For years, Panama City Beach (PCB) has been best known as the Spring Break destination for college students seeking a week of sun, party and beveraging. It would seem there is nothing better than thousands of kids with cash-in-hand to make a tourist town happy. Not so, said the citizens of PCB.
After a string of assaults, shootings and other crime directly tied to the spring break crowds, the locals concurred that it was time…and decided to outlaw alcohol on the beaches during March—effectively outlawing Spring Break. “There is much more to this community than spring break,” says David Demarest of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Economically, it’s smarter for us to invest in attracting families and adult vacationers year-around than in college kids for a few weeks in March.”
Only a short seven hour drive from Chattanooga, my wife Kim and I headed south for ℹ️ Sheraton Bay Resort, located on the protected harbor of St. Andrews Bay. Constantly searching for new places to visit, especially on short notice, the ability to drive and avoid the hassles of air travel was a major bonus.
The Sheraton Bay Point Resort is a Starwood property situated on the St. Andrew’s Bay. It is a full-service destination which has just completed a $30 million renovation. A “total rebuild” may be the more appropriate description. The main building was literally gutted to the steel infrastructure and carefully rebuilt to create a fresh and inviting atmosphere. The resort features six restaurants and bars which range from fine dining to pool casual. While the resort boasts a private beach for its guests, it is also in close proximity to the pristine Shell Island and well-known Panama City Beach.
The smell of fresh paint, bright colors and gorgeous views greeted us upon arrival, and we were excited to set out and explore the property, pools and restaurants.
Known as the “Seafood Capital of the South,” Panama City Beach offers an array of dining options to please all palates including award-winning restaurants, casual beachfront cafes and family-friendly tables. Cajun influences abound as chefs fuse bold flavors and fresh seafood to create signature dishes in distinct spaces that make the most of their seaside setting.
At the Bay Point Resort, Celebrity ℹ️ Chef Shane Miller—best known for his Food Network appearance (and victory) on Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games—is the Executive Chef and unofficial high-energy spokesperson. Between serving a stream of his Louisiana-influenced dishes at his flagship ℹ️Tides restaurant, Shane kept us entertained with stories about his family, food and living in PCB. We loved Oysters 3 Ways (topped with garlic horseradish, crawfish butter and jalapeño bacon jam), but our favorite just may have been the Gumbo Ya Ya named after his grandmother—the recipe for which he carries tattooed on his arm.
The resort also features it’s own ferry, the Bay Point Lady, which makes frequent trips to Shell Island State Park—an uninhabited island that only two other local organizations are allowed to visit. Accessible only by boat, the island features pristine white-sand beaches and the relaxing sounds of the ocean; the 20-minute ride costs $10, and beer/soft drinks were available for purchase on the boat. We recommend booking a beach umbrella before you depart.
If you prefer to stay on-site, ℹ️ Bay Point Golf & Tennis Club offers 36 holes of championship golf on the only Nicklaus Design in Northwest Florida. The Serenity Spa offers an array of treatments and includes a steam room, sauna, whirlpool and spa lounge, plus guests enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne.
Water activities can be arranged through Bay Point Resort and include offerings such as paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing and more. Fishing is tremendous in PCB ranging from remarkably deep offshore waters to inland, spring-fed creeks and bay flats that offer a rich bounty. Novice and experienced anglers alike are able to capitalize on the multitude of freshwater and saltwater options.
Known as the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South,” Panama City Beach provides an amazing variety of dive sites. The warm Gulf waters make the area an excellent home and breeding ground for sea life, and the clarity of the Gulf also allows views of sea turtles, schools of red snapper, curious puffer fish, dolphins, barracuda, sand dollars and horseshoe crab, just a few of the species that inhabit the emerald waters.
If you’re looking for the family-style fun that PCB is known for, it is still there too. Go-kart riding, amusement parks, water parks, mini golf and more are awaiting you—any time of year.
For more information about the resort, visit Southern Guide at http://southern.guide/bay-point-resort
SHERATON BAY POINT RESORT
4114 Jan Cooley Drive
Panama City Beach, FL 32408