For more than 40 years, Jimmy Buffett has struck a chord with millions, thanks to semi-autobiographical tunes about his wild escapades. He became the friend everyone wished they had while listening to the son of a son of a sailor tell stories of growing up in Pascagoula and Mobile, hitting the beaches in Florida and playing for tips on Bourbon Street.
Many local Parrotheads, as his followers are known, have their own tales of close encounters with the famed raconteur. Whether it was seeing him play a tune at Judge Roy Bean’s or grabbing a bite at his sister’s restaurant, this special bond continues today.
Some might take these local connections for granted. But for those who are not fortunate enough to call the northern Gulf of Mexico home, the promise of seeing the landmarks of Buffett’s past and the inspirations for his ballads and books is too strong to resist.
Charles Kropke, the managing partner of Dragonfly Expeditions in Coral Gables, Florida, thought the same thing. For the past 24 years, the company has been organizing expeditions in Florida and the Caribbean.
“One day we sat back and found ourselves doing a lot of adventures and themes that were concurrent with what Jimmy Buffett sang about,” he said in a telephone interview with Lagniappe. This led Dragonfly to reach out to one of Buffett’s business partners, and Margaritaville Travel Adventures was born.
“We follow in the footsteps of songs he has written and places he has been,” Kropke said. The company started in familiar territory. The “Lost Shaker of Salt Adventure” began in Miami Beach and from there followed the Florida Keys, ultimately reaching Key West.
“It was a phenomenal success,” Kropke said. “It was part history, part adventure and part fun. We mix it all together and come up with something, so people never know what will happen next. We are all grown-up kids. We love to hear great stories and have a good time.”
Kropke said the toughest job was convincing potential guests group tours on a bus would not be a drag on the experience.
“Some said they didn’t do group trips, but they ended up with some fantastic friendships,” he said. “We are narrating the entire event, and we throw in some games to keep it fun. We did a tribute to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for the movie ‘Key Largo’ one night, and enjoyed the beautiful art deco buildings in Miami Beach another night.”
Following the positive response to the Florida trip, Dragonfly next turned its attention to Buffett’s roots. They hosted the first “Creola in My Soul-a Beach and Bayou Adventure” last March.
“Again, it was a success,” Kropke said. “Everyone but one couple was a repeat from our other tour. Once they travel with us, they want to come back over and over. Now we want to build our brand and have some new people join us.”
The next local trip is set for Oct. 18-25. The price is $2,595 per person based on double occupancy. This includes all accommodations, transportation, meals and excursions listed in the itinerary, along with entrance and entertainment fees while on tour.
“This trip will focus on Jimmy’s life growing up,” Kropke said. “It was great going to Pascagoula and seeing the creek near his grandfather’s house. He told Jimmy stories about the world and let him sail out into the Gulf.”
The eight-day trip starts in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where the first night is at the Gulf Hills Hotel. During the trip earlier this year, the welcoming party took place during Elvis Presley Week (The King often stayed at the resort during the 1950s).
Then there are several stops in Mobile before the bus turns to Pensacola Beach and the Margaritaville Hotel. Although the group was free to go anywhere they wanted that night, they all ended up walking together to Peg Leg Pete’s for waterfront dining.
“This group knows how to laugh and have a great time,” Kropke said. “It is like tailgating that just keeps expanding.”
While they were having a picnic at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Blue Angels flight team was practicing overhead. “Every trip is going to be different, with new highlights,” Kropke said. “That was pretty cool to see the Navy jets like that. It was almost like they were performing for us.”
After dining at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, the trip continued west along U.S. Highway 90 toward New Orleans. Kropke said it is Dragonfly’s philosophy to stay off the interstates, and show places that are “real.”
“When we got into New Orleans, we had a great tour guide,” Kropke said. “Trust me. I hire hundreds of tour guides, and I would have snapped him up if he was in Florida.”
Kropke said many of the basics about the trip can be found at www.MargaritavilleTravelAdventures.com. For more information, call 1-800-598-9853 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to the itinerary listed on the website, Kropke said he will have a few surprises. “The way we do the trip, it is even relevant to local people,” he said. “We include history and themes that many people did not know about. And after the people finish the trip, some will come back and patronize the new places.”
Dragonfly Adventures is continuing to add new Buffett-themed trips. The next one will be the “Southeast of Disorder Bimini Island Adventure.”
This journey will go from South Florida to Bimini and then back to the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort. The first trip is set for Nov. 7-12.
“We are always thinking about different themes from Jimmy’s songs and books that we will visit,” Kropke said. “We don’t look for something with more luxury. We want something with more character. We will retire some old ones and bring in some new ones. I hope one day we can go to the Yucatan and maybe take a schooner to the South Pacific.”
And with the way Jimmy Buffett continues to live the life most of us can only dream about, Kropke and his crew should have even more destinations from which to choose for many years to come.
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