My family (husband, son (11), and daughter (8), just returned from our trip to Panama City Beach. We drove from WI, stopping in Franklin, TN on the way down and back. Drive was uneventful and easy overall, but LONG! We stayed at Celadon, which is located on the far west end of the beach. We've stayed there before and been to PCB at least 20 times so we are very familiar with the area. I must say, though, that I think this will be our last trip to PCB. The day we arrived was absolutely gorgeous; 80 degrees and sunny. We unloaded the car and made our way to the beach knowing that every minute in the sun is precious. We hung out at the beach for a couple hours and I made my way to the Publix grocery store on Back Beach Rd. to stock up on groceries for the week. I know that the groceries in PCB will always be at least 30% higher than at home, but I still feel it's highway robbery to charge someone close to $3 for a cheap loaf of white bread. I choose Publix because it's clean, good quality and sells Boar's Head lunch meat which is what we prefer. It's hard to stomach the prices, though. We try to bring as many "dry goods" from home to avoid spending too much on groceries while we're there.
Meals out: Ate dinner at Olive Garden at Pier Park and it was fantastic. Server was amazing and very attentive to us and the kids. Restaurant was clean, food was very good and despite the fact that it was a chain restaurant, we had a very nice meal.
Margaritaville at Pier Park: If I had to use one word to describe our experience it would be HORRIBLE. There was no wait which should have been our first tip off. We were immediately seated and given an oversized (too wide and too long to hold easily) menu, that was scaled back from what we remember from our first trip there. One look at the prices and we should have walked out. We were hungry and tired so we stayed. Reluctantly. We ordered an appetizer which was some sort of volcano shrimp. I think there were 5 or 6 small, deep fried shrimp for $13. I'm sure it cost about $1.50 to make them. Our meal came shortly after and this is where things really went down hill. I ordered a black and bleu burger, which was average. Husband ordered a burger, son ordered kids' mac n' cheese, and daughter ordered kids' chicken strips. Daughter's chicken strips were burned and smelled of fish. When I asked the server if the chicken was fried in the same batter as the fish, she said it was not. Could not have been the truth. I asked if we could order something else because the chicken was burned, and she reluctantly said "yes" and daughter also ordered the mac n' cheese. Mac n' cheese was from a box, looked like it had not been mixed well enough and cost $7. Wow. The icing on the cake was when the server brought daughter's food and something fell out of server's mouth. I don't know if it was a tooth, mint, gum or what, but it was disgusting and we just about got up and left. None of us finished our meals and nothing was good enough to box up and take home. $81 later we got up and left, feeling shameful that we said nothing to management. Our bad. We just wanted to get out.
The rest of the week was spent on the beach when the weather was decent, which was only a few days out of our week. The beach was in beautiful shape and the Gulf was gorgeous. No jelly fish, sea week, or anything else. Simply beautiful. One of the reasons I say we probably won't go back is the uncertainty of the weather. I would say half our week weather-wise was bad. Really bad. Cold, windy and then some rain. We plan a full year for a week of vacation that is spent sitting in a condo and that's not my idea of a great vacation. If we had two weeks, I would be OK with a few rainy or cold days here and there. The northern part of FL is always a crap shoot and I know that, but I'm not willing to take that risk anymore.
Spring break was not a factor while we were there and I actually took Front Beach Rd on several occasions and had no issues! Beaches were free of spring breakers in my area, too, and I was thankful for that. It was mainly families with kids enjoying themselves. I'm still very turned off at PCB as a whole with the run down shops, hotels, vacant places, etc. It's very much "hodge podge" and an eye soar. I'm surprised that the city has not done more development to improve the image of PCB. God knows they bring in enough money during spring break.
Bottom line is that I think we're ready to move on to someplace new. I'm not impressed by PCB anymore and if I go back to the Panhandle it will be to Destin or the 30A area. The weather is too unpredictable in spring and the area as a whole is unimpressive. The beaches are still amazing as is the Gulf, but I can enjoy the same thing further east on the beach. I think next trip will be to the Caribbean.