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By Elizabeth Kerr

The entire state of Florida is celebrating 500 years since the arrival of Ponce de Leon in 1513. Counties all over Florida are marking this year in style… including Pensacola.

As part of your Great Loop experience, a stop in Pensacola is highly recommended. Palm Harbor Marina – a frequent stopover for fellow Canadian Loopers – will welcome you with open arms. Palm Harbor is actually home to many Canadian boats kept there year-round. In fact, the Technomarine docks installed there were built in Canada. According to Robert Dunbar, proud marina manager extraordinaire, “Palm Harbor offers a high-end facility that exemplifies class from the change rooms to the covered party dock…everything a dedicated Looper would ever want.”

Although Barbados and beyond awaits you, even a two-day stopover here will tempt your historic, cultural and culinary palates. Below are a few must-do activities that will tempt you to steer your boat port from Mobile.

Go back in time and visit Historic Pensacola Village. Your tour guide, likely a PHD in History, will stay in timeless character throughout your 45-minute walking tour. Continue your cultural fix by heading around the corner to the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Museum that houses three floors of permanent and traveling exhibits.

I love buying locally. And I love buying art. And I did buy local art at the Quayside Art Gallery. This charming three-story historic building originally constructed as the Germania Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company, offers everything art from pen and ink sketches you can tuck in your pocket to beautifully carved wooden bowls that staff will happily ship home for you.

All good things come for a price. Jackson’s – an award-winning five-star restaurant known for its steaks – was named after General Andrew Jackson who accepted the transfer of Florida from Spain, served as governor of Florida, and, in 1828, was elected the U.S.’s seventh president. If you left the tie and the little black dress at home, people watch while waiting for your meals to go. You may not know their names but you will know that they are the tinsel of the town.

If not too late, make your way to 360 Pensacola Beach lifts you 200 feet above the beautiful beaches and turquoise waters in fully enclosed, air-conditioned gondolas. You'll experience 360° views sweeping from the Gulf of Mexico.

If you have time, rent a car and drive along Perdido Key to the Alabama state line. Stop for a Bushwaker  – a highly spiked, frozen-like mocha milkshake at the infamous Flora-bama! Although not recommended as a pairing, the oysters here are a top-notch choice for lunch overlooking the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Visit on a Sunday and attend the 11:00 a.m. church service!

On the way back to your boat, visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. If you like planes and many of us do, this museum will take you to the skies whether exploring the impressive display of more than 150 restored airplanes dating as far back as 1914 or flying with the Blue Angels on the IMAX screen. (Playing at the time was an optional flick in honour of Canadians: Rocky Mountain Express whose viewers are taken on a steam train journey through the breathtaking vistas of the Canadian Rockies and highlights the building the Canada’s first transcontinental railway.)

For the not faint of heart, climb the narrow, dimly lit 177-step spiral staircase of the Pensacola Lighthouse for a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico and perhaps passages for you yet discovered. Time it to see the Blue Angels practice. You can catch them early morning on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Before heading to the marina, stop at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market. Place your order with Frank – Joe and Anna’s son. It will be packed to go in a Styrofoam chest packed in ice.

Pensacola is indeed worth the visit. Barbados can wait!

Useful Pensacola Websites
vivaflorida.org
palmharbor-marina.com
historicpensacola.org
quaysideartgallery.com
jacksons.goodgrits.com
360pensacolabeach.com
florabama.com
navalaviationmuseum.org
pensacolalighthouse.org
joepattis.com


Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - Palm Harbor Marina - a frewuent stopover for fellow Canadian Loopers - will welcome you with open arms
Photo 2 - Pensacola Lighthouse with the Blue Angels practicing in formation overhead