans can learn there is clear. But some of the most special experiences of Blue Dolphin Tours are the encounters with the sociable bottlenose dolphins along the 14 miles of Bay and Gulf waters. “We go out, swim and snorkel, and before too long inquisitive dolphins will come to you,” the owner describes. “We observe in the wild and have encounters. The experience is 100% different every single time.” He adds, “Our Captains respect the dolphins and their natural habitat and avoid disturbing them.” Blue Dolphin’s passengers get to experience other marine life, as well. “We’re in the Bay half the time, snorkeling for starfish and crabs. We see turtles quite often, as well as manatees every once in a while, at certain times of the year.” One of the reasons that Blue Dolphin Tours has consistent success giving families extraordinary experiences is that several hundred wild dolphins live in the area of Panama City Beach—an ample amount of the inquisitive mammals to interact with the 4-6 tour boats that are out on the water all day long. The dolphins call this stretch of waterway home because of the 45-foot depth of the shipping channel, which provides an abundance of different types of food for them, the owner reports. “Deep water means lots of different marine life,” Blue Dolphin’s leader notes; and for the dolphin, “It’s like they have the most perfect buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner right in their own yard.”

We observe in the wild and have encounters. The experience is 100% different every single time.

T he owners of Blue Dolphin Tours in Panama City Beach, FL keep their focus outward, which is not hard to do when the 30-A and its waters stretch out before you. The selfless stance is just part of the allure of the local family business. Because as much as Blue Dolphin Tours is about fabulous boat rides in the mesmerizing waters off the area’s bay, with patrons piloted by experienced, licensed, and personable Coast Guard Captains on custom-built boats, it’s also about something intrinsically enduring and fundamental: family. The business’s owner, who wants the face of the business to be the business rather than himself, shares this: “We like to teach families how to be a family.” In that vein, a recent Blue Dolphin Tours billboard read: “Make new friends—your family, for instance.” Blue Dolphin Tours is clearly about connecting with the moment; getting in deeper, truer sync with those you love, and then looking outward to another type of family that many—tourists, in particular—don’t get a chance to experience up close; and that’s bottlenose dolphin.

Blue Dolphin Tours: (850) 236-FINS (236-3467); 3601 Thomas Drive, Panama City Beach, FL 32408; @bluedolphintours;

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