Autism Odyssea celebrates all on Navarre Beach

Living with autism is tough and vacation can be even harder. These families can face prejudice from those on the outside who don’t understand.

But the folks at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station want to make family fun in the sun a little easier for all families.

They do this, in part, through their annual Autism Odyssea event. Every year in early May hundreds of children on the autism spectrum, their families, volunteers and community members flooded the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station.

This annual event brings together a community need with the science station’s mission of educating the public on the marine environment and promoting conservation.

Science station director Charlene Mauro (pretty cool lady BTW) said the idea for the event came from watching a neighbor whose 3-year­old child has autism. Mauro and the neighbor shared a vacation to Disney World, during which she saw the challenges that these children and their families face every day from public scrutiny to dealing with a world not designed for these children. Autism OdysSea was designed to meet the unique needs of this group.

The hundreds of participants at this year’s event provided dozens of activities catered toward autism as well as marine education. Many of the volunteers have backgrounds in autism care and therapy so parents need not worry.

Kids on the spectrum and off were able to participate in stand up paddle boarding and kayaking as well as a variety of activities and games on land.

One particularly popular activity had children playing in water beads to find and identify sea critters, a sensation friendly activity.

Many of the booths offer interactions with live animals. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge allowed children to pet descented skunks, lizards and a snake. These close up encounters can offer great learning experiences for all kids.

Other activities have children doing crafts like painting starfish and making ocean-themed snack cups.

More than just fun, every year families who come from all over to enjoy the event find support, a sense of togetherness and most importantly a moment of judgement free fun for every member of the family.

Fluffy deserves a vacation too

Too often family vacation is synonymous with leaving our furry family members at home. While we load up in the car and drive off to make memories our pets get stuck with a baby sitter or even at a boarding place.

That’s not fair. Fluffy and Fido want to relax and play in the sun too right?

Well we have got a solution for you. Bring them along!

A Navarre Beach vacation can easily be a pet-friendly vacation with a pet-friendly beach front condo rental. From a full-blown, multiple story rental house to a quiet, laid back (and affordable!) condominium, these are the kinds of places you want to lay your head.

Amenities at these condos include tennis courts, swimming pools, beach front access and so much more. The fully furnished waterside locations will have you and your furry friends relaxing in style.

When you’re not cuddling on the couch with fluffy, let them stretch their legs on the Gulf Boulevard multi-use path. This miles-long walkway runs through the heart of the island with doggy cleanup bags and watering bowl stations available all the way down. Walk, run or bicycle with your pup on a leash, and feel free to stop for a sweet or savory treat along the way at one of the many walk up shops.

If your pup wants to play in the surf it is important to note that pets are not allowed directly on the public beaches in Navarre, but a beach front dog park is located just down the road at Pensacola Beach. Just remember to leave only your paw prints!

So ready to vacation with ALL of your family members?

Our pet-friendly rentals start out as low as $152 a night in the summers. For the snowbirds looking to come in the colder months those prices drop to $110 a night.

Our Fido-friendly accommodations can also sleep as many as 16 guests, visit the links below to schedule your pet-friendly vacation.

Bouncing Butterflies! Navarre butterfly house open for business

Flowers are in bloom, there’s not a cloud in the sky and the warm months are finally in full swing here on Navarre Beach which means it’s that time year.

The Panhandle Butterfly House has turned the key on their 20th season!

Located at the foot of the bridge leading out to Navarre Beach, this beautifully gardened public facility offers a unique, up close encounter with dozens of brightly colored butterflies.

If you have ever been inside an aviary, it is kind of like that, but instead of squawking, flighty birds that are pecking at you trying to steal the treat stick you paid $10 for, this atrium is filled with graceful butterflies quietly showing off their wing art. From iconic monarchs to wispy swallowtails, this facility houses a wide array of the flutter friends that call the Navarre area home.

I could spend hours sitting on the little wooden bench inside that enclosed garden as delicate wings fluttered back and forth from the surrounding blooms. On a quiet day, the fountains gentle trickle is the only sound. On a busy day children gasp in delight as they spot the flittering creatures all around them.

One girl even squealed with excitement when a monarch landed on her arm for a few seconds before fluttering on to a new roust.

The butterfly house also houses eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises that will eventually join the other butterflies.

This place loves public education. Imagine teaching little ones the butterfly life cycle with the real thing just inches from their nose. The docents at the butterfly house really love what they do, and they can provide amazing lessons into native species even for the adults. These passionate volunteers know their stuff.

Did you know that monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants? Did you know that it takes about a month for a butterfly to mature from egg to adult during the summer months?

Well now you do, but that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all these gals have to teach visitors.

They even offer tips for making home gardens butterfly friendly with butterfly host plants. They are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Outside the butterfly house is Navarre Park. This clean, quiet park features two playgrounds, open grass areas, picnic tables, a basketball quart and swings.

If you want to dip a toe after visiting the PBH, let the little ones run wild on the splash pad or walk down to the water’s edge. Santa Rosa Sound and the splash pad are just feet from the PBH.

The transformative power of butterflies have always fascinated us. Come play among the winged wonders on Navarre Beach before they close-up shop again Aug. 26. Monarch Madness is a special treat Oct. 20 -21. Book your family vacation today.

Beach Birds

Odds are if you go down to the beach, you will see the roped off areas along the bridge and near the sand dunes. Little signs will warn you “Don’t enter! Birds nesting!”

You may see the birds. You may not, but let me assure you they are there and we on Navarre Beach are so excited!

From little least terns to large black skimmers, these guys show up on the beach just about the time the tourist season kicks up.

Terns and black skimmers both nest in colonies, working as a collective to keep an eye out for predators. When a potential threat is spotted, the birds will dive bomb and swarm until the predator, or innocent bystander, is forced to flee.

Each nest contains two or three eggs that blend in perfectly with their surroundings. That means in a few short weeks, dozens of chicks – also well camouflaged — will be running around on the beach. If you spot these fluffy little guys, snap a picture!

It is critical that locals and visitors do what they can to help out these guys thrive. A big part of that is respecting the posted nesting areas. Even if you can’t see the birds, trust me, they are there and very, very well camouflaged. Just avoid the roped off portion when visiting the beach.

Keeping pets like cats and dogs away from the nesting areas will help as well by reducing disruption of the nesting birds and preventing the killing of chicks.

And if the birds start to swarm or seem agitated, give them more space.

Traffic on nearby roads is also a threat. Reducing your speed to 20 miles per hour when crossing the bridge onto and leaving the beach really helps out.

That may seem slow, but when one of those goofy beaked black skimmers darts in front of your car you’ll be glad you were cruising. (Happens to me all the time!)

If we all work together we can ensure all our beach babies get to fly to South America at the end of the nesting season.