Catch the glory of the dolphin while cruising Destin

Savannah Chastain
Charlie Majors mans the helm and Capt. Brian Camaret looks on. When asked his favorite part of the cruise Majors replied, “Having fun.”

Editor’s Note: As part of the “100 days of Summer,” The Log will be exploring Destin and the activities it has to offer during the summer season. This week the featured pastime is Dolphin Cruises.

The Emerald Coast waters have a lot of fun activities to offer, but a trip to the Gulf of Mexico would not be complete without a leisurely dolphin cruise. One of Destin’s most well known dolphin cruises is aboard the Southern Star.

“We were the inaugural dolphin cruise in Destin, Florida,” said owner Steven Wilson. “We came here 20 years ago this summer, and we started out on what was called the old L dock, which was primarily commercial fishing boats during that time.”

In the early years, the Southern Star was a 75-passenger boat and Wilson said he was warned by locals that his business might not make it through the winter months.

“The first thing that happened to us was we were notified that it was illegal to feed dolphins,” said Wilson. “I remember I told my wife, ‘At least we don’t have to buy bait.’”

Soon after that however, Wilson said he received a call from CNN to run a special on the cruise, featuring the boat as an example of highlighting the dolphin without harming or harassing them.

Today, the Southern Star operates on the same dock at the HarborWalk Village. The cruise has grown to a 149-passenger boat that features two decks, and a glass-bottom for viewing sea life on the ocean floor.

“We thought, just for fun on the dolphin cruise it would be fun to put in glass-bottom panels,” said Wilson. “What we try to do is provide a high value, but low cost family entertainment.”

For the Neathery family of Houston, Texas, this was just the outing they were searching for.

“This is our first time to do this,” said Kayce Neathery. “We brought my niece, and she’s really big on animals and the water.”

As the cruise began, Kayce’s niece, five-year-old Cecilee Neathery was on the back deck feeding chips to the seagulls with her grandparents.

“She’s having a blast,” said Liane Neathery. “I just was looking online and it looked like it was fun.”

As the Southern Star fired up its engine, Captain Brian Camaret began narration. Some of his repertoire included information on the harbor, the Gulf of Mexico, the resident dolphin, and the history of Destin.

“Here in the harbor we have a lone dolphin we named ‘Jackpot,’” said Camaret over the loudspeaker. “Don’t be afraid to show some enthusiasm, if anything it will attract them.”

Not long after Camaret encouraged the customers and crew to cheer and clap, a dolphin broke the water just off the starboard side of the boat. Shouts of, ‘I saw one, I saw one’ and, ‘look over there, there’s another one,’ and ‘wow, this is amazing,’ echoed throughout the boat as everyone caught the first glimpse of the friendly marine mammals.

After a short cruise through the harbor, the Southern Star headed out to the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where pods of dolphin are known to feed and play in the waves.

“Those dolphin find it very hard not to ride the bow of the wave,” said Camaret to the crowd, as more dolphin began to approach the boat and swim alongside it.

“They are really putting on a show for you.”

Soon three different pods of dolphin could be seen, some splashing in the waves, and others diving and resurfacing only showing quick glimpses of fins and tails.

“What you are seeing is rare,” said crew member Jo Tucker. “Three separate pods swimming towards each other and meeting.”

After guiding the cruise into the calm waters beside Okaloosa Island, Camaret invited the youngest riders to join him in the wheel house for a chance to take the helm. The children were then awarded by crew members with a certificate of a junior captain’s license.

As the two hour cruise came to a close, a treasure box of little toys and trinkets was brought out for the kids to plunder.

Young Kaylee Deese of Lexington, South Carolina couldn’t hide her enthusiasm.

“My favorite thing was looking at the dolphins under the sea and on top of the water too,” she said.

“Oh it was awesome,” Liane Neathery said when asked her experience on the ride back. “It was very family oriented which is what I liked, and seeing the dolphins, but the fact that they include the kids, that is awesome.”

WANNA GO?

There are several companies in Destin that offer dolphin cruises. Here are some places that offer a great family dolphin cruise experience.

The Southern Star 837-7741

Olin Marler’s Charter Fishing and Dolphin Tours 654-7113

AJ’s Water Adventures 837-2222

Destin Snorkel 269-2329

Destin’s Original Seablaster Dolphin Cruise 654-6888

Boogies Watersports 654-4497