Baytowne zip line

DAY FOUR — Heather and David Garay were busy making memories.


Garay, an Air Force major, is leaving before the end of the week for Afghanistan. His wife Heather is determined to “make some memories”  for her four year old son and two year old daughter before Daddy leaves “to fight the bad guys,” as four-year-old Sam says.


So here they are on a fall night just after sunset at Sandestin Resort’s Village of Baytowne Wharfe doing the ropes course (Dad and Sam), the carousel (mom and two year old Lizzie), maybe getting ice cream at  Hartell’s Diner or listening to the free concert.  Sandestin Resort is a short drive from the base where they live.


“We’re not thinking about him being gone,” said Heather Garay. “This is mandatory family time. We’re making memories.”


Whether facing a deployment or just trying to make vacation memories, this village is a terrific place to start. Lanier Motes, who orchestrates the events here at Sandestin (, explains there is something going on every holiday—from fireworks and Santa’s arrival the day after Thanksgiving (check out the three-story high Christmas tree), to the weekend light shows orchestrated to holiday music during December weekends, to New Years Eve when a lot of families gather for the midnight fireworks, to Spring Break (kids love the dog parade he Sunday before Mardi Gras, the Easter Egg Hunt).


 All summer, there are daily events to entertain families vacationing here– Monday magic shows , Mardi Gras for kids on Tuesday nights complete with junior queens and kings and fireworks,  Wednesday  concerts  Friday night bands who invite kids up to sing and dance on stage…  “People come back year after year and they have a relationship with the village,” Motes says.


 I like that these events are free and draw families out of their condos. They can stop for an ice cream, a drink, some candy at the Candy Maker (we watch taffy being made ) or the Kitchen Sink with 15 scoops of ice cream, two bananas,  two donuts, chocolate chi8ps, peanut butter cups, crushed oreos, hot fudge,  strawberry sauce,  butter scotch…whipped cream and more  ($24.95) at Hartell’s diner.


 I love that kids can go on the junior ropes course or try their mettle on the higher one (as long as they are 48 inches tall.)  The six and seven year old we’re with are fearless on the zip line and ropes courses while their older siblings opt to play on the playground, candy in hand.  None of this will bust the budget either—the zip line across the village is just $18; $12 for the ropes course and just $6 for the junior ropes course.


“This is a big hit for us,” says Heather Garay, watching her husband and son navigate the ropes course. “Right now, we’re not thinking about anything else.”


As it should be. God Speed Major Garay.