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Budget Travel | What to Do on Your Next Gulf Coast Vacation

Budget Travel | What to Do on Your Next Gulf Coast Vacation

The coastline that stretches from Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida along the Gulf of Mexico is full of beautiful beaches, delicious seafood spots, festive nightlife, and excellent wildlife viewing. If you’re planning a trip to the region this year, be sure to include some of these fun attractions and events to your itinerary.

Spot hot-air balloons shaped as everything from a unicorn to the sun at the Gulf Coast Air Balloon Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary May 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at OWA Parks & Resort in Foley, Alabama. Take a tethered balloon ride 35 feet into the sky for a birds-eye view of the proceedings, then try the theme parks’ AeroZoom ride, which replicates a hang glider, and the Air Racer, which simulates the dives and loops pilots take in an air show.

The park features coasters and carousels among its 23 rides, as well as Tropic Falls, an impressively large indoor water park beneath a glass roof. More details on gulfcoastballoonfestival.com.

A dolphin jumps out of the water at the Dolphin Oasis – courtesy of Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, located on Okaloosa Island in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida, proudly announced the grand opening of its highly anticipated Dolphin Oasis. This extraordinary event occurred during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 8, 2024, marking a significant milestone for the renowned marine park and the area’s attractions.

In attendance were local dignitaries, politicians, respected business leaders, dedicated employees, former staff members, accomplished habitat engineers and designers along with their families, valued stakeholders, and representatives from the county. Their presence underscored the significance of the Dolphin Oasis grand opening and highlighted the widespread support and interest it has garnered within the community.

Dolphin Oasis, spanning 2.2 acres of sandy dunes and palms along the stunning emerald waters of the Florida Gulf Coast, is a testament to Gulfarium’s commitment to animal welfare, conservation education, and the guest experience. The $30 million expansion includes three large interconnected habitats and three husbandry habitats, totaling over one million gallons of Gulf salt water, providing an immersive, natural-themed experience, all while reflecting the beauty of the Emerald Coast.

The new presentation habitat has grandstand seating for 480 guests and plenty of space for standing room. The exhibit habitat has a 27-foot acrylic split-level viewing area, providing an unparalleled experience for visitors. Access to Dolphin Oasis is now included with a general admission ticket, allowing visitors to experience the magic of the new habitat. Guests can also purchase exclusive dolphin encounters for an up close and personal experience.

This same habitat is designed to serve as a nursery for dolphin calves in the future, adding a unique dimension to the park’s offering. Lastly, the interactive habitat, exuding the beauty of our Emerald Coast beaches, was created to allow getting up close and personal with our family of dolphins, guaranteed to be the highlight of any visit to Northwest Florida.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Patrick Berry, Senior Vice President and CEO of Gulfarium, made an exciting announcement. He revealed that the original 300,000-gallon dolphin habitat is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation to accommodate manatee rehabilitation patients as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP). Berry expressed the significance of this initiative, stating, “The renovation of our original dolphin habitat to care for manatee rehabilitation patients demonstrates our unwavering commitment to protecting and preserving marine life.” He added, “We eagerly anticipate welcoming these incredible animals and continuing our efforts to make a positive impact on our coastal ecosystem.” This transformative initiative aligns with Gulfarium’s dedication to marine life conservation. The Gulfarium will be taking in manatees in need beginning this fall 2024.

Sunset in Ocean Springs – courtesy of Alex North Photography / Play Coastal Mississippi

As the spring season begins to bloom, Coastal Mississippi is excited to highlight an array of experiences tailored to individual traveler interests. From romantic retreats to culinary delights, the 62 miles of shoreline promises an unforgettable experience for travelers.

Couples seeking a romantic escape can find various offerings in Coastal Mississippi. For intimate, relaxing moments, travelers can visit world-class spas, like the Senses Spa and Salon in the IP Casino. Raise a glass to the end of another beautiful Coastal day by booking a sunset cruise on the Mississippi Sound with Ship Island Excursions. For that perfect romantic dinner, couples can choose from an array of culinary delights, such as world-class, James Beard nominated Vestige, or delight in savory crab claws and other specialties at the legendary Mary Mahoney’s Old French House. Couples looking to enjoy a private evening with cocktails and dinner on the beach will find their match with picturesque views, delicious food, and a cozy fire pit from Food Booze Hiccups.

For a delightful, toes-in-the-sand waterfront dining experience, travelers can visit Sea Level, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar, or Shaggy’s in Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pass Christian. Shaggy’s Charter Docks in Pass Christian will even cook your catch so travelers can enjoy their own fresh catch following a day on the water with an expert captain who knows just where the fish are biting. For an elevated experience, travelers can visit White Pillars, where chef-owner Austin Sumrall creates truly magnificent dishes with an ever-changing menu, or The Sycamore House, where chefs Stella LeGardeur and Michael Eastham combine their New York and Coastal Mississippi culinary experience for a meal travelers won’t soon forget. For award-winning barbeque, travelers can visit the crowd-favorite Murky Waters BBQ or The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint, which offers delicious smoked options and live entertainment.

Sunset over Orange Beach, Alabama by Steven Van Elk – Unsplash

One of the world’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama, and Perdido Key, Florida, line. This honky tonk has been a landmark in the community since August 1, 1964. Since opening, the Flora-Bama hosts several famous annual events including Interstate Mullet Toss & Beach Party, Frank Brown’s Songwriters Festival, Super Chili Bowl Cook-off, Polar Bear Dip, and many more. The Flora-Bama has millions of “Bamily” members that visit them from around the world who know that the reputation, love and the legend is because of them.

The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance and beach music. You can relax in any of the areas and select the entertainment of your choice. If you need a little away time the Flora-Bama has several beach-front bars where you can sip on a famous Bushwacker and enjoy the beautiful sunsets on the water.

Families visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast this spring can create lasting memories across the 62-mile destination. With an abundance of multigenerational family-friendly attractions and activities, blending education with thrilling experiences and more, crafting a fun-filled itinerary for families is effortless. Imagine building sandcastles on the beautiful, pristine beaches, watching dolphin shows at Ocean Adventures Marine Park, learning how to catch shrimp like a pro on the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, and enjoying the expansive 55,000 sq. ft. arcade at Margaritaville Resort & Family Entertainment Center. For fun in the sun, families can visit the Buccaneer Bay Waterpark or find thrilling rides at Paradise Pier Fun Park. Each activity promises to make for an engaging, memory-filled experience.

Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise amidst the landscapes of Coastal Mississippi. Adventurers can hike along the coast at the Gulf Island National Seashore – Davis Bayou Area trails and kayak through the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. Fishing enthusiasts can find their own catch on many of the fresh and saltwater waterways, and thrill-seekers can experience the region’s only zipline adventure course paired with high-speed racing at Finishline Performance Karting.

“Whether you’re coming for a week or a weekend, we invite travelers to discover the magic of Coastal Mississippi and create their own cherished memories,” said Judy Young, CEO of Coastal Mississippi Tourism. “With a diverse range of offerings catering to romantic, family fun, outdoor enthusiasts, and more, there’s no shortage of ways for travelers to ‘Play Coastal’ this season.”


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