Gulf Coast Paradise
By: Suzanne Ferrara
It’s a hypnotic combination: soft white sand underneath your feet, unspoiled shorelines and clear turquoise waters. If that’s not enough to sweep you off your feet, add breath-taking sunsets, windswept dunes and the sounds of the rolling surf along with the gentle breeze of the clean salty air.
This is paradise on the Alabama Gulf Coast: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach straddles 35 miles of the coastline and offers something for everyone. It is an ecologist’s dream, and at the same time, it’s the place to get top-notch pampering plus endless adventure. Make no mistake: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach form a destination that will instantly melt your cares away.
There is no shortage of places to plant your beach chair and umbrella atop the endless white sand (which, by the way, gets its color from quartz grains). The sand is so soft that it will squeak underneath your feet while, at the same time, you can see it beneath the clear rolling surf only a few feet away.
You can choose to take in the fresh gulf air, peer at the dolphins swimming in the distance, and watch the osprey and gulls fly overhead, and do all of the above from either a private resort beach or from several public beaches.
Before delving into the endless adventures, cuisine and pampering, you will need to choose a place to stay. Lodging choices include resorts, bed and breakfasts, hotels, cottages, and beach houses.
Many choose a resort because they won’t have to leave the property to get everything they need to have a perfect beach vacation. Resorts, also offer beach chairs, umbrella and other outdoor services.
Touted as the most luxurious resort and the jewel on the Alabama coast is Turquoise Place on Orange Beach. This Spectrum Resort property has three to five bedroom condos all with phenomenal features and breath-taking views from every vantage point. The private balconies alone are reason to stay here. Each has a hot tub jacuzzi and outdoor kitchen with a natural gas grill with unparalleled views.
And there’s more! These luxury residences are spacious with the three-bedroom condos measuring 2,300 square feet with 10-foot ceilings and gas fireplaces. Each has floor-to- ceiling windows from which to see the gorgeous vistas. All of them come with fully equipped kitchens with Subzero and Wolf appliances, plus wet bars with wine coolers and high definition flat-screen televisions.
For a splash of fun, head over to the Turquoise Place’s 450-foot heated lazy river and float along the meandering waterway. This resort also boasts five pools and two indoor heated salt water pools with beach and poolside cabanas.
Getting hungry? Change of Pace, an outdoor grill and bar will surely satisfy your appetite with scrumptious dishes and sandwiches. You can also wet your whistle with their signature cocktails and cold beer.
For those seeking serious pampering, there’s a lavish full-service Turquoise Place Spa. You won’t regret a single minute you spend inside this oasis. The Spa’s message therapists are second-to none and you won’t walk out the same person you did when you came through their doors. You can even order a beachside or an in-room massage for one or two.
There’s also a plethora of activities: beachside yoga, line dancing, and canvas painting classes. And yes, there’s plenty of organized, fun entertainment for the kids. Turquoise Place runs kids programs like a well-oiled machine. There are arts and crafts and competitive games for all ages to enjoy.
Just 20 miles away in neighboring Gulf Shores is the Beach Club Resort and Spa, which covers roughly five football fields. This resort continues in its mission to preserve the ecosystem in and around the property; in fact, wooden walkways have been built above the beach to minimize any disturbance around sand dunes. It’s commonplace to see resort employees and guests alike doing all they can to protect sea turtles and the eggs they lay onshore.
The Beach Club and its four towers of fabulous condominiums, boasts five pools, five hot tubs, two restaurants, an ice cream shop and a gift shop. And if that’s not enough to keep you busy, there are also tennis courts, biking, kids camps, playgrounds and a luxurious spa.
There’s no shortage of places near the waves to plant yourself for a day of relaxing, and like Turquoise Place, The Beach Club offers beach chair and umbrella service. After you’ve kicked back a bit and recharged your batteries on the white sand, you can put that stored energy to use with a variety of water activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking, parasailing and jet skiing.
Don’t miss lunch or dinner at the resort’s Coast’s Restaurant, a restaurant where Chef Brody works his magic and serves award-winning (and mouth-watering, naturally) dishes. Coast’s has panoramic waterfront views of the Gulf of Mexico and offers inside and outside dining. For a more casual atmosphere, one chockfull of food and activities, head to the resort’s Village Hideaway for scrumptious grilled dishes and an extensive craft beer selection. Pool tables, shuffleboard, video games (a really cool golf simulator!) and flat screen TVs help give the Hideaway its fun vibe.
The extent of excursions, adventures and things to do here is boundless and readily accessible. There is truly something for everyone in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach from deep sea fishing charters (here you’ll find one of the largest fishing fleets on the gulf coast) to sunset cruises. With the Gulf on one side and several inlets, lakes and bays literally a stone’s throw away, water adventures of every sort rule. There are also beautiful biking trails, amusement parks and eco-tours.
Bring out the naturalist in you! Board a covered golf cart and take a fascinating eco-tour through the pristine woodlands and natural habitats of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail. Here you can explore the marshes, swamps, and secondary sand dunes. This journey also brings you over the creeks of Gulf State Park.
If that’s not enough exploration, head to the 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important natural sanctuaries in the country. Maritime forests and coastal marsh provide permanent and temporary homes to millions of spring and fall flying migrants. A hike of the Pine Beach Trail, with trails of varying difficulty, is a must for all members of the family.
You can also choose to discover this ecologist’s dream by kayak or take a boat tour on Oyster Bay, which plays a vital role in the seafood industry. There are numerous outfitters eager to take you on a variety of unforgettable excursions.
To satisfy the thrill seeker in your family head to the Wharf. Hop on the second-tallest ferris wheel in the southeast at the Wharf for an unforgettable view of the sunset. Then, head to The Track and ride the Sky Coaster and the Wild Woody three-tiered go-kart track. There are also bumper boats and miniature golf courses.
After working up an appetite, enjoy a culinary experience at one of several restaurants.
Royal Red Shrimp, caught only in the deep Gulf waters off the Alabama coast, reign supreme at King Neptune’s Seafood Restaurant, and then, there’s LuLu’s at Homeport Marina: this is the place to grab a spoonful or two of their famous seafood gumbo and L.A. (lower Alabama) caviar. Need something to occupy the kids? LuLu’s has the Fountain of Youth (for cooling off) and the Mountain of Youth (a safe, three-story climbing challenge for adventuresome children of all ages). (Tip: Lulu’s serves 4,000 people a day during the summer season so be sure to arrive early because reservations are not accepted.)
Enjoy unbeatable views of Perdido Bay from the expansive indoor and outdoor seating offered at Cobalt’s The Restaurant. This restaurant offers live entertainment as well as a Happy Hour and an unbeatable Sunday brunch. Be sure to try their legendary firecracker shrimp with a spicy remoulade sauce.
One thing is for sure – you won’t be able to get enough of the bliss, relaxation, and adventure that Gulf Shores and Orange Beach has to offer. From the instant your toes touch the soft sand, it becomes clear that there is but one way to describe this beauty – paradise.
For more information go to www.gulfshores.com, www.turquoiseplace.spectrumresorts.com and www.thebeachclub.spectrumresorts.com