Category Archives: Alabama

Gulf Shores State Park, Alabama

IMG_5565 IMG_5566 IMG_5575 IMG_5578 IMG_5579 IMG_5580 IMG_5581 IMG_5582 IMG_5584 IMG_5586 IMG_5590 IMG_5598 IMG_5606 IMG_5611 IMG_5612 IMG_5616 IMG_5620Gulf Shores state park, Gulf Shores, AL

This park has tons of amenities, especially for a state park.  They have a swimming pool and a splash pad (where the water shoots out of the ground).  There’s a nature center that has an additional building set up for demonstrations and talks about the wildlife of the area.  We sat in on one and got to learn about and touch snakes, owls, lizards, and turtles.  There is a very large laundry room with about 30 washers and 20 dryers, give or take.  And across the large covered pavilion from the laundry room is the camp store, which sells the normal stuff you’d find at any camp store.  Lots of nic nacs about Gulf Shores, and a few non-perishable food items.  There’s also basketball courts, tennis courts, and horseshoes.

The bathrooms were very, very clean! And there was about one large bathhouse per 10 sites.  So there was very little traffic, even on the busy weekend days we were there.

We camped there in tents for 5 nights, while visiting Penascola and Fort Walton Beach.  The sites are large and would be easy to get in and out of with a large rig because there’s hardly any trees.  Which means the hot sun was directly on us from sunrise to sunset.  There were also some pull through sites that we saw.  This is a HUGE campground with over 400 camp sites.  We didn’t even see it all.

If you stay here, it’s not on the beach, although it is on a water inlet from the gulf.  You will have to drive to get to the beach.  But, if you’re a camper, you can park for free to go to the Gulf Shores State Beach.

The pests were numberable.  Fire ants ended up finding a way into our tent one night.  Racoons would come up to steal food when you were sitting right next to it.  Mosquitos and gnats were also a problem.  Of course, it was August when we went and I’m sure other times of the year it wouldn’t be quite as bad.

The cost turned out to be a lot, especially for tents in a state park.  I think we ended up right around $35/night.  There was the base fee, but you had to pay more if you had two tents, which is only allowed if the second tent is ONLY used by the minors of the people in the first tent. (rolls eyes).  So they were relatively strict with rules, not very accommodating, and there was no shade.  Gabe said he would NOT come back because the amenities didn’t justify the higher cost and lack of shade and horrible bugs.  (The rangers won’t even come with some ant killer.  We had to go buy our own if we didn’t want fire ants…..which we ALL OVER!)

Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island, in the Mobile Bay.

On our way out of Alabama, we stopped at one last place in the Bay, Dauphin Island.  This island is on the west side of the bay, with a three mile long bridge that connects it to the main land.  It was $2 per car to park, plus $3 per adult.  On the south side of the island were two lifeguard towers, and many different vendors, a few musicians playing music, and the vast majority of the people.  That side also had very large waves and a strong current.  We spent our time on that side because the kids wanted to be around all the other kids.  It was great watching Gabe throw Corbin into the waves and have him pop up laughing a few seconds later!  We all went into the water and had a blast.  I originally put my hair up, wanting to keep it dry so it would still be pretty later on.  Unfortunately, the waves went over my head and I soon gave up any hope of having luxurious hair.

We were there about three hours.  By the end, Gavin was sick, probably from the sun and the salt water that he swore he was spitting out, but he probably still swallowed a certain amount of it anyways.  And even though I had been putting on sunscreen every hour, I still got a bit of a tan.  The sun was like it always is in the south….hot and very close!  The beach was white sand, and the waves brought some nice hues of pale blue and white to mix with the dark water.  Hardly any seashells or rocks or trash on a beach that was actually pretty crowded.

The north side of the beach is protected by the island itself and the mainland.  So the waves there are almost non existent.  I had originally voted for that side.  It was less occupied, with smaller waves so we could actually swim a bit.  but the kids wanted friends to play with and Gabe wanted the other side because there was a dead sting ray on the north side, and it was more rocky with small pebbles throughout the sand.  Either way, we had a blast.

The island itself was nice.  There’s a few historic and scientific things to do there.  But by Saturday, we were all sort of ready to get home, so we didn’t see anything but the beach.  The island was like many small towns, with a few parks and some trails that wandered in between everything else.  The trails were made of boardwalk material, and they wound their way through loblolly pines and palm trees in a nice mixture of southern tropics.

 

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach, AL (just inside the Alabama border from Perdido Key in Pensacola, FL).

On the way back from the Aviation Museum, we took the scenic route and stopped at Sugar beach.  We didn’t bring any bathing suits, so we did what every parent does at the beach without suits.  We told them to only put in their feet, and then we stopped by Walmart on the way home for new clothes.  They were completely soaked within fifteen minutes flat!  The sand was the consistency and color of sugar.  It was really beautiful.  And the water was this deep blue that growing up in southern california I never saw.  The water was warm enough to actualy get into the water and splash around!  If we’re ever in the area again, we’ll probably stop for a few days because it was a very good beach.  There’s a state park across the street with RV parking that would be perfect!  And because it’s a key, there’s water on both sides, so there’s water in the state park, even though it’s across the street from the main beach.

 

USS Alabama

The USS Alabama is located in Mobile’s Bay.  $12/adult, $6/child, plus $2 for parking. Children under 6 are free.  This price lets you see the battleship, the aircraft pavilion, and the USS Drum, which is a submarine.  The USS Alabama is divided up into three parts, with a semi-self guided tour for each, color coded and with arrows of each color pointing you in the right direction.  It took us roughly three hours to tour the battleship.  We could’ve very easily spent more time touring it, but between the heat, the over crowding as it’s summer and there were lots of field trips and families on vacation, and our youngest children starting to get bored, we finished up the tours and moved on to the aircraft pavilion and submarine.

The size of everything is honestly very impressive.  16″ bullets were amazing to view.  It is a bit of walking and lots of steep stairs to see everything.  If I still had a child under the age of five, I wouldn’t have gone quite yet.  And those who had toddlers in strollers or babies in those backpack carriers looked totally miserable.  The funny thing is I noticed some looks from newer parents with one or two children like WE were to be pitied because we have four.  Little did they know, not having to physically carry you children around actually makes things much easier.  So having four isn’t a big deal.  Being mobile is amazing!

If you don’t know much about ships, I’d recommend buying one of the guides.  They are more in depth than the freebies we got that just told us how to follow the arrows.  Lucky me, I have my own personal maritime officer to explain everything to me.  Plus, we have common sense.  There was a guy who had no clue what he was talking about and I saw his wife throughout the whole tour listening to him like he was all knowing.  He once stepped into a crew berth and announced that it had been the bakery.  Yeah, I know.  He later went on about how the warrant officer was the one who steered the boat, even after they must have surely noticed the handcuffs and helmet that had the word “sheriff” printed on it.

As for us, whatever Gabe didn’t know wasn’t too difficult to figure out.  And a lot of what he explained was just extra fun facts.  I think we would’ve enjoyed it just as much if I didn’t know everything there is to know about electric diesel engines and steam engines.  But, I guess I’ll never know for sure.

The aircraft was cool to look at, but it was just that.  We got to walk around a large hanger and view the aircraft from behind a rope.  We are planning to go to Pensacola tomorrow and go to the Aviation museum, which I”m hoping is more hands on.  The submarine was much smaller than the battleship and it took only about thirty minutes to tour it.  You start at one end, go down, walk through it, go up on the other end.  The one major issue with the submarine is the tiny hatches.  On the battleship, you might have to step up and over a hatch to get into another room, but the hatches themselves were a good five or six feet tall.  We rarely had to duck.  The ones on the submarine were about two feet by four feet.  Everyone, including the littles, had to duck to get through.

After we finished touring everything, we went to a pier that is located adjacent to the USS Alabama and we took a family photo.  The boys decided afterwards to take a silly one.  There are not very many pictures inside the battleship because I”m a new photographer and the lighting was weird, turning everything blue.  I’m about to google it, and hopefully if we take pictures indoors tomorrow, it’ll be fixed.  I changed a bunch of settings the other day, messing around with a new lens and I guess there’s something I didn’t put back to normal.

 

 

Gulf Coast Exploreum

While we were in Mobile, we went to the Exploreum.  It cost us over $70 to get in, not including IMAX or any of the other things that cost additional money.  It took us an hour to see everything.  Half of the exhibits weren’t working.  Most of them were OK, but nothing really awesome.  Honestly, we should’ve just gone and went to see the Avengers instead.  It would’ve been cheaper and lasted longer and been more fun.  Pass on this one if you’re in the area.  There’s plenty of other things to see.

Alabama Restaurants

China Town Restaurant

5285 HWY 90 W, Mobile, AL

 

Really bad buffet food.  There honestly wasn’t one thing I liked, including the pineapple chicken and fried rice.  It was bad.

 

The Hungry Owl

7899 Cottage Hill Rd, Mobile, AL

I didn’t know this at the time, but an episode of Man Vs Food was filmed here.  Gabe and I both ordered the Ultimate Tony burger, which has Conecuh sausage, 3 cheeses, jalapenos, celery, onions, and peppers stuffed into the burger itself.  Then it’s topped with smoked gouda, Conecuh bacon, candied jalapenos, Creole BBQ sauce and a fried egg.  For side dishes we got the baked mac and cheese and the sweet smashed potatoes.  This burger is really way too much for one person to eat.  But Gabe decided to eat it anyways and was hurting for an hour afterwards!  I ate half of mine.  It was very good!  All the tastes of this burger are very LOUD tastes and they go well together.  The sweet smashed potatoes are heavy on the cinnamon, in my opinion, but still pretty good.  The baked mac and cheese was better than most restaurants, but still not as good as mine.  🙂

On a second note, our waitress wasn’t very happy.  She had a huge attitude almost the entire time and I watched her at other tables to see if it was just us, or if it was her.  It was definitely her.  She managed to make us feel guilty while ordering, like we were hugely inconveniencing her existence.  I don’t know if there was something going on at home or if she’s normally like this.  The one concession to this is that by the end of the meal, I chatted with her a bit and got her to smile and laugh a bit as we were talking kids, since she’s got four of her own.  And when she brought our ticket a few minutes later, she was much more gracious.  But it’s still a bit of a bummer to have such a disgruntled waitress.

 

Ruby Tuesday

5205 Service Rd South Higgins Rd, Tillmans Corner, Mobile, AL

 

I’ll admit it, I’d never been to a Ruby Tuesday.  Gabe and I both admitted to each other we figured it’d be like a Denny’s and neither of us are interested in subpar food.  So we were both pleasantly surprised at the food we got.  The Asiago Pepper Steak was VERY good!  Gabe also enjoyed the Chicken Fresco.  The Shrimp Queso dip was very good as well, and they bring you some biscuits while you’re waiting that were good.

The bad……I ordered a lemon drop martini and it came with a raspberry tea bag in it.  Gross.  I like raspberry tea and all, but it shouldn’t be in my martini.  I didn’t even look at the description of it because I’ve ordered them often enough, I didn’t think I had to.  Also, our waitress was nice but very disorganized and it took forever to get out food.  Another table close to us with three school aged children were sitting awhile as well and they actually complained to her.  She got the manager and I assume things got patched over, although we left before we could tell for sure.

Bellingrath Gardens

Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, AL

Cost $127 for two adults and four children to enter, go on the boat and the house tour.  The boat ended up braking, and the extra $30 something bucks was refunded to us.  There is also a cafe’ that has some sandwiches and soup.  Sandwiches were $8.  They were large enough that not one of us ate more than half.  Next time around, we’ll split sandwiches as they really were pretty large.  Sandwiches came with chips.

 

We got to the gardens around 10:30 and didn’t leave till 3.  And that didn’t include the boat tour.  I had heard from many people on reviews online that it’s a four hour deal.  BUt we would’ve spent a good six hours there.  So don’t plan anything else during the day if you go.

Yes, it’s lots of walking, but there’s also lots of shade since it’s so densely landscaped.  It’s kept very well.  Very clean grounds and restrooms.

About the Bellingraths.  I was really inspired by their story and I felt a certain kinship with Bessie Bellingrath.  Walter Bellingrath was the owner of a Coca Cola bottling company in Mobile. He has a very interesting work story, but I’ll keep it short.  He worked hard, he had many investments, he was very successful.  Enter Bessie.  She was his stenographer (if memory serves well) and with her “long brown hair and deep blue eyes” he was smitten.  They married.  Well, there came a time when Walter’s health started to falter.  He went to see a doctor and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong for awhile. Finally, a specialist figured out the problem.  Walter was a workaholic.  The doctor ordered him to have some fun.  He’d been looking at a small 5-acre fishing camp for awhile, and with this new prescription, he decided to purchase.

The Bellingraths around that time went on a long trip through Europe and they took note of the lavish houses and gardens there.  When they got back, Bessie decided she wanted to turn the fishing camp into a garden.  They purchased the adjacent 60 acres, hired an architect/designer, and built the gardens.  After the gardens were built, the Bellingraths decided to build a home as well. So, in interesting fashion, they built the house after the gardens that surround it.

The house itself is over 10,000 sq ft and is kept in mint condition with all the original furniture and pieces of porcelain for viewing.  It’s located in the middle of the gardens.  Now, keep in mind, they lived in this house while there were tours going on.  Bessie died after living in the house for a short 8 years.  After she died, Walter lived an additional 12 years.  It’s said that the people who came by his house daily helped him get out of bed in the morning, showcasing what his beautiful wife had created.

Some interesting tidbits about the Bellingraths.  They had no children, and so they left their estate and the proceeds from the tours of the gardens goes to three different schools and two churches in the area.  Bessie was very giving.

There were several times when a person in the community was selling furniture to get some money to try to make ends meet during the hard times of the Depression.  Bessie would stop by and offer to buy the piece of furniture, giving them the money, and saying she’d send one of her employees to go get it.  But in the end, she wouldn’t.  One of the men who worked for her has stated that she would say, “They needed the money but they are too proud to ask for it.”

Bessie created her whole world around beauty.  Walter may have been a workaholic, but together they balanced each other out.  She showed him how to appreciate life and beauty.  He showed her hard work.

The sidewalks on the property are mostly a beautiful stone.  That stone was once used as sidewalk material for Mobile.  Bessie wanted it.  She eventually convinced the city to change over to concrete and she got the stones herself for her gardens.

The architect who helped design the gardens (and later on, the home) worked WITH the land, not against it.  There are several natural wells on the property and it would’ve been a huge muddy mess.  Instead, he included water features into the gardens and used the natural resources of the property to his advantage.

Walter owned a tile company briefly.  It ended up going under during the Depression.  While Bessie chose much of the furniture inside the house, there’s quite a bit of tile work that was done because of the good deal Walter could get.  There’s one bathroom in particular that’s green and pink.  Bessie apparently HATED that bathroom.  But Walter stuck with it and insisted they use the tile because he got it for so cheap.

They had twelve or fifteen different FULL sets of china.  They used them all.  They figured what’s the point in having it if you’re not going to use it.   The house has three different dining rooms, and all were used, depending on the time of the year and what the view would be like out the windows.  In other words, every aspect of life revolved around what would be the prettiest, the most pleasurable.