Shell Island Eco Tour & Dolphin Encounter Cruise in Panama City

Shell Island Eco Tour & Dolphin Encounter Cruise in Panama City

Get ready for a truly unique, educational and FUN experience at Panama City Beach!

This outstanding tour begins with a "seafari" eco-tour featuring a St. Andrews Bay net pull to see aquatic life up close and personal.

Then, it's off to Shell Island where the boat docks to allow you some time to explore the island.

On the way back, it's time to watch beautiful bottlenose dolphins in St. Andrews Bay

This is an experience for the entire family.

Don't forget your camera!

  • Details
  • Description
  • Cancellation Policy
  • Related Photos

Tour/Activity Details


3.5 hours


1:00 pm Monday through Saturday (March to Early April)
1:00 pm daily (Early April to Late May)
9:00 am & 1:00 pm daily (Late May through August)
1:00 pm daily (September & October)

Boarding 30 minutes before departure

Tour does not include hotel pick-up. Rates are per person. No alcoholic beverages or coolers allowed on board. Please order online or call to order or for more information.


The Boat

This vessel has an enclosed and climate controlled lower deck with viewing windows all the way around. There's a snack bar, restrooms and an open air viewing deck on the bow. The open upper deck seating area is covered, providing shelter from the elements while also allowing a perfect place to feel the sea breeze. There are specially constructed side panels making it safe for the whole family to be right at the edge and not miss a thing.

The boat is handicapped-accessible.

Tour Details

The journey begins in the Historic Grand Lagoon, where you can feel the sea gulls who flock to greet visitors. The tour narration will point out sights such as nesting ospreys, or perhaps a dolphin trying to get a free lunch from the floating bait shack. From the Grand Lagoon, you will pass beautiful St. Andrews Park and cross through what locals call "The Pass" between the jetties of the park and Shell Island, entering into St. Andrews Bay.

St. Andrews Bay is the most diverse estuary in North America, with over 3,600 species of marine life. Imagine the excitement as you watch the trawl net pulled aboard with a variety of aquatic wonders and sea shells. It's like opening a Christmas present from St. Andrews Bay! You never know exactly what will be found in the net.

Learn about the wonders of the natural ecosystem as you pass around sea life in a clear specimen bucket - or possibly you can touch or hold some of it. Visitors are encouraged to take home any unoccupied shells that are brought up.

Next, it's off to Shell Island and a private dock located in Spanish Shanty Cove, a portion of the island that is part of St. Andrews State Park. The boat will remain there while you explore the island. The dock has a short boardwalk to take you right to the beautiful white sandy beach stretching as far as the eye can see. You will have an hour at your leisure to swim, go shelling, explore, picnic or just relax and enjoy the uninhabited island. Please heed the signs posted for turtle nesting, etc. and you must bring back everything you take to preserve this pristine place.

After boarding the boat again, it's off to watch the wild bottlenose dolphins frolicking in their natural habitat. St. Andrews Bay is home to a large population of these dolphins and they love to show off for visitors. Particularly enjoyable is viewing all the new babies surfacing alongside their mothers. An encounter with these beautiful and intelligent creatures is the perfect way to cap off your outstanding half day of touring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I bring food? -- Yes, but you don’t need to. There is a cash galley on the boat where you can buy snacks and drinks.

Is lunch served on board? Do we need to bring cash for food/drinks? -- The vessel has a snack bar on board serving all the major junk food groups (:-) including Hot Dogs, Chips, Sodas, Ice Cream, Slushies, Candy Bars, etc. all at "family friendly pricing" (example: $2 for Hot Dog). There's no WiFi on board to run a credit card, so you will need to bring cash.

Do we need to bring anything for the Seafari? -- It is not necessary to bring anything except your personal items and a camera. If you WANT to bring your own snacks, soft drinks, etc., it is OK to bring in a bag or backpack. (No coolers or alcohol allowed.)

Is this the same boat as the Glass Bottom Boat? -- YES! The crew has transformed the glass bottom portion on the main deck into a built-in 1,000 gallon Sea Life Viewing Well. You will be able to see a variety of local sea creatures up close.

Do you really see dolphins? What if we don’t see them? -- St. Andrews Bay is home to a large population of Bottlenose Dolphins. They are seen on these cruises just about every day, but as they are wild animals, the Captain and crew cannot promise you will see them. However, since the captains go out several times a day, they know where the dolphins like to play and will make every attempt to encounter them so you can see these beautiful, intelligent creatures in their natural environment.

Can I feed/swim with the dolphins? -- No, it is illegal to swim with wild dolphins in the state of Florida. There are other companies promoting that they do swim with dolphins which is why there is a legal presence out on the water now to prevent it. The dolphins in St. Andrews Bay are wild; therefore, your captain and crew advocate good stewardship by practicing safe viewing which will not disrupt the animals' behavior, but allow them to be seen in their natural environment. Gulf World is the only place in Panama City where you can legally touch the TAME/trained dolphins.

Can I really touch the sea creatures from the trawl net? How do we pass them around? -- There are special see-thru buckets that each creature will be carefully placed into and passed around so everybody will get a chance to look at them up close. Guests will also be allowed to touch any animal that is not dangerous, such as sea urchins, jellyfish (yes-the NON-poisonous variety), flatfish such as flounder, puffer fish, cow fish, horseshoe crabs, etc.

What if I get my hands messy? -- The crew is prepared with disinfectant and a bucket for rinsing hands. There are also bathrooms on board the boat for washing with soap and water.

What is the size of boat? -- This is a very large double deck boat, licensed to hold up to 250 passengers. The lower deck is enclosed and air conditioned with a cash galley and restrooms. The upper deck is open air and covered.

What if it is raining? -- These trips go rain or shine, but not when lightning is present. Actually, the dolphins usually tend to gather in the Bay (where they live) when there are unfavorable weather conditions in the Gulf.

Can I bring drinks/cooler? -- Because of fishing regulations, public tour boats prohibit coolers of any kind brought on board. The 3 things not allowed are: alcohol, GPS or a cooler (unless medical need). Visitors are encouraged to bring a beach bag w/snacks, towels, snorkel gear, etc.

Are there bathrooms onboard? -- YES! There are 2 bathrooms on the boat. During the Shell Island portion of the cruise, the boat stays docked at the Island in order for guests to have access to these restrooms.

What should I bring with me? -- Bring a towel, sun block, sunglasses, camera and whatever else you feel essential. If you want to purchase items from the snack bar, you must do so with cash - no credit cards.

Are there any Snorkel opportunities? -- While no snorkel gear is provided, you may bring your own or purchase some from Dockside Gift Shop at the Marina. Snorkeling may be enjoyed from the beach during the one hour stop at Shell Island.

What if I get sick on the boat? -- This trip is a very smooth ride and very rarely does anyone get sick. If you are nervous about sea sickness, it is advised to take a “non-drowsy” form of Dramamine before your trip. Also, seasick pills are available for purchase in the gift shop located next door to the ticket check-in office.

Where is Shell Island and can I get there by car? -- This 7.5 mile (east to west) long, half mile wide stretch of sand is a barrier island sitting at the mouth of St. Andrews Bay and is only accessible by boat. It is as close to nature as possible with pristine white sand beaches. Sea oats cover the dunes and turtle nest sites are protected. The point where the boat docks is approximately 3 miles toward the center and still within the boundaries of the State Park. Don’t worry; the park fee for you to be there is included in your ticket price. This portion of the island known as “Spanish Shanty” is uninhabited and pristine clean. The Captain and crew like to say, “It’s like God made it, Nature would like to keep it, and we’re going to help!”

What else is there to do at Shell Island? -- While on Shell Island, you can do everything you normally do at the beach with one big difference - no big buildings behind you! It is very much like having a private and very beautiful island that is not a public beach. Things you can do include swimming, shelling, snorkeling, sun bathing and even taking a nice hike through the paths on the dunes. Enjoy the exploration, but please remember to respect the area and “leave no trace” behind. There are bathrooms and trash cans on the boat for this purpose.

What is Spanish Shanty? -- Written records of early Spanish expeditions reported sightings of "tall" Indians living in lodges thatched with palm trees along many magnificent harbors and deep pockets customary to this area. The Spanish explorers built several forts and outposts along the Gulf was in a sheltered shallow-water cove on Shell Island, still known as Spanish Shanty Cove.

Are there shells on Shell Island? Can I take them home? -- The quantity & size of shells you find depends on the time of year and the tide. The crew recommends wading about knee deep into the water and you can usually find some there. You may take home any shell as long as nothing is living in it. Guests will be able to take home pin shells, whelks and other empty shells from the bay that were found in the trawl net.

Are there bathrooms on Shell Island? -- No. The island is basically just an uninhabited beach. The boat stays on the island while you are there if you need to get back on to use the restrooms or if you’d like to purchase anything from the snack bar...or just get back into the air conditioning!

Tour does not include hotel pick-up. Rates are per person. No alcoholic beverages or coolers allowed on board. Please order online or call to order or for more information.

Cancellation Policy

There are no refunds. All sales are final.

Change policy

If changes are allowed on a tour or activity, a $20.00 per reservation change fee will be applied for any change to a reservation. Please note that some tours and activities do not allow any changes. Date changes can only be made only if we can confirm availability on the new date. While we cannot guarantee any changes can be made, all change requests must be submitted a minimum of 24 hours prior to the tour departure and must be handled on an individual basis through our Reservations Center.

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Use the form below to select the date for your reservation. Calendar defaults to first available date. Please verify your date selection prior to submitting your order.

<< September 2017 >>

If you are unable to select a date, it means the tour is unavailable on that date.

Calendar Key

Rates All rates are in US Dollars

Event Date:

September 19, 2017

Desired Time:

01:00 PM