It really was the best vacation I've ever taken.
Earlier this month, my whole family and in-laws made the 977-mile trip to the Gulf Shores Plantation in Gulf Shores, Ala.
This trip actually starts with the drive.
The plan was to take it easy and slowly make our way to Gulf Shores. The first day we planned to drive until about 6 p.m. and then stop and stay the night at a hotel.
What happened was when we were nearing Nashville, Tenn. we discovered, while driving in a downpour, that every hotel in the Nashville area was full because a religious convention named "The Call" had attracted 45,000 people into Nashville and taken up all the hotel rooms.
We ended up driving south on I-65 all the way to Athens, Ala. and staying in the last two rooms at a Hampton Inn. The hotel clerk said people were being steered all the way to Birmingham, Ala. to find a hotel room for the Nashville convention.
The next day we drove all the way through Alabama about 365 miles to Gulf Shores, which is about as far south in Alabama as you can go.
I swear, the temperature in Alabama felt like 150 degrees.
We were staying at the Gulf Shores Plantation, which is run by former Norwalkian Wayne Olcott, who lives in Gulf Shores with his wife, Gretchen.
We had a condominium right by the beach. This was supposed to be nice and it was.
The condo had everything refrigerator, washer/dryer, dishwasher, three bedrooms and a pull-out couch, four televisions and parking area.
The first full day we were there Wayne and Gretchen took us out on their boat in the bay and then in the Gulf of Mexico. We saw loads of jellyfish, which were keeping people from swimming, and ended up seeing dolphins near the boat.
The next day my father-in-law, Tom Dawson, Wayne, my stepson, Billy, and wife, Jessica, went out fishing while I, Marcia Dawson (mother-in-law) and the remaining children went swimming at the pool.
I know we all had fun at the pool. Not sure how well the fishing trip went. Billy got seasick, Jesi got too much sun and the fishing was lousy.
The next day Tom and Billy went to the U.S.S. Alabama, which is docked in Mobile Bay.
I passed on that because I knew the next day Tom, Billy and I were going to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.
I must say I was very impressed with the museum. It contained a multitude of airplanes from each war the U.S. has been in. It also had the history of about everything aviation.
On the way back, we toured some of the beach area which had been hit hard by both hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. Some of the beach houses were still being demolished. Tom told me none of this property near this part of the beach is insurable.
Right at the Florida-Alabama line is a bar called "Florabama." The rumor is the man who runs the bar has been offered a good sum of money for his property, but won't sell. This is true of many small shop owners with beach property.
I did spend some time at the beach while on vacation. The children were busy collecting sea creatures. I thought I was shocked in the lower back at one point by an electric eel, but family members assured me it was a jellyfish. My wife claims she was bitten in the toe by a baby hammerhead shark.
On July 12, the whole group of us headed north to Summerdale and Alligator Alley. We didn't know what to expect. This place turned out to be quite impressive. It contained 123 alligators, both big and small. The children were able to hold "baby gators" and one big alligator Mighty Max put on a show while eating chicken.
The alligator area also was home to "Captain Crunch." This gator reportedly has one of the strongest jaws in the world. He can put forth about 2,800 pounds of pressure with his bite.
None of us went hungry during the vacation. If we weren't busy cooking inside, we were using the grill in the commons area or going out to eat. We hit this restaurant in Fairhope, Ala. called Wintzell's that was top-notch.
I had chicken and vegetables at Wintzell's, but my father-in-law started with raw oysters. Raw oysters looked completely disgusting to me, but Tom ate them up.
On the way home, we stayed the night in Louisville, Ky. and ate at the Louisville Cardinals' Hall of Fame Cafe. This place was totally dedicated to the University of Louisville athletic teams.
The route to Gulf Shores is simple. Take the way you like best to Cincinnati and then connect with I-71 toward Louisville a bit south of Cincy. Once you reach Louisville, take I-65 all the way through Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, until you reach Highway 59 about 40 miles north of Gulf Shores. Highway 59 South will take you right to Gulf Shores.
The Gulf Shores Plantation was an excellent resort. The week went by much too fast. I didn't realize how much fun I had until we were home and unpacking. It truly was a great, family vacation. I would definitely go back there again.