Family Vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Until I visited the region with family during the National Shrimp Festival, I held the notion Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama was strictly a golfers paradise. While tee times are as coveted as much as mandatory relaxation, you’ll find plenty of spots to make a castle other than in the sand trap.
Wild Hearts Cruises
Our number one recommendation for families visiting the ocean is to get out into the water on an educational cruise. Providing visitors with several different types of daily cruises (dolphin, nature, eco, sunset, and picnic/snorkel) we strongly recommend Wild Hearts Cruises (they have locations in Orange Beach, Perdito Key, and Gulf Shores).
From the luxury of a 53-foot open ocean catamaran, Wild Hearts comfortably accommodates multiple parties and an extended family up to 49 people (think reunion, wedding, or special celebration). In the peaceful quiet of the cruise, you’ll see ocean life and views of the mainland in a Jacque Cousteau kind of way. Children are welcome aboard (kids 5 and under are free) and discounted prices are available for kids age 17 and younger and groups of 12 or more.
The Track Family Recreation Center
A popular after-dinner entertainment spot, The Track Family Recreation Center (or just “The Track”) is perfect for tiring kids out. Featuring a large indoor arcade, bumper boats, miniature golf course, go-karts, and rides (for both big and little kids as well as adventure seekers), families could easily spend several hours trying to fit everything in. When visiting The Track for the first time, know that patrons are welcome to bring in their own drinks and food, but ice cream and snacks are available at the snack shop.
Parents with kids of various ages, weights, and shortness can consult ride requirements online (plan ahead to wear sunscreen or get wet if you come during the day or ride in the bumper boats). If you have a need for speed, the Wild Woody is a three-story spiraling wooden race track with single and double-passenger karts. Other options include a classic track (with stadium seating for parents and fans) and a kiddie course with rookie carts (kids four and older can drive).
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
Located just over a mile from the beach, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores features over 300 animals on the seventeen acre location. Home to lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, reptiles, kangaroos, and the famous “Chuckie” the 11-foot alligator, kids can get up close with farm animals in the petting zoo.
With discounted admission for seniors, military families, and children, plan to budget a few dollars and spring for one of the zoo’s six animal encounters (including camel rides, baby animals, lemur encounters, and an outback experience that includes meeting a kangaroo).
Home of the $3 mini golf, Waterville USA is Gulf Shores’ water and amusement park. Open May-September, a day pass to Waterville USA is $29.95 and includes amusement plus all the water you can’t find in the nearby ocean. A popular hangout for local kids on summer vacation, Waterville USA has an indoor arcade and bounce house in the event of a rainy day.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
A unique military attraction, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is a nice destination for any multi-generational groups or for anyone with a strong interest in military history. The main attraction is the Battleship USS Alabama, but the experience includes memorials, military machinery, aircraft, and a submarine.
Where to Stay: Caribe, The Resort
An exclusive condominium property in Orange Beach, Caribe, The Resort is a community of individually-owned condominium units available for vacation rental. Ranging in size from 1400 to 2400 square feet, families looking for the comforts of home with on-site resort amenities—including over 40,000 square feet of water spread out between eight outdoor pools, three indoor pools, nine hot tubs, and a lazy river—will also love the mile and a half of unobstructed ocean views. Because the units are owned by families, each unit is as unique as the family that calls it home away from home.
Commonalities include private balconies, gourmet kitchens, and Jacuzzi tubs. If you can drag the kids out of the water (ocean, pool, or over sized bath tub), check out the tennis courts, fitness centers, and game room. Caribe, The Resort is perfect for large groups, multi-generational families, and people generally looking to re-connect with each another without cramming into a traditional hotel room.
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