PANAMA CITY BEACH — January is here and so are the snowbirds.
Every winter like clockwork, they fly in to Panama City Beach to escape the northern winter, and with the start of the busiest snowbird months, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is working with area organizations to make sure there is never a dull moment for winter visitors.
For the first time this year, the CVB has partnered with Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) to provide a series of free enrichment classes for winter visitors.
“We’ve been interested in providing, particularly with our winter guests, educational opportunities here at the college,” said GCSC continued education coordinator Jim Barr. “What we attempted to do was to offer classes that had a relation to the beach area.”
The first of 10 three-hour classes of the year, “Drawing Seashells” will kick off Jan. 15 at the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce. Other classes will teach visitors to fish, paint and even cook a gourmet meal.
GCSC has worked with the CVB before in providing Learning Adventures at the Beach (LAB) classes in the spring, but this year marks the first series of winter enrichment classes.
“The basic difference is we’re putting more emphasis on offering classes that have a direct relation to the beach,” Barr said. “And, of course, these classes are free.”
The classes are being funded by the Bay County Tourist Development Council, with GCSC providing the course instructors. Barr said the idea stemmed from a joint interest between TDC Director Dan Rowe and GCSC President Jim Kerley, who has a goal to strengthen the college’s presence on the beach.
The Panama City Beach Library is also partnering with GCSC to host a series of computer classes as a part of the winter enrichment program. The classes will cover how to create a Facebook page, use email and the Internet and also teach basic computer and new technology skills.
“We’re really excited about partnering with Gulf Coast State College for these computer classes,” said branch manager Frank Walker said. “That could be a big boon for both us and them.”
Library officials are working to finalize the full snowbird calendar for the season, something Walker said will be filled with plenty of educational and entertaining activities.
Walker said the library has already seen quite a spike in traffic this month with the influx of snowbirds. The library’s busiest months are January and February, with an average of 11,000 visitors. The rest of the year, patronage averages 7,000 to 8,000 per month.
“We’re serving over 400 people per day, and we’re glad to have them,” Walker said. “We typically average about 290 to 300 per day, so that’s about 100 more.”
The Panama City Beach Visitor Information Center has also been staying busy.
CVB visitor service manager Barrie Ainslie said the information center welcomed more than 300 snowbirds last Wednesday after being closed on New Years Day.
Ainslie said the CVB is trying to focus on growing its “signature snowbird event” the Winter Resident Senior Prom, to be held Feb. 7 at Edgewater Beach Resort. Tickets for the event are $5 and will go on sale Jan. 14. Last year, the 500 event tickets sold out, so this year Ainslie said they have upped the count to 700.
The event will feature a Mardi Gras theme with live music, food and the crowning of prom king and queen. With the event one month away, Ainslie said they are in need of nominations for this year’s king and queen, which can be made at www.visitpanamamcitybeach.com.
The CVB will continue with its second Winter Resident Appreciation Day of the season Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the PCB Visitor Information Center. At the event, snowbirds can enjoy complimentary coffee and donuts and visit with representatives from local businesses.
The first Winter Resident Appreciation Day was held Dec. 21, with about 300 snowbirds in attendance. Ainslie said the events in January and February are bigger and typically see crowds of 500 or more. In addition to Friday’s event, the CVB will also host Winter Resident Appreciation Days on Jan. 25 and Feb. 15.
The Panama City Beach Senior Center also has a full calendar of art classes, exercise classes, games and snowbird dances set for the season.
“We have more people here and we do have a lot more of our fundraising activities going on now,” said membership coordinator Ramona Sewell. “(Traffic) probably doubles up in the winter time; anywhere from October through March we have twice as many people here.”
2013 Snowbird Calendar
Ongoing- Winter Resident Dances every Sunday and Wednesday from 3- 6 p.m. at the Boardwalk Beach Convention Center
Jan. 8- Lunch and Learn at the PCB Library at noon, Beekeeping
Jan. 11- Winter Resident Appreciation Days, 9-11 a.m. at the Panama City Beach Welcome Center
Jan. 12- Welcome Snowbirds Dance at the PCB Senior Center, 7-11 p.m.
Jan. 15- Winter Enrichment, drawing seashells, PCB Chamber of Commerce, 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 17- Winter Enrichment, creating and using a Facebook page, PCB Library, 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 22- Winter Enrichment, fishing local waters, Frank Brown Park Aquatic Center, 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 25- Winter Resident Appreciation Days, 9-11 a.m. at the Panama City Beach Welcome Center
Jan. 24- Winter Enrichment, email & Internet, PCB Library, 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 26- Lunch and Learn at the PCB Library noon, Starchild skull
Jan. 29- Winter Enrichment, writing your vacation story, PCB Chamber of Commerce, 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 31- Winter Enrichment, computer & new technology, PCB Library 9 a.m. - noon
Jan. 31- Winter Enrichment, gourmet cooking, Boatyard Restaurant 10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Ongoing- Winter Resident Dances every Sunday and Wednesday from 3- 6 p.m. at the Boardwalk Beach Convention Center (Feb. 13 dance moved to Feb. 14 for Valentine’s Day)
Feb. 2- Jumble Sale at Senior Center’s Oatfield Building, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Feb. 2- Winter Enrichment, exercise at the beach, Edgewater Beach Resort Leeward Complex, 9 a.m. - noon
Feb. 5- Winter Enrichment, location photography, PCB Chamber of Commerce, 9 a.m. - noon
Feb. 7- Winter Resident Senior Prom at Edgewater, 6-9 p.m.
Feb. 9- Valentine’s Dance at PCB Senior Center, 7-11 p.m.
Feb. 12- Winter Enrichment, acrylic painting, Gulf Coast State College, 9 a.m. - noon
Feb. 14- Valentine’s Snowbird Dance Party at Boardwalk Beach, 4-10 p.m.
Feb. 15- Winter Resident Appreciation Days, 9-11 a.m. at the Panama City Beach Welcome Center
Feb. 16- Clothesline Art Show and Sale at PCB Senior Center, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Feb. 17- Canada Day Celebration at Bay Point Wyndham Resort
Feb. 19- Wisconsin State Day luncheon at Breakers
Feb. 20- Michigan State Day luncheon at Breakers
Feb. 21- Wisconsin State Day luncheon at Breakers
Feb. 27- Minnesota State Day luncheon at Breakers
* Reservations are required for winter enrichment classes and can be made by calling (850) 872-3923