Part 2 of 2
Mobile Bay: Eco-Fun, a Fort, Golf and
Above left, a young boy gets up close with a hefty fish at the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. At right, a picturesque sunset unfolds over the Gulf of Mexico.*
By Susan J. Young
While there's much to see and do in downtown Mobile, AL, the surrounding area boasts a cornucopia of green spaces, parks and recreational areas.
What's new? Mobile Bay has a new eco-center opened this past spring – the Five Rivers Delta Center (251-625-0814 or www.alabama5rivers.com), at 30945 Five Rivers Blvd., Spanish Fort, AL.
The site is the location at which the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee and Blakeley rivers flow into Mobile Bay.
A gateway to more than 250,000 acres of waterways, woods and wetlands, the new facility features eco-exhibits and decks (see photos taken in January 2007, both above and below*) for viewing birds and wildlife.
Canoeists and kayakers can put in and take out from the free pier at Bartram's Landing, the new terminus of the Bartram Canoe Trail.
A separate powerboat landing accommodates boats up to 30 feet long. Charter airboat rentals are also available.
Interestingly, the new center is becoming a hot venue for weddings!
Hours are Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That said, this is a new facility and it is expected to also open Sunday and have extended hours as things progress. So check the Web site or call for hours before you head out.
Gators and Birds
Another eco-adventure popular with kids of all ages is Alligator Alley (866-99-GATOR or 251-946-2483 or www.gatoralleyfarm.com), 19950 Hwy. 71, Summerdale, AL. Here you’ll view up to 150 alligators safely from an elevated boardwalk as well as watch the gators get their dinner.
The star among them is the 13-foot-long “Captain Crunch,” the world record holder for bite strength (how DO they measure that?); the winning bite pressure was 2,982 pounds!
This 38-year-old gator weighs 800 pounds. Feeding times are 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Situated on 20 acres of natural cypress swampland, Alligator Alley is also a good place to spot ospreys, owls, other birds and turtles.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for kids 4-12, with younger children admitted free. This attraction is seasonal, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the spring and summer.
A thrilling way to see nature is to take an airboat ride into the heart of the swampland around the city and within Mobile Bay estuary.
The area is home to 250 species of birds and 230 species of fish and wildlife, including alligators, black bears, bald eagles, and osprey.
Several operators offer airboat tours. Consult the Mobile Bay CVB’s Web site www.mobilebay.org for a list of operators.
For a bit more serene eco-fun, bird enthusiasts might head to the 160-acre Audubon Bird Sanctuary (251-861-3607 or www.dauphinisland.org), 213 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, AL.
The sanctuary is located south of Mobile on the east end of the 14 mile-long barrier island.
Visitors will discover a dune system, beaches, swamp, hardwood forest and nature interpretive trails (see photo at right).
The Sanctuary is the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America each spring.
Often exhausted and weakened from severe weather during the long flight, the birds land here each spring for their first food and shelter in North America.
Similarly, the sanctuary is also their final feeding and resting place before the return flight each fall.
Above, birders are on the look-out for unusual birds at the Aububon Sanctuary.*
To learn more about the local eco-systems, visitors -- especially families with children -- might enjoy the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab (251-861-7500 or www.sealabestuarium.org), 101 Bienville Blvd.
Children and adults alike will enjoy the Estuarium's nature exhibits, fish tanks and wildlife and interactive displays.*
Estuarium admission is $7 for adults, $4 for those 5-18 and free for kids 4 and younger.
Forts, Golf, and Holiday Lights
While you're out and about on Dauphin Island, you might check out the Fort Gaines Historic Site (251-861-6992 or www.dauphinisland.org), 51 Bienville Blvd.. Established in 1821, Fort Gaines is a pre-Civil War site.
And the fort (shown at left*) is the place where the famous 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay (of “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead” fame) was fought.
Guests receive a self-guided tour/history brochure. They may peruse an on-site museum, working blacksmith shop and a gift shop.
Depending on the timing of your visit, you might also take a guided tour, see a cannon fired, and immerse yourself in a living history weekend event.
The Fort Gaines site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; hours are extended until 6 p.m. from June through August. Admission is $5 for adults and kids 13 and up; $3 for those 5-12, and free for younger children.
Editor's Note: While at Fort Gaines, Civil War buffs should ask for a copy of the new Mobile Civil War Trail brochure. Fort Gaines is the starting point; the trail -- basically a driving tour -- meanders to sites throughout the Mobile Bay area.
If your interests are more on the links, the Mobile Bay area is ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top 10 golf value destinations within the U.S.
Golf is year-round here on more than 378 holes of championship quality golf play.
For example, Magnolia Grove (251-645-0075), 7001 Magnolia Grove Parkway, Mobile, offers 36 holes of championship play plus an additional 18-hole, par three course.
This golf venue and others in southern Alabama are part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (www.rtjgolf.com). See photo at right.*
For a look at the many Mobile Bay golf options, visit www.mobile.org/golf.php.
During the winter holiday season, Mobile and most communities in its surrounding areas twinkle with sparkling light displays.
Editor's Note: If you go during the holidays, don't miss the light displays in Fairhope! We snapped this shot at left while traveling through the quaint town on our way back to Mobile from the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort.*
Fairhope (www.cofairhope.com or www.fairhopemerchants.com), though, is appealing year-round. Brimming with green spaces and floral plantings, it’s a quaint town with art galleries, gift shops, boutiques and eateries.
Built in 1852, the Battle House Hotel was the focus of Mobile’s society life for nearly a century. President Woodrow Wilson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were among the historic hotel’s past guests.
Now that history comes alive once again in a fresh and new way. After a $220 million renovation, visitors will find a sparklingly restored 238-room property that’s now fully nonsmoking.
The new name is the Battle House Renaissance Hotel (251-338-2000, 866-316-5957 or www.rsabattlehouse.com, 26 N. Royal St. The spectacular lobby area is shown at left.)*
The Battle House Renaissance is adjacent to the Riverview Plaza Hotel, now transformed into the 375-room Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel (www.riverviewmobile.com), also fresh from a $54 million renovation. Both properties are owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
The Battle House Renaissance also features a full-service spa, outdoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center and even lighted tennis courts. However, the pool and fitness center will be closed through fall 2007, while final upgrades are being completed.
During January 2007, the Riverview Plaza was being readied for the changeover to the Renaissance name. I was fortunate to stay in one of the elegant and comfortable “renovated’ rooms.
Our room included two queen beds with sumptuous Renaissance Revival bedding (or, alternatively guests might choose a king configuration; one type is shown at right*), a comfortable stuffed chair, writing desk and chair, armoire with tv, and an attractive bath. Rooms have individual climate control.
Room service was prompt and savory. We also liked the hotel’s location -- just across from the Exploreum and just up from the cruise pier.
Many packages are available. At presstime, an “Escape to Bellingrath & the Riverview Plaza” package included a stay in one of the newly renovated guest rooms, a breakfast buffet for two, and two tickets to Bellingrath Gardens for $172 - $182 per room per night. Visit www.riverviewmobile.com.
In other lodging news, the Lafayette Plaza (800-692-6662, 251-694-0100 or www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hotel/MOBHI), 301 Government St., in downtown Mobile is becoming a Holiday Inn this fall after a multi-million dollar renovation. The hotel will begin accepting guests starting Sept. 21.
A new 155-room Hampton Inn is being built in the heart of downtown on the corner of Royal and Conti streets. The groundbreaking just occurred.
Seeking a countryside resort experience? Then consider the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa (800-544-9933, 251-928-9201 or www.marriottgrand.com) in Point Clear, AL.
With a stellar location right along the Gulf of Mexico, the resort is just a 45 minute drive to the southeast from Mobile.
The original hotel was built on this site in 1847. Ultimately it succumbed to fire and war, and a new hotel “The Grand” was built by a steamboat captain on the site – using much of the wood from the original property. In World War II, the building did duty as a training facility for troops.
Editor's Note: The resort was sizably damaged by Hurricane Katrina; don't miss viewing the incredible photos in the main resort building's lobby. You'll really have a much greater appreciation for the gorgeous appearance of the resort today.
Fully restored in 2006, the hotel has not only come back in style but added some new features. Thankfully, the main building retains its wood floors, cozy interior décor and character.
Encompassing myriad buildings over multiple acres, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort now offers 405 guest rooms and suites, a pool complex (pool deck is shown above right*), newly redesigned golf course and more.
One huge draw is its 20,000 square foot European-style spa. An “Escape Spa” package includes a spa deluxe guest room, breakfast buffet for two in the dining room, and a spa credit of $95 for one person; it’s priced at $310-$485 per room nightly.
Another enticing feature is the main dining room with water views to the Gulf of Mexico. In a new program this year, a couple might set up advance reservations for a romantic outdoor dining experience on the lawn just outside the restaurant.
Whether you’re staying or just visiting the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, definitely take a stroll along the seawall walkway (see photo at left*).
With swings, flowers and fresh lighting, it’s a delightful experience. A new fishing pier also was recently completed.
Mobile Bay has more than 5,000 accommodations options. Many hotels have pre- and post-cruise packages; check www.mobilebay.org for the latest options.
Mobile is about 144 miles from New Orleans and 329 miles from Atlanta. By road, the city is at the confluence of Interstates 10 and 65.
The city's visitor center and downtown skyscrapers are shown at right*
Air travelers arrive via one of three airports. The Mobile Regional Airport ((800-357-5373 or 251-633-4510, www.mobairport.com) is the closest airport.
About equal distance in either direction (about a one hour drive) are Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (228-863-5951 or 866-4GPTBLX or www.flygpt.com) along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Pensacola Regional Airport (850-436-5000 or www.flypensacola.com) in the western Panhandle of Florida.
Once you've arrived in the city, you might tour via Mobile Bay’s MODA electric trolleys, which run every 10 minutes on a three-mile route. Green umbrellas mark the official stops. Visitors may pull up the schedule at www.mainstreetmobile.org.
However, if you really want to see more of the Mobile Bay area, a rental car is highly recommended at least for two days.
This concludes Mobile Bay: Part 2 of 2. To return to Part 1, click here.
For More Information
Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau
800-5-MOBILE or 251-208-2000
For discount coupons, visit www.mobile.org/vis_coupons.php.
Susan J. Young is the Editor in Chief of SouthernTravelNews.com™ and SouthernCruising.com™. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and that organization's Editors Council. She also freelances for many travel publications and is a contributing editor to Travel Agent Magazine.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young, Mike Henderson, Tad Denson of www.myshotz.com, or the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos.