Immersed in Azure

Back to the beach

Posted: October 22, 2017 at 1:45 a.m.

We in the Natural State are fortunate to live only a day's drive from what many Americans believe are the finest beaches in the country. The white sugary sands and translucent green waters of the Florida and Alabama gulf coasts offer ambience that is much different than the beaches I experienced working in cities along the California and New Jersey coasts.

Thousands of Arkansans pack up through the summer and fall and escape southward to the Emerald Coast that stretches along U.S. 98 from Gulf Shores, Ala., through Okaloosa Island to Panama City, Fla.

Following an afternoon at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, it was back to Fort Walton Beach on the heels of Hurricane Nate. My last trip to Okaloosa Island had been to the stunning Waterscape Resort condominiums with multiple swimming pools and a lazy river that left me feeling downright lazy.

On this four-day stay we pulled into the circular, palm-lined drive leading to the Mediterranean-styled Azure Condominiums. The courtyard fountain welcomed us with a silvery spray as we unloaded onto one of those handy carts that allow us to roll a carload to the room.

After a previous visit to this isle of azure skies, I told readers what kind of facilities we shared, many managed by ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals, the largest beachfront property management company between Panama City and Perdido Key. Their units always have been predictably well-appointed, convenient and very comfortable.

Azure, with 137 units (41 managed by ResortQuest), opened in 2008. It became my favorite. From the light marble floors we stepped onto as the door swung open to a wide Gulf view, to a comfortable king bed and dual-sink bathroom with Jacuzzi, to a balcony furnished with padded lounges made for two, we couldn't imagine any amenity our temporary three-bedroom getaway lacked.

Even if it rained all week, we still could be comfy in this tastefully decorated space with its 60-inch television and the waves splashing on the sand day and night.

Those who vacation here likely know the area along U.S. 98. Another plus for Azure is its location. Sitting on the beach just over the Fort Walton bridge, this getaway was an easy walk to popular places like beach shops, the boardwalk, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, great restaurants, and a beverage store. There's even miniature golf across the street. Two enormous, figure-eight-shaped pools with whirlpools lay just beneath our unit.

A Waffle House is two blocks away and a supermarket is less than a mile. So I'm not kidding when I say one need not travel more than a few thousand feet to get what one needs or wants.

The beach itself, where we also had two chairs and an umbrella included in the package, is sugar-white, a trademark of the Emerald Coast that draws so many from our state and across the nation.

I've discovered during such escapes how much I enjoy long barefoot walks at twilight along the beach where the tide rhythmically washes over my ankles. It's my favorite time of day, watching the sun fade into the ocean in farewell to another day on the calendar that will never come again. My only problem after darkness falls is remembering how to identify which is my condo in the long row of lighted high-rises.

This year we walked to the end of the fishing pier only a half-mile from Azure. It was amazing to me that from the shore, this elevated walkway looks about 200 yards long. Yet from its tip looking back, it seemed more like a half-mile.

At the pier, as with everywhere in this laid-back beach environment, strangers become acquaintances with a smile and hello. On our five-minute stroll to the end, we met and visited with folks from Ohio, Nebraska and Indiana. One engineer with his young son proudly displayed two hand-sized fish they'd placed in a can filled with water. It really didn't matter what kind of fish as long as the young man was reeling something up.

Along with hundreds of others this sunny afternoon, we'd shelled out $2 each to amble slowly high above the waves. Fishing costs $8. The man collecting money behind the counter told us the state collects $80,000 a year in taxes on this leased attraction. I just said something the likes of: "Well, cut my fins off and call me sharky!"

A mid-20s woman named Amy from a small town in northern Nebraska told me about her uncle named Tom Miller who lived in Harrison and played a lot of golf. Now what are the odds of that, valued readers?

For seafood lovers heading to Fort Walton, I highly recommend Louisiana Lagniappe in nearby Destin. For those like me who prefer their seafood chargrilled, there's the locals' favorite High Tide, a pricey but outstanding Old Bay Steamer, and the rustic Boathouse Landing in nearby Niceville.

Rest assured we will return to this Emerald Coast so we can--as they say on the island--"sprinkle some ivory sand in our souls."

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 10/22/2017