Crab Island: Destin’s sandbar playground (photos)

Savannah Chastain
Crowds gather at Crab Island each weekend for a little fun in the sun, whether it’s for the kids or adults

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 Crab Island.

Anyone who has visited Destin knows that one of the most popular boating spots in the area is the infamous sandbar known locally as Crab Island. The sandbar, now fully submerged, once rose out of the water forming a small sandy island.

“I have, in the past, seen a little bit of sand come up in the winter,” said longtime Destin local, Eric Cadenhead. “I’ve seen three or four feet of sand out of the water but only when the wind is blowing really hard.”

Cadenhead has owned a business on Crab Island for the past 15 years, and said he was one of the first vendors to venture out to the summer hot-spot.

“For the first eight years I ran Crab Island Trading Company, and I was the only business out there,” he said. “There weren’t very many people out there in ‘99 when I started, there were probably 30 to 40 boats but the volume of people has probably tripled since then.”

Today, Cadenhead operates Destination Crab Island LLC., which features a large inflatable waterslide, trampoline and climbing sphere as well as an ice cream boat called Gulf Stream Ice Cream.

“My waterslide offers the largest free floating waterslide in the state of Florida at 30 feet high,” said Cadenhead. “I also have the only bathroom on Crab Island; I’ve had it for 12 years.”

The bathroom area sits on a floating 40 by 20 foot dock that also has four picnic tables and several lounge chairs for boaters to enjoy.

“It’s my personal dock but it’s free for people, we don’t charge for it,” Cadenhead said. 

Destination Crab Island is located on the Northeast end of the sandbar, directly in front of the Destin Marina and Dewey Destin’s Bay location.

“I’m in the same spot every year,” said Cadenhead. “We are in a very shallow area that so that families can enjoy themselves and not have to worry about the kids.”

Cadenhead told The Log that in recent years, families with young children have been wary of Crab Island as the influx of boaters has brought a younger and often wilder crowd.

 “Weekends used to be our busiest days before the parties took over,” he said. “Now a lot of families don’t come anymore because they’ve allowed the party scene out there.”

However, Cadenhead ensured that he does his best to keep his business as family friendly as possible.

“I don’t put up with bad behavior,” he said. “I try to promote the family stuff because that’s what it’s for. I love seeing all the little kids out there. They have the best time in the world that’s what it should be about because if they love it as kids they will come back as adults.”  

Chomp N Chill

While boating on Crab Island, you won’t be able to miss Chris Chataignier’s floating Cajun restaurant the Chomp N Chill; it’s the double-decker, lime green barge with a very hungry looking shark mascot on every side.

  “Our slogan is, ‘If you have the munchies we have the cure,’ said Chataignier. “Our specialty is our Cajun burgers; that’s what everybody knows us for. And our shipwreck nachos; one order of nachos will feed a whole boat.”

Chataignier, originally of Louisiana, told The Log that he offers authentic New Orleans style cuisine.

“We do a Cajun twist to it with the Cajun spices and all New Orleans recipes. I’m from Louisiana, and that’s one thing we can do; food, and huge portions.”

The Chomp N Chill offers an array of gourmet burgers, hotdogs, nachos and New Orleans style Snow Balls.

 “People are always telling me the prices are the best they’ve ever seen,” said Chataignier. “Ever since I opened the door I’ve never raised the price because I’ve refused too.”

Chataignier has been operating on Crab Island for five years and said with every year he learns something new about the business.  

“Every time someone came by to ask me for something I started carrying it and trying it out,” he said. “Now we sell baby diapers, headache and nausea stuff, and jelly fish ointment.”

Chataignier said that in recent years, Crab Island has gotten a bad rap for wild parties and lewd behavior, but he ensured that on his side of the sandbar, it is the complete opposite.

“I stay on the Northeast side, that’s where the families are,” he said. “I refuse to get involved in all the craziness going on out there. I went to a complete family softer side, and instead of playing all the crazy loud music I started playing Jimmy Buffet and all the more mellow stuff, and it’s started bringing a crowd.”

Captain Nemo’s Watersports

Jeremiah Shastid of Captain Nemo’s Watersports may be one of the newest vendors out at Crab Island, as this year marks his second season, but he already knows what it takes to gain success amongst the masses.

“You have to always be adding something new with all the competition out there,” he said adding that next year he will be revealing a brand new water sport feature.

“I was the captain of a parasail boat for a few years and I saw Crab Island and what it had, and saw a business opportunity,” he said. “I built a hut and I put it out there last year. Every year we are just going to expand more and more until we become sort of the Wal-mart of Crab Island.”

Captain Nemo’s, a floating yellow hut, currently offers Jet Ski, paddle board and kayak rentals as well as banana boat rides.

“If they are 25 or under we have to give them a safe boater’s course and a boating license,” said Shastid. “Everybody gets the basic instructions on where to go, and how to safely operate the Jet Ski.”

Shastid told The Log that Crab Island can be divided into two different areas, each serving a different age demographic.

“Crab Island has two sections, it has a wild section, and then the mid to northern part is family oriented,” he said. “The other end serves its purpose for the younger crowd who wants to party, but for the families, we provide other things for them to do and make it easier for them to have that experience.”

For Shastid, who works as a commercial diver during the off-season, the summers at Crab Island have become his favorite part of the year.

 “It’s a lot of fun and I actually enjoy going to work,” he said. “The tourists are happy, they’re out here to have fun, so it’s an easy thing to do because you are dealing with people who are in a good mood; You can’t get much better than that.”

WANNA GO?

There are several floating businesses at Crab Island. Here are a few that offer rentals, food, and entertainment while anchored on the sandbar.

Captain Nemo’s Watersports, 499-6400

Chomp N Chill,502-7118

Crab Island Online 855-6907

Crab Island Time, 837-0968

Destination Crab Island LLC.

Destin Ice & Tackle, 865-2118

Reef Burger, 685-7041