In 1994, Steve Wilson was a towing master, who spent much of his time on the sea away from his wife, Wendy, and their three children. He loved the water, but he loved his family more. So, they prayed for God to give them a new direction that would allow them to pursue their dreams while sharing more time together.
That humble prayer led them from Ocean Springs, Miss., to Destin, Fla., where they would become pioneers of the local dolphin cruise industry. But they couldn’t find a vessel, so again they turned to prayer.
One day shortly thereafter, a man from Long Island, N.Y., called out of the blue and said, “I’ve got your boat.” So Steve sailed the original 65 ft. converted wooden fishing boat from New York to Florida and began offering dolphin-sighting cruises off the Destin Harbor.
“The Wilsons are very open about their faith, believing all along that God would provide,” says Nicole Remele, office manager for the Southern Star and her sister pirate ship, the Buccaneer. “We are all incredibly blessed to work for them.”
In 2001, Steve designed and commissioned the new Southern Star, an 80 ft. glass bottom boat that now operates as the largest dolphin cruise vessel in the area. It is very family friendly, the only boat in town that is both alcohol- and smoke-free. (Passengers are permitted to carry in-hand one adult beverage to enjoy during the sail, but no coolers are allowed, and no alcohol is sold onboard.)
The new boat is very spacious and comfortable, with plenty of room to be seated or to move about. It features a climate-controlled cabin, as well as ‘real’ restrooms, a gift shop and snack bar.
“Our standard of service really sets us apart. We strive to exceed expectations for every guest,” Remele says. “In fact, our slogan is ‘Expect a Miracle.’”
The cruise is fully narrated by its fun and energetic captain, who is knowledgeable about both the animals and the area. As Remele explains, “We want to be more than just an attraction, but also a source of local insight to our guests.”
Over the course of two hours, the Southern Star navigates the harbor, the pass, and – weather permitting – the Gulf of Mexico. The ship is restricted by conditions to provide a safe and comfortable ride. Besides, why risk anything other than smooth sailing when dolphins reside in the bay, too? (For the record, the Southern Star boasts a 98 percent success rate at finding them.)
Dress comfortably and casually. Heels are not recommended, but neither are they forbidden. You do your thing and let the dolphins do theirs. The Southern Star offers group and military rates and is available for school field trips, private parties and special events including weddings.
She cruises year-round, but never on Sundays. After all, that’s when the Wilsons thank God for giving them a ‘Star’ to follow.