Despite BP Disaster, Tourism No Longer “Slip Slidin’ Away” for Gulf Shores

Today's guest post is by Peppercomer Sam Ford.

Would last summer’s daily dose of tragedy from BP and a gulf full of grade A “black gold…Texas  223226_652727826048_709098_34420278_5301955_n tea” keep you from vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico? We didn’t let it, and I couldn’t be happier about our experience.

Not too long ago, my family and I decided to take a trip to the beach. My wife and I were married on the beach, a little over 10 years ago, to be exact, in Charleston, SC. But, in all honesty, we hadn't been on much of a vacation since. (Even that wasn't a vacation, since my best man ended up bumming around in our beach house for the first part of the honeymoon, before we could get rid of him.)

So, to say our next beach vacation was a bit overdue is an understatement. Amanda and I are both notoriously bad about having trouble unplugging from work, but we decided to make our trip as device-free as possible, especially to give our 2-year-old daughter (Emma Belle Ford, pictured) some dedicated attention before her little sister arrives in a few months.

The only question was, "Where?" We talked about heading back to South Carolina. But, as we shopped around, we found that the "steal of a deal" was Gulf Shores, Alabama.

I've never been to Gulf Shores. I'd been close by for a basketball team trip to Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., in high school. (My physique might reveal I was a staff member, not a player…) Plenty of family and friends had piled down in years past, including my wife in her youth of summer "extended family vacations." But, given my requirements were really just peace and quiet, it seemed a good fit.

What I wasn't sure of is what the state of Gulf Shores would be. After being hit hard in tourism by the BP oil spill of last season, they'd put some significant effort in convincing people their food was still fresh, their beaches still viable and their town still a destination for your vacation dollars.

And our trip was no disappointment. The people were friendly. Business seemed back up. And there was no shortage of outlet mall shopping, seafood restaurants, and kitschy family activities. We spent most of our time at the pool. (And enjoyed some fine dining at Lambert's Cafe– any place that brings sorghum and fried potatoes by your table for free during dining and aims rolls at your head during the meal is fine by me.)

I ran into a fellow former Kentuckian who helped manage the local donut shop, and she predicted that business would only be down by about a third from two years ago, something to celebrate by standards of the previous summer.

But one sign ensured me that Gulf Shores was "back": when I picked up The Mullet Wrapper, Gulf Shores' local publication of what's happening (and I'm sure the source of much derision from snarky tourists along the way…), staring back at me was Paul Simon.

Now, caveat: I am an ardent Paul Simon fan. His music is the soundtrack of my life. And his latest album was the soundtrack of my vacation, played through I'm sure several dozen times throughout the week. But, according to The Mullet Wrapper, Paul was a sign that the tourist drought had ended for this beach destination. As part of the release of Paul's new album, So Beautiful or So What?, he was headlining their Hangout Music Festival on the beach. (The Foo Fighters were also on the roster of performers, among others.)

Unfortunately, my vacation ended right as the 35,000 people swarmed the beach to see Paul prove he's "still crazy after all these years." But, as I drove back to Kentucky with his new song "Rewrite" playing in the background, I couldn't help but think that Gulf Shores might have just found a rewrite of its own.

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