Gulf Coast vacation

Last week Derek and I took a week-long road trip vacation to several destinations at the Gulf Coast.

We visited Gulf Shores, Mobile and Dauphin Island in Alabama, and Biloxi in Mississippi. These locations are about a six and a half hour drive.

Neither of us have visited any of these places, and after this trip, now I can add Mississippi to the list of states I have visited.

A bonus to this road trip was that it took us right past the Buc-ee’s in Robertsdale, Ala. If you don’t know what a Buc-ee’s is, it is an amazing gas station and convenience store. That’s a horrible description for it though; it’s so much more than a convenience store. The company originated in Texas (where we lived for three years) and now it’s starting to branch out around the south.

Our first two days were in Gulf Shores. However, all of the hotels closer to the beach were above my budget, so we stayed a few miles inland in Foley. I think we lucked out though, because we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast called Hotel Magnolia.

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Also a coincidence was being across the street from a railroad depot museum and model train display in Foley. My dad loves trains and he passed that on to me. My dad has always had some type of model train layout. That was a neat first thing to see to ease into our week of fun.

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Also on our itinerary was Alligator Alley, which is a natural habitat setting for alligators that have been rescued from dangerous situations. Visitors to Alligator Alley start out by seeing hatchlings, and the alligators in different young age groups. The last part is the best part, seeing the (very, very large) adult alligators in a swamp. There is a boardwalk that goes over the swamp, and it is honestly beautiful scenery.

I asked a worker a few questions, and he said that he estimates they have around 700 alligators! He even said that some wild alligators have gate crashed, and now live among the rescued alligators.

I also got the chance to hold a three year old alligator named Gatorade.

In addition to admission, you can also buy alligator chow. It looks like large brown pellets, similar to what you would feed goats at a petting zoo.

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We also went to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. It is a small zoo, about the same size as our local Chattanooga Zoo.

What I enjoyed about this zoo is its layout. It is a large circle, so you can only go backward or forward, and not have to worry about missing any animals.

Another big draw, at least for me, is the different kinds of cats. My favorite animals are all the cats, so I was happy to see lions, tigers, black panthers, lynx and cloud leopards.

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We also explored Gulf Shores and spent some time at the beach. I find it interesting that Gulf Shores was more crowded than Biloxi, and they were both similar tourist beach towns. I am not sure why that is.

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We also drove all the way to the end of the island and visited Fort Morgan, the site of a Naval Civil War battle. It’s just not a complete trip for me without visiting some type of historical site!

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Something extra we did was stumble across Gulf Shores State Park. There, we found a nice pedestrian boardwalk that went over the marsh.

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Our next stop was Mobile. I did not have high expectations of Mobile. It was just meant to be a stop over to get us to other destinations that I was more so looking forward to. Mobile pleasantly surprised us. Our hotel, Malaga Inn, was in a great location, walking distance to the historic district. The streets and architecture of the buildings were beautiful.

Our hotel had a lovely courtyard, and I am glad we took advantage of it on our first evening, because on the second day we had quite the downpour!

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In Mobile, we took a tour of the Oakleigh House, built in 1833. There wasn’t much original to the house itself, but the people who are in charge of the home, took great care to make sure that they filled the home with both Mobile and period era items. The tour guide did a great job of telling stories of multiple Mobile people and families.

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A highlight of the day in Mobile was visiting the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. There, we got to see the USS Alabama, submarine USS Drum, and countless military historical aircraft on display.

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After a full day in Mobile, we left early the next morning for a full day at Dauphin Island. This is interesting: I expected to like Mobile the least and I liked it the best, and I expected to like Dauphin Island the most and I liked it the least.

This is not to say that we did not enjoy our day on Dauphin Island; we did. However, I was surprised with how little there was to do. This is definitely not a tourist-crazy area like Gulf Shores. Dauphin Island seems to be a place to “get away from it all.” Families could rent a house here for a week and just spend all of their days at the beach. That would be perfect for some people, but it’s not my idea of a vacation, personally.

At Dauphin Island, we first headed to Fort Gaines. This fort, and Fort Morgan, can almost be sister forts in a sense, if you are looking for Civil War history about the Battle of Mobile Bay. Both forts, just across from each other on different islands, were witness and played a part in this battle. I enjoyed Fort Gaines much better than Fort Morgan. Fort Gaines is much smaller, and the self guided tour was more organized with more information.

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The second thing we did on Dauphin Island was to walk the lake loop trail, part of the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. This is a nice wooded, marshy area filled with trails.

At this point, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention the weather. The weather on the first half of our trip left something to be desired, but up until this point we had gotten lucky. It rained and thunderstormed every day, but it was always during mealtimes, when we were in the car, or back at the hotel for a mid-afternoon break.

It had drizzled on and off during our time that morning at Fort Gaines, but by the time we parked at Audubon Bird Sanctuary, the sun was starting to shine. We left the umbrellas in the car. Big mistake.

The skies opened up on us and it DOWNPOURED. We were instantly soaked. At that point, it wouldn’t have made a difference if we turned back to the car or kept walking on.

We knew we had dry clothes waiting for us in our suitcase in the truck, so we just laughed it off and made the best of it.

It was a beautiful trail, and at some point it did finally stop raining. We were taking pictures of the lake on a little pier, when a group of people walked up behind us. They said, “You do know there is an alligator underneath you, right?” That made the walk more special, and made it even more interesting after the downpour.

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After changing (underneath towels while parked on a dead end road where there were hopefully no people watching) we found a place to eat lunch. We spent the second half of the day driving around, taking pictures, browsing in stores, and ended the day with time on the beach.

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After that, it was time to head to Biloxi, our last stop of the trip. I enjoyed Biloxi the most, because there was so much to do, and, as I mentioned earlier, it was less crowded than Gulf Shores.

Our hotel was right across from the beach, which we took advantage of multiple times a day.

My favorite part of each day was going to the beach in the evenings. Low tide was at that time, and the water was gentle. You could walk out very far, over multiple sand bars, and still only be in water up to your ankles.

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The highlight for me in Biloxi was visiting Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ last home. Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy. By now, you probably all know that I love Civil War history. Behind Beauvoir is the Presidential Library and Museum, where we learned a lot about the man.

The home was filled with all original artifacts belonging to the family. In addition, there were many interesting Civil War related items in the museum. The coolest item, I thought, was the coat that Davis was wearing when he was captured at the end of the war in May, 1865.

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Plans had to change unexpectedly on the second day, but I think things turned out for the better. We had tickets for the Betsy Ann Riverboat, but the ride was cancelled due to a mechanical issue.

Instead, we visited the Big Play Entertainment Center, where we raced in a go-kart, and then we played a game of mini-golf. After that, we headed to the Ohr-O’Keefe Art Museum. Ironically enough, these three things were all together cheaper than the river boat tickets.

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Other, small things that we did included visiting the Biloxi Lighthouse, seeing tree sculptures, (made from trees destroyed in Hurricane Katrina), the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, and of course, more beach time.

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After two and a half days in Biloxi, it was time to head home. To break up the drive, we decided to make a pit stop at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This was a great decision. We had lunch in their cafe, and spent over an hour exploring all of the different gardens and flowers.

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We had a great time. We did everything that we had set out to do (except the Riverboat) and then some. When we got home, I made a YouTube video with footage from the trip.

We can’t wait until the next vacation!

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