Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gulf Shores 2012

The VERY crowded tunnel under Mobile Bay
Last week my family, like thousands of other Midwest (and Joplin!) families, traveled south for our annual Beach Pilgrimage to Gulf Shores, AL.  As a girl who spent the majority of her first twenty-two years of life on the eastern coast of Florida, I am always amazed by the fact that the beaches along Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL, are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. As a former Florida Girl, I was initially skeptical of spending any length of time at a beach in ALABAMA.  I was wrong.  The powdery white sand and emerald green waters indicative of this part of the world are but a small part of what makes Gulf Shores magical for our family.
First house we ever stayed in at Gulf Shores

For eight of the past ten summers we have loaded up the SUV and endured the twelve-plus hour trek through the Heart of Dixie to enjoy Alabama’s Crown Jewel.  Our journey begins, naturally, in Joplin as we motor toward Springfield, MO before turning south toward Jonesboro, AR.  The first two trips found us stopping in Memphis to sample both award-winning barbecue and legendary Elvis worship.  Gradually, though, we grew wiser and passed by the King’s final resting place in an effort to put ourselves in prime position for making the most of our first official day of vacation by arriving in Gulf Shores around lunch time.  The best way to do this, we learned, was by spending the night in Hattiesburg, MS.  Not only does this afford us the opportunity for a relatively stress-free drive to the beaches on Saturday, but it also holds the promise of a potential Brett Favre sighting.  One year we missed eating dinner with him at Hattiesburg’s finest (heck, I’ll even go so far as to say the COUNTRY’S finest) barbecue joint, Leatha’s, by one week.  Mark my words, we are bound to run into him one of these days (and when we do, I promise you will be the first to know!)

We like to party.
Anyway, once we finally arrive at our beach house we hastily unload our cars (wait – did I neglect to mention we always partake in this great adventure with at least one or two other families?  Bring on the fun, people).   While the men folk set up tents, volleyball nets, chairs, and various other sundry items, the ladies head off to Starbucks and the grocery store.  We quickly fill up two or three grocery carts full of all the necessities we will need to feed our hungry crew for the next twenty-four hours or so and head back to "home" for Happy Hour on the beach.  Typically we also make a quick run to one of the local seafood shops for some fresh oysters, tuna fillets, and maybe even some Royal Reds (succulent shrimp found only in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico).  This is how you live large, friends.

The beach!
 Oh, the breezes!  The soothing sound of waves lolling along the shoreline!  The smell of salt air!  The feel of the soft sand under my bare feet!  Everything about the beach makes me instantly feel calm and relaxed.  The kids stay out late with flashlights, searching the sand along the water for the skeletal white crabs that scamper along the beach while we parents sit around drinking wine and talking about anything and everything.  On a few occasions I have even brought out my guitar and played a few songs while everyone sings along.  For me there is no finer vacation than this.

Some spread, right?
Most nights we cook in, all the adults in the kitchen pitching in, preparing our “specialties” like Caesar salad, shrimp scampi, fish tacos, or barbecued steaks.  A couple of nights, though, we venture out for dinner to Lulu’s (an outdoor bar and grill owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister) or other local restaurants such as Sea ‘N Suds or Orange Beach’s newest eatery, Cosmo’s, a delightful spot that specializes in seafood and sushi (and martinis). 

See how well they get along?

This year the kids were finally old enough to venture outside by themselves and not require 
constant supervision.  They are also old enough to know how to get along with one another, which made vacationing with other families enjoyable for everyone.  We experienced a little more rain than usual, but that just gave us an excuse to visit the souvenir shops and outlet mall a little more often.  Also, the Olympics provided a steady stream of television entertainment for all of us when the weather was too yucky to head outdoors.  A couple of days my boys hit the golf course, and I even rode my bike (hooray!)
Definitely time to head indoors....

Now we are back at home, ready to tackle the upcoming school year and all the chaos/fun/excitement that is sure to come along with it.  Gulf Shores, I am already looking forward to visiting you next year!

Gulf State Park Pier

What is your favorite vacation spot?  How do you unwind?  Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a place?

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