We’ve all dreamt of winding up on our own private island, the sensation of sun kissing skin and toes sinking into pearlescent, white sand. There’s no sign of civilization for miles, just the crystal-clear waves lapping at the shore and the gentle sway of palms in the breeze. Such paradise manifests itself in Panama City Beach as Shell Island, a 7½- mile, pristine peninsula just off the coast of St. Andrews State Park. What you do once you get there is entirely up to you. Whether you’re looking for ride on the shuttle or you want a sightseeing tour of the area, here’s how to castaway for a day.
SHELL ISLAND SHUTTLE
Eager for an express route? The Shell Island Shuttle is your ticket, transporting passengers to and from the retreat every half hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You’ll be dropped off near the rocky jetties, a premier snorkeling spot that fosters a medley of marine life. Open all week, the Shell Island Shuttle departs directly from St. Andrews State Park with no reservations necessary. Pack a picnic and stay for an hour or two, or indulge in an all-day R&R session until the final shuttle retrieves you.
Ask any local about the ultimate leisure boat, and they’ll steer you in the direction of the beloved pontoon. While dozens of pontoon rental vendors are stationed along the beach, Shell Island Boat Rentals & Tours is located at Treasure Island Marina, a 10-minute cruise from your island destination. While the operation offers unique guided tours, pontoon rentals allow you to explore at your own pace. Choose among four rental packages that can accommodate up to 10 guests and be sure to take your time getting there … you’re more than likely to spot a pod or two of bottlenose dolphins!
JET SKI RENTALS
If none of the previous options are quite your speed, you’re sure to get your kicks on a sleek n’ speedy jet ski. At Lagoon Pontoons, select from one hour, half-day or full day rentals, climb aboard a VX110 Yamaha WaveRunner and slice through the sea to your heart’s content. Though your target is about a 5-minute ride away, it’s well worth it to take the scenic course through St. Andrews Bay to wet your appetite for adventure. When you need to catch your breath, simply moor along the shore of Shell Island and let your thrilling excursion continue through the dunes.
Boasting one of the world’s most abundant populations of bottlenose dolphins, St. Andrews Bay and Shell Island are the ultimate sites to seek out these magnificent mammals. Island Time Sailing’s Shell Island Dolphin & Snorkel Cruise isn’t your typical sightseeing tour, offering guests an exhilarant adventure both on and off the boat. In the span of this 3½-hour cruise, experienced guides will scout out prominent dolphin purlieus, educate passengers on the history of St. Andrews Bay and anchor down for a swim and snorkel session. While stationed, families can easily wade or paddleboard to Shell Island to scoop up some scallops or conchs as a souvenir.
PRIVATE CHARTERS & TOURS
If you want the privacy of your own boat but the expertise of a local tour guide, look no further than booking a charter with Blue Dolphin Tours. Whether you’re looking for a romantic day in the sun with your significant other or want to bring the whole family along, your captain will supply the ultimate expedition. As opposed to larger commercial tour boats, this quiet modest craft is less likely to intimidate the dolphins you’ll spot and swim with along the way. Once you reach your destination, snorkel, beachcomb and soak in some rays to make the most of your day.
For a list of more things to do on your trip to Panama City Beach, click here.