Destin’s Original Dolphin Cruise is locally owned and operated, offering a personal touch found only in a family owned business. Of all the dolphin cruises in the United States, the Southern Star Dolphin Cruise was selected by CNN to be featured on its program “Earth Matters.” We were also shown on National Geographic’s “Earth Watch,” and we have been honored to host writers for magazines such as Relish, Redbook, and other travel publications.
When you step aboard the Southern Star, you will be greeted by a relaxing family atmosphere and a smile from our friendly crew. Island music fills the air as everyone finds their seats and the captain and crew prepare for departure. We ensure you will find our vessel clean, comfortable and inviting. Your captain will brief guests on safety procedures aboard the Southern Star just before the crew lets go of the lines and the cruise sets sail for your adventure.
The Southern Star is an 80′ double deck, glass bottom boat, built in 2001, equipped with a climate-controlled cabin, two restrooms and plenty of room to walk about on both decks. On the main deck, there is a galley offering soft drinks, hot dogs, chips, smoothies and other snack items as well as small gift items and souvenirs available for purchase.
Our two-hour, relaxing cruise begins with a narrated tour of Destin Harbor. Your captain will give a brief history about the area, point out some local places of interest, and share some remarkable facts about where our town was founded. As we exit the harbor, the mates will distribute food and assist those interested in feeding the birds. Our area is home to a variety of seabirds and other wildlife that we can observe naturally throughout the cruise.
Proceeding into the East Pass at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, the Emerald Coast’s most notable features, emerald green waters and white sand beaches, can be seen. If weather conditions are favorable offshore and seas are calm, we will cruise down the beach just off Holiday Isle and Norriego Point. If the sea-state is rough or uncomfortable, the captain will swing the boat around, proceeding under the Destin Bridge and into the Choctawhatchee Bay. Safety and passenger comfort are great concerns and you are in good hands with your captain and crew. Our goal is to make this a memorable experience for everyone on board, but it is difficult to enjoy a relaxing cruise if you are seasick. Our captains are veteran master mariners, and if there are seas over three or four feet offshore where guests may feel uncomfortable, we stay inside protected waters.
As the Southern Star embarks on a fun-filled cruise in search of the Atlantic Coastal Bottlenose Dolphin, you will experience the beauty and grace of these incredible marine mammals up close and in person. When dolphins are spotted, the captain will announce their location, and the crew will begin to clap and cheer to encourage the dolphins while watching them swim, play, and surf the waves. The captain will also educate you on the dolphins, giving you information about the species, their habits, and behaviors. Your captain will enlighten your imagination with his vast knowledge of dolphins.
Children of all ages have an opportunity to become Junior Captains aboard the Southern Star when they are called to the wheelhouse halfway into the cruise. Your Junior Captain will receive a certificate and create a memory that he or she will cherish for years to come.
Sunset cruises aboard the Southern Star are one of the most breathtaking ways to experience the Emerald Coast beaches and the glorious splendor of a painted sky. For a memorable moment with no comparison, watch the glowing sun slowly sinking along the emerald green waters of the most pristine, sugary white sand beaches, and you will be captured by its beauty.
Our priority is to create an exciting, family-oriented experience that is like no other. The captain and crew are on board to serve you, and should you have any needs during your cruise, feel free to let any one of them know. Additionally, if you would like more information, or have any questions about the dolphin cruise aboard the Southern Star, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Captain Chris McConnell
Picture & Bio Coming Soon
Captain Steve Wilson
Captain Steve Wilson was raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with a lifelong passion for the sea and adventure. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and completed studies toward a Master’s of Business Administration with emphasis in International Marketing at the London School of Economics. At the age of 25, he earned his Captain’s License, and later went on to pursue his Ocean Master’s License. With over 20 years of sea service, he has sailed more than 300,000 sea miles, captaining ocean tugs, government vessels, and specialty ships. Before creating Destin’s Original Dolphin Cruise, Captain Steve had spent a career sailing coastwise and deep sea in all weather conditions from ice in extreme latitudes to hurricanes in the Gulf and Caribbean. Now, the father of 3 says he is a fair weather sailor.
Captain Steve and his wife, Wendy relocated from Ocean Springs, Mississippi to Destin, Florida in 1994, where they pioneered Destin’s first dolphin cruise to fulfill the area’s need for high-value family entertainment at a low cost. The Southern Star began as a 75-passenger wooden boat, and over the next 8 years the Wilsons’ business grew and flourished, creating the need for a larger boat. Captain Steve designed and built the 150-passenger, glass bottom boat that we know today as the Southern Star. Over the past 18 years, the Southern Star Dolphin Cruise has taken vacationing families on scenic tours of our beautiful Emerald Coast to witness something extraordinary. More than 8,000 dolphin sightings have been experienced by guests of all ages. Come Expect a Miracle aboard Southern Star!
Captain Cliff Atwell
Captain Cliff Atwell is a native of the Destin area, and began working on fishing boats at the age of 9. He obtained his Captain’s License when he was 18, and began captaining fishing boats here in Destin, and during the winter, Captain Cliff worked in the oil field in Louisiana. As a fisherman, Captain Cliff became fascinated with the dolphins that inhabit the Choctawhatchee Bay area. He observed them offshore while fishing and became very interested in their habits and behaviors, and most importantly the dynamics of their pods, or families.
In 1996, Captain Steve Wilson presented Captain Cliff with the prospect of developing his interest in the dolphin while utilizing his experience as a captain and widespread knowledge of the area. Captain Cliff seized the opportunity, and began captaining Destin’s Original Dolphin Cruise part time in the evenings. Now that he is able to observe dolphins in closely in their natural habitat, Captain Cliff has a vast amount of familiarity about the amazing mammals that we witness aboard the Southern Star on a daily basis.
Due to his background and experience as a fisherman, is breadth of knowledge extends beyond the dolphins to other sea life and wildlife of our Gulf Coast area. Most importantly, Captain Cliff has a passion for the Emerald Coast. Having grown up in the town, he has seen the changes that Destin has undergone throughout the years. He has an extensive understanding of Destin’s history and what comprises the heart of our beautiful city. Captain Cliff’s narration of Destin Harbor is one of a kind, and you are sure to gain a further insight into this incredible species as he shares with you his information about the dolphins.
Our company strongly believes in giving back not only to the community but also internationally. When you step on The Southern Star, we snap a photo of you and your family, but what you may not know is that the proceeds from our picture sales help support a number of charities. This is also true with our sister ship, The Buccaneer, as well. Ultimately, it is our hope to supply the needs of our community and to teach the Gospel of Christ to the Nations. We encourage you to explore the organizations that we proudly support and partner with below.
Dear Capt. Steve and Wendy,
Thank you so much for the kindness your staff showed me and my children on the July 10th afternoon tour. I had promised them a dolphin tour on our last day in Florida and due to a mix up, I was in the awkward position of not having the ability for all of us to go. Your employees showed us (mainly me) an amazing amount of kindness and compassion. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I pray that God will continue to bless you, your family and your business. You have blessed me a thousand times over. We had a marvelous time on the tour and hope to come back our next time in Destin.
I just wanted to thank everyone for the wonderful time we had on your Dolphin Cruise on July 21st. We had 5 adults and 5 children (ages 5-10) in our party and everyone had a fantastic time! the staff and crew were so friendly and made us feel very welcome. We all were thrilled to see so many dolphins, often swimming along the boat. It was so much fun for the children to sit in the captain’s seat and steer the boat (they were even kind enough to let “mom” (me) have a turn!) and they loved getting a treat from the treasure box. It was also great fun to feed the sea gulls. This was definitely something our family will never forget and we have already recommended your cruise to others who vacation in the Destin area.
Thanks so much.
The Wormald Families from Ft. Thomas, Kentucky and Dayton, Kentucky and the Miller Family from Sun Valley, California
Dear Captain Steve,
I just wanted to send you and your crew a quick not to say what a fun time my wife and 6 year old daughter had on a cruise we took on the Southern Star last month. We thought your boat was fun, safe and the crew very polite. We enjoyed ourselves on a beautiful warm sunny day and even got lucky to see a couple of pods of dolphins trail the Southern Star for awhile. My daughter was especially excited for a chance to steer.
I also want to especially say thank-you and the owner for your very helpful military discount. I serve my country and all Americans and do not expect any special favors. But, I do greatly appreciate your very kind acknowledgement of the contribution and sacrifices members of the military make for our country, especially those members of the military that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Again, thank-you for the wonderful time my family and I had on the Southern Star. I greatly appreciate your understanding and offer of a free cruise for returning military members from Iraq and Afghanistan. I will certainly recommend Dolphin Cruises, Inc. and the Southern Star to all of my friends that are planning vacations in Destin, Florida.
Major Charles Neal
Iraq, Mar. 2003 – Feb. 2004
Afghanistan, Jul. 2004 – Sep. 2004
Afghanistan, Sep. 2005 – Dec. 2005
Iraq, Jan. – May 2007
Dear Wendy & Steve,
My husband and I recently took your 9am dolphin cruise with our two preschool age children. We cannot tell you what a wonderful time we had! EVERYONE in your company was so very helpful and thoughtful. Your cruise was a highlight of our trip, and we plan to cruise on your ship each year that we are in Destin. We had such a good time that our neighbors and their friends (28 people) who are now in Destin, will be taking your cruise. Everything was so well thought out! My 2 year old fell and was crying when a crew mate comforted him with a lollipop. This made his day! Later, when I became seasick, I was given a Sprite to sip on, and was made sure that I knew where the most stable part of the boat was. The narrating on the cruise was informative, interesting, and enjoyable. My children are still talking about driving the boat! The captain was so gracious and had such a wonderful rapport with all of the children. We have placed our family picture in our kitchen, where we can see it often. My son still sleeps at times with the army tank from the treasure chest, and my daughter faithfully wears her “I have Jesus in my heart” bracelet for all to see. knowing what a strong Christian based company the SStar is, we will continue to recommend it, and return for more “adventures at sea.” Thank you again for such incredible memories!
Dear Captain Steve & Crew,
We had a blast on your boat for our reception the evening of October 23rd, 2004. The scenery was beautiful, the service exceptional, the dolphins swimming with us was a great highlight, and steering the boat was fun & memorable. We would like to thank you for being so accommodating, fun and for your professional generosity to our family, friends and us. The unique small gathering of loved ones combined with your expertise created the reception of our dreams.
Mrs & Mr Kimberly & Lawrence O.
I just wanted to write to you and tell you, we loved your dolphin tour. My wife and I, and another couple and their 4 year old girl went on your tour last Thursday (9-11-97) on the 12pm-2pm tour. My wife and I were celebrating our 10 year anniversary and you made it very fun and special. I don’t know if Wendy remembers us but she took a group picture of us at the front of the boat. Steve, you and Wendy are special people I can tell, I was very impressed with you both, I just wanted to thank you and let you know that we admire you both for following your dream and making it work. You have been truly blessed. We have told everyone about the cruise and recommended it, and we will definitely be back when we get lucky enough for another vacation (HAHA). THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL CRUISE ONCE AGAIN.
Ted & Stacy Morrison
Dear Wendy & Steve,
For a person like me who has the gift of the gab, I am having a very hard time writing my thanks to you as words can never express what a wonderful thing you have done for me. I have had seventy Birthdays and none have even come close to the joyous time I had with you and all my dear friends & family yesterday.
You are very special people and I will carry in my heart forever these beautiful memories.
God bless you.
It was June 15, 1994 when the first dolphin cruise set sail in Destin, as the Southern Star took to the pristine waters of the Emerald Coast’s beaches. Prior to that, she was a mere dream in the hearts of me, a 20-year captain of seagoing tugs, and my wife, Wendy, a substitute teacher and mother of three. Words could not describe the feelings of my family when I had to leave my loved ones behind to fly off to work for months at a time, and we prayed that God would guide them toward a better way. Having spent time in third world countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, it became clear to me that the United States is indeed a land of opportunity where our wildest dreams can come true if we are willing to put forth the effort. One day, while home from sea, Wendy and I began to brainstorm, “If we could do anything, what would it be? What is our dream?”
Two years passed before we took the leap to follow our dreams. In 1993, I was employed by a high tech company specializing in officer placement. I was one of sixteen men, Master of the crew of the 200-foot “Louisiana Responder,” a vessel which specialized in oil spill recovery for clean-up operations such as the DeepWater Horizon tragedy of 2010. Wendy and I had decided that we would start a dolphin cruise business so that the family would no longer have to endure the heartache of my long absences. But where would we get a boat? Where would we start this business?
At long last, the two of us located a boat in the Northeast that we found suitable for our business venture. I gave notice and we embarked on a new adventure. When a surveyor was hired to examine the vessel, she failed inspection. Wendy asked if I had prayed over the vessel prior to inspection, and I began to explain that I had been a captain for years. Before I could finish my sentence, she interrupted, “Did you pray?” She asked three times before I answered with, “No.” So we prayed. Afterward, an indescribable sense of peace covered us. With a wife, children, mortgage, no job and no starter boat, it made no sense that I would be at ease.
About a week later, the phone rang and on the other line was a man that we had never met. He simply stated, “I have your boat in New York.”
We were surprised to say the least. Who was this man? How had he gotten our number? The answer, however, was no surprise: God. I promptly requested a survey, and when it was faxed, we could not believe our eyes. The vessel exceeded all expectations. Is that not just like our God? The only problem was that the cost was twice as much as the previous boat. We declared, “God, if this is your choice you will provide.” He did.
With an idea and a plan, Wendy and I walked into a bank in Destin. The lender recommended that I take a trip to New York to personally inspect this boat if I really wanted to take on the project. Wendy asked, “When does the loan committee…” and the banker cut her off, “I am the loan committee.” To this date, Duane Clark is still our go-to-guy in business.
With longtime friend Captain Clay Duhon, I went to look at the 65-foot, wooden boat. I called Wendy, “She is just what we need, but she needs a lot of work to convert her from a fishing boat to a cruising boat.” Wendy told me, “Just go sit and pray on her. Do what ever it is that you Captains do and call me tomorrow.” We decided to go for it, and the two of us captains set out on the journey back to Destin, Florida, which took 14 days. Along the way, we were docked one night and the dolphins awoke us to greet us as if to confirm that our decision was of God. Three weeks later, the Southern Star arrived in Destin to begin the first dolphin cruise that the town had ever seen. Still family owned and operated, our dolphin cruise aboard Southern Star remains an affordable form of fun for locals and vacationing families alike. We operate by the slogan “Expect a Miracle” and strive to ensure that every guest aboard our vessel is treated to the highest standard of service possible. We strive to create a fun and memorable experience and encourage our passengers to always “Expect a Miracle” just as we did 18 years ago.