The earth’s bringing forth of flowers, the warmth of the sun on our faces — spring’s an excellent time to consider heading to the beach, getting outdoors in the balmy weather, sinking our toes in the sand and enjoying the Gulf’s seafood bounty.
The Gulf Coast also provides perfect romantic opportunities, whether for a couple’s weekend getaway, a backdrop for the ideal proposal or even a beach setting for the Big Day.
If you’re looking for some romance along the coast this spring, we’ve compiled a few ideas to get you started.
The latest newcomer to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Centennial Plaza transformed the former Gulfport Veterans Administration Medical Center into a massive resort situated on 48 acres overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The 10 surviving Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places, have been lovingly renovated and include two hotels with 215 rooms combined, a chapel that serves as an events space and a massive fountain with a corresponding lighting and music display.
Centennial Plaza Resort, named for its inception at the turn of the 20th Century, opened last August and has hosted weddings and other events inside both the 2,600-square-foot chapel that seats 200, the oak-lined green spaces and on the island inside the pond that’s connected from the surrounding pathways by a small, quaint bridge.
“The weddings are actually on the island with the guests overlooking the Gulf of Mexico,” Angie Dearman, director of events, said of the pond.
The Centennial also features a romantic hotel package that includes chocolate-covered strawberries and sparkling wine upon arrival.
For those who want a quiet escape, The Henderson Park Inn in Destin features an adult-only resort with only 37 rooms located on a private Gulf beach and fronted on one end by Henderson Beach State Park. Amenities include on-site dining at the Beach Walk Café, picnic lunches, beach service, bicycle rentals and a sunset happy hour. If nightlife beckons, the heart of Destin and all its attractions is only a short drive away.
Nature lovers who don’t want too much sand in their shoes might try their hand at Fancy Camps, an upscale camping experience in Florida Panhandle state parks that includes a 16-foot canvas tent with linens, furniture, lighting and heating and cooling units. Each tent accommodates two adults with outdoor firewood and camp stove available.
Elvis Slept Here
Mobster Al Capone used to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and built what is now the Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center as a transportation point when he moved bootlegged alcohol from Canada into the United States during Prohibition.
“It was built for laundered mob money,” said Donna Brown, Gulf Hills general manager. “The 18th green on the golf course used to be perfectly aligned with the front door of the hotel. Cars and boats were gassed up so they could leave in a hurry.”
As fascinating as the resort’s origins are, visitors seem more interested in the fact that Elvis Presley once slept here when the resort served as a dude ranch in the 1950s. Elvis stayed in the resort villas back in the day, but today’s visitors can enjoy the three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot “Love Me Tender, Love Me Suite” room in the main lodge.
Oak Crest Mansion in Pass Christian, built in 1920 and its inception also involving mob connections, boasts of its own Elvis suite. The upper right-hand-side room of the mansion is said to have been the place where Elvis laid his head.
Take To The Water
The sun sets “from off towards New Orleans,” as the Jimmy Buffett song goes, when you set sail on the Biloxi waters on an historic schooner helmed by Captain Ron Reiter. The sunset cruises — either group charters or walk-on sails — help raise funds for the Biloxi Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. Reiter has been sailing these “White Winged Queens” for years, allowing coastal visitors to get on the water, experience a piece of maritime history and enjoy a glass of wine as the sun slips below the horizon.
Over in Gulf Shores, docking at the Perdido Beach Resort, Sail Wild Hearts will take up to 49 people on its 53-foot catamaran. The company offers multiple cruises each week, including sunset cruises, adventure sails, dolphin tours and snorkeling experiences.
Romantic Places To Eat
Gulf Coast fine dining restaurants, such as Perch at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores and Fisher’s at Orange Beach host special events such as dinner series and wine classes. At OWA, Foley’s family amusement park, newcomer Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen serves up traditional Southern meals and the C’est Le Vin Wine Bar & Shop offers fine wines by the glass and bottle, plus craft cocktails, to sample and purchase.
If you’d rather bring the fine dining to you, Le Cordon Bleu-educated Chef David Pan of Orange Beach Concierge will serve up original four-course meals consisting of fresh ingredients from local farms. He curates unique menus for each customer, said wife and co-owner Tillie Pan, adjusting meals for dietary restrictions and the event’s theme.
“We serve from two to 2,000,” Pan said. “One family had 45 people and they wanted all three meals. We did 847 meals that week. They wanted a full resort experience.”
The Pans don’t recommend beach dining because sand, wind and rain can ruin a good meal. Beach cleanups also happen at sunset, not the ideal way to enjoy a fine meal, she said.
“But if you want a beach ambiance at your condo, we can create that for you,” she said, adding that patios and decks work great. “We can absolutely create a romantic experience.”
Hunter Davis on the Florida Panhandle also serves as a private chef, delivering meals for two to 20 customers with his Dish and the Spoon company. He arrives at the visitor’s accommodations, prepares the meal and then cleans up afterwards so diners can relax, he said.
Both companies have sample menus on their websites.
Janell Hawkins loves making sand castles — and we’re not talking something your baby brother created. Hawkins spends hours building sand forms that transform into masterpieces, much like sculptures created from marble, she said.
Most of her business revolves around group classes in which she leads others into building their dream castle. But sometimes, she builds sand artwork for proposals.
“We have done 25 proposals down here,” Hawkins said.Recently, she was hired to create the castle from “Beauty and the Beast” to provide the backdrop for a man’s proposal to his girlfriend.
“It had ‘Will you marry me?’ on it,” Hawkins explained. “And he brought out a rose.”
Hawkins films the process with time-lapse photography, then the proposal and the final destruction of the castle. Because castles cannot remain on the beach due to the sea turtle habitat (except for some winter months), they must come down.
Hawkins is allowed to build sand castles everywhere, she said, including public and private beaches.
“We can go anywhere as long as there is sand and water,” she said.
“Beauty and the Beast” may be the trend this year for the most popular proposal at Bellingrath Gardens outside Dauphin Island was a globe featuring a rose, much like one from the popular Disney movie. It was poised on a table and when the couple arrived, the man took a knee and proposed, said Sally Pearsall Ericson, director of marketing and public relations.
Most proposals at the Alabama gardens take place at Christmas during the lights display, Ericson said, but spring blooms provide dramatic backdrops as well. Weddings, wedding photography and other events usually take place on the south terrace outside the Bellingrath historic home.
Whether for a couples’ massage or individual spa treatments, there are numerous luxury spas along the Gulf Coast.
The Salamander Spa at The Henderson offers a long menu of massages, body treatments and salon services within their 10,000-square-foot space adorned with local artwork. There’s even a couples’ suite.
In Destin, visitors may enjoy Gulf views while indulging in the holistic spa treatments from the second floor of the West Tower at Emerald Grand at Harborwalk Village. Included in the experience are women’s and men’s relaxation areas, steam rooms and a dry sauna.
Still need more incentives?
You can pretend you’re Demi Moore at the Coastal Arts Center at Orange Beach. The large campus is home to the Clay Studio, open to the public, where classes in pottery making are held regularly.
Create a bonfire on the beach in South Walton after obtaining a permit through the South Walton Fire District. The fee is $50 and fires are allowed on the majority of Florida Panhandle beaches.
Come for the special events that happen along the Gulf Coast all spring, including:
Tequila and Taco Fest, March 6-8, Seascape Town Center, Miramar Beach, Fla.
The 68th Annual Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival, March 20-22, Fairhope, Ala.
Annual Spring Arts Festival, March 28-29, Ocean Springs, Miss.
Sandestin Wine Festival, April 16-19, Sandestin, Fla.
Celtic Women at Beau Rivage Casino, April 18, Biloxi, Miss.
Taste of Ocean Springs Food & Wine Festival, May 7, Ocean Springs, Miss.
The Hangout Music Festival 2020, May 15-17, Gulf Shores, Ala.