THE LOCALS GUIDE TO SURVIVING SPRING BREAK by Laura Lucy
03/01/2017 06:29AM ● Published by Nancy Babin
Here on the Emerald Coast, we love tourists. No, really, we do! Without them we would likely have higher taxes and fewer restaurants. Plus, living in a small community where you know everybody, it’s nice to meet people from other places.
As much as we love our visitors, it can be a bit overwhelming during spring break when thousands of them clog the roads, crowd the restaurants and stand four-people wide in the grocery aisle. So, what’s a local to do during spring break? The obvious answer is LEAVE! If you have a good reason to stay – a restrictive work schedule, limited finances, family obligations – read on for tips to surviving spring break in town. You might even enjoy it.
Avoid the Rush
Let’s start with the basics that will help you maintain your sanity. We have to eat, but no one wants to get caught in the madness of packed grocery stores and two-hour waits for a table at restaurants. Locals all know that Saturday is vacation rental check-in day. That makes Saturdays and Sundays the busiest shopping days at the grocery store, largely because our visitors are not only stocking up for a week but they also bring their entire family to have a heated debate about which chips to purchase. In the olden days (way back in 2016), your best option was to do your grocery shopping early in the morning and not on the weekend. Now, you can use services like Shipt to deliver groceries directly to your home, or Walmart’s new online ordering system that lets you stay in your car.
If you opt to dine out during spring break, try to go during off times. Arriving at a restaurant on or near the beach at 7 p.m. all but guarantees your stomach will digest itself before you are seated, much less receive your food. Instead, go for a late lunch/early dinner between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. When you simply must go out for dinner, aim for an early week meal. The tourists are most likely to eat out at the beginning and end of their weeklong stay. Destin and 30A are typically the most crowded. Try out some of the fantastic restaurants in Niceville, Fort Walton Beach or on Okaloosa Island. Several have water views too!
Catching a movie during spring break is totally doable. The trick is to go in the middle of a sunny day. Conversely, hit the beach early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds. Bonus: this strategy makes it much easier to avoid that dreaded first sunburn of the season.
They Go South, You Go North
While our visitors are primarily traveling here for our unparalleled white sand beaches, we can enjoy them all year. Most visitors don’t realize there are more wonders of nature within a short drive. Go spelunking at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. Find the fountain of youth and walk along lush forest trails at Ponce DeLeon Springs State Park. Let the kids get up close and personal with more than 100 animals including Florida natives and exotic wildlife at Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park in Crestview. Head up to the Blackwater River for tubing or canoeing. Check out the free Air Force Armament Museum just outside the gates of Eglin Air Force Base for a walk through history starting with World War I.
If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em
Navigating your own town when it’s so crowded can trigger stress in anyone. That’s when you should take off east or west to annoy locals in another town! Panama City is home to plenty of daytrip-worthy attractions such as Gulf World Marine Park, Dave and Buster’s, ZooWorld and WonderWorks. In Pensacola, you can visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Historic Pensacola Village, Pensacola Children’s Museum, Fort Pickens, Pensacola Lighthouse or downtown for a historic walking tour.
Mixing it up with the tourists can actually be fun if you let go of the us-versus-them mentality so many of us locals have. Strike up a conversation with someone new, and you and your kids are likely to make friends and learn a little something about another part of the country or the world. As the mom of an only child, I relish the high season because we are guaranteed to run into other kids on the playground at Chick-fil-A who can keep my daughter entertained.
If all else fails, hunker down at home and wait for the brief respite between spring break and Memorial Day. You’ve earned it.