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Editor's Note: Carnival Triumph, which experienced an engine fire on February 10, 2013 -- leaving more than 4,000 people without power, hot food and functional toilets -- is currently docked in the port of Mobile. Passengers have disembarked, and the ship is undergoing an investigation to determine the cause of the fire. More than a dozen future sailings have been canceled, and estimates say repairs could take as long as six months. Get the latest here.
Mobile, Alabama claims sister cities all over the world: Ichihara, Japan; Kolsice, Slovakia; Worms, Germany. But more than anything else it seems like Mobile and New Orleans were twin sisters separated at birth. Each existed for years as a French colony; each is a booming seaport situated on a broad river a short distance upstream from its mouth on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico; each retains a genteel blend of southern charm and Creole/French culture, embodied in food, architecture and traditions, most notably Mardi Gras. (Mobile's first carnival celebration actually preceded New Orleans's by 62 years.)
In actuality, Mobile was actually the capital of the original French colony of Louisiana, from 1704 through 1722, when it was moved to New Orleans. Both cities developed bustling naval and industrial ports, though the port of New Orleans functioned on a larger scale as far as river-borne commerce went. That's because the navigable waters of its river, the Mississippi, extended much further north, touching far more states than did the Mobile River or its parent stream, the Alabama.
Though Mobile's antebellum ambience of colonnaded manses and grand sprawling plantations is still there to be found, don't expect to be awash in southern belles strolling in crinolines with parasols; that aspect of old Mobile takes a bit of effort to find, especially since the corridor from the airport to the cruise docks is largely industrial.
However, Mobile has recently made a major push for downtown revitalization, gentrifying the waterfront and funding museums, parks and a free trolley system.
Golf has become a major tourist draw, with a dozen top-flight courses in Mobile and its environs, and fishing charters from the downtown docks are also popular. Recently ecotourism has gained a foothold, featuring exploration of the estuary of the Mobile River and airboat rides through the swamps, with great appeal for bird and gator watchers.
Weather is on the bottom edge of sub-tropical, with average midwinter highs in the high 50's/low 60's, rising to high 80's/low 90's in the summer.
Like the rest of the Gulf Coast, Mobile did not escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. However, winds in Mobile's environs were barely hurricane strength; Katrina, for them, was mostly a water, rather than a wind, event. Most of the damage came from the storm surge pushed ahead of the advancing hurricane, affecting mostly the immediate coastline. Inland areas were largely spared, and the city's tourism industry was fully up and running long before tourist sentiment brought visitors back to the Gulf Coast. Bellingrath Gardens (mentioned below) reopened September 17, 2005, about three weeks after Katrina landfall; on the other hand, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, located on the harbor's waterfront, didn't reopen until January 9, 2006.
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Baltimore • Boston • Charleston • Fort Lauderdale • Galveston • Honolulu • Houston • Jacksonville • Key West • Los Angeles • Miami • Mobile • New Orleans • New York • New York (Brooklyn) • New York (Cape Liberty) • Norfolk • Orlando • Philadelphia • Port Canaveral • Portland, Maine • San Diego • San Francisco • Seattle • Tampa
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The currency is the U.S. dollar; international visitors will find it easy to access cash at numerous ATM machines. Banks also provide exchange services.
Chocolates from Three Georges.
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships call at the Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal (800-SHIPMOBILE), just south of the Alabama State Docks, on the banks of the Mobile River a half-mile west of the Mobile Civic Center.
For now there is little to explore at or near the cruise terminal, though there are plans in place to develop the area into a full-service tourist destination (shops, restaurants, museums, etc.). At the moment the nearest tourist asset is the Cooper Riverside Park. The Ft. Conde Museum & Welcome Center is less than a quarter mile from the port and offers a historic look at old Mobile, and helpful tourist info.
Taxis: Rate controlled. The fare from airport to cruise terminal is about $25. However, on disembarkation day the numbers of available cabs are very quickly depleted. Taxis within the central downtown area are easy to come by.
Shuttles: Mobile Regional Airport operates a shuttle service between the airport and hotels and the cruise terminal. Reservations are essential, and you should mention that you are booking on Carnival's Holiday, as that will get you a 50 percent discount ($15 versus $30 per person) round trip. Children under 12 ride free. For reservations call 251-633-0313 or 800-357-5373. (Transfers are currently not included in Carnival air/sea packages for Mobile.)
Trolley: To get around downtown Mobile, including the Historic District on Dauphin Street, consider moda!, the new free-of-charge electric trolley system which runs every 10 minutes along a 3.1-mile course. The earest moda! stop to the Port is about 1/4 mile away on Royal Street between Government and Church Streets.
Rental Cars: National, Avis and Thrifty Car Rental have operations in Mobile. All are located at or near the airport.
Satisfy your sweet tooth. The south is synonymous with decadent sweets and you can indulge yourself on them to your heart's content in Mobile. Try the truly decadent coconut cream pie at Tiny Diny (2159 Halls Mill Rd., 251-476-3880). Huge: looks like the Superdome on a pie tin. If chocolate is your weakness, don't fight it -- pay a visit to Three Georges (226 Dauphin St., 251-433-6725), a favorite of Mobile since 1917, featuring chocolates hand dipped while you wait, pralines, divinity, fudge and more. If you've got the time you can enroll in one of their candy-making classes.
For the history buff, especially the student of military history, visit the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park (2703 Battleship Pkwy.) featuring aircraft and vessels from World War II through Desert Storm, centered around the USS Alabama, a battleship that saw major action in the South Pacific during the Second World War. Or, if Revolutionary War era history has appeal, visit Ft. Conde Museum (150 S. Royal St.).
Take a stroll along the Historic District on Lower Dauphin Street; enjoy local cuisine, art and antique shopping, sightseeing, and taking in the taste of the Old South.
Don't miss the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center & IMAX Theater (65 Government St.). This hands-on family museum is dedicated to the sciences and is also home to prestigious traveling exhibits.
Visit Bellingrath Gardens and Museum Home (12401 Bellingrath Gardens Rd., Theodore, AL 36582). Located about 25 miles south of the cruise port, this spot is a beautiful 65 acres of lush landscaping within a 905-acre subtropical forest. Stroll the gardens or tour the palatial manor, filled with 18th-century antiques. For nature lovers there are eco-walks, featuring a boardwalk through the bayou, and a 45-minute scenic and wildlife spotting cruise aboard the "Southern Belle," docked at the estate.
Been There, Done That
Go golfing. Mobile is often rated in the top 10 cities for golf by golfing magazines. Golf tee times can be arranged prior to your arrival.
Watch them "reign" on their parade. Mardi Gras is as much a tradition in Mobile as it is in New Orleans, but perhaps a bit less rough-and-tumble. Mardi Gras usually runs from one month before till one day before Ash Wednesday. Though nightlife is the big deal for partiers, parades usually run around the clock, especially the closer you get to Fat Tuesday.
Go eco-touring. As mentioned earlier, you can go wildlife spotting, or experience other options in the New South's burgeoning ecotourism industry.
Best Breakfast: Mentioned earlier for its desserts, Tiny Diny (2159 Halls Mill Rd., 251-476-3880) has been consistently voted Best Breakfast by Mobilians, and National Flight Magazine rates Tiny Diny's hotcakes best in the country. Also rated tops for home cooking. Hours vary by season and day; call for info.
Best Local Cuisine: For fresh oysters and other local seafood with a Cajun influence, go to Wintzells (605 Dauphin St., 251-432-4605, Sunday - Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m., Friday - Saturday 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.). It's located in the heart of the Historic District.
Best Barbecue: For a real taste of the deep South, shugah, y'all gonna wanna get some true barbecue. That's why you want to venture to Dreamland BBQ (3314 Old Shell Rd., 800-752-0544, Monday - Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.). Don't miss out on the sinful ribs.
Best Gourmet: Quatorze (54 S. Conception St., 251-690-7770, dinner only, closed Sundays and Mondays) offers classic French with fusion influences, plus a great wine list.
Closest to the Port: The Holiday Inn Express (225 Church St., 251-433-6923) is located in the Historic District 0.32 miles from port. The Radisson Admiral Semmes Hotel (251 Government St., 251-432-8000) is also in the Historic District but is more upscale than the Holiday Inn Express -- and about twice as expensive. It's 0.38 miles from the port.
Family Friendly/Budget: Rates at the Super 8 Motel - Mobile/Tillmans Corner Area (5676 Corner Pkwy., 251-666-0003) start at about $60 per night; children under 12 stay free. It's 10 miles from the port.
Major Splurge: Marriott's Grand Hotel Resort & Golf Club (1 Grand Blvd., Point Clear, 251-928-9201) is a gracious resort built in 1847, situated on 550 acres on Mobile Bay about 20 miles from the port. Highlights include two 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, fishing, marina, hiking and horseback riding trails. Rates from $100 through $200+ a night.
Package Deals: The Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau has organized a series of pre- and post-cruise packages dubbed BAYcation Packages. These include everything from discounts on hotel stays and attraction admissions to organized tours themed to history, golf, ecology, etc.
The only ship-sponsored shore excursions at present include tours of Historic Mobile, Bellingrath Gardens and the USS Alabama Military Historical Park.
Any of these would be appropriate for first timers, but for families the far more satisfying choice is to skip the shore excursions altogether and venture on your own. Top picks? The Exploreum or eco-touring, depending on the ages and preferences of the kids.
For More Information
Contact the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-5-MOBILE
For airport, flight and shuttle info, comtact the Mobile Regional Airport Authority at 800-357-5373
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--By Steve Faber. South Florida-based Faber is a senior contributor to Cruise Critic. Beyond our Web site, Faber's work has appeared in a myriad of outlets, including Cruise Travel Magazine, "The Miami Herald" and "The Total Traveler Guide to Worldwide Cruising."
All photos appear courtesy of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.