Best Aquariums to See Sharks on the Gulf Coast

Gulf of Mexico ExhibitAs the Shark Week frenzy continues, we are bringing you the best places on the Gulf Coast to view live sharks. {That is, besides the Gulf itself!} Here are three aquariums from New Orleans to Fort Walton Beach that provide opportunities to get up close and personal with sharks.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas- New Orleans: Catch a flick or visit two different habitats created just for sharks for an entertaining and educational experience.

Great White Shark 3D is a 40 minute documentary film narrated by Bill Nighy, the science guy. Shot in New Zealand, South Africa, California, and Mexico, the film explores the Great White Shark’s role in pop culture and at the top of the ocean’s food chain with featured commentary from four shark experts.

Observe sharks as they would behave in their natural habitat at the aquarium’s Gulf of Mexico exhibit. A replica of an offshore oil rig co-exists with sharks, schools of fish, stingrays, and sea turtles in a 400,000-gallon salt-water tank.

Don’t forget to stop by the Tropical Sharks exhibit to get the rest of your shark fix. The exhibit features Bonnethead sharks and a giant Queensland grouper. Be sure to flash a toothy smile in the mouth of a very large shark at the popular photo op display adjacent to the Tropical Sharks exhibit.

Gulf World-Panama City Beach: Gulf World Marine Park has three Shark Feeding shows throughout the day where you can observe the dietary habits of Nurse Sharks and Black Tip Sharks. The staff educates guests about the sharks and answers questions about the mysterious creatures.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park- Fort Walton Beach: Gulfarium is hosting a salute to Shark Week, August 4-11! Guests can watch Bonnethead sharks, Black Tip Reef Sharks, Lemon Sharks, and Nurse Sharks dine on their favorite foods. Kids can create their own shark hats during craft time and participate in a scavenger hunt for cool prizes.

 

Photo credit here.

10 Things You Should Know about Hammerhead Sharks

Hammerhead SharkAfter two nights of Shark Week on Discovery, we’ve witnessed the final moments of Snuffy the Seal and heard tale of a beast called Sharkzilla. While it is unlikely that a Great White is going to snatch you off a jet ski, there are sharks swimming in Gulf Coast waters. Perhaps the most famous of Gulf of Mexico sharks is the hammerhead.

Hammerhead sharks are fierce predators that live in warm tropical waters and feast on stingrays, fish, crabs, squid, and other sea creatures. Once hammerhead pups reach adulthood, they take their place at the top of the food chain and have virtually no predators. Hammerheads are not aggressive toward humans; however, they are dangerous and should be avoided. Few attacks on humans have ever been reported.

Here are 10 things you should know about hammerhead sharks.

1. What’s in a name? The scientific genus name of hammerhead sharks is Sphyma, the Greek word for hammer.

2. Hammerheads’ eye placement on either side of their heads gives them greater visibility than most other sharks.

3. Hammerhead’s mouths are on the underside of their heads.

4. The hammerhead’s favorite meal is stingrays, which they pin down to the ocean floor with their wide heads.

5. Hammerheads have sensory organs on their heads that detect the electrical fields of prey and other animals.

6. They suntan. That’s right, hammerheads soak up the sun just like humans.

7. Hammerheads have a lifespan of 20-30 years in the wild.

8. Massive in size, hammerheads grow 13-20 ft and can weigh up to half a ton.

9. Females give live birth instead of laying eggs like most fish. A single hammerhead litter can contain up to 50 pups.

10. Hammerhead shark populations are stable and healthy.

Source info here.

Photo Credit here.

Beat the Heat at Audubon Cool Zoo

New Orleans Cool ZooAugust is officially here and the dog days of summer are upon us. If you’re looking for a great spot to beat the heat, then take the kiddos to Audubon Cool Zoo in New Orleans. The splash park located at Audubon Zoo has everything you need for a day of fun as we wind down the last few weeks of summer. Read on to discover what Cool Zoo has to offer.

Water Attractions: Audubon Zoo’s very own splash park, dubbed Cool Zoo, features an alligator water slide, pop up fountains, a spider monkey soaker, water spitting snakes, and more. The park has three different splash zones, one just for toddlers and babes, to ensure fun and safety for all ages.

Cabanas: If you really want to beat the heat, consider renting a cabana for the day. The shady retreat is the perfect place to throw a birthday party, enjoy a snack, or just relax.

The Cool Shop: With kiddos running around excitedly anticipating a day at the water park, it is all too easy to forget important necessities. Never fear, The Cool Shop has everything you need for a day of fun in the sun. Pick up flip-flops, towels, t-shirts, sunglasses, swimsuits, and sunscreen all in one location within the park. If you really want to kick it up a notch, purchase a super soaker for a guaranteed blast.

Snack N’ Splash Concessions: A day of water play can burn some serious calories. Cool Zoo has its very own concession stand with kid friendly snacks for families that need to refuel quickly. Cool drinks are also available.

The Cool Zoo is open during zoo hours, Monday-Friday from 10-5 and Saturday-Sunday from 10-6. Many ticketing options are available to maximize your Audubon Zoo experience. Visit the Cool Zoo webpage here for details.

 

Best Wine Bars in Destin

Wine on the BeachTravelers to Destin return year after year because it is a rare place on Earth where silliness and fun are encouraged, as long as you don’t get too crazy. That is why the crown jewel of the Emerald Coast is the perfect place to kick back and relax with a glass bottle of wine. Here are a few places in Destin that are perfect for uncorking with your favorite people.

 

Vintij Wine Boutique

Everything on the menu at Vintij sounds delectable, from lunch appetizers such as the Grape, Walnut and Blue Cheese Tart with Wine Crust to Pecan Roast Chicken Breast with Smoked Tomato Chutney, Pickled Vegetables and Parmesan Grits for dinner. Wine flights allow patrons to sample a variety of wine, while simultaneously expanding their knowledge and enhancing their meal. Throughout the summer, Vintij offers wine tastings each Thursday night, and bottles of your favorites are available for purchase in the market.

Wine World

Hidden in the corner of their expansive market, the bistro at Wine World features a gourmet Wine and Cheese bar, serving both lunch and dinner. Fare like Fennel and Radicchio Salad (with thin sliced apples, shaved fennel bulbs, and torn radicchio with a walnut vinaigrette, and toasted walnuts) and Gourmet Mac & Cheese (with 5 different cheeses from the Cheese Shop with pasta) are sure to please the palate. Wine World holds Friday night wine tastings from 5-7 for winos and amateurs alike.

Emerald Coast Wine Cellars

When traveling, it’s always a good idea to experience local flavor. At Emerald Coast Wine Cellars, patrons are treated to wine tastings by knowledgeable sommeliers as they shop for locally produced wines. The winery features an array of reds and whites, including a few local favorites, such as Muscadine, Blackberry, and Blueberry wines.

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Farmer’s Markets on the Emerald Coast

Seaside Farmer's Market ProduceLocal farmers go the extra (country) mile to provide an invaluable service-and they love what they do. By picking their produce at the peak of ripeness, farmers promise a fresh and flavorful culinary experience for your family. (After all, there’s nothing quite like biting into homegrown heirloom tomatoes that taste like little drops of sunshine.) Produce is often picked the day of the farmer’s market, simply to end up in your dinner that night. It could only get fresher if you planted and picked it yourself.

Farmers at your local market often use ‘green’ growing methods. Produce tends to be grown without pesticides, eggs are from happy, cage-free chickens, and jams are made in small batches and sold in reusable glass containers. Farmer’s markets also provide a vehicle for local artisans to sell products like homemade soap. So you know not only what goes in your body and where it came from, but what goes on your body, as well.

Fig Preserves
Best of all, farmer’s markets provide a sense of community. Consumers know that they are getting produce and other goods from neighbors who care about what they do. Once you get to know your local farmers, you can begin to plan meals around local, seasonal produce. It’s the circle of life; you take care of your local farmer, and he or she will take care of your entire family. Then shopping for food and cooking becomes a joy instead of a chore.

The Emerald Coast proudly supports several farmer’s markets throughout the area. Vendors provide everything from fresh, local produce to sweet breads, and so much more. Here’s a listing of farmer’s markets on the Emerald Coast, from Panama City to Destin.

St. Andrew’s Waterfront Farmer’s Market: Saturday 8am to 1pm
Carillon Beach Farmer’s Market: Friday 1pm to 5pm and Monday 8am to 9pm
30a Farmer’s Market at Rosemary Beach: Thursday and Sunday from 9am to 1pm
Seaside Farmer’s Market: Tuesday and Saturday from 8am to 12pm
Gulf Place Farmer’s Market: Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm
Destin’s Main Street Market: Saturday 9am to 1pm

Tips for Traveling with Children by Car

Family Road TripMany families dream of a family vacation on the Gulf Coast. The famed turquoise and white beaches are just perfect for child’s play. The sand doesn’t get too hot, the water is clear, and nearly every hotel, restaurant and attraction from Destin to Orange Beach caters to families with small children. In short, the Emerald Coast is a young family’s paradise.

However, a road trip with an infant and a toddler can quickly turn into a parent’s worst nightmare. Luckily, the American Academy of Pediatrics released their top 10 tips for traveling with children by car to help you plan a safe and enjoyable trip for the whole family…right down to a bag of tricks.

1. Always use a car safety seat for infants and young children. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car safety seat manufacturer. Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing height or weight limit, she should ride in a forward-facing car safety seat. Updated recommendations on safe travel can be found on the AAP parenting web site.

2. Most rental car companies can arrange for a car safety seat if you are unable to bring yours along. However, they may have a limited selection of seats. Check that the seat they provide is appropriate for the size and age of your child before accepting it.

3. A child who has outgrown her car safety seat with a harness (she has reached the top weight or height allowed for her seat, her shoulders are above the top harness slots, or her ears have reached the top of the seat) should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4′ 9″ in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age).

4. All children under 13 years of age should ride in the rear seat of vehicles.

5. Never place a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an airbag.

6. Set a good example by always wearing a seat belt, even in a taxi.

7. Children often become restless or irritable when on a long road trip. Keep them occupied by pointing out interesting sights along the way and by bringing soft, lightweight toys and favorite music for a sing-along.

8. Plan to stop driving and give yourself and your child a break about every two hours.

9. Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute. Temperatures inside the car can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.

10. In addition to a travelers’ health kit, parents should carry safe water and snacks, child-safe hand wipes, diaper rash ointment, and a water- and insect-proof ground sheet for safe play outside

Source Info here.
Photo Credit here.

Best Ice Cream Shops on the Gulf Coast

Ice CreamToday marks National Ice Cream Day! President Ronald Reagan designated the third Sunday in July for the holiday, and rightfully so. Nine percent of the milk produced by our nation’s dairy farmers is used to make ice cream. And, the ice cream industry itself is a $10 billion business! To help you decide the best way to celebrate, we used TripAdvisor ratings to identify the top 3 ice cream spots in our most popular destinations. So, whether you take a cup or a cone, a shake or a sundae, be sure to indulge in a sweet treat today!

Shake’s Custard-Destin, FL: Shake’s earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence in 2013 and is ranked 5th of all restaurants in Destin because it is delicious. Walk up or drive thru to order your favorite sweets. Shake’s offers seasonal custard flavors like key lime pie and pumpkin along with a full menu of interesting combinations. Try out a Shake’s Bopper, three scoops of creamy frozen custard topped with caramel, hot fudge, salted roasted pecans, and three cherries. Or keep it old school with a root beer float.

Pink Pelican Ice Cream Bar-Panama City Beach, FL: This popular ice cream destination made TripAdvisor’s list of Top 10 Great American Ice Cream Shops. One TripAdvisor traveler said, “Consistently fresh, usually busy, and always friendly. Never a disappointment.”

Angelo Brocato Ice Cream-New Orleans, LA: Also a recipient of TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, this NOLA favorite is ranked 3rd among all restaurants in a city with a rich culinary history. A TripAdvisor traveler commented, “Phenomenal bakery items that are just too hard to resist! I went on and had to have some gelato to top it off. Delicious! Very polite and friendly staff, too. Worth hunting down for an exceptional treat or two…or more!”

Source Info here.
Photo Credit here.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season on the Gulf Coast

Green Sea TurtleSea turtle nesting season is synonymous with summer along the Gulf Coast. Observing nestlings hatch and make their way to the sea as quickly as their little fins will carry them is one of the most exhilarating experiences that I’ve had in nature. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to observe these majestic creatures while on your beach vacation, take time out to do so…safely.

Sea Turtle Facts

1. Sea Turtle nesting season lasts from May 1 to October 31.

2. Protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, sea turtles are among the most endangered marine species swimming in the waters off the Emerald Coast today.

3. Year after year, sea turtles return to the same beach to nest and lay about 100 eggs.

4. Hatchlings are attracted to the bright openness of the water and are disoriented by lighting from oceanfront homes.

5. Only an estimated one in 1,000 to 10,000 hatchling sea turtles will survive to adulthood.

6. Humans are the biggest threat to endangered sea turtles.

What You Can Do To Help

Beach communities from Destin to Orange Beach have adopted lighting ordinances and Leave No Trace programs to ensure that hatchlings reach the water safely. During your stay on the beach, make sure all outdoor lights are turned off at night, and pull all shades and curtains to block light streaming from oceanfront windows. Remove all beach chairs, toys, umbrellas, and trash from the sand and flatten any sand castles and fill all holes. One light or one hole in the sand can mislead and trap hundreds of baby sea turtles, ruining their chance for survival. If you see a sea turtle nesting, stay out of her way and do not use a camera flash or a flashlight. Contact local authorities if you notice a sea turtle in harm’s way.

Source Info
www.conserveturtles.org
www.southwaltonturtlewatch.org
www.turtlewatch.org

Photo Credit

 

Top 5 New Orleans Walking Tours

New Orleans Garden DistrictNew Orleans is truly a walkable city, with more nooks and crannies to discover than you could possibly handle in one trip. So, TripShock offers professionally guided walking tours throughout the city to help travelers experience the essence of the Big Easy. Here five of the most interesting walking tours to enjoy while out and about in New Orleans.

1. New Orleans Garden District Walking Tour: Stroll through the elegant Garden District and learn about Greek Revival and Italianate architecture, and the famous people who have called the area home. “The scenery was beautiful, and I appreciated the architecture of the area.” –TripShock Traveler Review

2. New Orleans French Quarter Walking Tour: Two hours in the French Quarter is always a good idea, especially when guided by a local expert. “The tour guide was informative, professional, and fun! The French Quarter is an amazing place full of history. The jazz musicians on the side of the street created a cool ambiance.” –TripShock Traveler Review

3. New Orleans Original Cocktail Walking Tour: What’s a jaunt through N’awlins without a drink or two…or three? “Went on this tour my first day in town, and it was a great idea! Found out the best spots to hit during my stay. Never been to New Orleans before so I was happy to have an idea of what to do.” –TripShock Traveler Review

4. New Orleans Cemetery and Gris-Gris Walking Tour: During this two-hour tour, you will walk among the dead at St. Louis Cemetery #1, the final resting place of infamous Voo Doo Queen Marie Laveau. You will learn about above ground burial customs, the history behind Voo Doo, and the reasoning behind gris-gris bags. “The gris-gris bag was a great souvenir, and I want to practice voodoo now!” –TripShock Traveler Review

5. New Orleans French Quarter Voo Doo Walking Tour: Discover the origins and history of Voo Doo in New Orleans during a two hour “Spellbound” tour that has been featured on the Travel Channel. “Very informative tour! The tour guide was fun and the weather was just right for walking!” –TripShock Traveler Review

Flyboarding Tours on the Gulf Coast available through TripShock!

Flyboarding in Destin, FLMaybe you thought that was Iron Man hovering above the water recently, but it was probably a Flyboarder having a blast.  Flyboard tours are growing in popularity along the Gulf Coast. Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte has even tried it on his hit reality series, What Would Ryan Lochte Do. TripShock is offering the latest water sport craze to travelers in Destin, FL and Orange Beach, AL this summer at exclusive special rates.

Travelers to Destin, FL can try Flyboarding for 10% off the already reduced price of $90 when they book the tour online through TripShock. Orange Beach bound travelers fly at a discounted rate of $100 per ticket. Each location has a pavilion on site from which spectators can observe the adventurous participants.

TripShock describes Flyboarding as a “water powered jet pack that combines the propulsion of a jet ski with the thrill of a hovercraft.” Each patron will receive 20-60 minutes of one on one time with an instructor to guarantee a sustained flight and learn some cool moves. Tour operators recommend participants bring a towel, sunscreen, and a personal camera, although GoPro video of the flight is available for additional purchase.

Here’s what travelers had to say about the Destin Flyboard Excursion.

“My flight was amazing-more than I expected. What a great bunch of folks.” –TripShock Traveler Review

“It is a feeling you really can’t explain-you must try it to believe it. It was more fun that sky diving or parasailing. It was like you are Iron Man on the water. The feeling of power is unreal. I was 54 years old when I first tried it. I will be flying again this year too. It is easier than it looks. I had the opportunity to fly when dolphins were in the water…that was a real treat. You MUST try it!” –TripShock Traveler Review