If such a thing exists, I think I am in the sweet spot of my parenting journey. With four kids ranging in age from 5 to 13, they are old enough to participate in most activities, but not so old that they are too cool to hang around their parents. I have earned this coveted position after a decade of changing diapers and taking naps in the middle of the day, and I am ready to claim my reward. Fortunately, my kids are also eager to do any and every activity when we travel, so I am left with the challenge of finding a way for them to “do it all.”

The emerald green waters and white sands of Panama City Beach were a perfect place to try out this new stage of life, but, what to do? Should we kayak, paddleboard, snorkel, or go sailing? The answer was yes to all, thanks to Paradise Adventures.

Paradise Adventures charters a 55-foot catamaran known as the Privateer.  They offer a host of sailing excursions, including sunset cruises and eco-educational tours, but their most popular offering for families is the half-day adventure tours to Shell Island. The secluded beauty of Shell Island makes it a must-see locale in PCB, but Paradise Adventures takes an excursion to the island to a whole new level and allowed us to check off most of our summer bucket list items all in one place.

We set out on our 3 ½ hour tour from Pirate Cove Marina through Grand Lagoon towards Shell Island. Along the way, we soaked up the sun and enjoyed the tropical tunes while an occasional pod of dolphins swam alongside the boat. The excitement built as we neared Shell Island, and fuzzy shapes floating in the distance became clearer. From the bow of the boat, one of my boys pointed an ecstatic finger toward the tip of the island and asked “Is that where we are going?” The captain smiled and nodded, as if he was expecting this reaction when the kids got their first glimpse of this section of the area known as “Paradise Island.”

Paradise Island is a secluded strip of beach reserved exclusively for Paradise Adventures guests. To our delight, our package included all of the inflatable toys along the shore of the island, including a climbing wall, water trampolines, an inflatable slide, and a banana boat. Also included were kayaks, paddleboards, snorkel gear, and unlimited use of this section of beach. We really would be doing it all. The only choice was what to choose first.

The kids barely let the boat skid to a stop before they were donning life jackets and barreling off the slide at the back of the boat. With splashes and giggles, they hit those inflatables with a flurry of activity. After watching for a few moments, all the moms onboard agreed the kids would sleep well that night. The biggest source of entertainment for all was an inflatable pillow called the “blob.”  The kids would team up, with one child climbing to the end of the pillow while the other climbed to the top of a tower and jumped as hard as possible. The result was usually the child on the end flying high into the air, legs and arms flailing while everyone else belly-laughed at the scene.

By comparison, kayaking and paddle boarding seemed low-key, but were another way to explore away from the hooting and hollering of the inflatable playground. Whatever the activity, the crew of the Privateer was constantly available to provide safety and comfort. Drinks from the bar flowed freely, and the bartender was willing to deliver as we passed by on a kayak or swam up to the ladder. As a mom, I especially appreciated having a dedicated crewmember in the water to keep the kids safe and help them with the equipment. When the kids needed a break, the shaded galley and bathrooms onboard the boat was a lifesaver. Shell Island is uninhabited with no shelter or facilities, so the chartered boat was a necessity to meet all of the needs of the family.

Our time on “Paradise Island” was over far too quickly, although we had fulfilled our desire to explore the ocean and island in every imaginable way. Before we cast off, the Captain indulged the kids and allowed them to have one last wild ride on the banana boat pulled behind the speeding Jet Ski. As I watched the four of them happily bumping along in the wake, I was certain that this time of enjoying adventure with my kids was worth the wait, and happy that we came to PCB to celebrate our newfound family freedom.