Happy Little Hooligans,  Oh, the Places I'll Go!

Destination: Destin

Since summer is almost over and it’s our last summer before Harper starts kindergarten (I’m only crying a little over here), we planned a last-minute trip to Destin. It also happened to be over my mom’s 60th birthday so I coerced her into tagging along. Then I remembered that my sister, Jackie, was wanting to take her kids somewhere within driving distance, so I invited them too. And then suddenly we had a lot of people. We decided to rent a condo, which, you know, has its pros and cons but the price (and the fact that we could split it) won out and we booked it.

Okay, stop right here. Before I go on there’s something you should know. “As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” There. I said it. This means that if you click on one of my affiliate links and happen to buy something from Amazon, I may earn a small commission at zero cost to you. I am not getting rich here, just trying to make enough to convince my husband it is okay to keep paying for this blog. Now you know. And thank you for clicking 🙂

Moving on…

Dustin’s trip the night before got in late and by the time we loaded the “Swagger Wagon” it was midnight. Yes, we rented a minivan, and yes, we actually loved it, and yes, I insisted it was referred to as the “Swagger Wagon.”

We like to travel light.

…That was sarcasm, Sheldon.

And this is us (once we got home) thinking we have the swagger to go with the wagon. We might end up with one of these. I mean, look at us!

We initially planned to leave at 4 am but we weren’t on the road until 5:06. With as little sleep as we got I still call that a win. The kids and I all dozed for the first few hours, and they didn’t wake up until almost 8 am! We stopped for breakfast at about 9 and then I drove to let Dustin sleep. Of course, he was only asleep about 5 minutes when I asked him a question (I thought he was still awake!), it startled him, and then he couldn’t go back to sleep. Harper did lots of crafts and coloring and movie watching, and Hudson watched Cars and Rio twice. Each. I don’t know how we got this lucky, but both our kids are road trip angels. Dustin and I, not so much.

I hurt just looking at this picture.

We stopped again about 3 pm and realized poor Hudson’s diaper was so full it had soaked his shorts and his whole car seat. Joy. Luckily, we had a blanket, so he rode the rest of the way in just a t-shirt and diaper with a big old blanket stuffed in his seat under him. It must not have been too uncomfortable because he slept. We made it into that last hour when my sister called to check in. We must have missed a turn at that point and gone just far enough that it was faster to take another road. That added at least 30-45 minutes onto the drive and increased Dustin’s blood pressure to just shy of imminent death.

When we got there, my mom and my sister’s family went to eat and get groceries while we went to the beach. Jackie had insisted we didn’t need to do grocery pickup because she didn’t mind doing the grocery shopping, and I said she was crazy. They totally missed out! The beach was gorgeous, the sunset was amazing, and the weather was perfect! Hudson had done great for that hour or so that we were on the beach in Galveston, but he wasn’t so sure about the beach this time. The sand, the waves, the helicopters. It was a lot to take in. My little mermaid, on the other hand, was thrilled!

We came back and got everyone bathed and in bed and after only 10 rounds of our usual lullabies, I think all the kids were finally asleep. At 10:30 pm. Whose idea was it for us to take the bunk bed room with ALL the kids?! Oh yeah. Mine.

The next morning Harper woke up at 6:01 and asked if it was morning yet. This, of course, woke up Hudson and Nora which meant yes, it was morning. We ate breakfast and headed down to the beach. Nora, my niece, got sunblock and then sand in her eyes almost immediately. She was then done with the beach, so they came back up to nap. My little family played until just before noon when Hudson couldn’t handle it anymore. I brought him back up to nap and the kid slept for over 3 hours! While he slept, I booked us some activities.

This is my sister and her family. Must be nice to have a sister who takes pictures for you…

“I’ll just put this white, sandy stuff waaaay over here…”

This is the closest this guy will ever be to knowing what cracked nipples feel like.

Just when we were about to head back down to the beach, Dustin came in and he was burnt to a crisp. Apparently, if he couldn’t easily reapply sunblock himself he just didn’t put it on those places. Nor did he put his shirt back on. Dude was a lobster. And I was shocked. I am married to the sunscreen Nazi. He could sit in a basement with no windows and think about the sun, and come out beet red. He needs sunscreen to walk to and from the car. When it is parked in the garage. Both our kids are fair skinned, and I want them to stay healthy and burn free just as much as he does, but sometimes it just doesn’t occur to me to put sunblock on any of us. This guy never forgets. Ever. I’m still in disbelief.

The rest of us went back down and played for a little more until the kids were done.

My nephew, Kit, is a total beach bum! Our boys are only a few months apart in age but they could not be more different.

We still had to peel Harper away after 8 hours straight. She literally. never. left. She had her lunch delivered to her, and apparently, she peed in the gulf. No need for her to leave! We bathed and fed the kids and every one of us was in bed by 9.

I think we all agreed that our condo, in the Beachside II building of the Sandestin Resort, was absolutely perfect (not an affiliate link so nobody is paying me to say that)! The location couldn’t have been better. Unlike a lot of the other buildings, Beachside II is right on the beach and has the perfect view from the balcony. The beach was somewhat busy, but it was much worse down by the hotel next door. We just sent someone (read: Dustin) down early(ish) every morning to set up our tent to claim our spot and we never had a problem. I didn’t think we would really use the washer and dryer, but I ended up using it every single day (remember the urine soaked car seat?). We saved a ton of money by making a lot of our own meals and we didn’t have to change out of our bathing suits and then wait for hours every time we wanted to go get food. And once we had been out and about in the area, we realized how much construction there was further into Destin. We were just far enough away to not have to deal with it constantly, but close enough to get anywhere we wanted fairly quickly. Plus, having 2 bathrooms and separate bedrooms, but a shared living space, let us all hang out together but not have to listen to each other’s snores.

Also, anyone who ever goes to the beach, or anywhere outside really, needs this Neso Beach Tent (affiliate link). Somehow I never took any pictures that really showed how awesome it is, but it stood up to the wind wonderfully and gave us a huge shaded area. You just adjust the rods based on which direction the wind is coming from, and where you need the shade. But the best part is how crazy easy it is to set up and take down. Plus it all fits in a 19.5″ bag. Read that last sentence again. It all fits into a 19.5″ bag. Big tent, small bag. Perfection.

The next morning, we had our alarms set but were awakened first by the sounds of a screeching Nora about 5:15. Luckily, she stayed in her parent’s room last night!

We were at the marina before 8 am for our snorkel and dolphin watching tour with Flippers Adventures (Not an affiliate link because I’m not affiliated with them in any way. I’m just making your life easier because you’re going to want to book with them. You’re welcome). Actually, I was hesitant to book this one because I never thought a snorkeling tour would be fun for the little ones. But afterward, I was sooo glad we did it! I actually picked this company mainly because, well one, they allowed the babies to go (others do not), but also because the picture of their boat on Trip Advisor looked like it had a lot of shade. That was even before everyone got roasted. When we got there, it wasn’t the same boat as in the picture, but it was perfect because all the other people on the tour wanted the uncovered back of the boat, which left our family all of the covered area with plenty of space for the kids to move around. The first stop was in a protected area of the bay (so no waves) where Dustin, Harper, and Caleb (my brother-in-law) did some snorkeling and my mom and sister and I got out and just hung out in the chest deep water with the littles. When the snorkelers came back I heard about the blue and orange fish, and how Harper had a ton of little silver fish all around her, and how Dustin thought it was awesome, and she absolutely did not. We saw plenty of fish in the shallow water close to us too because it was so clear. Being from Houston I could not get over how clear the water was in Destin!

Then we all got back in the boat and they headed further out into the bay. We started moving faster and the dolphins came to greet us. They were showing off all around us, jumping in our wake. Flippers Adventures does not feed the dolphins, which I was glad for, but obviously people do because they were loving the boat! I don’t know how many there actually were, I’m thinking 5 or 6 (and one baby!) but they were all around us! It was pretty incredible seeing them jumping and flipping and doing all these crazy things in the wild! It felt like we were front row at a show with trained dolphins! Thinking back, I’m wondering if anyone else from my family actually got to see any dolphins with me jumping in front of them with my camera… but no one complained (to my face anyway) and I think I got some awesome pictures!

Then they took us past Crab Island to another shallow, protected area that had a ton of shells on the bottom. There weren’t any other tours here so that was nice. The water wasn’t quite as clear because the tides had started to shift but it was still clean water and the snorkelers collected a bunch of really interesting shells on the bottom. I kept trying to pick up shells with my feet but just ended up burying them instead. Caleb found a big hermit crab that somehow found itself relocated to the beach in front of our condo…

Crab Island. Probably our crab, Shelley’s hometown.

Initially, I was not excited about it being an 8 am tour but it was all they had left. After having done it, I would purposefully choose the 8 am tour again. Not only were the dolphins super active that time of day, but it also meant we were out and about before most other vacationers so the traffic from the construction wasn’t an issue trying to get there. In the end, it was about 2.5 hours and we all said Flippers Adventures was one of the highlights of our trip. The small boat meant not as many people and (hopefully) everyone got to see the dolphins up close. Plus, being able to get out of the boat broke it up, showed us some different areas and even the babies got to enjoy themselves. Harper’s words were, “I went cuckoo crazy over the dolphins!”

I think maybe she’s just cuckoo crazy in general.

Then we went back to the hotel, changed, and headed out to Fudpucker’s to see if they could live up to the hype. We got there just a little after opening and it was already a 20-minute wait. But we came for the gators anyway, not so much the food. Good thing. The food was mediocre at best. I got fish tacos and when they first brought them out I was shocked at the ginormity of them (yes, I’m positive that’s a word), but then I realized they were mostly lettuce. Dustin had a mediocre gumbo, and Harper had grilled cheese that she didn’t eat (not that that surprises me). My mom had a burger and said her food was really good. Either she’s just not picky or maybe burgers are just what you should get there. I didn’t hear anyone else just raving about their food, but I also didn’t hear complaints. Hudson must have liked his mac & cheese though because he would get a bite and then yell at the top of his lungs until I gave him another. He used to sign “more” but apparently yelling is more effective.

When we were done fattening up our kids we fed the alligators (see what I did there?!). They give you these food pellets and a cane pole to stick down into the gator pond. The kids loved watching them jump up and snatch the food and I have to admit it was kinda cool to watch them.

This guy was not amused. I feel ya, dude.

Then, because I am a sucker for paying for overpriced touristy stuff, we had our picture taken with a baby alligator. I would have had Harper do it alone, but she’s been freaking out about animals lately. So we all took the picture together and Harper and I held the alligator. My biggest concern was Hudson smacking him and pissing him off, but Dustin kept him pretty restrained. Luckily, the alligator was calm (and had his mouth taped shut) and they let us feel all over him. Those guys have some pretty crazy skin. That’s the only way I can describe it. Just crazy and thick. Because we got to hold and feel all over this poor baby alligator I’d say it was worth the $10. I got the print, but I never got the emailed picture I paid extra for so I’m gonna go ahead and say that was a wasted $5.

It wasn’t until they handed us the print that we realized just how burned we all were!

On the way back to the condo, the 4 of us stopped at Dippin’ Dots. Hudson has never had Dippin’ Dots, or ice cream at all (ahem, as far as I know), and suddenly he remembered how to sign “more.”

I think this picture sums up parenting as a whole.

When we got back, everyone else was napping so we followed suit. It was evening before we were all awake and I couldn’t just look at the beach without taking my kids out there, so we went back down. I missed that perfect golden hour, but we still got some pretty sunset pictures. When it was getting dark we left the beach and jumped in the pool for a bit. Tip: I am 100% certain this is frowned upon, but the pool cleaned the sand out of our cracks that the showers failed to remove.

Jackie had to work the next day so they left in the morning just before we got up. It was our last day and my mom’s 60th birthday so I had a full day planned!

First I had to get some pictures of my mermaid princess in her tail. I am far from being a photographer, but I try anyway. These are close to what I had hoped to capture:

And my favorite:

And these are what she had in mind:

I had set up sandcastle building lessons for Dustin, my mom, and Harper, and I planned to take pictures and watch Hudson. I only ended up booking a lesson with Sandcastle Rockstars when my booking with another company had been an error on their site and wasn’t actually available (again, I am not affiliated with them, I’m just a nice person making it easier for you to book with them). But I am so happy that lesson was canceled because they got a great lesson and at a much cheaper price. Dan was their teacher. I have to say it… Dan is the man! His skills were pretty amazing, and he made it look so easy! I’ve always wondered how in the world people can do so much with sand when all I could do was get sand stuck in my bucket. Apparently, we’ve been doing it all wrong. Dan was so great at helping each of them on their own level (which is saying a lot for a lesson with a 60, 35 and 5-year-old) and even kept Harper interested and doing some of the same skills. We were all pretty amazed at this guy’s talent and so was everyone else around us. Some people stopped to talk for a second, but most just watched from a distance and then tried to replicate our new skills. He used a bunch of 5-gallon buckets, some thinner buckets with the bottoms cut out, a small spatula, an old paintbrush, a plastic spoon, and a thick straw. Basically, you use almost more water than sand and it will stick together and harden like concrete. He set them all up to make their own small towers and then he added a couple arches, some trees, boulders, and stairs to tie them all together to look like one castle. I felt like pretty much a professional after just watching! My only regret was not scheduling the lessons earlier in our trip, so we had more time to practice our new skills!

Hudson did well hanging out in the shade with his trucks for a while, but then he wanted to help.

It took until our last day for Hudson to finally act like he kinda liked the beach and suddenly he wanted to do whatever everyone else was doing. Not that he was terrible the other days, but 95% of his pictures have this face:

He finally had fun playing with all the toys, he loved the sand, and he would splash like crazy when I took him out into the water. His favorites though were the birds and airplanes flying overhead. Apparently, Eglin Air Force Base is nearby so every few minutes there is some sort of aircraft flying down the beach. Hudson got excited and we had to acknowledge every. single. one.

Harper was the most popular girl on the beach with her giant unicorn float. Of course, after she and I were riding the waves in it and then a huge one came and dumped her out on top of me, she was done with waves. Wouldn’t go any further than knee-deep.

Then Dustin and I tried to fly a kite. Apparently, my husband can’t fly just anything because the highest we could get it was about 10 feet for about 15 seconds max. Eventually, we gave up. If I ever get brave enough to try again I will have a huge ball of string to untie.

Later on, we tried to make a snow sand man so we could take a Christmas card picture. I had this all planned out and brought a hat and scarf from home. After the lessons, it seemed easy enough. But I guess I am not quite the professional sand artist I think I am. It took forever to get the base built, and then just when the middle started to come together it crumbled. Hudson was getting irritable and we really needed to go in to get ready for our sunset cruise. I ended up sticking the shovel in our mound and calling it the sword in the stone… Or shovel in the sand. It’s all about perspective, people.

Merry Christmas.

We went back up, got ready and headed out. I had hoped we could try to go out to eat since it was my mom’s birthday but we didn’t have time. We did make a pit stop for a “Booze in the Blender” to-go at Margaritaville.

Aaaaand some sticky pineapple.

Our Buccaneer Pirate Cruise (again, no affiliation, but you’re welcome) was everything you would hope for and expect on a pirate cruise. The ship really did look like a fairy tale pirate ship. Having a one-year-old out past bedtime, and a 5-year-old unicorn-loving princess, I wasn’t 100% certain how much they would enjoy it but the Trip Advisor pictures convinced me to do it. It impressed even my husband! The captain and crew had the accents, the costumes, and the swagger (they probably drive minivans). There were water gun fights, swabbing the deck, hula hooping, face painting, cannon fire, the sea leg stomp, hoisting of treasure, threatened mutiny, and mild adult humor over the kids’ heads. Everyone got to participate, and they pulled in some of the parents too which was hilarious for everyone. Any time of day would have been fun, but doing it at sunset was pretty perfect. It was a beautiful night for it too!

As the evening went on Hudson’s snotty nose got a little worse and though he was generally good on the boat it was obvious he didn’t feel well. We were all hungry, but we were also exhausted. The other problem was we had run out of milk and Hudson was already signing for it. So a nice dinner for grandma’s birthday was out. We stopped at Walmart so I could grab some milk and then Dustin grabbed us some Chipotle. We got the kids in bed and packed up everything we could.

As we were finally getting in bed, Dustin started having some sort of an anxiety attack over his itchy, sunburned back. He said it felt like he was being poked or like it was painful bug bites or something. All I knew to do was to try another gallon of lotion. He said that didn’t help and was flipping around and getting in and out of the squeaky bed so much we were afraid he was going to wake the kids. He went into the living room, watched 5 minutes of TV and said he went right to sleep. Not sure what this says about the effect my presence has on my husband.

I slept great until Hudson woke up at 3 am having a screaming fit. I couldn’t tell how much of it was that he didn’t feel good and was upset about it, or if he was just overly tired and out of his element, or if it was something like a night terror because he wouldn’t even open his eyes. It was like he was throwing a fit in his sleep. And then, all of a sudden, he was back to sleeping soundly. Just snoring like crazy from the congestion.

We were going to head out early the next morning but didn’t actually leave until just after 8 am. Getting Harper buckled in before we had even started the car, she says, “Mom I need something to do. I’m bored!” The kid has some nerve.

A friend (one who would never steer me wrong when it comes to food, Hi Sherryl!) had told me to go to the Donut Hole for breakfast while we were there, and this was going to be our last chance. But when we pulled up and there was a line out the door I just couldn’t do it. The next best (and next closest) thing on Yelp was The Breakfast Table Café (you guessed it, no affiliation). I’m not saying the Donut Hole is not worth it, but guys, when this cute little place is right there with amazing breakfasts, and you can walk right in, you might be crazy for going anywhere else. Plus, it’s one of those draw on the butcher paper tablecloth places. Who doesn’t love those?

Even her eyeballs were sunburned. And yes, she’s in pajamas. Whatever.

The drive home was uneventful. Both kids slept for a while, Hudson watched some more movies and Harper kept herself busy. A pit stop at Chick-fil-A and suddenly we were home.

Usually, when we travel I like to see and do everything there is to do because I may not be back. There is just so much world that I need to see and only so much time and money to make it there. But Destin just made my list of places I could easily return to. There are plenty of things to keep yourself busy, but the beaches are so beautiful that you could just sit all day watching the waves and be perfectly content. I’m not sure when, with who or what we’ll do, but Destin hasn’t seen the last of us!

Before you head out on your own Destin trip, here is my list of must-haves:

  • Beach Tent (affiliate link)– Seriously, don’t bother with anything else. If you already have something else, leave it at home. This tent is the best. All our beach neighbors agreed. They have smaller ones but all the reviews said to get the bigger one so we did. See above. Way above.
  • Beach blanket (affiliate link) – I did waaay too much research on beach blankets (okay, maybe on everything I bought). I wanted to try one of those sand-free blankets where the sand magically goes through… but the reviews were all kinda egh. This blanket we got was amazing though. Zero sand sticks to it because it is a parachute type fabric. It also folds down crazy small. It’s amazing. Trust me.
  • Beach towels (affiliate link) – Okay, so we actually used all of my mom’s beach towels but these were in my cart. They look nice and fat and warm and they get the very best reviews. If you have these let me know how much you love them. We need to get our own beach towels.
  • Beach chairs (affiliate link) – Okay, we have kids so rarely did we actually sit in a chair and some condos (like ours) provide a chair or 2. BUT, I might have to get a couple of these chairs. Seriously. Check these out. They look perfect and apparently everyone else thinks so too.
  • Lime Ricki bathing suit(s– this is not an affiliate link, they don’t pay me to say this, but they are my newfound love and the world needs to know about them. They get real women of all shapes and sizes. Plus, they’re a company who pays it forward. Go to their site. Buy a suit. Fall in love. I have more pics on my Instagram. Follow me while you’re at it. Wink, wink.
  • Unicorn float (affiliate link) – Gotta have the best float on the beach. This is the one we had (leftover from her unicorn birthday party), but there are sooooo many awesome floats I’ve seen! The donut, the swan, the pineapple, the alligator, the flamingo, the shark, the poop emoji, the entire pizza, the watermelon, the balloon animal, the cockroach… okay don’t get that one. Or there’s this clear bottom float that I only just found today. Why did I not know about this one before?! Someone please tell me this thing is amazing! I neeeeeed this!!
  • Snorkel and mask (affiliate link), flippers (affiliate link), snorkel vest (affiliate link) – This is not the vest Dustin had because apparently it is not available anymore. But you get the idea. You have to go out a little ways to see the fish, the sand dollars, and the stingrays he saw. Better safe than sorry. Get the dang vest, guys.
  • Kickboard (affiliate link) – Again, I can’t find the exact one we bought but this one is close. They have cuter (and cheaper) ones but just make sure it can hold your kid or it is a waste. And you know, not safe and all that.
  • Sand toys – Guys, you’re gonna have to do your own Amazon search for these. There are too many to begin to link to. Think the obvious: buckets, shovels, a rake, sifter, a sand wheel thingie, dump trucks and tractors, cheap Barbies… whatever. Take it all. They’ll want to play with all the other kids’ toys anyway.
  • Sandcastle kitThis (affiliate link) is the closest I could find and I assume it would work alright, but if you do a lesson with Sandcastle Rockstars you can also buy the kit from them. We should have done that. Don’t be like us. Just get the set from them.
  • Mermaid tail (affiliate link) –  These suckers are either crazy expensive and get mediocre reviews, or are a little cheaper and get terrible reviews. Knowing it was just to play in outside of the water, I opted for cheap(ish). She’s gonna tear it up anyway. I wouldn’t let Harper swim in it even though she’s an excellent swimmer. They just don’t seem safe to me. But they make the best pictures!
  • Kite (affiliate link) – So this is the one I bought. May you have better luck than we did. Maybe watch a YouTube video or something
  • Bubble machine (affiliate link) – Why, why, why did I keep forgetting about the bubble machine? Hudson would have loved it! Take yours. Send me the beautiful pictures of your babies loving the bubbles on the beach. I won’t forget next time.
  • Sunblock – No link. I refuse to get into that “do you know how unsafe that sunblock is?” debate. I don’t care what kind you get just use it (and reapply) so you don’t end up like Dustin. Or the rest of us.

So who’s ready to go back with me?


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  • Amanda Davila

    Where do I even start. This post is the best. Great info and hilarious. And beautiful pictures! Thanks for all the great tips! Destin is definitely on our list to visit and now I have some great ideas!
    P.S. you two totally rock the swagger wagon!

    • Jessica

      Thank you so much! It was definitely a trip to remember! Can’t wait to hear about yours 😉
      PS Based on your blog, I think we have a scary amount in common!

    • Jessica

      Hey thanks! I do have a Twitter account but I don’t post much there. Thanks for the reminder that I should! My handle is @mama_cant_sing.

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