The email had me at “coast.” Working for a local magazine that covers a range of topics, my email is flooded daily with pitches, advice and story ideas from public relations execs and advertising agencies. This subject line caught my eye: “INVITATION: Press trip to Experience the Emerald Coast.” A fully-funded trip. This was too good to be true. It had to be.
Hard to pass up that view, don’t you agree?
I forwarded the email to my team. We run busy schedules so it can take a while for these things to be considered. After a week or two of kicking it around and dreaming about the trip, my boss came in my office, suggesting I represent the magazine on this “girlfriend getaway” adventure!
I gladly accepted the invitation from Margaret at Peter Mayer Advertising in New Orleans. She coordinated the press weekend and kept us on task while there. I packed my beach towel & sunscreen and was ready to enjoy a complimentary flight and long weekend stay at the Four Points by Sheraton. During the jam-packed weekend (Aug. 7-10) exploring Fort Walton Beach, Destin & Okaloosa Island with remarkable cuisine and beach activities, I had the privilege of meeting and learning from other writers and professionals. We shared every meal and excursion together. We shared laughs and sang songs together in our fancy ride for the weekend – a top-of-the-line minivan. I will never hear the 1980s version of “Puttin on the Ritz” the same way, thanks to Misty of Girl Will Travel. ;) I’m amazed at how spending a few days with strangers can turn into lifetime memories.
This photo encompasses the camaraderie we established in just a short time. After a delightful lunch at AJ’s World Famous Seafood & Oyster Bar on Saturday during which we were spoiled by the restaurant’s marketing director (and history buff extraordinaire!), he was gracious to transport us by golf cart to our next stop. The Spa at Emerald Grande is on the Harborwalk, where AJ’s is located, but it was hot & humid, and after a two-hour adventure with standup paddle boarding, we happily accepted the ride – albeit a bit overcrowded. We giggled along.
The spa experience – ahhhhh, what a relaxing hour. I melted into the massage table and afterward felt like one of the jellyfish I had spotted the day before at the Gulfarium.
The Gulfarium (right next to my hotel resort, turns out) is where we experienced up-close-and-personal encounters with dolphins. I know aquariums and zoos can spark controversy, and I’m no animal/marine life expert, but I can say the animals at the Gulfarium seem happy and cared for in the most humane and proper way possible. We talked to one knowledgable trainer who most definitely cares about how animals are treated. That warmed my heart. The child in me was giddy over the dolphin encounter. I’ve been fascinated by them since I can remember.
Our group of three (me + Nathalie from Chattanooga and Tyler, the social media guru from Peter Mayer) played with Cosmo, who’s 10.
Hope he didn’t mind having his tail held and or his belly rubbed. I sure enjoyed it :)
One of my favorite views at the Gulfarium was this elevated spot.
What a perfect view of the green water, sugary-white sand and beach life.
Other highlights of the trip were a visit to Destin Commons and Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl & Grill, candlelit meal at Cuvee Bistro, standup paddle boarding in Harborwalk Village, another fabulous meal at Jackacuda’s Seafood & Sushi and a to-die-for-brunch at Clemenza’s. I could have stayed and talked for hours with Clemenza’s owner, Dom Damiano – the real Italian deal. He’s brought so much history and richness from his Chicago upbringing to this uptown bistro (sister restaurant to his Fat Clemenza’s pizzeria).
Pictures tell it best so here goes …
Fruit plate greeted me upon arrival at Four Points
Under the pier
Our sunset view during dinner at the Black Pearl. Thanks to Kendra Moore – our helpful, fun and very knowledgable tour guide – with the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, we were alerted at the perfect photo-op time.
My first meal – seared tuna (double yum!)
Super neat bowling alley/grill
Underwater theme inside the bowling alley/grill
Handpainted murals and carefully crafted props give the underwater illusion
After our bowling alley tour and warm welcome reception from the Destin Common folks, we dined at Cuvee Bistro. We were met with fireworks.
Well, not really fireworks, but sparklers!
Our SUP adventure begins …
We stood up once we reached the other side of the harbor. SUPing is a recreational activity (and great workout) I can’t wait to do again! You’re practically standing on water. Doesn’t get much better than that!
Hmm … maybe paddle board yoga is in my future. ;)
Southern Star Dolphin Cruise time!
Sunset over the Gulf. The moon was just as impressive that night.
Sunday came too soon. I set my alarm an hour earlier so I could take one last walk on the beach.
Till we meet again!
In the meantime, girlfriends (or boyfriends), get your crew together and go #emeraldcoasting!