In 1994, our owners – Captain Steve & Wendy Wilson – walked into what was at the time, AmSouth Bank. They had a plan and an idea to develop a new cruise market in Destin, Florida: a dolphin eco-tour. This was a novel and new initiative which was approved by AmSouth’s lenders and would birth the first dolphin eco-tour in the Destin area. The Wilson’s proposal, generously granted by AmSouth was responsible for sparking an entirely new tour boat industry represented now on every dock.
Captain Steve and Wendy searched for a fresh and innovative form of family fun boating adventure that would not interfere with our original dolphin cruise. They experienced tour boat rides from Kona, Hawaii to Cancun, Mexico, and of all the excursions, the most noteworthy was found in Clearwater, Florida: “Captain Memo’s Pirate Adventure.” Why not? Everyone loves pirates, and many are enthralled by their exciting and adventurous lifestyle. Walt Disney popularized the idea years ago with the introduction of Captain Hook into the mainstream of children’s entertainment, and the legendary “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, inspired by their theme park attraction, have evoked senses of fun and adventure for adults and children alike. Pirate ships never go out of style and rouse wonderment and fascination.
Clearwater provides a perfect test market, as all types of boat tours are exemplified including snorkeling and shelling, celebrity home tours, dolphin cruises, tours, speed and thrill boat rides, dinner cruises, sailing excursions, and the most popular of all – the pirate ship themed cruise.
The simple presence of the vessel itself attracts vacationers, particularly children, like a magnet. The tour interactively entertains passengers with sword fights, water gun battles, storytelling, dancing, and treasure hunts. Parental involvement is voluntary. They are given the option to join in the excitement – and no parent would want to pass on this opportunity – or simply sit back, relax and watch their children have the time of their lives.
The pirate cruise concept appeared to be growing as it was observed in our initial phases of the project. Tarpon Springs’ boatyard has delivered two such vessels in the past few years. Another opened in Orange Beach, Alabama and Alan Laird suggested building one for Destin.
Our success with the Southern Star Dolphin Cruise is based on the concept of offering a high value form of family fun at a low cast. We offer the highest measure of service possible on the most desirable and comfortable vessel. We have developed and strengthened relationships with nearly all property managers on the coast. Many exclusively recommend and endorse the Southern Star’s service to their patrons. Additionally, this continues to be the same with the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise.
However, the journey wasn’t easy for our owners but their faith made the impossible possible. Despite discussing building a pirate ship, Wendy, not being convinced that this was both of God and a good business venture, questioned God for a sign. Thus, for twenty-one days, Captain Steve and Wendy fasted and prayed, pressing into God for an answer.
During this time, Captain Steve and Wendy traveled to Bayou La Batre, Alabama in search of a boatyard that could build a pirate ship within budget. Bayou La Batre is a beautiful setting with towering, moss- laden oak trees and winding roads that follow the meandering bayou. While there, our owners visited three different boatyards. The last yard belonged to Joey Rodriguez, and before leaving the meeting, he mentioned that there were two pirate ships being built – one, located over by a bridge, was being built of wood.
After meeting with Joey Rodriguez, Captain Steve and Wendy piled into the car to head home. Crossing the bridge that Joey Rodriquez mentioned, Wendy spotted the ship. Captain Steve swung the car around, and headed through the dirt driveway into an old boat yard. They parked, and as they stepped out of the car, Captain Steve saw, lying on its back in the dirt, an old wheelhouse that had been removed from a boat. He could not believe his eyes as he discovered that this was his wheelhouse from the first Southern Star.
Dumbfounded, he examined the old wheelhouse complete with the eagle and praise banner. Wendy had gone looking for the rest of the boat. “Stephen,” Wendy yelled from behind the building, “come here!” Captain Steve still couldn’t believe that his old wheelhouse was lying there in the dirt. As he walked around the building, he felt his heart leap. Before their eyes, clear as day, was their first boat, the original Southern Star. Carpenters were breathing new life into her.. She was being transformed from the dolphin cruise boat of yesterday into a pirate ship for tomorrow. Wendy was in tears, and Captain Steve was having difficulty believing in the reality of what he was seeing. The Southern Star—the original Southern Star—that was a gift from the Father fifteen years ago, and the same Southern Star that sparked a new industry in Destin, had lain in abandoned waste, dying for these last years. Now, she was miraculously being transformed into a pirate ship.
Captain Steve didn’t know if he was more excited that God had given them their sign, or to see the carpenters breathing a new life into her. This was the sign that they had prayed for – a confirmation of being of one accord with peace in their hearts.
Today, the Buccaneer Pirate Cruise is Destin’s Premier Pirate Ship, seeing well over 50,000 people each year, but more importantly, giving back to the Nations and encouraging every little buccaneer to unlock the treasures of their hearts and let their dreams come true.