We arrived at the beach today, and got one of the best beach stories ever. Besides the normal loading in, finding a parking space, and all that jazz we decided to take the kids to their first beach souvenir store.

We chose Alvin’s Island, the one that features all of the live animals. That turned out to be an awesome decision.

We arrived at the store and started looking around. DJ and I headed down the ramp to where signs promised “Have your picture taken with a live alligator!” I figured the kids might like to see an alligator.

As we progressed down the ramp I heard some scuffling and something that sounded a bit like a small dog barking. A few people had gathered around the glass display case counter where apparently there is normally an alligator available for pictures. As I positioned us for a better look, the scuffling got a little more heated. In a flash there was a full-grown raccoon inside the glass display case only a few inches from where I was standing. So that’s what all the excitement is about. I’d thought they were trying to catch a small alligator at first (fairly harmless) or a small dog once I heard the sounds (completely harmless) but when I saw a full-grown raccoon I knew things were gonna be interesting.

I moved away from the case, now wary of the cornered wildlife that was being chased around the tiny photography area. “Close the door!” yelled the guy trying to catch the terrified animal as his partner slammed the small, flimsy, two foot tall door to the photography area shut. I have no idea what they thought that would do to stop a raccoon, but I guess in the moment it seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t. As soon as the door was shut the raccoon took a flying leap onto the top of it and then jumped onto the top of the adjacent cage full of parrots. Of course, the birds went crazy, and as soon as the would-be trappers heard that they grabbed their nets and headed for the cages.

The crowd had begun to gather in curiosity, and it’s pretty amazing how invisible a full-grown raccoon on top of a parrot cage can apparently become. Either way, the net holders descended on the parrot cage to trap the raccoon. The raccoon had other ideas, specifically diving face first into a t-shirt rack. That’s when the full-store sprint happened.

Anyone who has ever been to this store knows how big and crowded it is. We left a half hour later with the raccoon still at large and the trappers really, really unpleasant.

Written on September 6th, 2011 , Panama City Beach, Travel

Lee is still spinning along the coast but between storms we have been able to get down to the beach and build some sand castles with the kids (thus the lack of updates). We were still not allowed to get in the water, which really makes sense since the waves are crashing over the top of the pier. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some people from getting out in the water and getting in trouble.

Dinner tonight will be pizza in the condo while we ride out the storms.

Written on September 6th, 2011 , Panama City Beach, Travel

In our first full day here, tropical storm Lee is spinning off of the coast, enjoying its final days in the Gulf of Mexico. We’re seeing on the news that in some places (particularly Louisiana) this is causing a lot of issues with flooding. On the eastern end of the gulf coast, however, we’re just getting some insane tides and occasional significant rain storms.

Between the storms we’re running the kids down to the beach to let them play in the sand and get their little feet in the shallowest of the water. Bree has taken to all of it like a champ, diving into the sand to bury her feet and standing bravely against the waves with me. DJ, on the other hand, detests the whole notion and prefers to head back to the room to watch more of “Up”.

We’re going to try and keep the blog updated, which will be easy as long as there is a storm about. But once things clear up I make no promises other than some occasional pictures. 😉

Donnie and Bree

Mel and DJ


Written on September 4th, 2011 , Panama City Beach, Travel

The day we were heading back from the beach was actually the first day of the summer season.  So there were a LOT of people arriving and you could really tell that the crowd at the beach was younger, more energetic and looking to party.

We snapped a final shot of the beach from our wonderful balcony before we headed to Waffle House for breakfast and made a beeline to Birmingham.

Written on May 23rd, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

As our last full day at the beach rolled around we decided it would be best to hang out at the beach and pool and to just relax.  For lunch, we headed to “The Shaggy Marlin” which, to be honest, we didn’t really enjoy all that much.  The stools you sat one were something like 5 feet tall, which was really uncomfortable and especially difficult for a pregnant lady and the food was only marginal, as was the service.  But who knows, maybe we had been spoiled by top notch dining and our expectations were unreasonable.

After lunch we milled around the beach for a while, drove around a bit and just generally enjoyed hanging out together without partaking in too much of an event.

For dinner, we headed back to Pier Point to see some live music and experience the German restaurant, Hofbrau Munchen.  The most notable thing we had was the absolutely amazing pretzel.  We also enjoyed their house polka band and their upbeat staff.

Afterwards we headed back to the condo to enjoy our last night at the beach.

Written on May 22nd, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

Another morning into the afternoon was spent hanging out on the balcony.  I think we justifiably can’t get enough of hanging out on the amazing balcony attached to our condominium.

Eventually we got hungry and headed to the original Montego Bay to have a couple of Superdiver Burgers, one of their local favorites.  The restaurant was packed and service was really slow, according to our waitress one of the cooks had cut himself and had to be rushed to the hospital.  Our burgers were great and we found no trace of human fingers in them.  The couple next to us was one of the unsufferable older couples who simply refused to be happy.  The man insisted on pointing out inaccuracies in the menu, right down to the fact that the “pictured whitefish on the menu is, in fact, Cod and not Grouper.”  Maybe we’re the only people who go on vacation to relax?

After lunch we decided to spend the day on the beach.  We headed down and met Jimmy, the guy who puts out the umbrellas and beach chairs.  After talking to him for a while we found out that he had been doing this job for 40 years.  We thought that was pretty impressive.

We had decided to write Bree’s name in the sand so we could take a picture of it and have the picture blown up to hang in her room.  As part of the process, I wanted to find a shell that I could use to write her name that we could later give to her.  While we were looking for shells, which is not an easy task at this very, very scoured over beach, we noticed a big guy a little way down the beach also looking for shells.  More on that later, but I found a shell and spent some time writing Bree’s name and having Mel try to get a picture before the waves washed the name away.

After writing Bree’s name in the sand we headed down the beach a bit.  We had seen three or four rays playing in the waves there earlier from our balcony and I wanted to see if they were still there.  We found them and I headed about waist deep into the water to get a better look.  These things were going crazy, they would actually swim up into the waves to look at you, it was pretty cool.

After an hour or so of that we decided to head back to our room to get ready for dinner.  When we got back to our chair, we noticed that a perfect little shell had been placed on our stuff.  I assumed Mel had found this shell and I think she assumed that I had, we didn’t talk about it.

On our way back to our room we saw the guy I mentioned earlier who had been looking for shells on a balcony on the first floor of the building.  He stopped us and asked if we found the shell on our chair.  I told him we had, he said he found that for our baby and wished us well on our pregnancy and parenthood.  People are so nice everywhere we go, it’s amazing.

For dinner we headed to Captain Anderson’s, which is one of our favorite places to go in Panama City Beach.  You’d be hard pressed to find better and fresher seafood than at this place and it didn’t disappoint tonight.  I had Lobster Bisque (the best I’ve ever had by a large margin) and Scamp Imperial (again, unbelievable) and Mel had a Pork Chop (I know, I know).  For dessert Mel got Almond Florentine and it was so good she described it as “life changing.”  She ate the entire thing… I have no idea what it tasted like.

We had planned to play miniature golf, but my ankle was still hurting pretty badly so we went back to the condo and watched “My Super Ex Girlfriend” and hung out on the balcony.

Written on May 21st, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

Mel and I have been to Chicago.  We’ve experienced the wind off of Lake Michigan and have been subject to the gusts that nearly knock you down.  But we have never, ever experienced any fair weather wind like we experienced in Panama City Beach on this vacation.  It was quite literally blowing our Jeep Grand Cherokee from side to side.  It was fun most of the time but made eating outdoors more of a practice in synchronized napkin juggling dance than anything else.

So we headed to Schooner’s, figuring if we were going to eat in the wind it should at least be in the most difficult place possible to do so.  Schooner’s is a great place because it’s one of the last local beach clubs in Panama City Beach.  There’s a lot of walk up patrons, who head to the bar to get drinks or grab a quick bite to eat.  This makes people watching really fun, which is something Mel and I enjoy doing.  Mel got a Chicken Basket and I chose their Group Basket which was basically their version of fish sticks, which turned out to be unbelievable.

Because the wind was so fierce we decided to just roll down the windows and take a drive up the coast.  We stopped by and grabbed some shaved ice from Sno-Biz and headed North, up past Sea Haven.  After seeing enough from driving we decided to head back to Pier Park to check out parts of the mall we hadn’t yet seen and to grab some pictures of the place.

After taking a while to look around Pier Park yet again we headed back to the room to take a nap until dinner.

For dinner we headed to Pompano’s where Mel had a New York Strip and I opted for Shrimp Pompano which is fresh gulf shrimp wrapped in bacon, basted with a really, really good sauce and grilled.  This turned out to be one of my favorite meals while we were on vacation.

After dinner we went shopping, because we had promised our niece that we would bring her something back from the beach.  We got her an airbrushed shirt, a shell “you can hear the ocean in” and a hermit crab.

After shopping we were ready for desert and Mel had Marble Slab on her mind.  So once again we headed to Pier Park to get some ice cream.  While we ate ice cream we walked around until I felt like my foot was going to fall off, then we headed back to the condo for the night.

Written on May 20th, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

If you’ve ever talked to Mel and I about our vacations you can probably guess how our first full day at the beach started.  Around 11:00AM we had brunch on the balcony and enjoyed the view and the sounds.  Then… we took a nap.

Once our liesurely day had finally gotten under way, around 2:00PM, we decided to go have a proper meal and headed to Pineapple Willie’s.  Mel had ribs and I had a Shrimp Po’boy.

Now Panama City Beach isn’t exactly new territory for almost anyone from Birmingham, but definitely not for Mel and myself who had been here dozens of times.  So when there’s something new, a place closing down or a new one opening up, we make a point to see it.  We haven’t been down in several years, however, so we had no idea that Pier Park, a monster of a mall, had been built and we stumbled across it as we took a drive up the coast.  Once we saw it, we had to stop in to take a look.  I needed a new pair of sunglasses anyhow!

We spent quite a while in the Sunglass Hut at Pier Park, working with the nice lady there who was studying to be an optometrist.  After a while, I finally decided on a pair of Polarized Oakley Half Jackets (black on black) and we headed out to check the rest of the mall.

One of our favorite things at the mall was a store called Kilwin’s where Mel tried about 20 different flavors of ice cream before finally settling on Turtle Cheesecake.  I went straight for Rocky Road out of the gate.  After we got our ice cream we headed down the mall a little bit to check out the German restaraunt down the way.  A nice hostess there tried to offer us beer in exchange for our ice cream, and we found out that the keyboard player from the Violent Femmes would be playing Friday night.  Too bad we wouldn’t be in town for that.

Satisfied that we would return to the mall to check out more of it we headed back to the condo to take a long walk on the beach.  By long, I mean two hour… and Mel is pregnant!  Along the walk we saw a fisherman going crazy thinking he had a Pompano on the line and instead pulling in a crab, several rays playing in the waves and me turning my ankle over with about two miles left to get back to the condo.  With one of us pregnant and one of us hobbled this significantly cut the chances that we would be taking more long walks on the beach.

We finally made it back to the condo in time to catch the sunset and get ready for dinner.

Mel has a tradition that whenever she’s in PCB she has to order in pizza one night.  So we decided tonight would be the perfect night for that.  We ordered from Marco’s and got pizza and wings (which were both awesome) and popped in “The Darjeerling Limited” DVD to check out this critically acclaimed film.  About 30 minutes later we turned that crap off and watched Braveheart on HBO instead.

Written on May 19th, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

When Mel and I got married we decided that every year around our anniversary (which is in August) we would take a trip somewhere we hadn’t previously been.  That decision held firm until this year, when we found out that we were going to be parents.  So this year, instead of jaunting off to some international destination we decided to head south in the late spring / early summer and hit Panama City Beach, Florida for some relaxing time on the beach.

We were able to secure a condo on the beach for an unbelievably reasonable price and to top it off the condo was on the 16th floor.  Neither of us had ever stayed in a room that high off the beach, so we figured it would be fun.  With our luggage in tow and our dogs happily docked at Mel’s parents house we headed south on I-65 to see what this vacation would hold for us.

The trip through Alabama, down through Montgomery and into North Florida was really pretty easy.  We were really, really glad we had XM Satellite Radio to keep us company on the way down.  It was really, nice not to have to worry about searching for good music on the radio or changing CDs or… even worse… having to talk to each other!  (just kidding, of course)

Once you hit North Florida, though, the traffic laws begin to keep things interesting.  It’s really a game of cat and mouse as the speed limit changes every 100 feet, going from 65mph, to 35mph and back again 300 feet later.  While we saw a lot of cops and enjoyed the small towns, we were able to successfully navigate the speed traps brake tests without incident.

Probably the most entertaining portion of the trip down / first day was Mel trying to navigate us to the beaches.  We had directions to the location we were looking for and planned to follow them, but at the very first intersection which had a sign that said “beaches” along with an arrow Mel yelled, really loudly, that I should be turning across two lanes of traffic to head that direction.  Of course, we didn’t… and continued on towards Panama City Beach.  We have now scientifically determined that pregnancy does NOT improve your sense of direction.

As we crossed the final bridge towards Thomas Drive… and if you’ve been down to this section of Florida you know that the bridges are 100ft+ high… there was a man fishing from the top of the bridge.  Now, the simple logistics of carrying enough fishing line on a standard rod and reel to actually fish from that height what’s the best case scenario?  You catch a fish (a small one) and spend the next 10 minutes reeling it up the 100ft and hoping a bird doesn’t grab it?  It just struck me as odd.

Of course, this is a Garvich trip, so things have to be a little crazy once we finally arrive at our destination.  This trip didn’t disappoint.  Once we got to the condominium building the desk worker saw our reservation and said that there was someone already in our room.  Her words were something along the lines of, “It wouldn’t be the first time those Jamaicans have taken someone’s room.  Go up and tell them they have to leave.”  So, I was being asked to head upstairs to a room full of Jamaicans who were in the habit of room-squatting and telling them they had to leave.  My response, “Sure, I’ll be back in a second.”  After heading up 16 floors and knocking on the door, it turns out the desk worker must have been smoking the ganja to have seen said Jamaicans because no one was there.  We packed up our luggage and prepared to head upstairs.

Everything actually fit on one cart, which fit into the elevator with Mel, myself and a mother and her (maybe 6 year old) son.  Mel and I gave each other a happy glance as we both considered what it was going to be like to bring Bree to the beach.  Then the son went straight nuts-o and began yelling that he “wants to go to the POOL!”  Mel and I exchanged a different glance and tried to enjoy the 10 floors of slow elevator ride with the ear piercing pool demands.

Once we got to the room, things were all better.  The 16th floor balcony is absolutely, positively worth it.

16th Floor Balcony View

After we took a few minutes to unwind after the trip down we began to focus… ok, obsess… about food.  One of our favorite things to do anywhere is eat, but especially at the beach!  So we decided to head to Montego Bay in search of dinner.

We decided to try their “death by frying” appetizer (our name, not theirs) which had buffalo wings, chicken tenders, alligator bites, coconut shrimp and onion straws, each with their own dipping sauce.  The thing was huge and could have easily served as our entire dinner.  But Mel and I never stop with enough food on vacation, so we also got entrees.  Mel went with Cajun Chicken Pasta and I had Fried Gulf Scallops with new potatoes.  Both were great.

After dinner we headed to Wal-Mart to pick up things we had forgotten to bring along and snacks and drinks we would need for the week.  While the trip to Wal-Mart was fun, and Wal-Mart is always an interesting place to people watch, this place was Crazy Town, USA.  As soon as we could get what we needed we headed out the door and back to the condominium to watch the sun set.

The sunset on our first day in PCB

After a relaxing sunset we headed back into the condominium to check out the generous DVD collection the owners kept on hand.  We settled on “Munich” and settled in for the night.

Written on May 18th, 2008 , Panama City Beach, Travel

Normally when we’ve been on vacation for a while we’re ready to head home once our time is coming to an end. Grand Cayman, to date, is the only exception to that rule. We would have loved to stay for a little longer (or a lot, as long as we had the funds to live like we were rock stars). Instead, we got up Friday morning and got our things together and ready to head home. We said goodbye to our hotel room and headed downstairs to tell our new friends goodbye for now.

Mel and Doreen

Unfortunately for us, the road home was going to be a far cry from the paradise we had wrapped ourselves up in for the past few days. The moment we stepped out of the cab at the Grand Cayman airport Spirit Airlines was there to greet us with 2+ hour waits in rooms with no air conditioning. The first wait was… again… to check our bags. Once we had that out of the way we breezed through security and headed to the plane.

Me escaping the airport

The Airplane

Then it was on to Ft. Lauderdale airport where we had left ourselves 2 and a half hours to catch our plane to Orlando (a Southwest plane, so we had to pick up our luggage and recheck it with the new airline) and from there we had 50 minutes to catch our plane to Birmingham. Spirit Airlines had another idea, however. After waiting in a customs line for over 2 hours we were in a panic to get our bags at the Spirit baggage claim and get all the way across the airport to the Southwest terminal. So we were sprinting through the airport and the parking garage to finally get to the Southwest counter and have the first associate demand that we stand in line (the line was one person long). Luckily, two other associates helped us get things in order and called down to hold the plane for us. We got on the plane with no food, no drink for the past few hours and sweating from having stood in 5 hours of lines with no air conditioning in the Grand Cayman and Florida heat… we got to the plane with 4 minutes to spare before takeoff.

On the plane, the flight attendant heard our story and showered us with peanuts and snack packs which was great because that was probably the only thing which kept Mel from having a blood sugar spike.

The rest of the trip was, as it should have been, a pleasure as Southwest saw us all the way home where landed right back into reality with paradise now nothing but a memory.

Written on August 10th, 2007 , Grand Cayman, Travel

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