Villagers, if you are looking for a place to spend a family vacation at any point throughout the year, I have a recommendation for you: visit the Alabama Gulf Coast.
We just returned from a wonderful Spring Break vacation in Orange Beach, Alabama -- which sits on the Alabama-Florida border and adjoins Gulf Shores, Alabama -- and I have come to the conclusion that the Alabama Gulf Coast is an ideal vacation spot for Hendricks County families.
Here are a few reasons why.
The Alabama Gulf Coast is about 781 miles from Hendricks County, give or take a few miles depending on where you live, and it's an easy drive that primarily utilizes Interstate 65.
Expect about 12 hours of driving time, plus time for eating, restroom and stretching stops. Hard-core travelers can make it in one day, or you can break it up into two reasonable days.
Beach lovers, it's closer than any comparable environment along the Atlantic Ocean.
For more information on how to get there from Hendricks County and how to get around when you arrive, click here.
Sun, Surf and Sand
The main body of water in the Alabama Gulf Coast area is the Gulf of Mexico. Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, Wolf Bay and Perdido Bay are additional waterways in the area. There's bright blue water everywhere.
In case you're wondering, the Gulf of Mexico looks, acts, smells -- and, according to one of my daughters, tastes -- just like the Atlantic Ocean. I can't tell any difference between the two bodies of water.
When we visited during the last week of March, the water temperature was 66 degrees. That's a little on the chilly side until your body adjusts, but it certainly didn't keep my daughters -- and bunches of other people -- from playing in the surf.
The beaches on the Alabama Gulf Coast are amazing. The 32 miles of beaches are made up of fine white sand, and they're pristine. This is a result of over 77,000 volunteers picking up more than 750 tons of trash during the Alabama Coastal Cleanup effort dating back to 1987. Alabama also has a Leave Only Footprints campaign, instructing visitors on the only sign of human activity that should be left on the beaches there.
And the air temperature? Well, as I write this in early April, it's currently 37 degrees in Hendricks County and 74 degrees at the Alabama Gulf Coast. It was in the low- to mid-70s when we were there.
Click here for some great information on average air and water temperatures in the area throughout the year.
Stuff to Do
The Alabama Gulf Coast is anything but a one-trick pony. In addition to the beaches, there is a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities for people of all ages and interests to enjoy.
The area is loaded with nature and trails that can be explored on land or by water. One of my favorite activities from our vacation was when we took a dolphin cruise through Blue Dolphin Cruises (more on that experience in a later blog post). Next time we visit, I want to check out the Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island.
The Alabama Gulf Coast is full of interesting history, too. I ventured out to Fort Morgan while I was there, and it was really neat. I'll share more about that excursion in a later blog post.
I don't fish or play golf, but both of those activities are big there. There's boating, diving, parasailing, shopping, amusement parks, arcades, miniature golf, a zoo, art galleries, museums, spas, fitness centers, live music, and that's just the stuff that pops into my head right now. I'm sure I've overlooked a bunch of stuff to do.
What I especially loved about the area was the family-friendliness of everything. Kids aren't just tolerated at the Alabama Gulf Coast -- they're welcomed and embraced. There is a ton of stuff for kids to do there, which means that they'll enjoy the family vacation as much as you will.
I'll get into more detail about a few of the kids' activities that we loved during our vacation in future blog posts.
Stuff to Eat
The food at the Alabama Gulf Coast is phenomenal.
Seafood is huge there, and given all the fishing that takes place around the area, it's tough to beat the freshness. Fish, shrimp, oysters, clams...they've got it all and then some, plus they cook and serve it in all kinds of different ways. Some places will even cook the fish that you catch.
You're not restricted to just seafood there, though. Burgers, steaks, chicken, pizza, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, Asian, fast food, ice cream, donuts, beignets -- it's all there.
Many restaurants even offer allergy-friendly menus, which was great for us, since my youngest daughter is allergic to dairy.
A few restaurants stuck out in my mind while we were there, and I'll tell you more about them in future blog posts.
(One of them: LuLu's at Homeport.)
We've all been to those tourist traps where you pay three arms and a leg for a gallon of gas, $5 for a soft drink, and $20 for a hamburger, right?
The Alabama Gulf Coast is not one of those places.
Gasoline in Orange Beach when we were there was just under $2 per gallon. Gasoline in Hendricks County when we left was just under $2 per gallon.
The Mrs. thought that the grocery prices at Publix were a little high, but she wondered if they would be comparable to Kroger's prices if she had a membership card to Publix. Winn-Dixie and Wal-Mart are also in the area for your grocery needs, as are CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid.
Our condo was at a fair price, and the other condos and beach houses that we looked at online weren't crazy expensive, either.
Menu prices seemed reasonable for comparable levels of dining in Hendricks County. Kids' meals were a few dollars more than we're used to at home, but most restaurants do offer kids' meals.
Attractions and event prices didn't seem outrageous to me. I got into Fort Morgan for $7, the dolphin cruise was $18 per person ($15 per kid) for 90 minutes to two hours, and the arcades and amusement parks were normally-priced. You can't turn around without tripping over a souvenir shop, and their prices were all typical of souvenir shops.
We didn't come away from any restaurant, activity or store feeling like we had just gotten robbed.
To summarize: Alabama Gulf Coast. Just 12 driving hours away (closer than the Atlantic Ocean!), warm weather, gorgeous and clean white sand beaches, tons of stuff to do for the whole family, excellent food and reasonable prices.
Stay tuned for more posts about our visit to the Alabama Gulf Coast in the coming days!
In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out these websites:
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