#1,319 Navarre + Wakulla.

After a quick stop for lunch in downtown Pensacola at a food court of cute airstream trailers serving all kinds of gourmet deliciousness:

Namely, a wagon specializing in my very biggest vice—hot, pressed, buttery sandwiches with ooey gooey, melty cheese and other (unimportant) stuff. I went with the classic American melt with creamy tomato basil soup:

Then we carried on to the east to meet up with my brother who is spending the week in Santa Rosa Beach with his wife and her family. Navarre Beach happens to be along the way. 
Navarre Beach has an extremely special place in my history. We went there every summer of my younger childhood, to The Tropics Holidome. Please please please… Someone out there tell me you went here too? And experienced this magical place that was, to me, more wonderful than anything Disney could offer? I had a brochure from there that I had almost memorized I so loved reading it when I was little. I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the week leading up to our annual trip. The Holidome is where they filmed the opening scenes of Jaws 2, and to this day it’s the only way I’ve found any decent visual history of the place (besides the tiny photos on their now defunct website). Of all the summers we spent there, not a single photo of the interior exists in our old family photos.
Let me break it down for you:
1. You walk in to the lobby and the overwhelming smell of chlorinated vacation magic floods you.
2. There is a real, live parrot at the check in desk. It can talk. You walk down a big corridor to the main event.
3. The Holidome is a 4 story hotel shaped like a square, that encloses this huge common room that centers around a tropical indoor swimming pool. Birds are flying around and there are palm trees. INSIDE! Around the first floor of the room are a pizza parlor, gift shop that sells those invisible ink markers, ice cream shop, arcade, and movie theater. There are pool and ping pong tables all around the swimming pool. 
We all believed it was heaven. The last time I remember going was in 1994. In 2004, hurricane Ivan damaged it so badly that it had to be demolished shortly after. I was heartbroken when I heard the news. I never experienced a more special place in my childhood. Even though I said we really didn’t have to, Ben insisted that we make the detour so I could see the spot where it once stood. 

It made me ache to go back there in a way that I really didn’t expect. I felt profoundly sad. Until we had an idea! I grabbed the styrofoam coffee cup from Ben’s breakfast, poured it out and filled it with sand, shells and sea glass (presumably from the windows of the hotel?) that we’ll add to our travel jar collection when we get home. He also found a big piece of the coquina shell concrete from around the swimming pool that we can use as a bookend. I felt downright relieved by the thought of bringing a little of my childhood summers home with us. Why in the world am I so sentimental?

An hour later we were in Santa Rosa and made the quick stop to see Clark at the swanky 3 story beach house they’re renting for the week.
And then we left and drove through terribly stormy weather all the way to Wakulla Springs, our favorite summer spot since our first visit in 2010. The rain let up just long enough for us to get our bags inside. This is the long, long, long winding driveway to the lodge, surrounded by swamps and dense tropical foliage. 

I was telling Ben earlier that it’s surprising that I keep coming here every year considering 2 of my greatest fears are totally legit concerns here: 
1. Dinosaurs (you mean to tell me the world’s deepest spring has been 100% inspected and deemed all clear of prehistoric creatures? There’s a reason they filmed Creature from the Black Lagoon here.)
2. Ghosts. One of the rooms has been reported to be haunted over and over and over. We spent one (restless) night in there last summer. 

Tonight I want to document my favorite things about the lodge:
Old Joe. The HUGE beloved alligator of the springs that was the most photographed wild gator in the world at a time. Someone killed him in 1966 even though he’d never hurt anyone. There was a reward for information regarding his murder. His body is taxidermied and lies in state in the lobby.
Windows that crank open so you can listen to the rain on the tile roof:
The all-marble bathrooms with fancy bath products.
The creepy elevators.
This sign in the big, grand, marble staircase:
The ornate ceilings in the lobby.
The complete mastodon skeleton they pulled out of the swimming hole of the springs that’s now in a natural history museum:
Sharing the famous Wakulla fried chicken in the dining hall of the lodge with this hottie:
Watching a scary black and white movie that was filmed right here in the lobby:
And getting into a warm, comfy bed to read while the rain pours down outside. Happy vacation to me.