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A Pre-Christmas Getaway In Destin

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by Cheryl Eldridge,
Editor

‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly!  The Christmas season is in the atmosphere and it’s time to celebrate and give back. There is, however, a best kept secret in Florida and to experience it you will want to come back over and over again. I would recommend anyone who’s looking for a great time, great food and a nice atmosphere, to visit Miramar and Destin Florida. Wyndham Vacation Rentals offers thousands of vacation rentals across Northwest Florida, including Gulf-front condos, full-service resorts and luxurious private homes. Their properties can accommodate parties of any size, from a couple in search of a honeymoon suite to family reunions and business groups in need of a large beach home or multiple condominiums. The Thanksgiving experience was fit for those who like to experience the finer things in life. If you’re frugal, that’s fine also because Miramar and Destin Florida has so much to offer. Our five hour drive was easy for my family of six and  people who don’t like to drive long distances, especially if you have little ones, like I do. You won’t have to worry about the big question “Mom/Dad  are we there yet?
Come on down and gain the experience of a lifetime! Our three day stay included residing in one of Wyndham’s top resorts, the TOPS’L Tides Beach and Racquet Resort off of Emerald Coast Parkway. TOPS’L is a tranquil beach and racquet resort just east of Destin, in the Sandestin area of Northwest Florida. It offers the peace of a location off the beaten path, while still having the conveniences of city attractions just a few minutes’ drive away. Situated on 52 private acres, this full-service resort is bordered by the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and a nature preserve – so without ever getting in the car, guests here can choose from beach fun, tennis time or outdoor recreation exploring the area’s natural beauty. Tour the award-winning tennis facilities, unwind by the pool or take a walk on the beach. If you are in need of an ocean view, this is definitely the place for you. Our two bedroom Gulf Front condo was really breathtaking. Not only did the condo have everything that you would need, but comfort was #1. The condo had beautiful decor and had two bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining area and two nice bedrooms. When you open the door and stand on your balcony, you view the glistening water and whites sands from Miramar Beaches.
The condo was equipped with two pools including a kiddie pool and two jacuzzi pools. There is also a fitness center at the resort for the more fitness gurus. Staying fit is a plus, if you enjoy being your best.
Our adventure started on Friday at Southern Star Dolphin Cruise which is known nationally as Destin’s original Dolphin Cruise to enjoy the pristine waters of the world’s most beautiful beaches and experience up close viewing of dolphins, seabirds and a variety of other marine life. On our two hour relaxing cruise, we saw over 84 dolphins which was a miracle, as their theme is “expect a Miracle.” They enjoyed us cheering them on for their stunts. They also travel in groups of three of more with the mother dolphin leading the way, especially around feeding time; by the way, the sea gulls entertained us as well and we even got up close enough to feed them. My son enjoyed the sight and to put the “icing on the cake” they let him steer the boat, as well as other young kids on our fully narrated cruise ride. He could really steer! Go Phillip! My teenagers, Amber and Ashley, got a chance to take a photo and observe the dolphins and take photos of other small islands along the Gulf.
Immediately following our amazing cruise, we had dinner at Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grill in Destin, which is eight minutes east of the Harbor on Hwy 98; 20001 Emerald Coast Pkwy, Destin, FL 32541. They rank #1 in hospitality, food and their facility. After seeing so much of the ocean, it was time to  unwind and relax, and enjoy some good food. The cutest thing was when I asked where the nearest restroom was, the young lady told me to follow the alligator tracks – which a person can follow in one trail that branches off in two. It was really funny trying to follow the small alligator footsteps, but when we arrived to our destination, we were pleased. Fudpucker’s was definitely a family-oriented place with live alligators located in Gator Island under the restaurant and even an educational museum.
Gator Beach is  one of the most exciting venues at Fudpucker’s in Destin.  Located below Club Key West, Gator Beach gives you the chance to see over 80 live alligators, up close and personal.  But, you’ll not only be able to see the gators, you’ll be able to feed them as well. That’s right – you can feed the live alligators at Fudpucker’s Gator Beach. Just attach a piece of specially formulated “gator bait” to a cane pole and lower the food down into the pond!  A portion of the proceeds from the gator food sales is donated to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, a local nonprofit wildlife protection organization. It’s easy, it’s safe and above all. it’s fun for the entire family. They also have a series of exciting gator shows each and every day featuring any one of the Gator Handlers. The shows are designed to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about these ultra cool creatures in an interactive format where the Gator Handlers answer questions from the audience. So, I would definitely recommend this place  where I really enjoyed the fun.
According to their menu, Fudpucker’s celebrated 31 years of fun and is locally owned and operated, since its inception in 1982, by the most happiest person that one could ever meet, Mr. Chester Kroeger aka Father Fud. Father Fud and his staff made sure that we felt at home because there is nothing like Southern hospitality. Service was exemplary. The staff was warm and welcoming. Our server,Travis Marshal, made sure that we had everything that we needed and was well-versed in the menu and specials. Not only was he fast, he was efficient and made me and my entourage feel at home. All of the food was delicious and I would recommend the potato teasers and the gator tails of which “Father Fud” enticed my mother into eating, such a wonderful delicacy.
They also specialize in other seafood and hamburgers, etc. Fudpucker’s is dedicated to its owners’ three favorite “F” words: Food, Fun and Friends. And, you can be assured that there’s plenty of each when you visit Fudpucker’s. Renowned for Great Food, Live Entertainment, and World Famous T-shirts, Fudpucker’s is not just a restaurant, it’s not just a bar, and it’s certainly not just a “tourist” place – it’s a one-of-a-kind experience, and one that can be enjoyed by young and “not-so-young” alike.
After we were stuffed from the best chef  at Fudpucker, Larry Murphy, and experienced a “red carpet welcoming hospitality” by personnel Keith Thornsberrry, Christian Obey and staff, we were in for an adventure. We went down to meet my girlfriend ” Pearl”! The family and I were so excited to see a 5 foot 3 inch albino alligator up close, which is one of only 50 Albino alligators in the United. Since it’s hibernation season, Pearl was really nice, didn’t move too much and will let you peek close at her both above and under the water line. Her home is a nice sized tank in the educational museum downstairs. The Exhibit Guide and Gator Handler Tyler who was from Hoover, Alabama, enlightened us on the differences between alligator and crocodiles and also took a photo of the family holding a live alligator named Marshmalow. She was so cold, but friendly. They also specialize in Teen Night, is equipped with an arcade and  t-shirt and souvenir shop that was very reasonable. By the way, there’s a photo of  NBA Star Dewayne Wade with his kids holding an alligator; unfortunately Mr. Wade only deals with stuffed animals. I don’t blame him!
In a nutshell, I would recommend Fudpucker’s over and over again. I felt Fud-Tastic! As the saying goes “Ya ain’t been pucked, till ya been fudpucked!”
On Saturday we had breakfast in Sandestin resort  at “Another Broken Egg” which overlooks the stunning Choctawhatchee Bay. Another Broken Egg serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day long. In 1998, Sandestin Resort was purchased by Intrawest, one of North America’s leading developers and operators of four season village resorts. The Intrawest development team proceeded to seek out “The Best of the Best” restaurants, galleries and retail shops to make the 400 million dollar Village of Baytowne Wharf development a unique and memorable vacation spot. During their visits to hundreds of restaurant concepts throughout the Nation, they came across (right in their own backyard) the Another Broken Egg in Destin, Florida. After three unannounced meals, they approached them with the opportunity to join their elite team of unique and prospering businesses. The results being a beautiful terraced waterfront Café with rich, hunger inspired colors of warm reds and yellows infused with splashes of French blue accents. Along with terrific views of the village and bridged waterways, a one of a kind 16’ long French country kitchen mural adorns one wall of the restaurant, inspiring a memorable breakfast, brunch and lunch dining experience. Unfortunately, we were not offered anything special on the menu and hospitality wasn’t the finest, however, the food was good. We went with our gut feeling and ordered. We had the silver dollar pancakes, belgian waffles with strawberries, salmon and grits, pancakes and the traditional breakfast. All was grand.
If you like to shop and your budget is either frugal or fun, explore the seaside by visiting the Merchants of Seaside / Seaside Central Square, a 15 to 20-minute drive from Sandestin; 121 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459. This gorgeous “30A” locale boasts a Saturday morning farmers market surrounded by the Merchants of Seaside (a bevy of locally owned restaurants and shops) just steps from the sugar-white sand beaches across the street. The week that we visited kicked off the first weekend of holiday decorations and activities in Seaside’s central square. Don’t miss out on Sundog Books, Central Square Records and Modica Market, they were really nice places to enjoy. Another place for shopping or entertainment was the Grand Boulevard at Sandestin – located on Highway 98, stroll the shops while enjoying ice cream from Kilwin’s or stop in to the brand new movie theatre to catch the latest flick.
Later on that evening my babies and I visited The Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin. This place should be given a beautification award and the Christmas decoration special of the year. Nothing says holidays quite like ice-skating, Santa Claus and Christmas lights! My kids enjoyed ice skating, arcades, zip lining, tower climb, sky trail, eurobungy, and strolling through the musical well-lit holiday festive village. Santa Claus arrived in a horse and carriage and there was even a holiday light show and beautiful fireworks as well as a live band in the middle of the Village that played Christmas songs. There were also a number of shops, bars and restaurants; one in particular was Graffitti. Enjoy your favorite Italian dishes with local flare at Graffiti as you listen to live music coming from across the restaurant at the Funky Blues Shack. Grafitti actually has a great family atmosphere. While visiting, we ate fried green tomatoes – which were to die for, Fetuccine Alfredo with grilled chicken, shrimp and scallop penne and grilled chicken and tossed salad.
Well it was time to leave so we travelled over to Seaside for lunch at “Bud and Alley’s which serves seafood, gumbos and the best trimatsu  in the city. Unfortunately, we came during their close of business for Christmas, which will re-open on December 26th. Founded in 1986 and named for a dog and cat, Bud & Alley’s has been a revered gathering place by loyal patrons for great food, great fun and Seaside’s finest sunsets for 25 years. South Walton’s longest established restaurant, Bud & Alley’s is nestled in the dunes overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The restaurant has garnered numerous awards including Florida Trend Magazines Golden Spoon Award designating the eatery as one of the top 20 restaurants in Florida as well as receiving a five star designation from the Tallahassee Democrat and annually winning Wine Spectator Magazines Award of Excellence.
Overall, my trip was one to remember, one which I will visit again and one that I will always cherish. I would however, recommend that you visit Destin, gas up and go and get into  the Christmas spirit.
A special thanks to Sarah Sholtis of Wyndham Vacations who really make miracles happen.
                                                                                                                                                 Merry Christmas!