Alabama's Mobile: Southern Belle gets makeover

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MOBILE, Ala. -- This Gulf Coast city will be in the spotlight early next year when it plays host to hundreds of delegates attending the annual Travel South Marketplace at the Mobile Convention Center from Feb. 28 to March 2.

Situated at the mouth of the Mobile River, Mobile has played a key role in the growth and development of tourism to Alabama and the entire Gulf Coast region from Florida to Texas.

The city is looking better than ever these days following a revitalization of its historical downtown area, and new driving and walking tours will be available to Travel South delegates.

They'll find that the Mobile Museum of Art has moved into a new home, and the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center has been renovated and expanded.

There also are new restaurants along Mobile's waterfront, and the city is expanding its infrastructure with new hotels under construction downtown.

Founded in 1702, Mobile was originally the capital of the vast Louisiana Territory and ranks among the oldest cities in the nation.

Beyond the city's rich historical and cultural legacy, it also boasts a full calendar of festivals and special events, including the Arts and Crafts Festival and Festival of Flowers in March, the Blessing of the Fleet in May and the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in July.

There is no more exciting festival here than Mardi Gras.

Although most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, the rowdy carnival actually originated in Mobile.

The city puts on a spectacular show starting two weeks before Fat Tuesday, when parades fill the downtown streets. Another of Mobile's claims to fame is its local cuisine and many fine restaurants, such as Wintzell's Oyster House, Roussos and Nan Seas.

Agents with clients heading to Mobile can arrange tours and packages offered by local tour operators (see listing below).

Homes and gardens

By the time Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state in 1819, Mobile had emerged as a shipbuilding power and one of the south's leading commercial hubs.

Cotton was the main cash crop fueling the city's economic growth, and the prosperity of that era is reflected in several 19th century historical house museums open to the public.

The stately home that is often referred to as Mobile's official antebellum mansion is Oakleigh, a classic example of Greek Revival architecture built between 1833 and 1838.

The interior is furnished with antiques from the Victorian, Empire and Regency periods. Oakleigh also has a sunken garden, and 30-minute tours of the mansion are conducted by guides dressed in period costume.

Visitors are also welcome at the 1855 Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, which ranks among the most photographed antebellum mansions along the Gulf.

Among the attractions included on many city tours is the USS Alabama, the battleship that played a key role in the Pacific during World War II. Visitors are welcome to go aboard and check out most of the ship, including the bridge and berth compartments.

Bellingrath Gardens is on Mobile city tour itineraries.Another famed Mobile attraction, which is on the city tours itinerary for delegates, is Bellingrath Gardens, a 900-acre estate with 65 acres of cultivated and landscaped gardens.

Also offered here is a 45-minute cruise on the Fowl River aboard the "Southern Belle."

Mobile, then and now

Visitors can get a glimpse of what Mobile was like in the 1800s by strolling past the restored antebellum buildings along Church, Government and Dauphin streets in the city center.

Another interesting section of downtown to explore is along the stretch of Church Street East between Water Street and Broad Street, which is lined with buildings spanning a wide architectural range, including Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Victoria.

Recreation

Tourists began flocking to Mobile in the 19th century, lured here by Mobile's mild year-round climate combined with its miles of white sand beaches.

Water recreation is still a major draw today. One of the most fascinating outdoor activities is a guided airboat tour into the heart of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the largest inland delta in the U.S.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

Book it: Tour operators

Bay City Convention & Tours
Phone:
(800) 338-5597
E-mail:[email protected]
Tour packaging, sightseeing, lodging, restaurants

Colonial Trailways
Phone:
(800) 233-1981
E-mail:[email protected]
Mobile's largest motorcoach operator

Convention Services by Debra Garlo
Phone:
(800) 842-8687
E-mail:[email protected]
Group tours, theme parties, historical sightseeing tours

Memorable Mobile Tours
Phone:
(251) 344-8687
Sightseeing and group tours

Travel House Corp.
Phone:
(800) 756-7426

E-mail:[email protected]
Packaged and customized tours for groups.

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For more details on this article, see Operators can sign up online.

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