NAVARRE BEACH — Spring break on Navarre Beach doesn't quite look like the seasonal scene you might find in neighboring beach communities to the east and west.

College students aren't crammed in condos or funneling beer on the beaches. There's no nightly busts of wild parties. No MTV spinoff.

 

Yes, Navarre Beach does see an uptick in crowds during spring break. But even during peak vacation times it remains true to its slogan: "Florida's Most Relaxing Place."

"It's not wild and crazy," said Julie Morgan, Santa Rosa County's tourist development director. "That's not really what we're known for. It's not what we have to offer."

Instead of students, this time of year sees a lot of families vacationing during Easter break. Morgan said Navarre Beach simply doesn't have the businesses to support the spring break crowds you might see hanging out at the Whale's Tail in Miramar Beach in Walton County.

And quite frankly, that's OK for many people in Navarre.

"Our brand is Florida's Most Relaxing Place. Our atmosphere simply isn't for spring breakers," Morgan said. "It's a low-key environment with the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center and family-friendly restaurants."

In Destin and South Walton, the Okaloosa County and Walton County sheriff's offices have mobile command stations to respond to underage drinkers on the beach. Every year the agencies arrest hundreds of them. 

Sgt. Rich Aloy, public information officer with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, said patrolling Navarre Beach does not require that kind of extra manpower.

"I've been to those areas (in Destin and South Walton) and I've seen how large their populations are versus our spring break populations," he said. "We do get some spring break folks. We do have some issues, some underage issues. The same types, just not the magnitudes."

The Sheriff's Office may not have to go so far as to set up a mobile station at the beach, but there is a presence. Aloy said deputies patrol the roads and on the beach. A traffic unit watches out for drunken drivers. 

"One thing we do get calls on is the swimmers," he said. "Alcohol and water do not mix. The Gulf waters are very dangerous. When you have people drinking and strong currents, it equals a very bad situation."

Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Danny Fureigh said there are more water rescue calls this time of year.

"This week our call load has tripled," he said. "Most of them are water rescues. People get too far out in kayaks. Sometimes the calls are drinking related. We only have two bars on the beach, so that helps."

Although the victim wasn't a spring-break visitor, deputies and firefighters responded to a drowning last Saturday when a good Samaritan tried to rescue a 10-year-old swimmer who was caught in a rip current. The child was rescued, but the good Samaritan, who was a local resident, died later at a nearby hospital.

As first responders, Aloy and Fureigh said they're grateful for the spring break crowds that Navarre Beach does — and doesn't — attract. But that doesn't mean Navarre Beach will remain laid back during spring break.

"We're anticipating it will change as the population increases" in the future, Aloy said. "If we did have a huge influx of people, we would then reach out to our partners and see what works and what doesn't."

 

Mermaid Mansions is just one of the rental companies on Navarre Beach. Owner John Karam said he's never known Navarre Beach to be a spring break destination for the party crowd. Partly because there's not a lot of infrastructure that lends itself to large crowds and also because rental owners tend to be choosy about who stays in their units.

"We have a vetting process for renters," Karam said. "We have contracts with all the rules stated, and we're constantly monitoring our units."

While Navarre Beach has certainly grown in recent years, it's still a small beach community by design.

"The culture is a relaxing place and we take pride in that," Karam said. "It's not a party island. People come here just for the beach."

Karam said it's not uncommon for visitors to book the spring break vacation on Navarre Beach and then spend most of their time in Pensacola Beach or Destin. Uber can be a "very big player" for visitors who fill up rentals and the new SpringHill Suites hotel.

"Nightlife is just a 20- to 30-minute drive from here," Karam said. "We want to keep Navarre like it is now."