This past week we decided to get out of town for the kids’ spring break and travel to a new destination for all of us, Gulf Shores, Alabama! We have many friends and coworkers who travel there frequently and all had great things to say about it. Plus, I am always up for checking new states off my list, and I had not previously been to any of Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama, and the kids had not been to Florida which was very nearby. Prior to even planning the trip, we had Grandma Marcie all booked to fly down and visit over spring break, but she wasn’t too tough to talk into turning her visit into a big road trip!
To throw a little complication into things, I managed to qualify for the first round of the COVID vaccine and scheduled my appointment for Saturday morning, the day before leaving. Mom warned me it was a little risky—side effects could sideline me for the trip! A couple of friends had terrible reactions to the first shot also. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to lose my spot in line and went for the shot anyway. I am happy to report I had zero side effects other than very mild arm soreness.
Bright and early Sunday morning, we left Austin with the goal of making it to New Orleans by evening. With a couple quick stops (Buc-ees, of course) and not-so-quick stops (the Beaumont Sonic was not on their A-game), we arrived in NOLA around 6pm. That night, Mom stayed back at the hotel with the kids while Lauren and I explored Bourbon Street and the surrounding areas a little.
Our New Orleans hotel room at the Hyatt Centric French Quarters had a door that opened up directly to the pool, which would have been really cool if it had been seasonal and we were staying more than one night. But I agreed to hop in the frigid water with the kids anyway. After that we hopped aboard the streetcar and ventured to Cafe Du Mond for beignets and cafe au lait. We wandered around New Orleans for several more hours, visiting street vendors and seeing the historic sites before checking out of our room and piling into the van to continue our journey!
I drove into Mississippi where we had fun at one of the nicer Interstate welcome rest areas I’ve ever visited, and quickly on into Alabama where we stopped at the Mobile Whole Foods to stock up on groceries. By 6:30 we had arrived at our Airbnb off the Gulf Coast in the tourist town of Gulf Shores. We unpacked, explored a little, and threw some fajitas on the grill. As I remarked on the way home, that arrival at the Airbnb was the peak of my vacation. Settling in after hundreds of miles on the road for a week of R&R, manning the grill with a beer in hand, and the salty ocean air in my hair.
After a quick morning visit to Walmart to stock up on beach towels, sunscreen and the like, we made our first family beach visit. It was a perfect day to be on the beach with temps in the high 70s, a light breeze, and lots of sun. There were lots of beachgoers, but it was far from crowded. We went from playing in the water to playing in the sand to sitting mindlessly on the beach chair, soaking up sun while sipping on beverages. I floated out into the water on an inflatable tube, John dug a moat and collected seashells, Lauren walked along the coast with Edie. Mom read peacefully. Just a pristine beach experience.
Unfortunately, I soaked in too much sun and was violently sunburned. John and Mom also appeared a bit red. We spent the rest of the afternoon tending to our poor skin before heading out for dinner at GT’s, a well-known seafood grille on the lagoon.
It was more of the same on Wednesday morning! In fact, it was a repeat of the day before as we all headed back to the beach, this time with far more sun protection. I swallowed my pride and wore a UV protectant shirt and sunhat. John experienced terrible swimming trunk chaffing on his inner thighs, so I stuffed a diaper down his trunks. It didn’t work, so we traipsed back to the house to bandage him up.
In the afternoon, Lauren and I drove over to the Florida border to visit the famed Flora-Bama bar, which sits smack on the state border. I love geographical stuff like that, and I love bars, so I had to check it out. Unfortunately, it was St. Patrick’s Day, and the bar was packed. We were a little turned off by no one in masks. Whereas people in New Orleans and Gulf Shores were mostly masked, literally no one at the Flora-Bama was. While I am not the most responsible COVID person on the planet, that there felt like not the best place to spend much time, so we had one drink and got out. We went to The Hangout afterwards for a drink and had a much better experience. That night it was back to the grill for burgers, and at night the grownups started watching Ted Lasso. (Great show!)
In the wee hours of the morning, a major thunderstorm with tornado watches hit the Gulf Coast. Mom was up monitoring TV from midnight to 3am as we were blasted with the heaviest rain I’ve experienced in years. Thankfully, the kids stayed sleeping all night! While it cleared up in the morning, temps had dropped significantly and it was crazy windy. There would be no beach this day. Instead, I proclaimed a family visit to The Hangout, where we’d lazily sit outside in beach chairs and let the kids play in a giant sand mountain while we listened to live music and sipped margaritas. Unfortunately, that plan too was cut a little short. The fun outdoor stuff didn’t open until later in the afternoon, so we just had a very early lunch and left.
The day wasn’t a total loss, however. I had a chance to have some alone time and wandered the barren white sandy beach for an hour in a vicious windstorm! And then that night we ordered in some BBQ from a local place.
Originally we were scheduled to leave on Friday morning, but the hosts said there was a day open and they would give a discount, so we could find no good reason not to spend the extra day, not really needing to be back until Sunday night.
Lauren stayed back at the Airbnb for rest while the rest of us visited souvenir shops and the Gulf Shores Zoo. The kids were allowed to spend a small amount of money at each location, and both times both of them chose the same stupid long sucker! I dropped $38 on 4 very messy suckers that morning, but the kids were pleased as pie. The zoo was fun, and Edie amazed a group of spectators with some astounding playground climbing skills.
In the afternoon we picked up Lauren and set up shop at Lulu’s, a place with a Hangout sort of vibe—a restaurant with multiple buildings, outdoor fun & games, arcade, bars, etc. It was only 50º so we mostly stuck to the arcade where each kid won a bunch of tickets and redeemed them for junk.
At night, I pried the boy off his Nintendo Switch and took him out for a late-night walk on the beach in total darkness. We had fun scouring the beach for shells with a flashlight.
Saturday morning we packed and hit the road. I took a quick detour to the Florida border just so John and Edie could say they had officially been to Florida, even if only by a few feet. John refused to get out of the van, so only Edie can truly say she has stepped foot in Florida! We drove through Mississippi again and back to New Orleans. We attempted to visit the aquarium, but were turned away due to not having reservations, so we instead hung around Audubon Park for the afternoon. Lauren secured an early dinner reservation at her favorite NOLA restaurant, Saba, with its Middle-Eastern fare. We splurged a bit on the final big dinner, and returned to our Metarie Residence Inn for the night.
It was pedal to the metal on the way back to Austin as we cruised through Louisiana and Texas. Outside Houston we had quite a scare as a semi tire blew out right in front of us. I avoided the tire, but a car behind me swerved to miss it and crashed and flipped. It looked bad, but we had to continue onward.
We made it back to Austin around 5:00. I drove the entire way, totaling a little under 2,000 miles.
All in all, I think it was a successful trip! I would definitely recommend the Gulf Shores area to anyone looking for a beach vacation. I would have never known a hurricane devastated the area just a few months ago. Some of it was a little touristy and overpriced, of course, not unlike our Carolina Beach trip of 2017. But overall the pristine beaches were the best I’ve visited. If we could ever get everyone on the same page, I think it would be a great place to get the extended family together for a week of fun.
And as I told my coworkers upon return Monday, it was very nice to clear my head of work for a full week after the monumental ESP migration and rebuilding of the email program from October through early March where I was putting in well over 40 hours/week. I came back to work and immediately noticed a couple quick fixes to emails that had an immediate impact on performance.
Having ticked three new states off my list, I am left with only 9.
I’d say my best bet for any of these in the near future is to either do a Pacific Northwest or New England road trip and knock out 3 at once. Hard to believe I have never been to Montana, a state bordering my home state of South Dakota!