Firefly’s “Dinner without Devices” Recap

On Friday night, Firefly restaurant hosted a night of “Dinner without Devices.”

It was an evening of divine dinner sans Blackberries, IPhones, IPads and the like.  It was a seemingly simple task, which involved placing our phones in the designated basket on the table, encouraging people to unwind and “disconnect” from instant messaging, Facebook updates and texting while reconnecting with your dinner date.

Recap Below

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Pier Park Mardi Gras- A Festive Success!

This is an old article, please go here to see new information

The weekend has left us, but in its wake remain a million great memories and countless beads.

The 3rd Annual Pier Park Mardi Gras, hosted by the Krewe of Dominique Youx has outdone itself again.

Hundreds of people swarmed Pier Park, vying for parking and hot spots along the parade route.  Even the gloomy weather couldn’t damper the crowd’s spirited merry-making despite its best attempts. Everywhere you looked, there were hordes of people celebrating the event, armed with Funnel Cake or assorted goodies from the accompanying vendors.

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Dive Locker- Nationally Acclaimed Local Business

The Ocean is my vision of the world’s first bonafide Minx.

She’s the original siren, proven capable of luring good men and women into uncertain voyages with her immense appeal, infinite depths, unpredictable temper and unmatched power.

The Sea’s effeminate qualities are limitless, and despite the extensive explorations we’ve bombarded her with, the Ocean still remains a coquettish mystery to us.

In short, the brazen lady scares the beejeebus out of me.

Sure, I’m game for swimming around the beach and even paddling out for a good surf session (for “good surf session” read lounging on the board, dangling my toes in the water) but so far,  that’s the extent of my courageous ocean adventures.  Skimming through waves, and executing fancy face-plants in the sandy shores.

Thankfully, there are others who have significantly more courage and have managed to turn the mighty ocean into a watery play-ground by delving deep into the worlds that exist far beneath the deceptively calm surface.

Oceanic Rock Stars, if you will, touring for miles underwater, in order to explore, discover and learn firsthand what potentially historical treasures lay at rest on the Ocean’s floor. In fact, our little town is home to some nationally acclaimed oceanic rock stars. Granted, they don’t define themselves by that term (that’s all mine baby) and prefer to go by the slightly more humble moniker of Professionally Certified Divers.

I’m referring to the one and only Dive Locker on Thomas Drive. Recently honored by being listed in Scuba Diving Magazine, as one of the best Dive Operations in the 2011 Readers Choice Top 100.

It’s easy to see why they’ve obtained such a prestigious nomination. The passion they exude for diving is evident in even casual encounters with everyone involved with Dive Locker’s operations.

Throughout the process of trying to coordinate our schedules, we were able to eventually connect and get a little Q & A action together. Thankfully, they were kind enough to answer my questions, and help shed a little insight on the people behind the shops success.  Most of the responses are from Tony Snow, Dive Locker’s Owner Extraordinaire, with additional comments provided by Brandon (who, according to the Dive Locker’s website, is aspiring to become the first underwater ninja. I commend you good sir. Ninjas rock) and Todd, Dive Locker’s Head Instructor, who has consistently been honored in PADI’S Top Ten as a top rated dive instructer.

Interview:

  • PCB:
    How long has Dive Locker been in business, has it always been in its current location?
  • DL: It’s been around for 8 years and yes, it originated in this location and has been here ever since.
  • PCB:
    Did business suffer last year with the oil spill?
  • DL: Despite the oil spill we still had a productive year, especially compared to others. There was great potential for the best season ever before the spill occurred. Unfortunately the negative media coverage scared away a lot of potential and existing customers so it is really difficult to say how much we were affected.
  • PCB:
    As Divers, did you guys see any evidence of oil, while you were in the water?
  • DL: Yes, but small amounts. There were several times when diving from shore that our staff encountered tar balls or sheen. However, they disappeared quickly and we have yet to see them since. We were very fortunate compared to surrounding areas.
  • PCB:
    Panama City Beach has been dubbed the “Wreck Capital of The South,” is there any idea how many sunken ships are in the area? Are divers still finding more?
  • DL: Countless amounts. The wonderful thing about the gulf is there is so much unchartered areas. People find new treasures all of the time. I think that is a contributing factor of why people dive. We are fascinated with the unknown. The ocean is a great place to explore and possibly find a piece of history.
  • DL (Todd)
    We have tons of Wrecks within just a few miles of our Pass. The Closer Wrecks are Red Sea, a newly placed tug, is our most recent wreck. The local dive community all worked to raise the money and get that one placed here. Black Bart, an oil field supply vessel is easily our most dove ship wreck. The USS Strength, an old navy mine-sweeper is one of the more interesting wrecks due to its condition. It has been blown in half, so it has a neat dive profile. A prototype Hovercraft also sits on the bottom in shallow. A Little Further Out, there’s the Accokeek, A tug that served during WWII now sits in about 110 feet of water. The Grey Ghost, an Old Navy Tug sunk in July 1978 as one of our first artificial reefs. Mac’s Reef, a retired navy barge sunk in 2007. Simpson, our shallowest wreck, is about 20 feet, but ten miles down shell island sunk in 1929
  • DL (Brandon)
    We are the “wreck capitol of the south”. We easily have over 30 wrecks in the area, along with sunken bridge spans. Most of the wrecks in the area are part of the artificial reef program, but they are still amazing dive sites. We do have a few “natural” wrecks. The Empire Mica, which stands out the most to me was sunk by a German U-Boat during WW2. Another natural wreck is the Tarpon. An old cargo ship that was overloaded (cocky Captain) and sank 12 miles offshore in the middle of a storm. Crew members of these two wrecks and a few other wrecks lost their lives during the sinking. The Mica and Tarpon are said to be haunted.

When I asked them about the coming season, and their feelings on its potential, Brandon summed it up with this statement: “We have high hopes for the coming season. I personally think this will be an awesome season for diving and for us. I think we will definitely bounce back from the oil spill last year. THERE IS NO OIL HERE! You can quote that.”

And so I did.

Dive Locker is the place to go when you’re ready to discover something new and exhilarating – especially if you feel as if you’ve done everything Panama City Beach has to offer. If you fit that description, then this is your key to unlocking a completely unique adventure.

Dive Locker (888) 612-7968 | 106 Thomas Drive | Panama City Beach, FL 32408

Gulf World Marine Park

Sometimes, when you move to a new town, you end up being submerged in the mechanics of day-to-day life faster then you can learn your new ZIP code.

The hunt to find work, the nearest grocery store and safe areas for your family to play, are usually on the Top Priority list.

Then, all of the sudden, the dust has settled, your routine is established and you find yourself at a Marine Park being kissed sweetly by a gigantic seal.

Which is exactly what happened to me. We had been so focused on starting our lives here that we rarely took a moment to actually look around and enjoy the amazing things our community has to offer.

Since I’m considered a fledgling Panama City Beach-ian, my boss had the foresight to send me out to Gulf World.

The idea behind that was to get a fresh take on a place that’s been around for so long, people simply use it as a directional landmark now.

Originally established in 1969, Gulf World has steadily grown in size and animal capacity. Yet, despite the overall expansion, the park has held on to an intimate vibe that’s refreshingly unique. Especially considering we’re a nation that’s been known to embrace the “Go Big or Go Home” mantra. The fact that this modest 6 acre park has managed to maintain the ability of getting up close and personal with almost every critter that calls Gulf World home, instantly enabled a sense of bonding with the animals unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

Gulf World’s focus on educating the general public is evident, but instead of lulling the audience to sleep with stats and facts, the educational focus is crafted with a finesse-like infusion of fun.

I was lucky enough to catch the tail end (Queen Of Punny, I know) of the bird show. While the trainer captured my attention with little tricks that showcased the birds intelligence, she equally succeeded in peaking my interest with knowledgeable tidbits. Informative lessons ranging from where the bird is traditionally found in the wild, to the kind of food these fine-feathered chatterboxes enjoy dining on.

I was caught off-guard with the sudden realization that I was leaning forward in my seat, eagerly anticipating what would happen next. Shocking to me, since before that moment, I would never have called myself a “bird-person.” So kudos to Gulf World for not only breaking through my indifference, but for creating a show so entertaining that the educational aspect became as fascinating as the birds.

Have you ever seen a bird “go” grocery shopping? Have you ever watched a bird, literally stand before a shelf of “perishable” items, then select what he wants and place it into his little shopping cart?

Thanks to Gulf World, I can go on record as saying, I Have and it was awesome.

Moving on from the birds, it’s easy to say that the dolphins, turtles and sea lions are the most popularized characters through out the park.

There are two variations of dolphins at Gulf World, one is the typical Bottle Nose dolphin and one is a lesser known Rough Tooth Dolphin. Both types of dolphins are incredible to watch.

The grace and playfulness of such a magnificant creature is mind-blowing to see up close.  Which goes back to that unique intimitacy that the park offers and being that this was the first chance I’ve ever been that close to a dolphin, it was no surprise when a bevvy of emotional thoughts jumped to the forefront in my noggin.

For me, the first emotion is the serenity that these beautiful creatures provoke. Only to be followed with the realization that they were probably smarter then me too, and in a true spirit of just how intimate this park really is, I was able to clearly catch the dolphin’s knowing smile and faint flicker of agreement.

Thanks Pal.

The Rough Tooth Dolphin offers an interesting back-story, especially since there’s very little information readily available on that particular type of dolphin. Their common name refers to the thin lines of enamel that run vertically down the dolphin’s teeth.  Rough Tooth dolphins prefer deeper waters, which is partially the reason for the limited information on them. However, these dolphins seem to adapt well to captivity with proven intelligence and creativity.

Less than a dozen Rough-toothed dolphins live in various parks around the world, yet our very own Gulf World is proud to be home to seven of them.

Five of these dolphins were stranded in Cape San Blas, and ended up being moved in to the park.  Then two others were stranded in another location.  Since Gulf World already had an existing pod- it made sense for the other two to come join their family in Panama City Beach. All of them are now permanent residents here, and all boast good health, loving care and have embraced their playful natures.

It was such a heart-warming story, that after hearing it, I was secretly wishing I could reach in and stroke their wittle underbellies.

In addition to rescuing the Rough Tooth Dolphins, Gulf World has opened it’s doors to a wide variety of other creatures. One notable addition is a dolphin who had been diagnosed with scoliosis, and deemed unreleasable. This Dolphin seems right at home at the park  and considering his amenities include a personal Chiropractor, it’s not surprising.  The big-galut will never be able to fully correct his curved tail, but his daily life at the marine park is focused around his physical comfort and over-all well being.

Judging from his festive swimming- he seemed like he felt just right.

The adventures of Gulf World continue beyond this article, and it doesn’t really matter if you’ve been there so many times that the Turtles know YOU by name- go ahead, swing by and get fishy kisses from a sea lion.

If you’ve never been there, make this vacation the one that changes that.

Polka Dots Releases Inner Kid, Smile

Walking into Polka Dots in Pier Park, is like suddenly finding yourself teleported back to the days of when the Andy Griffith show and soda-pop shops were quickly becoming the rage.

Something about this store connects with the little kid in me,  discretely loosening  the feeble reigns connected to my Adult Decorum.  As soon as that little kid tastes the sweet, sweet freedom, races through the store giggling at the fake dog poop and merrily banging away on the Rock’em Sock’em Robot Game, he’s filled with a grin reminiscent of a whole slice of watermelon in his mouth.

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Secrets of PCB – Salty Sue’s

Welcome to our Secrets of Panama City Beach series, showing you things about the beach, you’ve never dreamed of.

January is in the process of packing up it’s toys and that sneaky spring break season is peeking around the corner.

It’s still a bit chilly, but with a collective yawn, the whole town seems to be stirring from it’s sleepy winter mode and we are HUNGRY.

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Merle Haggard Jan 27 Marina Civic Center

Merle’s life reads like a tall tale that for most of us, we could  only experience by living vicariously through a character in a fictional novel.

However, Merle lives life the only way he can, as his own character in a life built around music, a few early years of petty crime and iron will.

His (Summarized) Story

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