Classic Florida Starliner roller coaster rescued from storage

A 1960s-era, wooden roller coaster known as the Starliner will be pulled out of the mothballs and brought back to its original home: Panama City Beach, Florida.

Teddy and Jenny Meeks announced last week that they have bought the Starliner, which has been in storage in Tampa since 2008. The couple and two other partners are spending $2 million to acquire the coaster, refurbish it and relocate it to a site on Panama City Beach near Pier Park.

The Starliner was born in 1963 at the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City Beach, where it was ridden by countless vacationing families for more than four decades, until the park closed in 2004.

The 70-foot-tall coaster was then relocated to Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven, Florida. But in 2008, Cypress Gardens shut down its rides and the Starliner was put in storage. Earlier this year, Legoland bought the Cypress Gardens property and announced that the Starliner would not be included in the plans for Legoland Florida.

Enter the Meeks, who had previously purchased a balloon ride and a biplane ride from the Miracle Strip and installed them at Pier Park. Teddy Meeks told the Panama City News Herald that the Starliner will keep its wooden structure, but will get a new magnetic braking structure and other safety improvements.

The ride is expected to open no later than the spring of 2012.

Freedom to relax: A luxury not afforded Obama

Nothing a president does goes unnoticed. Even the slightest decisions are parsed carefully in the hopes of gaining some insight into to the man, the office or the policy that comes from both. His recent trip to Panama City, Florida, 27 hours to show that you can chill in the Gulf Coast area following the oil spill, may have been a decent move, but Obama‘s other trips, not to mention those taken by his family, have caused him some agita.

Michelle Obama‘s vacation in Marbella, Spain brought some heat, as did the family’s vacations in Maine’s Acadia National Park and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. There are always people to laud and criticize, regardless of which party is in power. There’s always on group that seems to come out on top, however: the locals.

The Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce said visits to it website surged 50 percent following Obama’s trip to Maine, though other factors may have contributed. Of course, the opportunity comes with a few risks. According to USA Today:

As for Panama City Beach, the Bay Point Marriott (where the First Family ate lunch and spent Saturday night) doesn’t highlight this weekend’s getaway on its website, and the convention and visitors bureau took down its Facebook post about Michelle Obama’s visit last month after a series of “personal attacks,” says CEO Dan Rowe.

[photo by transplanted mountaineer via Flickr]

Orbitz introduces ‘Open Beach Guarantee’

Orbitz is trying to offer travelers peace of mind this summer through an Open Beach Guarantee. The guarantee offers a full refund on your hotel stay if nearby beaches are closed because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

To get this deal, you must book a stay at a participating hotel through Orbitz, with travel between now and July 31, 2010. If a government agency closes a beach within 20 miles of the hotel during your reservation, you can get a full refund. But the refund is only good for unused nights of your vacation, so you will have to cancel your stay or leave early to get this deal.

The Open Beach Guarantee does not apply to vacation packages, only to hotels booked as a standalone reservation.

The list of participating hotels includes Florida Gulf Coast destinations such as Panama City Beach, Sarasota and Fort Myers.

[Image credit: Flickr user thecrazyfilmgirl]

Panama City Beach, Florida, puts a guarantee on fun, despite oil spill

Amid concerns about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some travelers are reconsidering plans for a Florida beach vacation this summer.

That’s why the Panama City Beach tourism folks have issued a “Real Fun Guarantee” that promises a $200 future travel credit if your stay at the beach is affected by the oil spill.

The program applies to new reservations, booked now through June 10, 2010, for stays at certain properties in the Panama City beach area, including the Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, Beach Side Resort Vacation Rentals, Origin at Seahaven and several others.

If government officials close the beach or must be actively cleaning the beach during your vacation in the Panama City Beach area, you will get a $200 credit toward a return visit to the same property. The credit must be used by June 11, 2011.

SkyMall & Southwest Airlines want to send you to Florida

We’re not shy about our love of SkyMall here at Gadling. And our favorite in-flight catalog has a history of partnering with the Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. But this time around, instead of giving away Garden Yetis, the two travel pals are teaming up to send a couple of lucky winners on a trip for two to Panana City Beach, Florida.

If you purchase anything from SkyMall between now and June 30, 2010, you will automatically be entered to win two tickets on Southwest Airlines to Panama City Beach, FL, three nights of deluxe hotel accommodations, a four-day car rental, tickets to a “marine theme park” (which we can only assume is Gulf World Marine Park, but the contest rules don’t specify) with a dolphin swimming experience and one Instant Sun Shelter from SkyMall.

Not interested in buying your children any star-shaped apparel but still want to enter the contest? No purchase is necessary, so you can enter simply by completing the form here.

You may still be Yeti-less if you win this contest, but at least you’ll be made in the shade with a pretty sweet getaway. Enter now and, if you do purchase anything from SkyMall, let us know what you ordered in the comments below.