1. When they speak of “the hurricane” throughout the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach they’re probably not talking about Katrina but Ivan, the storm that flirted with New Orleans in September 2004, before heading east and practically leveling the Alabama coast.
2. Recovery there has been amazing. Like in New Orleans, the storm cleared away things that probably needed to be cleared out anyway and now new structures are rising. Curiously, the tourism is becoming higher-end. Developers, for example, of the swank Caribe resort are building Turquoise Place – a ritzy beachfront property that will outdo everyone in grandeur. Companies that make flat screen TVs have to be loving this because all the new condos are being equipped with the latest audio and visual gadgets – not just in one room but in several places within each plush suite. Meanwhile at Caribe a manmade “lazy river” lures guests to float on inner tubes along a rooftop course overlooking the gulf. At the western end of the island the classics, including The Beach Club and Gulf Shores Plantation, are open and busy again.
3. Flora-Bama, the gritty music club and bar at which being redneck comes easily, is open and kickin’. Located on Perdido Key, (on the Florida side of the bridge) the place bounces with live country music. There’s an oyster bar, great drink specials and a beautiful view of the gulf. Just don’t go pickin’ any fights.
4. In the world of zoos, the tiny Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has achieved international status ever since the Animal Channel produced a series about the heroic effort to save the animals in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. Zoo director Patty Hall trucked the animals to her backwoods home where the bears swam in the pools, except when it was the tigers’ turn. ABC News also recognized Hall’s efforts. Now the zoo has become an international destination, though its location may be changing soon. There are plans to move the nonprofit zoo to donated higher ground.
5. Lulu’s Restaurant is either the funkiest or slickest destination in the area – either way it’s worth the visit. Owned and operated by Lucy Buffett, the sister of singer Jimmy, the place (located along the inter-coastal canal) has, like brother Jimmy’s music, a Southern feel with a splash of Caribbean. Ms. Buffett refers to her cuisine as “Crazy Sista Cookin’.”
6. As you approach Gulf Shores from across the Foley Beach Expressway, you’ll notice a Ferris wheel, one of the largest in the South. The wheel is part of The Wharf – a condo, resort and shopping development with huge expectations that will also create a tourist destination away from the beach. There’s big money being spent in the post-Ivan economy.”
7. Oh yes, there’s The Gulf – still green, still speckled with fishing boats, still lined with white sand dented by the tracks of bare human feet and seagull claws. As passive as it is, the gulf still has the wallop to produce a powerful storm surge, yet the people who border it aren’t driven away. They are just building better, stronger and richer. Who’s winning, man or nature? Maybe both.
For information visit,www.gulfshores.com.