Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gulf Shores, Alabama - family vacation #3

It's really started feeling like fall around here...which means this post about our summer beach vacation is very timely, not at all late. (#betterlatethannever).  We've traveled every year of our married life but it had been almost 4 years since our last "take it reallly easy" type trip (Miami) and we even had two that year!  Once I realized that it had been 4 years since I put on my swimsuit while on vacation, solely because we weren't anywhere warm enough to do so, I decided we were going somewhere warm this year.  We had some really wonderful trips, saw some great places (Europe, NYC, Tennessee, Michigan), but I was ready for a real, relaxing, "I can wear my swimsuit all day", type of trip.  And we got that.  It was awesome.

The downside of going somewhere really warm is that it meant some driving.  Approximately 13.5 hours, before stops, in this case.  We've driven through the night a few times  and always hate it but it also always ends up being worth it.  So with a potentially fussy toddler along?  We knew we'd be doing that again.  And it did suck, really bad, at times for Matt & I but Luke was near perfect in the car, the entire 30ish hours the round trip took to get to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We left home at 1:30am on a Sunday morning, after about 90 minutes of bed sleep for Matt and I, and 5 hours for Luke.  Luke was so confused as to why we woke him up in the middle of the night and put him in the car.  He kept asking where the Mr. Sun went and stayed awake until about 5am.  Mostly silent, no fussing, just sitting in the back looking around.  It was quite adorable.  And amazing.

Matt and I took shifts driving all day, trying to sleep when we weren't.   We got to Alabama not too long after the sunrise (which was a dud due to clouds).  The highlight of the stops was this one on I-65 shortly past the Tennessee/Alabama state line where there is a life sized rocket from the space program.  Seeing as I just finished watching The Astronaut Wives Club and was in the middle of the book for the second time, this was pretty exciting.  My family had stopped here on our way to Florida in 1999 and Matt and I drove past on our way to New Orleans in 2008, but apparently Matt slept through both of those drive pasts (to and from New Orleans, he wasn't there for the Florida trip) because he had no memory of this huge rocket.

Luke was pretty impressed with the rocket too.  The downside...despite getting to our destination state we were only about halfway through the drive.  We didn't realize how tall of a state Alabama was until we drove all but about 200 yds (the distance from our parking lot to the beach) of it.  Going on just a few hours of sleep each, we were really ready to get out of the car.  Luckily 5 whole days of doing nothing awaited us!

We knew we wanted to go south, probably to the Gulf, and ended up with Gulf Shores on the recommendation of Matt's boss, whose friends (and parents of girls we went to high school with) own a condo.  The pictures looked good, the price was right, it came highly recommended...sold.  It turned out to be just what we were looking for and hoping to get. 

Feet in warm water for the first time in 4 years!

From the condo it was an easy walk past the pools and over a dune to the beach.  We walked that path so many times in our week there.  First was to check out the beach, then again for a sunset walk later that night.

Our general plan when we are camping or are driving to a place with a kitchen is that we eat out twice and pack pretty much everything else.  Breakfasts, lunches, car snacks (besides a few fountain drinks, a road trip treat), and most suppers.  We hadn't packed milk though, because of cooler space and worrying about keeping it cold.  We went out our first night to buy a gallon for breakfast the next morning (cereal, always cereal) and spent a whole $7 for 2%.  $7!!!  Unfortunately not the most we've ever payed for milk (looking at you, Waikiki and midtown Manhattan) but still a lot more than the $1.69 we were used to at Aldi!  Plus, 2%.  Basically pure fat.  I only drank it on cereal and even watered it down.  Blech.  Honestly, the cost of the few groceries we bought (that gallon of milk, a 6 pack of a local (horrible) canned beer, and a carton of ice cream), all of which were EXPENSIVE, were the biggest downer of the trip.  But I guess if spending $28 for things that would have been about $10 at home was the worst part...the trip went pretty well.  We also offset the expensive milk with the $1 "bent and dent" boxes of cereal I had just bought with my sister at an Amish store so still pretty cheap breakfast. 

Monday (and a few days that followed) brought a lot of beach time and a sunset beach walk.  Breakfast, beach, pool, lunch, nap for Luke (and sometimes us), beach, supper, beach, sunset, pool, ice cream, bed.  Not a bad routine.  Not bad at all. 

We obviously didn't pay to sit in these chairs.  Not when there is free sand even closer!  And we didn't sit much anyways (having a toddler along doesn't lend itself to beach laying).  But that didn't stop me from taking pictures of the chairs!

He's surfing.

=) =) =)  Third time at the beach this day.  

Sunset #2.

Day #3, beach day #2.  Luke kept holding shells up to his ear saying he could hear the he was standing in the Gulf. 

Our walk to the beach, through the pools, over the dunes.

We came home with a few (a lot) shells.  Luke got in the collecting too.

One of my favorite pictures from the whole trip.  This is the cover of our photobook for the trip (because this was long enough ago that I had time to make and receive that already.).

Amazing sunsets every single night.  Pretty nice when we could walk the beach at sunset 6 nights in a row.  That's the right kind of vacation destination.

Somehow, after 2 days mostly spent at the beach, Matt was ready for something different.  I can't explain it.  So we went to Fort Morgan for our one slightly educational experience.  The sky was perfect that morning with wispy clouds and the perfect shade of blue (just kidding, every shade of blue is perfect).  I made a detour to take pictures of beach houses.  I was driving, I get to decide where we go. 

The Fort was a bit run down and there were some parts we weren't allowed in but for the most part it was free wandering.  I was little surprised.  I've been to Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and they were much stricter there about where you can go.  Here, walk wherever!  Many places I deemed creepy but we didn't see any ghosts (because they aren't real!).  It was more Matt's kind of exploring than mine but it was fine.  Luke likes walking/running and that was fine anywhere besides at the top of some really scary stairs.  So, for $14 and our only paying activity, not bad.

Luke and I outside the Fort.

Sitting on the dock of the bay.

I have so many pictures of the two of them walking away from me.  Like so many there were times I was going through the pictures and wondering if I even was along for this trip because there weren't many pictures of me.

Since we were already clean and it wasn't a super warm beach day anyways (only 84° which sounds heavenly now, as I'm in sweats and wrapped in a blanket!) so we did some souvenir shopping and our second meal out.  Then it was 2 hours of beach walking before sunset.  This boy was pretty happy to try out his new shovel at the beach (after he broke the one we brought from home, which was pretty cheap, to be honest).  This one cost $3 and was worth it for how much he played with it at the beach (and since coming home!).

I feel like I've read a book with this exact cover.  That's not our umbrella.  We were very light beach packers.

I wrote in the sand a lot.  A LOT.  

Throwing sand in the water is fun to this two-year old.  He did this a lot.

Day #5 and finally back at the beach all day.  One of our two days of not getting in the car at all!  I loved those days!

This picture is almost featured prominently in our photobook.  It's in there twice.

Another favorite activity of Luke's was "pushing" us over in the water.  We also do this at home on the carpet, often when I'm trying to do my PT exercises.  His shovel also doubled as a paddle.  Multi-function.

Perfect beach.  Until Friday, we usually had at least 50yds on either side of us all to ourselves.  These are the benefits to traveling during shoulder season!

Sunset.  This view doesn't suck.

Day #6 - Friday (for those attempting to keep track)  Once again, Matt, somehow, had had enough of the beach.  I wasn't sure this was possible, at least on the last full day of our trip.  We did a short hike at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.  It was only a mile but took us 45 minutes because a certain little boy wanted to walk the whole thing and he's not exactly a fast walker.  But you know, gives us time to stop and smell the hypothetical roses and all that. 

Another picture of Matt & Luke walking away from me.  They also climbed a tree.

Family picture hiking.  

This is the condo where we stayed.   Like I said earlier, it came recommended and the location and price were what we wanted.  We had two bedrooms and two full bathrooms, which is one more bathroom we have at home!  There were twin beds in the second bedroom but Luke slept in his "lake bed" (pack n play) because he had gotten used to it at the lake and had done well all summer.  In Michigan last year, we fought Luke every time we tried to put him to sleep.  He wasn't having it then but this year he was a dream to put down.  He loved having his own room from the second we walked in the door and didn't fuss at all about being put down until his nap on the last day.  The two bathrooms also were WONDERFUL.  Every night one of us would bath Luke while the other would shower.  We can't do that here! 

Other than that, the rest of the condo was fine.  We weren't on our phones much but the wi-fi was spotty if we attempted to anyways.  We were ground floor which didn't make the best views but was super convenient when headed to/from the beach or pool and also unloading because we parked about 15 steps from the front door.  The pools were practically right outside the patio door and the beach was a super short walk.  I wouldn't say the condo was Diana clean but it wasn't gross or anything.  Also, washer and dryer.  We used those every night to wash swimsuits and towels and even attempted cloth diapers on vacation for the first time!  With all the time we spent in swimsuits (he had a reusable swim diaper we washed every night) we didn't go through many regular diapers but it was nice to cut it even further with cloth.  I was strangely excited about that. Overall, we would stay there again and we liked the location enough to want to go back someday.  Everything was pretty ideal.

End large side note about the condo.

After Luke's nonexistent nap we spent our last afternoon at the beach where we had people within 10 yards on either side.  Can you believe that?  At the beach??  People down there must have Gulf condos like people here have lake houses??  It was definitely the busiest day but still not horrible.  Again, shoulder season is the best for traveling.

We bought this tube in the Outer Banks and this is the only the second time we (I) really used it.  Floating around the Gulf (which was pretty much bathwater warm and so comfortable) while Luke and Matt played...wonderful.

I can't pass up a perfect palm tree picture.

The guest book in our condo recommended taking family pictures in the palm tree grove.  This was our second attempt.   This picture is framed on our kitchen table

I LOVED the light at this time of day.  It was perfect every day.  That's why we came home with around 1000 pictures from the evenings.  (I narrowed it down to about 600 overall.)

This was a tripod and timer shot.  My request.  Felt silly but so so so glad we did it.  

While we were walking the beach on our last night, my Dad was texting my sisters and I high school football scores, as he does every Friday night.  I was completely thrown because when I think high school football games I think lots of layers, blankets, and hot chocolate and here we were walking the beach in swimsuits.  It didn't feel like it was possible football was being played somewhere, even 800 miles away.

Happy boy in the water.

We were having a light sabre battle.  A frequent request from Luke.

Our last sunset and the last sun we would see until somewhere in Tennessee about 11 hours later after a long night of driving.  It was so hard to say goodbye to the beach at it's prettiest time!!

We walked the beach for our last sunset and then did our usual bedtime routine with Luke - bath and put him to bed.  Then Matt and I went into packing mode, did all the laundry, packed our bags, showered, and loaded most of the car before waking Luke up around 11:30, loading up his pack n play, and heading out.  We had never driven through the night for the way home before, always staying our last night and then leaving first thing in the morning.  We got our last night free here though so decided it was worth it to enjoy the last day fully and then head home late so we would be home in the daylight.  It really sucked again, doing that twice in one week was tough.  I slept about 3 hours all night, maybe.  Luke did great though, sleeping and taking a big nap.  
We got home at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon.  About 10 hours short of being gone exactly a week.  We unloaded, unpacked, showered, and had life pretty much back to normal before heading out for 5pm Mass.  We went to bed almost embarrassingly early that night (...before 9) but after those 2 car nights...our bed was amazing.

Vacation was wonderful.  Luke was pretty perfect the whole trip, I got to wear my swimsuit a lot, we spent a lot of time just being lazy and being together.  We went a perfect time of year, after most schools had started so pretty much the only other people we saw were young parents or people without kids.  That meant hardly having to share the beach or pool and plenty of quiet around the condo.  We often said we couldn't imagine what that place would be like during peak summer or spring break!  We never fought for beach spots or chairs at the pool, often having a whole pool to ourselves (if we had to share we sometimes decided it wasn't worth it).  But as wonderful as everything was, Matt and I were also about ready to be done with being covered in sand and sunscreen all the time, always feeling sweaty.  Maybe another day or two but it's nice to leave wanting a little more, leave before the fun is over. 

We tentatively have vacation destinations planned for the next three years but might do a little bumping so we can go back here before Luke starts kindergarten (which will be waaaaay too soon!).  He talks so often about the "ocean" and things we did and how he'll go back when he's 3.  This was the perfect vacation for us this year.  Perfect.

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