30A Prime Interview with Wild Thang Airboat Tours
In my 34 years on this planet I had never been on an airboat ride. Growing up, our yearly family vacation was always to visit grandparents who lived in southwest Florida. Naturally, on the long drive down from Wisconsin we would pass many Airboat Tour billboards alongside I-75 south. I distinctly remember begging my parents to stop and try one out but it never happened…
Thanks to our friends at Wild Thang Airboat Tours in Panama City Beach, my longtime dream of riding on an airboat finally came true on a recent afternoon in July.
Cruising with Miranda and Captain Roger
We met with longtime airboat Captain Roger as well as office manager / deckhand / Captain Miranda both of whom are Florida natives and have been around airboats most of their lives. They made my dream come true when they took us out for a quick tour of the West Bay marsh. I’ve been on many regular boat rides in my life but an airboat felt totally different. Captain Roger did a bunch of fun 360-degree donut spins, drove over sandbars and through tall marshy grass. The ride was extremely comfortable and felt like we were floating over the water. It’s was literally one of the best experiences of my life and I have already made arrangements to do the night trip with my family. Make sure to watch the video below to see clips from my first airboat ride.
Captain Roger has been operating airboats for more than 17 years. Out of the 3 different types of tours offered by Wild Thang, he told us that the Sunset Night Ride from 7:30 to 9pm is his favorite. He described the Sunset Night Tour in the following way… “On the way out into the bay you catch the sunset and when it gets dark we break out the spotlight and everyone typically sees lots of Gators”. When asked what people should bring the Captain said they are welcome to bring towels, coolers, beer, sunscreen, sunglasses, water and pretty much anything else. On a boat space is at a premium so just as long as what you bring does not intrude on your neighbors, you are pretty much good to go.
Miranda has served as a deckhand and the office manager of Wild Thang Airboat Tours for the past 10 years but she’s been around the business pretty much her entire life. She explained to us that the name of the business was most likely inspired by the famous 1966 Chip Taylor song “Wild Thing”. The business has evolved over the years into what it is today but it did not start with airboats. Instead, they originally began as a seaplane tour business back in 1987 and as the years went on they added jet ski, pontoon and other rentals to their fleet. The seaplane was their original bread-and-butter but that changed when their only pilot retired and sold the seaplane. Needing to find another money maker, they purchased their first airboat and the rest is history. In 2008, they discontinued the pontoon and jet ski rental side of the operation to focus solely on world class airboat tours. Today Wild Thang has a total of 3 airboats (‘Swamp Stalker’ is their newest) that each hold up to 16 people.
We were also introduced to Zeus, an American Alligator and the official mascot of Wild Thang Airboat Tours. I was able to hold the baby gator when he awoke from his nap. If you’ve never held an alligator it’s allot of fun and a wonderful way to get close to nature without the danger. Zeus may not be a god, but he is mighty in his own right and extremely cute. If you meet Zeus be sure to give him plenty of belly rubs as he’s a huge fan!
Customers have the option of choosing from 3 extremely fun but slightly different types of airboat tours and they are as follows…
- Half Hour Ride – The half hour tour is a great option for middle of the day trips because it’s enough time to experience the thrill of airboats without getting too hot.
- One Hour Ride – You’ll go further back into the marshes on the hour tour which means better odds of seeing Gators, osprey, dolphins, fiddler crabs and all sorts of Northwest Florida Wildlife.
- “Ultimate” Sunset Night Ride – By far their most popular tour, the Sunset Night Ride is from 7:30 to 9 pm and offers the best chance to see lots of alligators. Like Captain Roger, Miranda said the Sunset Night Ride is her favorite tour because it gives people a different glimpse of Florida.
Miranda asked us to communicate to people interested in the Sunset Night Ride they should try to schedule at least a week in advance and for the other tours to schedule 48 hours in advance as they do fill up quickly. The best way to reserve your spot is via their website… PanamaCityAirboat.com or by calling them at… 850-234-1532
There are other airboat tours services out there, however, in addition to an extremely friendly staff some things that help separate Wild Thang from the competition include but are not limited to…
- Wild Thang is the only airboat tour service that is on the water and has their own Private Dock which is extremely convenient for their customers.
- The competition conducts 45-minute rides vs the hour long Wild Thang tours.
- They operate on both sides of the bay to maximize their customers’ experience.
Wild Thang Airboat Tours is So Easy to Get To
Getting to Wild Thang Airboat Tours is easy as it’s located on the Intracoastal Waterway just off of HWY 79 next to Boon Docks restaurant. It’s only about a 15-minute drive from the east end of the 30A corridor and a 10-minute ride from Pier Park. Airboat tours are a great way to spend quality time with loved ones and see a unique side of Northwest Florida. A Wild Thang Airboat Tour is the perfect activity for those looking to do something other than sitting on the beach.
Thanks again to Miranda and Captain Roger for taking the time to share their stories with us. Beverly Holoka, thank you for setting up the interview and helping with this article. Also, thanks to Whitney Holmes for providing much of the fantastic video content you’ll now see below…