Giddy for Gulf Shores

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Squeeze in one more fun-in-the-sun beach trip before summer ends at Gulf Shores & Orange Beach.

Family-friendly adventures await your brood this summer at Alabama’s gorgeous Gulf Shores and Orange Beach — or you can start making plans now for a festive fall break trip. A breathtaking 32 miles of soft, sugary white bliss hug the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and it sure does feel good to have that sand beneath your feet!

While the beach is the obvious draw for families to enjoy, the area has wonderful attractions and various fun activities like parasailing, jet skiing, water park fun, cruise excursions, great food and more. There’s a lot to take in and a lot of memories to make.

Gulf Shores Zoo Kangaroo

Children love the up-close baby kangaroo encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

MUST-DO ATTRACTIONS
Home to Animal Planet’s The Little Zoo That Could, it was a pleasant surprise to discover the lovely Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Located on 17 acres a few blocks from the beach, the zoo is home to more than 500 animals, including beautiful Bengal tigers, lions, a bear, reptiles, birds, monkeys and more. The extra special thing about the zoo that is awesome for kids to experience is an animal encounter. For an extra $5, you can enter an enclosure and play with three baby kangaroos! Kids will love feeling the softness of the joeys’ fur and experiencing the playful demeanor of these adorable, friendly creatures. Speaking of playful, the extra $10 to go inside the lemur playhouse is worth every penny! These energetic critters will have you in stitches as they crawl, swing and carry on with their hilarious antics. The best part is when they jump in your lap — or on your head! The informative keeper will tell you all kinds of interesting facts, and don’t leave until you feel their leathery soft paws.

zipline

The hummingbird Ziplines excursion offers spectacular views of the Gulf while providing a thrilling adventure for young and old alike.

If your family has an abundant sense of adventure, head to Gulf State Park to the Gulf Adventure Center.  The center provides kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding excursions, but it’s the Hummingbird Ziplines that rock! Once you climb the first tower, six lines take you 90 feet in the air across a total distance of one mile. The longest zip is the final one at 1,228 feet, and it’s a dual line allowing you to race against a family member. Situated on the Lake Shelby side of Highway 182, the tour offers spectacular views  of the Gulf, and it’s a lot of fun flying over the water below. Tour guides Pat and Edward are a blast, making the fast-paced thrill all the more enjoyable. Children must be at least 8 years old and at least 65 pounds in order to do the tour.

Want to get on the water? Start off with an incredible two-hour nature cruise with Sailaway Charters. Hop aboard the six-passenger pontoon boat, and Capt. Skip starts by taking you into Wolf Bay where he points out wildlife and educates passengers about the ecosystem (there are more than 300 species of migratory birds, crab, shrimp, oysters and fish here). You might see a dolphin or two along the way like we did. Upon the first stop at an oyster reef, Capt. Skip informs the group how oysters form (it’s quite fascinating), then grabs his oyster tongs to dig up a few. Next stop is a crab trap where kids will learn how to identify a crab’s gender. Finally, the trip hits the Intercoastal Waterway where Capt. Skip drops the shrimping net for an 18-minute drag on the waterway’s floor. Kids will love the anticipation of seeing what’s been caught and enjoying an up close encounter while the captain talks about each species in the catch. During the trip, children of all ages will have fun with the “My Nature Tour” checklist where they can mark off what they see along the way.

Your kids will surely want to encounter more dolphins, and there’s a great tour where they’ll get to see lots of them. Climb aboard The Sunny Lady for a ride on the bright yellow watercraft for an hour-and-a-half jaunt into Perdido Bay to see bottle nose dolphins popping out of the water. If you’re lucky, some will get up close to the boat making for great photo ops.

GOOD EATS
There are so many great places to munch in the Gulf Shores area, ranging from fine dining to cool casual, many of which give you a waterfront experience.  Each place offers great fresh seafood. Several places have a “hook it and cook it” deal where you can bring your own fresh catch and they’ll prepare it for you, including the amazing Shipp’s Harbour Grill. The mouth-watering blackened filet mignon stuffed with lump crab covered in a creamy crab sauce with steamed green beans and gruyere mashed potatoes is simply divine. If your kids don’t go for regular menu items (kids’ menu standards include chicken fingers, fried shrimp, grilled cheese and cheeseburgers), Chef Shipp is happy to serve up a fried PB & J or a hand-dipped corn dog.

WHERE TO STAY
There are plentiful options in the area, but you won’t go wrong with the beach side  Phoenix West 2 condominium complex. Lavishly furnished, each unit comes with a full kitchen, washer and dryer, comfy beds, a spectacular view and everything you need in a home away from home. There are several outdoor grills, an indoor heated pool with beautiful Grecian columns jutting out, an outdoor pool and a lengthy, winding outdoor lazy river with a curly slide attached. A limited number of inner tubes are available for your floating pleasure.

One thing’s certain when you go to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach: your kids won’t be complaining that they’re bored, and you’ll have a lifetime of fond memories for years to come.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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