A voyage on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is the highlight of many family trips to Panama City Beach. It’s geared to kids (think 10 and younger), but teens will begrudgingly admit they enjoyed the cruise and adults get a few laughs in as well.
Kids are entertained from the moment they walk across the gangplank. The interactive crew stays in character, ensuring kids a “real” pirate ship experience. Expect light-hearted swashbuckling: water gun battles, foam sword fights and firing the kids’ canons. There’s also dancing, face painting, pirate tattoos and a treasure hunt. It’s literally non-stop activity for the two-hour cruise. Even with all the activity, the crew is attentive and takes care to keep kids safe, giving parents a few minutes of relaxation.
Captain Phil also makes an effort to see local wildlife from aboard the 85-foot replica pirate ship. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the ship. Cruises stay within a half-mile of the shore where there’s a better chance for a close encounter. The crew will also point out landmarks and interesting features to adults or any kids willing to stand still long enough to listen.
Despite its popularity, the ship is clean and in very good condition. The bathrooms are clean. You also can get reasonably priced snacks and beverages, including adult beverages, onboard. Don’t expect a meal. Hot dogs, chips and beef jerky are among the offerings. Even so, you don’t feel gouged aboard the Sea Dragon. Prices are more than fair (bottled water is a buck), so you can avoid “hangry” kids without breaking the bank.
Cruises operate March through October and often sell out, so make reservations in advance. Parents should also be aware that strollers aren’t allowed on the ship. The Sea Dragon crew says it’s a safety precaution. Wheelchairs are welcomed, and the staff goes out of its way to assist wheelchair users to board the ship.
Don’t be misled. The cruise is uber touristy and might come off as a bit hokey, especially if you don’t have kids in tow. But if you experience the Sea Dragon through a kid’s eyes, it might just end up being the best part of your trip.
– If you’re celebrating a birthday, slip a note to the captain, and he’ll recognize your child by name during the excursion.
– Infants are free, but the Coast Guard requires them to have a ticket. Be sure to tell the staff of the actual number in your party when making reservations.
– Sunset cruises cost a couple of dollars more, but it’s worth it for the scenery.
– Cruises are rarely canceled due to weather. However, if a cruise must be postponed, you’ll get a phone call. If you’re in doubt, the Sea Dragon staff says to call for confirmation.