One of the perks of my job is getting to travel once or twice a year down to our sister school in Alabama. Being a business trip, the majority of my time is spent working on sight in Orange Beach during the day but the evenings are available to enjoy the sights, food, culture and one must not forget the beaches of Gulf Shores. This was my third trip down and entirely different from my previous two visits. Before I had come down in January and April where you’d only come across locals and a few snowbirds but this time was peak tourist season and MUCH busier than I have gotten used to. Being a resident of Iowa my entire life, Alabama, or the south in general, feels like an entirely different country other than it taking us an entire work day to get down there.
Our journey to Alabama from Iowa consists of being on three different planes and in four different airports starting with the Air Choice One charter flight from Mason City to Chicago. You may remember me sharing my previous experience during our honeymoon from a year ago and that it wasn’t the greatest, but this time that wasn’t the case; it was fantastic! The main reason: we didn’t check any bags! Yes unlike last time (besides the rough air getting into Chicago, that still terrifies me!) we only had to go through security once in Mason City and that made everything so much less stressful. I didn’t realize we had this option even with just carry ons! Also last time I was totally unaware we could walk from terminal to terminal. Air Choice One only operates in Concourse L in Terminal 3, but before I thought Concourse L was all there was in Terminal 3. Nope. It is much bigger and it’s quite a walk from Terminal 3 to 2 but still very much easier accessible without the hassle of reentering through security. Air Choice One is amazing if you don’t have to check luggage, if you must check something then maybe that would be the time to venture up to Minneapolis or down to Des Moines. This trip has inspired a future post: If Tyler and I visit his aunt in Germany, we would fly Air Choice One to Chicago then to Germany BUT only each having 1 carry on and each also having 1 backpack as our personal items.. Stay TUNED!! lol
(Early morning flight pictures)
In order to make it to Chicago at a decent time to catch our first connecting flight, it usually involves us having to book their earliest flight: this time it was 6:00 AM with check in at 5 AM. I was nervous with the low clouds that we would be stuck in them causing a bumpy flight but we flew higher and it was smooth sailing until we arrived around 8 AM. With low clouds and fog over Chicago it was hard for me to get a shot of the skyline which is the coolest part of the flight…
After landing and strolling right along to our next gate in Chicago, the next stop was in Atlanta. There are no direct flights from O’Hare to Pensacola so we usually do a connecting in Atlanta or Charlotte. Usually we just stick to Atlanta because it’s only a short 45 minute flight from there to Pensacola. With only having 12 gates, the airport in Pensacola is one of my favorites because of its accessibility and the security line ALWAYS being pretty close to non existent. We are lucky flying down here or back home by starting in small airports and not getting held up in lines waiting for TSA.
Landing in Pensacola around 3:30 PM, we picked up our rental car and we were on the way to Alabama. Usually a 45 minute drive from the airport to where we stay, it look a little over an hour this time; it’s the middle of July and a busy time. The route takes us through a very spread out Pensacola and eventually turns into a scenic drive along the coast:
Finally after our hour long drive from the airport we reached the condo we were thankful to be put up in. Being our work party was made up of three gals and a guy, us three girls would room together and Tony would be next door in a clone of the one we had. We took the elevator up to the 14th floor and walked down to our door. The view outside our door wasn’t bad:
It wasn’t until we walked inside and immediately the view before we stepped out to the balcony was amazing! But when we walked out…
I could hang out here throughout our entire stay even when you wanted to die from the humidity by stepping outside! The condo itself had two bedrooms each with their own full bath, a half bath in the hallway, laundry closet, a full kitchen and living room. We appreciated being able to stay here very much!
With all our things unloaded in the condo it was time to find some grub. We had two first timers on this trip so we had to take them to Island Wing Co. It was away from the beach so less busy then the spots down by the water. Everything made here, including their wings, is baked and not fried to keep things fresh and a little more healthy. I love their blackened mahi mahi sandwich!! Sorry there are no pictures from this portion, my phone was low and had to conserve my battery life.
After dinner we cruised through some local places starting with the Hangout (tourist trap!) for one of my coworkers. They had a band playing outside with lots of little shops and bars. The main building was the giant restaurant serving food you can get anywhere that is overpriced. Next door to the Hangout is one of my personal favorites: The Pink Pony! They have karaoke nightly and a great atmosphere that is just fun. This establishment has been in business for 60 years as of 2016.
The next morning we started out the day with food from one of my favorites things from down south that us up here in the north don’t have:
Yes I get excited about this grocery store. We got our breakfast for the week at the condo here and as I cruised through I couldn’t help but notice their produce just looked more green and fresh. Of course given the location their seafood section was the same size as our meat sections up here in our grocery stores. It had a good size section just for SUSHI! If I lived down here I would stop by after work every day for an after work snack!
The wonderful staff that we work with down in Orange Beach made a southern comfort food style lunch: fried chicken, corn bread, green beans, deviled eggs, biscuits, sweet tea and so much more delicious sides. I look forward to more working lunches like this in the future, such a good idea and a refreshing lunch to have in the middle of our first day of the work week.
After our first day of work it was time to find food for the night. I will skip how we stumbled across where we landed for the night but I’m glad we ended up where we did. I have found my favorite watering hole on my trips. When I’m home in Iowa, I have my VIP Lounge but when I’m down in Alabama I have: The Flying Harpoon!
This place is tucked behind the huge Oyster House restaurant so unless you know it’s there you don’t get a lot of foot traffic from the tourists. We got a table that fit the four of us and that’s where we stayed for the remainder of the night. The walls are decorated with artwork on paper placements done with crayon by guests from all over.
I even did my own little artwork:
They have a small menu of appetizers, salads, seafood, sandwiches but their specialties are PO BOYS!! My coworker opted for the Crab and Crawfish Po boy. I had a salad but added six garlic jumbo shrimp put on top. I also recommend the crab and crawfish cakes as an appetizer! YUM!!!
The wrap around porch and view outside are pretty swell too:
We had two awesome bartenders take care of us all night: Tom and BR (real name Bryant but he goes by BR and is actually a native of Iowa!) I can’t wait to come back to this place when I am in the area again: $3.50 for well drinks!
Wednesday: After another jammed packed work day our next choice of eating establishment was The Beach House. A favorite of locals and after my second time eating here I know why. This place is also tucked back with the entrance not facing the road or beach so many tourists don’t know it’s here. Very close to our condo as well so that was nice!
Outside eating, it wasn’t too bad even though it was very humid. We caught a little breeze. (Hair in my face! grr!)
Being down in the south I wanted to take advantage of all the fresh seafood I could. Pictured above are my grilled grouper tacos. I have dreams about these bad boys when I’m back home! I have given up trying to eat fish tacos up here in Iowa as they don’t compare to the freshness or flavor down there. Sally ordered the crawfish mac n cheese which looked delicious! Maybe next time when it’s not like an oven outside.
Since this would be our last night staying at the condo, we decided to head back after dinner and walk across the road to the beach! The sun was setting and the waves were rolling in, perfect for some photo ops.
After we did our frolicking in the water and sand, we decided to head back to the condo for the rest of the night. Us three girls sat out on our balcony relaxing and watching the sun set. I thought that as night set in it would cool down, but the complete opposite happened: we got a breeze for a while but as soon as 10:00 rolled around it got very hot and sticky all of a sudden. Alabama, you are weird.
It was now Thursday and our last full work day down here. I decided to make use of a lunch hour and eat at one stop introduced to me by my southern ‘counterpart’: Another Broken Egg Café, located in Orange Beach on Canal Road across the toll bridge from the main campus.
I failed to get a picture of the front but it doesn’t look like much being in a strip mall. This place is open for breakfast and lunch with fresh food that is a health freaks delight. It also has a full bar. Being so hot temperature wise on this visit I tried to eat lighter or healthier so I wouldn’t feel miserable with food that sat at the bottom of my stomach. They have an amazing Kale and Salmon salad:
Kale, salmon, chopped almonds and homemade honey jalapeno vinaigrette dressing. The mix of textures and flavors.. YUM! I hope to eat breakfast here on another visit.
Back to the office and wrapping up our afternoon with work tying up the necessary ends before we would leave town for the night. The awesome IDT staff in Orange Beach invited us out to dinner at Bill’s By the Beach (not actually located on the beach but across the road with a view of the beach! 🙂 )
They started us with some appetizers of crab cheese cake spread, grilled pineapple, blackened shrimp, etc..
Now it was time for the main course and since I seemed to think I didn’t get enough shrimp in the first round of the meal, I wanted more shrimp. They have a shrimp platter where you can order it grilled or fried with fries and coleslaw or a shrimp and grits plate. I decided when in Rome and ordered the shrimp and grits which apparently won an award of some kind:
Blackened shrimp on top of grits with ‘gravy’ and onions, peppers and tomatoes. When I heard gravy I expected gravy like we have up here but this was of the oil kind and I didn’t care for it but the grits and shrimp were super tasty!! I can now say that I have tried grits!
After good conversations and wonderful meal it was time to say goodbye and be on our way back to Pensacola for the night before our Friday morning flight. But first: hugs for our AL team and group photos!
We quickly made it back to the condo to get our bags and clean up before departing on the hour drive back to Pensacola. Look a rainbow as we left the Sanibel parking lot!
It took us longer to get back and seemed like we’d never get there. The joys of peak tourist season pushed our arrival time back a little after 9:00 PM. We usually stay at the Hyatt Place located within walking distance of the terminal. Very nice rooms and a good breakfast buffet in the lobby. The front desk also has a connecting bar that you can also order munchies with your drinks at, which is perfect for kicking back during your last night and going up to your room when you’re ready to sleep.
However with it being the middle of July, rates for the Hyatt were sky high at over 200 a night. Nope, not this time. I had found a cute little hotel a little less than 10 minutes from the airport: At Home Inn and Suites. Their lobby in the main building where their newly added deluxe rooms are housed was gorgeous. We stayed in one of the back two story buildings where all doors are on the outside of the building. Rooms were very reasonable and mostly redone with new beds etc. A perfect alternative for our last night when the Hyatt isn’t an option. Rooms in the back buildings are 70-80 a night but I think we could ‘upgrade’ to the deluxe rooms in the main building for 80-90 a night.
The next morning it was time to return the car and begin the journey back home opposite the way we got down here: Pensacola to Atlanta to Chicago and finally Mason City. Like I mentioned before, we were through security in less than five minutes. I do love this airport!
After a small breakfast of fruit at the hotel, I thought maybe I’d grab one more thing in the airport for breakfast. I tried to stay on the healthy side for this trip but this last breakfast would be another ‘when in Rome’ meal: breakfast sandwich from Chick-fill-A. It really is satisfying having a chicken patty with an egg and cheese on a biscuit. Mmmm Our first flight left at 11:45 AM and after another connecting it was time to leave Chicago back to Mason City on the 8:30 PM flight. Here we are enjoying the last two hour home stretch as well as Chicago as the sun sets.
As a native Iowan and never residing anywhere else, Alabama is like a whole other country to me. While I love my life, the culture and people here up north, I do enjoy the visits I’m able to take down south when I can. There is such a thing as southern hospitality and despite two different cultures, I felt that from everyone I encountered in Gulf Shores. The beaches are gorgeous, the seafood is fresh and amazing, winters are never there but I can’t leave you my, Iowa even when I don’t want anything to do with you January through half of March. Sorry Alabama no hard feelings, I really do enjoy you when I’m in town for a visit but my home is up here in the North. Until I see you (y’all) again, keep that warm weather waiting for us!