An uneventful and pleasant drive and we were there. And where might “there” be? Sweet Home Alabama….another brief 8 night stay at Escapees Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, AL.
The theoretically shortest route from Topsail Hill SP in Santa Rosa Beach to Rainbow Plantation would be to head west on FL98, but we didn’t feel like dealing with innumerable stop lights, traffic and road construction, particularly around Pensacola, so we elected to take the slightly longer but shorter driving time route shown on the map above. Also, on the Alabama end of the trip we discovered a new roadway that provided a pleasant alternative to the normally congested AL59. See the Driving Notes at the end of this post for details.
By mid-afternoon we had arrived, checked into the office and settled on our site (#34). Last year we had stayed at the nearby site (#36) so when we made our reservation we knew that we would be able to get good satellite reception on the DISH eastern arc (61.5).
As an Escapee member, the rate here for a full hookup site is $20 (non-Escapee rate is $27.50) plus $1 per day for 50 amp service. Yes, it’s cheap compared to other campgrounds/resorts in the area but don’t expect many amenities. No cement pads here, just dirt with a little bit of grass, leaf covered sites, no picnic table or fire ring (fires aren’t allowed even with your own fire pit). But there is a clubhouse with a lot of planned activities (Mardi Gras celebrations were underway during our stay) and a swimming pool.
The sites are well spaced and we like it here although for us there were a couple of downsides – the sites are quite muddy after a rain, it is located pretty far away (about a 45 minute drive) from the beaches and several of the restaurants we like (located in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores) and the gunshots from the shooting range across the street can be annoying. Maybe we were more sensitive to it this time since we just left Topsail where we had been subjected to what seemed like a continual drone of military jets, helicopters and loud booms from the military training exercises. Guess we were in the mood for some quiet.
The day after our arrival, Sunday, we took a ride down to Orange Beach just to see if anything had changed. Nope it looked pretty much the same, except there seemed to be a lot of new construction under way.
Being two days before Fat Tuesday, festive Mardi Gras decorations were everywhere. Since it was a nice day and knowing that it might be one of the few less chilly days during our stay, we stopped to take a walk along the beach near the Gulf State Park fish pier, then spent some time hunting for a geocache on the pier itself. Success!
For lunch, after much deliberation, we drove to Fishers Restaurant where we ate downstairs dockside (the upstairs restaurant is fine dining). Just for fun, we ordered boiled peanuts ($4) as an appetizer. Despite seeing this Southern delicacy in grocery stores and being sold at roadside stands, we had never tried them. Yikes didn’t expect the huge bowl that was placed in front of us. Easy to shell although quite messy. Once opened, the peanuts were different than I expected – quite soft and nicely seasoned. Very tasty!
For my entree, I ordered the Fish & Grits ($12) which was fried fish (grouper I think), served with yellow stone ground grits with black eyed pea relish. Delish! Rob had the blackened fish tacos ($13.95), served with citrus slaw and spicy sour cream. Yummy as well (but my fish was better)!
Rob’s aunt and uncle, Linda & Herb, had invited us over for dinner that night. They are also RV’ers and had been staying in their coach in the area since December. Delicious dinner and a fun time! Since we hadn’t seen them since last October, it was great catching up on everything.
Two days after our arrival, a cold front swept into the south, causing temps to plunge into the low 30’s at night and barely reaching mid-40’s during the day, slightly curtailing our outdoor activities. Hard freeze warnings all around us but luckily not in our immediate area – on several nights, just to be on the safe side we left the rear bathroom water faucet dripping to reduce the risk of our outdoor water hookup freezing during the night. Gotta love our electric fireplace which kept us warm and toasty all night. On the really cold nights, we did use our hydronic boiler (AquaHot) while watching TV to mitigate the heat loss near the windshield end of the coach.
Besides Fishers Dockside, our eating adventures continued. After all, when it is cold outside what else is there to do?
After an interesting morning on Monday trying to find some breakfast, we ended up at Big Daddy’s Grill on Ferry Road in Fairhope well into the lunch hour and with very hungry tummies. Our plan was to have breakfast at the Biscuit King Cafe on our way to Sam’s Club in Daphne but after waiting at the counter to place our order, we were told that due to a big party, we would have to wait 25 minutes or more for our breakfast. Nope not going to wait that long for a breakfast biscuit.
Too late to grab breakfast at Panini Pete’s (breakfast ends at 10:30 a.m.) but perhaps lunch. Nope, no luck with that – the place was mobbed due to the President’s Day holiday, Mardi Gras festivities and the showery weather prohibiting seating in the outside courtyard. Finally after shopping at Sam’s in Daphne (not good to grocery shop on empty stomachs), on the way home we found our way (note it can be a little hard to find) to Big Daddy’s Grill around 2:00 p.m.
We were really, really, really hungry – thank goodness the service and food were good. We both had one of their lunch specials, a fried oyster basket ($12.25) served with french fries and hush puppies. The oysters were plump and delicious and so much better than the ones we had in Apalachicola a few weeks ago. It must be very enjoyable sitting outside by the river here when the temps are warmer. We’d definitely come back here again (but not if we were hankering for something that wasn’t fried).
On another morning, we went to Kitty’s Kafe for breakfast – it was busy here as well so we had to sit at the counter. Food is good here, although pricey. We both had Kitty’s Kristo French Toast ($5.99) which was very good. The corned beef hash here was $9 (ouch) but didn’t come with eggs – huh? We’ve never seen that before.
After our disastrous steamed shrimp experience in Apalachicola, we still were yearning for Gulf shrimp. What better place to find it than at Billy’s Seafood in Bon Secour where we bought two pounds of their extra large shrimp. No steaming offered here – good thing! Now I’d prefer to cook it myself.
When we left Billy’s we took a ride down along the waterfront and sure enough the old stranded fishing boat was still there.
Ended up steaming our shrimp in my new (as of December) Cuisinart 3-in-1 Multi-cooker Central (MSC600) which I love by the way. It can brown, slow cook and steam all in one pot. For example when making beef stew, brown the meat first using the saute setting, throw in your other ingredients, then change the temperature control to slow cook and you’re done – no extra pots to clean. The steam function is perfect for veggies and seafood.
For our shrimp, a packet of Zatarain’s Crab & Shrimp Boil in the water and a sprinkling of Emeril’s Essense on the shrimp. Perfectly cooked (no mush this time). Boy was it good!
I had wanted to try Fairhope’s newest restaurant, the Sunset Pointe Grill, opened by Pete Blohme, the owner of Panini Pete’s. But I guess we needed to have our annual fix of Grouper Pontchartrain more, so instead we invited Linda & Herb to join us at one of our favorite restaurants, Shipp’s Harbour Grill in Orange Beach.
If you are in the area, be sure to go between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. for their Twilight Menu selections. Our favorite is the very well presented Grouper Pontchartrain which is fresh grouper prepared with shrimp, mushrooms, onions, and lemon butter and served with gouda mashed potatoes and a vegetable for $14.95 (it is the same price on the lunch menu). On the dinner menu, it is $21.95 – the only difference is that it comes with a salad.
Rob & I also shared an appetizer – the Pepper Fried Shrimp ($3.95), panko coated Gulf shrimp and blue cheese in a spicy butter sauce and three pepper glace which was excellent. Then three of us had the Grouper Pontchartrain. Linda had the Fried Combo platter (oysters, shrimp, fries and hush puppies for $11.95) which she enjoyed. We didn’t really need it but each couple shared a Bread Pudding with Southern Comfort Whiskey Sauce ($4.95). Wow, what an unbelievably delicious meal!
On the day before we left, we decided to have lunch at the Tin Top Restaurant in Bon Secour. On this particular Saturday, they were featuring a lunch special – fish tacos for $8 with one side. Neither one of us were in the mood for anything fried so that is what we ordered. Rob had fries (guess fries don’t count as “anything fried”); I had lima beans. Very good!
I had been walking my 10,000 steps each day despite the cold (good thing with all the eating out we were doing), walking all around Rainbow Plantation but I was having trouble staying motivated because it was pretty monotonous walking there. So after lunch on our last day here, off we went to one of the parking lots near the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system so we could enjoy a more pleasant and scenic walk.
Our walk became more fun as we searched for a few geocaches along the way, finding six of them. We could have found more (there must be a hundred or more here) but it was getting late and the skies were darkening with the threat of rain. About a mile from our car the threat became a reality. Luckily it wasn’t a torrential downpour so we made it back to the car without getting totally drenched (just a little soggy).
After we got back to the coach, we enjoyed a quiet evening and prepped for our departure the next day.
The theoretically shorter route from Topsail Hill SP in Santa Rosa Beach To Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale would be to head west on FL98, but we didn’t feel like dealing with innumerable stop lights, traffic and road construction, particularly around Pensacola, so we elected to take the slightly longer but shorter driving time route shown on the map above. Heading north towards I-10, note that the Mid-Bay Connector (FL293/FL85) has two tolls ($18 total one way for our 5 axles) but is an easy and pleasant drive. There are no toll booths so if you don’t have a SunPass you will be billed via Toll-By-Plate. I believe there is an additional $2.50 admin fee if you don’t have a SunPass. Oh and by the way Rand McNally did not know of the existence of several sections of FL293 and FL85, despite this roadway being at least a couple of years old.
Be advised that there was a notable change in our route based on a newly opened road in Alabama. In June 2014 the Baldwin Beach Express (AL83 on the map) opened to traffic. This new road parallels AL59 which is the primary retail corridor between I-10 and Foley, AL (and beyond). While AL59 is loaded with traffic and stop lights, the Baldwin Beach Express is not. In fact I believe there were only two stop lights along the entire run from I-10 to the Foley Beach Express. This easy driving, smooth, two lane divided roadway passes mostly thru pastoral crop and livestock farms and we highly recommend it over AL59. Note that your GPS may not know about this new road – our Rand McNally did not know this one either, despite having the most recent updates (no surprise there). Google Maps did know of it, which highlights one of the advantages of an “online” GPS routing system.
To access the Baldwin Beach Express (no toll) from the north take I-10 Exit 49. If you are going to Rainbow Plantation see our route on the map above. If you are going to Orange Beach or Gulf shores, at the end of the Baldwin Beach Express, turn left on the Foley Beach Express which also avoids a vast amount of traffic and ends near the beaches. There is no toll on the Foley Beach Express except for the bridge ($3.50/car + $1.00/additional axle) as you approach the southern terminus. If you are heading for Gulf Shores or the western end of Orange Beach (such as Gulf State Park) exit just before the bridge at Bradford Road and make your way over to AL59 and use the free bridge there. If you are heading for Eastern Orange Beach such as Heritage RV Resort, the bridge toll may be worth paying.