The 5 Best Day Trips to Make on Your Family’s Beach Vacation

Just a short drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast, there are some world-class attractions that draw thousands of visitors a year. So, you might think about planning a day or two into your next family vacation to check out some of these area attractions.

Battleship USS Alabama

History buffs shouldn’t miss this chance to see a real World War II hero. Prior to being decommission in 1947, The Battleship USS Alabama had quite a storied past.

Known as the “Hero of the Pacific,” the Alabama served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. At the end of the war, she embarked 700 sailors, principally members of Navy construction battalions (or “Seabees”), as a part of her mission in Operation Magic Carpet to return American servicemen home as soon as possible. The Alabama accumulated nine U.S. Navy battle stars for her World War II service.

The Alabama was taken to Mobile Bay and opened as a museum ship in 1965. Visitors are allowed to view the inside of the main gun turrets and anti-aircraft guns. And thanks to the addition of a stairway, you can also see the powder magazine.

USS Battleship Alabama, 2703 Battleship Parkway, Mobile, AL. Open every day except Christmas Day. Admission: Age 12 & up: $15; Ages 6-11: $6; Active or Retired Military and under age 6: Free; Discounts for groups, senior citizen, military dependents and AAA Members.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home

Walter Bellingrath once said “The gardens are like a beautiful woman with a different gown for each week of the year.” Bellingrath, the first Coca-Cola bottler in Alabama, originally bought the property in 1917 as a fishing camp.

Even though Bellingrath Gardens is famous for it’s azaleas and award-winning roses, there is literally something blooming year-round in the 65-acre garden estate. Camellia blooms in winter, azaleas in spring, roses in the summer, chrysanthemums in autumn and, during the holiday season, the garden turns into a Magic Christmas in Lights.

You can also tour the Bellingrath Home, complete with its original furnishings and Mrs. Bellingrath’s extensive collection of decorative arts. Built in 1935, the 10,500- square-foot home was designed by prominent architect, George B. Rogers.

Bellingrath Gardens and Home, 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore, AL. Open year-round 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. except certain holidays. Admission: Garden only: Adults, $12.50; Children (5-12), $7. Garden and Home: Adults, $20.50; Children (5-12), $12.50.

Downtown Fairhope

A popular wintering spot for artist and intellectuals (including Sherwood Anderson and Upton Sinclair) in the early 1900s, downtown Fairhope surprises you with its beauty, history and charm.

Located just off the shore of Mobile Bay, the vibrant downtown scene is complete with art galleries, boutiques, bookstores, antique shops and even restaurants that have been featured on the Food Network.

Each season of the year brings different festivals, art shows and concerts to downtown Fairhope.

National Naval Aviation Museum/ NAS Pensacola Pensacola_Naval_Museum

The National Naval Aviation Museum is the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most-visited museums in the state of Florida.  The museum, which is located at NAS Pensacola, showcases more than 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing the Navy, the Marine and the Coast Guard.

Once you’ve looked at the planes, don’t miss the opportunity  to simulate flying in one of the museum’s interactive exhibits. They have an IMAX theater (with the largest screen in Florida), a 3D Flight Simulators, a Blue Angel 4D experience, cockpit trainers, a virtual flight deck and a Kiddie Hawk Play area.

The 3D Flight Simulators allow you to experience horizontal rolls, longitudinal pitches and vertical climbs in a multi-sensory experience. Or check out the Blue Angels 4D experience and feel like you’re the pilot in a Blue Angel’s air show.

Naval Aviation Museum, 1750 Radford Blvd., Pensacola, FL.  Admission is free to the museum, cockpit trainers and Kiddie Hawk Play area. The IMAX theater, the 3D Flight Simulators and 4D Blue Angel experience are priced separately. Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center

Voted one of the  Top 15 Science Centers in the country, the Exploreum is the only science technology center serving south Alabama, south Mississippi and northwest Florida.

Exploreum visitors can experience more than 150 hands-on science adventures in three permanent galleries: Hands On Hall, the Wharf of Wonder, and My BodyWorks, the most advanced health exhibit in the nation.

The Exploreum also features large-scale, family friendly, interactive traveling exhibits, demonstrations and an IMAX theater.

Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center, 65 Government Street, Mobile, AL. Open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. Admission: $16 for adults, $15 for seniors and young adults (age 13-18) and $13.50 for children (2-12).

Leave a comment below if you have a favorite day trip that we didn’t cover here.

 

Six Must Do Activities for Your Family’s Spring Break

With the brutal winter of 2014 almost behind us, many folks are eagerly looking forward to Spring Break on the Alabama Gulf Coast. It’s great to spend your spring vacation relaxing on the sugar white sand, but Gulf Shores and Orange Beach also offer many family activities for when you’re not playing in the surf.

Get on Track

Not surprisingly, go-karts are the main attraction at The Track. The more adventurous members of you family will probably head for the Wild Woody, a three-story spiraling wooden track. However, The Track also has a classic go-kart track with single and double-seated karts so that everyone in the family can participate. There are even special tracks for drivers as young as 5-years-old (Kiddie and Rookie Karts).

After a few circles around the track, check out the River Boat Miniature Golf course and Kid’s Country with rides, a Ferris wheel and carousels for pint-sized patrons.

The older kids may want to head over to the Sky Coaster, a free-fall experience from up to 110 feet at speeds of 70 mph.

The Track uses a carnival-type ticket system for all rides and attractions. Tickets can be purchased online beforehand for a 10 percent discount. The Track— Family Recreation Center, 3200 Gulf Shores Pkwy.

One-Stop for Fun

You could spend an hour or a full day at the Wharf where there are plenty of shops, restaurants and attractions to keep you and the kids occupied.

Marking the grand entrance to the Wharf is the southeast’s tallest Ferris Wheel. You can get a great overview of Orange Beach from the top of the wheel, which is over 112-feet tall.

The Ferris Wheel just happens to be located next to the Carmike Wharf 15, which shows all the latest movie releases.

Or if you are in the mood to do something a little more active, check out Arena the Next Level, where kids of all ages can play Laser Tag or Bazooka Ball.

The Wharf, 4830 Main Street, Orange Beach.

And for Your Next Adventure

Adventure Island is built around a five-story volcano that erupts regularly with fire, sound and vibrations.

There are plenty of other main attractions at Adventure Island. You’ll find rides and games for the entire family including go-karts, paddle-boats, two 18-hole miniature golf courses, bumper boats, laser tag, a rock-climbing wall and an arcade.

Adventure Island also features several rides for the smaller set, and the Alligator Alley Arcade has more than 100 video and redemption games.

Adventure Island, located in the heart of Orange Beach across the street from Seaside Beach & Racquet. Open 9:30 a.m. – midnight. Hours vary during the off-season.

Fat Daddy’s Arcade

Featuring more than 65 of the most popular games on the market, you can find everything from skee ball and basketball free throws to Guitar Hero, racing games, interactive games, kids games and lots more at Fat Daddy’s Arcade. Many of the featured games award tickets that can be redeemed for prizes.

Fat Daddy’s Arcade is open daily at 10 a.m. Off-season hours may vary. Located in the heart of Orange Beach next to Bubba’s Seafood on Perdido Beach Blvd.

Zip the Gulf

One of the newest and one of the most adventurous recreation options on the Gulf Coast opened up last
year at Gulf State Park. The Hummingbird Ziplines, consisting of seven towers and six ziplines as high as 90 feet off the ground, offers a high flying adventure for the entire family. The mile-long course takes two hours to complete while offering spectacular views of the gator pond and Lake Shelby.

Hummingbird Ziplines, a zipline tour costs $79 for adults and $59 for children 12 and under. Discounts may apply for groups larger than 12.

Pet a kangaroo

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is an interactive zoo with more than 500 exotic animals and a petting zoo. In spring and summer, you can even play with the babies—including tigers, kangaroos and lemurs.

Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, 1204 Gulf Shores Pkwy. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for children ages 3-12 and free for children 2 and under.

Leave us a comment to let us know what family activities you and your family enjoy most on your Spring Break vacations!

Condo Rentals: Reading the Fine Print

Nothing is more frustrating or disappointing than having an exciting beach vacation planned and needing to cancel at the last minute for a crisis at work or family illness. Adding insult to injury is to find out that even though you didn’t step one foot in the sand, you are going to lose the entire amount you would have spent on lodging.

But that could easily happen if you don’t read the fine print of your rental policy.

The upfront charges and penalties vary greatly from rental management company to rental management company. So, we’ve put together some tips to help you identify “Guest Friendly” policies when deciding which company to book your family vacation through.

Cancellation PenaltiesIMG_3373

The most obvious (and potentially costly) thing to look out for is the cancellation penalty.

Unfriendly Guest Policy: Cancel within 30 days? Pay in full. Sadly, it is common to find a 30-day cancellation period with nearly all rental management companies and even rentals by owner. This means that if you cancel anytime within 30 days of your scheduled vacation, you pay the entire amount. Even if you cancel earlier than 30 days out, you are usually charged a $30 – $50 administrative fee.

Guest Friendly Policy: Cancel more than 14 days in advance? No penalty or payment due. There are some management companies on the Gulf Coast that allow you to cancel within 30 days of your arrival date without penalty. Even if you have to cancel within a 14-day window, you only forfeit 50 percent of the total cost of your reservation instead of the full amount.

Reservation Deposits

Unfriendly Guest Policy: 30 percent due at booking. Unfriendly policies require a 30 percent deposit when you make the reservation even if you’re several months away from putting your toes in the sand. This means that you need a significant amount of money upfront for your family vacation.

Guest Friendly Policy: $0 down when you book. The most guest friendly policies do not require a deposit at the time of booking, and only take a 50 percent deposit two weeks prior to your arrival date. This means that you can book well in advance without the risk of losing any money if you cancel more than two weeks prior to your vacation.

Final Payment

Unfriendly Guest Policy: Pay in full a month before you stay. Final payment is due 30 days prior to arrival.  Again, this means you are paying a significant amount of money before you ever get near the beach. If you cancel after you’ve made your final payment, you forfeit all of your money.

Guest Friendly Policy: Final payment not due until arrival. Guest friendly policies let make your final payment when you arrive. This means you put less down upfront and have more time to save up money for your vacation rental.

Satisfaction Guarantee

Unfriendly Guest Policy: You book it, you get it. Unfortunately, many of us have had the experience of showing up on property and find out the room doesn’t exactly look like it did in the online pictures. Unfriendly policies usually mean that you’re stuck with that rental, even if it was misrepresented. Even if they can move you, many times you may wind having to relocate to a different property. Hint: make sure the company you rent through has plenty of rentals available at the property you choose in case you do need to be moved. 

Guest Friendly Policy: Not happy with your rental? Get relocated to a comparable vacation rental at the same resort no questions asked. A 100% satisfaction guarantee means that you can reserve your rental and be confident that if your room isn’t up to par you and your family will be taken care of.

 

So make sure to pay close attention to the rental policies you agree to when reserving your beach vacation.  You don’t want to wind up paying for a vacation you never get to enjoy!

 

Book Your Beach Stay in Advance for a Better Family Vacation

Self-proclaimed travel geeks have made a science out of studying the best time to book airline flights to get the best deals. For airlines, it pays not to be too early or too late. In fact, 49 days or about seven weeks before your travel date is thought to be the optimal time to get the best deal possible.

But there’s not a lot of information out there about the ideal time to book your condo rental at the beach. So, we’ve put together some tips to help you nail down the perfect reservation for your family vacation.

Unlike the narrow window for premium deals on airline reservations, the general consensus is the earlier you decide which condo you want and book it, the more likely it is you will get the best deal available.

Rates Go Up as Occupancy Goes Up

There is probably not a “too early” point to book a condo. That’s why some people put their reservations in up to a year in advance when they find a condo that suits them perfectly. Rates will go up as occupancy goes up. So, the longer you wait to book, the more likely it is you will pay higher rates.

Hotels sometimes offer last-minutes deals, but condos typically do not—especially during peak season.

The exception to this rule is the shoulder seasons. Management companies will often come up with special promotions to fill gaps during this time.

Highly Desirable Units Go First

Privately owned condos are typically decorated to the owner’s taste, and even within the same complex, some have more updates than others. So, obviously, the most desirable and update-to-date units usually book first. Booking early means you will have a larger selection of condos to choose from at your desired property and are more likely to find something to your liking.

Head Start on Planning

Getting your accommodations and locale settled early also allows you to concentrate on planning other
aspects of your vacation. Once you know where you are staying, you can start scouting out nearby restaurants and booking local family excursions or activities.

No Penalty if Plans Change

Some rental companies have very guest-friendly policies that let you book with no money down and cancel up to two weeks prior to your arrival without penalty. This means you can hold your room risk free and even make payments on your trip without the risk of losing your money if you need to cancel. If your desired property does require a deposit, it’s always wise to check cancellation policies before you put any money down as most rental companies will demand full payment if you cancel within a month of your arrival date.

So, the bottom line is, it doesn’t pay to procrastinate if you want to get the most desirable condo at the best price.  Booking your stay in advance can mean you get the best room at the best price without the stress of planning a last minute vacation!