Of course, the main attraction remains the beach. Long renowned for its spectacular white-sand beaches and predictably sunny weather, Panama City Beach continues to draw visitors year round for its world-class events, including fishing tournaments, food and wine festivals, classic car shows, triathlons, holiday celebrations and outdoor concerts by the sea.
When the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport makes its debut in May 2010, it will be the first airport to open in the U.S. since September 11, 2001. Located on Panama City Beach’s expansive West Bay, the airport is being developed on 525 hectares of a 1,600-hectare site, the airport features 10,000-foot runway, the only one of this length in Northwest Florida, that allows larger jets and commercial aircraft of any size to land. The terminal is the first in the U.S. certified to LEED standards, boasting rooftop louvers to admit sunlight, a state-of-the-art storm water management system, sustainable materials and a landscaping plan requiring no supplemental irrigation.
The airport was developed in conjunction with a nature preserve that includes Florida’s largest expanse of undeveloped coastline. The West Bay Preservation Area protects 16,160 hectares around the West Bay, including 53 kilometres of undeveloped shoreline and an additional 70 kilometres of tributaries and creeks.
The Wave Continues
Located in the heart of town, the new Pier Park is Northwest Florida’s largest shopping/dining/entertainment venue. This open-air complex houses a colourful mix of popular national chains and favourite local boutiques and eateries.
Pier Park’s offerings include Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Dillard’s, Borders, JC Penney, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Old Navy, Candymaker Candy Stores, Massage Envy, Chico’s, ULTA Beauty, Panera Bread, The Back Porch restaurant, Hofbrau Beer Garden and the Grand 16 Theatre – a 16-screen, 3,000-seat movie theatre complex.
Directly across the street from Pier Park, the renovated Panama City Beach’s Russell Fields Pier reopened this year. The landmark city pier is known among locals as the best spot to enjoy spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and is prized as a prime fishing spot. The new concrete pier is the longest pier on the Gulf Coast.
Accommodations For All
Panama City Beach’s lodging inventory has jumped to more than 21,400 rooms and includes an array of accommodations to fit all budgets.
Newly opened properties include Sterling Breeze, housing studio and multi-bedroom units with designer furnishings, high-end electronics and private balconies with sweeping Gulf views. Near popular restaurants, attractions and shopping, guests enjoy a comprehensive children’s program, state-of-the-art fitness centre, poolside Internet cafe and wine.
Guests at the Shores of Panama stay in accommodations ranging from studios to three-bedroom suites and enjoy a beachfront grand lagoon pool, a children’s activity program, health club, free high-speed Internet access and meeting facilities.
The upscale Palazzo condominium resort features one-, two- and three-bedroom units with lofty three-metre ceilings, crown moulding and granite counter tops, two elevated lagoon pools, a state-of-the-art fitness centre and meeting facilities.
Laketown Wharf offers Gulf of Mexico, lake and golf course views, gathering areas with gazebos, fitness centre, five unique pools, a large freshwater lake, lakefront boardwalk, a meditation garden, kiddy playground and the sugar-white sand beaches of the Gulf, just steps away. Right in the heart of Panama City Beach, Laketown Wharf is known for its signature water feature, a massive lighted fountain within its namesake lake, choreographed with dancing water, lights and music into a nightly landmark show.
Family Attraction Action
Popular family attractions include Gulf World Marine Park, where families can learn about preservation and enjoy up-close-and-personal encounters with dolphins, sea lions, reptiles and tropical birds.
At Shipwreck Island Waterpark, a new online ticketing service gives guests more time for thrills and spills at one of Florida’s largest water theme parks. For more action and adventure, visitors cruise Gulf waters aboard the Sea Dragon, an authentic pirate ship, with cannons blasting and pirates hanging from the rigging.
There is also ZooWorld Zoological & Botanical Park, home to more than 250 animals, including rare and endangered species. Visitors feed endangered primates and assist in animal shows. Other attractions include Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, housing fascinating finds from around the world, and Coconut Creek Family Fun Park with two miniature golf courses and one of the country’s largest human mazes.
Recognized by Golf Digest magazine as one of America’s top three golf towns, Panama City Beach offers pristine greens, reasonable fees and plenty of choices for all skill levels. The region has five championship golf courses, including the only Nicklaus-design course in Northwest Florida. And tee time is any time of year with an average annual temperature of 23°C and 320 days of sunshine annually.
Events Shine Year-Round
There’s always something fun to do in Panama City Beach. Here are some annual highlights:
• The Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine and Music Festival, October, serves up fresh seafood, specialty wines, family activities and concerts by nationally acclaimed artists.
• Experience the Taste of the Beach, November, is an international wine tasting event boasting more than 300 wines to taste and food samplings from various Pier Park restaurants.
• Emerald Coast Cruizin’ classic car and hot rod show offers full-throttle fun, every November, with thousands of cars, live music, vendor expos and swap meets.
• The Annual New Year’s Eve Beach Ball Drop rings in the New Year with live entertainment and fun activities for the whole family, including fantastic fireworks displays and a larger than life descending beach ball at the stroke of midnight. Held at Pier Park.
For more information on Panama City Beach, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com.
For more information on Florida, visit http://visitflorida.com/travel_professionals/.