If you’ve thought about taking your family to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but you’re worried about the bawdy revelry there, you’ll be happy to know that Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama, is a family-friendly event. In fact, the city sets aside certain areas along the parade route where drinking isn’t allowed. Folks in Mobile take their carnival very seriously.
Actually, Mardi Gras began in Mobile—not New Orleans. In 1703 French pioneers held the first North American Mardi Gras in Mobile’s earliest settlement known as Seventeen-Mile Bluff, beginning traditions that carry on today. From dances to parades, costumes to secret societies, Mardi Gras in Mobile has evolved into a celebration that consumes this corner of Alabama.
Locals agree that there are two seasons in Mobile: BC, before carnival, and DC, during carnival. Another joke that makes the rounds is if two survivors were all that remained of Mobile’s population, one would dress up in a costume and parade down the street and the other would shout, “Throw me something, mister!”
Whether you plan your family vacation to coincide with Mardi Gras, which culminates on March 5, 2019, or choose to visit Mobile Bay another season of the year, you’ll find a treasure chest of activities that will appeal to everyone in the family. From visiting historic sites and colorful gardens to exploring science centers and sea labs and watching alligators and wildlife frolic in the marsh, you’ll find plenty to do in the Mobile Bay area.
WHAT TO DO
Here are a few family-friendly activities to include on your itinerary:
• Mobile Carnival Museum – You can enjoy an entertaining overview of Mardi Gras at this attractive museum, where you’ll find an amazing collection of rare gowns and bejeweled crowns. The kids will enjoy climbing aboard a float and tossing goodies out. The gift shop sells Moon Pies, a Mobile staple, and cute carnival trinkets to take back home. www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com
• USS Alabama Battleship Park – After suffering extensive damage from Katrina—thanks to a ten-foot storm surge and triple-digit winds, this military park is back in business, welcoming visitors to tour a battleship, submarine, and a variety of combat aircraft. The park is also perfect for a picnic with sweeping views of Mobile Bay. www.ussalabama.com
• Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center – Voted Mobile’s #1 family attraction, this science museum downtown with more than 100 exhibits will keep your kids entertained for hours. Through January 1, 2019, a new exhibit explores the unique world of animation. www.exploreum.net
• History Museum of Mobile – Explore the area’s rich history as you trace the footsteps of Native Americans, Europeans, and African-Americans who come to life in museum exhibits. www.historymuseumofmobile.com
• Dauphin Island – Thirty minutes south of Mobile, this barrier island is home to a beach and fishing pier, a bird sanctuary, and the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. This aquarium with its colorful fish and sea creatures will entertain your kids while teaching them about the area’s four ecosystems: the delta, the bay, the barrier islands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Across the street from the Estuarium is Historic Fort Gaines, which served to protect the entrance to Mobile Bay during numerous wars. www.dauphinisland.org
• Bellingrath Gardens and Museum – Stretch your legs and stroll through seasonal displays of brilliant blooms on the grounds of this elegant mansion located fifteen minutes outside of Mobile. If you visit during the holidays, plan to attend the Magic Christmas in Lights show. www.bellingrath.org
• Alligator Alley – Across Mobile Bay in Summerdale, wildlife awaits at this outdoor attraction, home to 450 alligators in their natural habitat. The most famous resident is Captain Crunch, a 13-foot gator who holds the world record for bite strength. www.gatoralleyfarm.com
• Fairhope – Plan to spend some time exploring this quaint town also on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Begun as a Utopian community, Fairhope has become a unique artists’ colony with dozens of galleries, unique shops, and cafés. You’ll also find plenty of parks in town, where kids can get their ya-yas out. Notice the giant live oaks that spread their regal branches over the neighborhood rooftops, and don’t forget to walk along the shore and enjoy the view! www.fairhopeal.gov
WHERE TO STAY
For families who enjoy staying near the beach, rental homes and condos are available on Dauphin Island and are quite affordable in the off season. www.dauphinislandrealestate.com
Across the Bay in the city of Fairhope you can find a variety of cozy cottages suitable for families. www.cottagesoffairhope.com
Also on the Eastern Shore, you’ll find luxurious accommodations at the Grand Hotel Point Golf Resort and Spa, a Marriott property that promises its guests a grand experience. Located on the shore of Mobile Bay, the Grand features a Robert Trent Jones golf course, a tropical pool with waterfalls, a marina, a full-service spa, and recreational activities including a children’s camp. www.grand1847.com
In Downtown Mobile, an historic hotel called The Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa is an elegant property, reminiscent of the opulence of a bygone era. www.marriott.com
Campgrounds are prevalent in the area, and a variety of chain hotels offer easy access to area attractions.
WHERE TO EAT
• A Spot of Tea – This eclectic eatery in Downtown Mobile offers a variety of sandwiches best washed down with their signature strawberry tea. Another specialty is C.J.’s Cayenne Crab Bisque, a heavenly concoction topped with sautéed crawfish. The tempting breakfast menu features Banana Foster French Toast and Eggs Cathedral, an English muffin with crabcake, eggs, and seafood sauce. A children’s menu is available. www.spotoftea.com
• The Original Oyster House – This seafood restaurant prides itself in its freshly made dishes, including their house specialty: seafood gumbo that, hands down, is the best I’ve ever tasted. Its rich brown roux, thick enough to eat with a fork, revealed hidden morsels of seafood in every bite. Cajun dishes dominate the menu and promise to dazzle your taste buds. The kids’ menu offers lots of choices, including shrimp and flounder. www.originaloysterhouse.com
• Wintzell’s Oyster House – If you love oysters, you’ll love Wintzell’s, which has seven locations across Alabama, including three in the Mobile area. I took my time savoring my oysters, which came in a variety of preparations. My favorite? Salty-sweet on the half shell. www.wentzellsoysterhouse.com.
For more information, visit www.mobilebay.org or call 800-5-MOBILE.
For more family travel ideas, visit www.tidewaterfamily.com/travel.