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Monday, December 21, 2015

Panama City Beach, Florida / Long Beach Resort and area info

November - December 2015, 1-week, Unit 1-902, VRBO #394399

More photos and detail about this resort, the condo unit, and the area can be found in the Panama City Beach Facebook album.

sunrise from the bedroom

Pre-trip research

I started investigating condos and resorts in Panama City Beach February 2015 for our fall trip. This was quite a bit in advance of our trip; however, since we had never done this kind of vacation before, there were a lot of things to consider. Which property? Room type? Which manager or owner to go with? 

By March we had made our decision of where we wanted to stay. We chose Long Beach Resort for several reasons: we liked the floor plan with the large private balcony, we liked the pools and hot tubs, and all the units we considered said non-smoking, and no pets allowed (more detail about this later). We studied several condo photos and reviews, and eventually decided we wanted to rent with Bill Pedersen. He had two units we were interested in: #457462 and #394399. We initially chose 457462; however, repeat guests had priority for that unit, and Bill told us he would let us rent 394399 for the same price (at the time of our research, the weekly rate for 457462 was $100 less than the current price). We accepted the offer, and he marked the unit as rented for the week of our stay.

screen shot of the unit we chose during our research
After this, the reservation process did not continue as I expected.  Bill said he had the unit reserved for us, and he would get the paperwork out to us when summer activity slowed down. It was about the end of April at that time. I had not heard from him by the end of August, so I contacted him again then, and then again in September. Apparently, we had slipped through the cracks (just the paperwork; the condo was still reserved for us), and we completed the paperwork in September. 

This was our first experience with VRBO and with renting a condo. My main disappointment with the reservation process was that we had to send a check for the payment and deposit. We were receiving a discounted rate because the rates had increased since our initial contact, and Bill said that VRBO charges a 2.5% credit card fee. Our credit cards have included vacation/travel coverage, so we do not need to buy travel insurance for our trips. This time, we took a chance with no coverage.

photo taken 11/2015

Long Beach Resort Unit 1-902

This is a one bedroom unit in tower one (the SW end of the property) on the 9th floor. We loved the floor plan. We also liked being on the 9th floor, as we thought this was a good height for beach and water viewing - we saw dolphins swim by a couple of days! Overall, we were happy with this resort and the specific condo, although we experienced a few minor imperfections. Keep in mind, that I am probably pickier than most people!

photo taken before we left - 12/2015
This unit was laid out exactly like the floor plan diagram provided on the website. It has tile throughout, and the stained glass light at the end of the bar was especially sharp looking. The wooden bar stools in the photo I have provided are different than the ones shown on the website. We liked the bar stools, although a previous guest had said they were uncomfortable. I do not know if that guest was referring to the stools we had, or the ones in the photo on the VRBO website.

dust build up on closet door
The kitchen contained all of the appliances listed and shown on the website. The coffeepot was different than the one pictured on the website, which did not make any difference. The large appliances were all in good working order and clean. The dishwasher was very quiet when running. The kitchen closet door was exceedingly grimy around the door handle, and there was considerable dust build up on the louvers. The ice maker had been turned on, and there were a few cubes in the tub when we arrived. There were dirty fingerprints on the ice tub, so I wanted to put it in the dishwasher, but my husband said I was being silly. There was a blender in the cupboard, which was not listed among the items on the website. We did not use the blender, although I wanted to mention this for others who might be interested.

We were provided with one roll of paper towel, a dish cloth and towel, dishwasher detergent, and one trash bag in the trashcan in the closet. Our contract had said hand dishwashing liquid would also be provided; however, there was not any in this condo. There are charcoal grills on this property at the east end of tower one, and there was charcoal starter fluid in the closet (I assume this was left by a previous guest).

The living room sofa, TV, and tables matched the photos on the rental website. The extra living room chair, and the table chairs were different. The living room chair was a worn dark tan chair and footstool partially visible in the bar stool photo above. This picture is also in the Facebook album. The worn chair was very comfortable; however, the couch was not. The table chairs were chairs with padded seats, rather than the wooden ones shown in the website photo. The view from the bar and living room was fabulous!

The bedroom looked just like the photos on the website except there was also a nice suitcase bench in the room. The bedding was clean. The pillows were fine for comfort, although the mattress was kind of hard. The display on the telephone in the bedroom said, "1 missed call." We did not pick up or use the telephone. The clock next to the telephone was an hour fast, as were the clocks in the kitchen and living room. I assume they had not been changed back from the Daylight Savings time change a few weeks before our stay.

suitcase bench
The dresser drawers were dusty inside, and I washed them out before we put our belongings in them. I only washed the top two drawers, and hung the rest of our things in the large closet. I do not recall the number of hangers in the closet (maybe 10), although I could have used a couple more.

The bathroom area was clean and spacious. One full roll of toilet paper, a fresh bar of Dial soap, a hairdryer, washcloths and towels had been provided. I did not see a bathmat, so we used an extra towel (there were plenty).

There was a nice full length mirror on the end wall in front of the washer and dryer closet. The washer and dryer ran very quietly, just like the dishwasher. There was a light in the closet, and an iron and ironing board.

The large vanity outside the bathing area had two sinks, a large mirror, and a handheld makeup mirror.

Wireless Internet service was available in this condo, and there was also an ethernet cable in one of the dresser drawers. I was glad my husband found the cable because the wireless Internet was not working well the first few days of our stay. None of the pictures from my phone uploaded to iCloud, and I was not able to submit some work I was trying to complete online. There was an unlocked wireless connection by the pool, so I sat down there to submit my work. My husband found the cable after I did that, so I used the cable for the next 24 hours. After that, the wireless speed was working as one would expect, and I did not need to use the ethernet cable again.

The condo floors were not very clean. I observed several bits of debris on the floors, and I could feel sand when I took my shoes off. There was a broom in the kitchen closet; however, there was no dustpan. I wish there had been a wet Swifter mop in the closet, because I would have gladly purchased refills to wash the floor. There was a mop in the closet that was kind of dingy looking, so I did not use that. I made do with the broom and paper towels to clean the main floor areas that needed it most.

unit 1-902 balcony and furniture, 11/2015

The balcony spanned the length of the condo with sliders and screens in the living room and in the bedroom. This was one of the reasons we chose this condo and resort! We loved listening to the waves while sleeping. The screen door in the living room was a bit worn. The handle had been replaced with a piece of wood, and the plastic rollers were worn off (by the sand, I suppose), so it did not slide easily. There were not many bugs out during our stay, so we just left that screen open when we were going in and out, rather than trying to use it.

It was extremely sandy on the balcony when we arrived. I used the dishcloth to wash the table, and it turned black. I was glad I had brought laundry detergent with us. The cushions and floors were sandy, as well. We swept the floor, and I used a towel on the chair to sit on.

We had a problem with the door lock during our stay, which I assume has been corrected by now. We had to fiddle with the key to get it to turn every time that we unlocked the door. After inserting the key, we had to pull back on it to just the right spot before it would turn. We thought the coded door lock that we observed on the unit next to ours would have been an easier way to enter the condo.

tropical pool

Pools and beach

The tropical pool is located in the center of the complex, between towers 2 and 3. The pool was beautiful, although it was not heated. The large whirlpool tub by the tropical pool was heated. Both small pools were heated. One was located between towers 1 and 2, and the other one was located between towers 3 and 4. There was a hot tub next to both small pools, also.
pool and whirlpool tub
between towers 1 and 2

Since we visited during the off-season, chairs were plentiful. We observed a few guests in the hot tub and pool area during our stay, although not many. The beach in front of the resort was beautiful, and the water was warm enough for swimming. There was a locked entrance gate to/from the beach area in front of each tower.

view from pool deck
between towers 1 and 2

The beach chair service and pool bar/grill had been closed for the season before our stay. One of the employees told me they would be happy to keep the pool bar open; however, she said it is run by Edgewater Resort, and they close it in September (or, the end of September--I do not recall the exact September date she stated). She said other guests had asked about the grill, too. One thing we had not thought to bring were beach towels, so we purchased two towels to use at the pool. I do not know if this is something that is provided like the beach chairs when it is not off-season.

Misc. property features and PCB area info

The parking lot/property was gated and staffed with a security guard at the entrance during our entire stay. Not many of the resorts in this area have this.

There is a fitness center on site on the bottom floor of tower one. We could have obtained a key from one of the employees in the office next to the fitness center to use it; however, the weather was nice, so we did not use the fitness center. I wanted to print something during our stay, and one of the employees working in the office happily assisted me with this when I inquired. She gave me her email address, and said that if I sent her the document, she would print it for me.

There were two charcoal grills and a picnic table located at the east end of tower one. I think grills were also located at the other end of the property by tower four, although we did not walk down that way to see. We bought charcoal and a grill brush because we had planned to use the grills. There was a grill brush with the grills; however, the brush had seen it's better days. The grill grids looked like they were going to need some heat and a good cleaning, so we wanted to be sure we had a good brush. We did not end up using the resort/condo grills, as we cooked out at St. Andrews State Park instead. We observed another couple using the grills one day during our stay. 

view from the picnic area by the boat launch
in St. Andrews State Park
It is about six miles to one of the picnic areas inside St. Andrews Park. Before our trip, we had thought we would bicycle there with a picnic lunch instead of grilling, and then we did not end up bringing our bicycles on this trip. You can find more photos of the park in the St. Andrews State Park Facebook album.

Walmart is located across the street from Long Beach Resort by the traffic light at the corner of S. Thomas Dr. and Front Beach Rd. It is within walking distance, if you are not getting too many things. Walmart liquor store is located by the road as you enter the parking lot from Front Beach Rd. The two closest open restaurants/bars were Pineapple Willy's (just a few steps away along the beach) and Coyote Ugly (across the street). These locations can be seen in the photos in the PCB Facebook album. There was no sidewalk in front of this resort, nor along portions of Front Beach Rd. The traffic was minimal during our stay, and drivers were courteous.

A few additional locations less than 1.5 miles away that we walked to or past: post office, Shoppes at Edgewater, Bonefish Grill/Broken Egg Cafe plaza, Applebee's, Wicked Wheel Bar and Grill, and Spinnaker Beach Club (not open).  Pier Park is just over five miles from Long Beach Resort. Pier Park shopping and dining complex was much larger than we had realized. I had read online that there is trolley service along Front Beach Rd; however, we did not observe it running during our stay.

Non-smoking and no pets at Long Beach Resort

Since all of the units we looked at in this resort said they were non-smoking, we mistakenly assumed the entire property was non-smoking. We encountered guests and workers smoking from the moment we arrived. A couple of mornings we had to shut the slider doors and miss the ocean breeze because people were smoking on their balcony. I believe everyone has a right to smoke on his or her own property; however, we were not expecting this.

Something else we did not expect were pets. Again, all of the units we considered said no pets, so we mistakenly assumed the entire property was pet free. I am glad we are not allergic because we encountered a pet in the elevator when we arrived, and just about every day of our stay. Everyone that we ran into was extremely courteous about the control of his or her pet, and we only experienced one morning when someone's pet caused a problem. Someone must have left his or her dog home alone on the balcony and the poor thing barked for over an hour. If you live around dogs, or have one of your own, you probably know that once one dog starts barking the others join in. Our dogs always did anyway. The pet owners who were home immediately quieted their pets when they started to join the barking dog(s). When my husband looked over the balcony to see what was going on, one of the neighbors apologized to him. Fortunately, this only happened one morning.

view of Long Beach Resort from beach

Departure and overall

There is a $200 security/damage deposit for this condo. All of the cleaning fees, parking, taxes, etc. were included in the cost for this unit. There is an extra charge for some of these things with some units, so I suggest making sure you know what is included. We mailed the keys and wrist bands back the day we departed, and I contacted Bill a week after they had been delivered. Our contract said the deposit is fully refundable within 14 days of departure, provided there is no damage or extra cleaning needed. We received our deposit refund 16 days after we departed.

When I spoke with Bill about our deposit refund, I mentioned the door lock problem and missing dustpan. He was more than happy to get these issues taken care of, and he said I should have called him during our stay.

We really liked the Panama City Beach area. We have been to other Panhandle areas, like Sandestin and Pensacola, and we liked Panama City Beach better. One thing we had a difficult time with was the early sunrise and sunset times, as the Panhandle area is located in the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone.

Holiday Inn Resort and Edgewater Beach Resort

We missed not having some kind of food and/or beverage service on the property, so we checked out a couple of nearby resorts to see if all of the restaurants were closed this time of year. We did not think the Holiday Inn Resort looked like much from the street; however, we thought it looked nice and impressive after we walked through it. The restaurant and bar were open, and everything looked clean and inviting. Workers were in the process of building a new outside deck by the pool and bar area. Most of the guestrooms in this resort are basic hotel rooms.

We liked the grounds at Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort. The pool area was beautiful, and the onsite restaurant/bar and pizza cafe were open. We toured two one-bedroom units, and did not like them as well as the ones at Long Beach Resort. The bedroom in the least expensive unit was located by the hall and entrance rather than the ocean, and the cost of the more expensive one-bedroom condo was quite a bit more than we had paid at Long Beach Resort. The more expensive unit was also larger with two bathrooms, so I suppose it may work well for more than two guests. Edgewater Resort was the only other property we observed in this area that was fully gated with security like Long Beach Resort.

Panama City Beach RV Parks and Campgrounds

We wanted to see the RV parks in this area, and here are some of the parks we checked out.

Panama City Beach RV Resort. This is the closest park to St. Andrews State Park and the beach. It has a pool, and all of the lots looked nice. Even the lots next to the road seemed like they would be okay, as there was not much traffic in this area of Thomas Dr.
Campers Inn. This park is also close to the beach, and it has a pool. The lots looked smaller than the ones in Panama City Beach RV Resort, and Thomas Dr. is slightly busier in this area.
Emerald Coast RV Beach Resort. We thought this park looked the nicest. It is a bit father from the beach (1.5 miles), although still close. The resort has a pool, hot tub, laundry facility, fitness center, and outside activities.
Raccoon River Campground. We only drove past this campground, so we did not see the lots up close. The park is located on Hutchison Blvd., not too far from the dining area where Bonefish Grill and Broken Egg Cafe are located.
St. Andrews State Park has some great campsites on the water, although their website does not provide very good campsite photos.

Here is a link to all of the campgrounds listed in the Panama City Beach visitor's guide: RV parks and campgrounds.

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