That was our biggest complaint at Bella Terra – on site #636 ( a different site than we had booked BTW – some shenanigans going on there perhaps?), our coach faced west so without an umbrella, gazebo or any form of owner provided furniture, there was no shade in the late afternoon and evening, even with our coach awning – this made sitting outside extremely uncomfortable in the hot Alabama sun!
Anyway, Gulf Park is huge with 496 very well spaced out sites. It has a comprehensive Nature Center, an Education Center, an amphitheater, a store, a large laundry facility, a beautiful swimming pool (just opened on April 2nd, there is $2 charge to use it) and even a boat dock.
The Backcountry Bike Trail (which is part of the park) has 15 miles of paved paths and connects directly to the campground. You can bike from the park entrance in Gulf Shores to the Orange Beach Post Office/Town Hall without ever leaving the park
One thing we really enjoyed at GSP (and the area for that matter) was the friendliness of everyone – I think we clicked with more people here in just 3 days than we did the entire month at Bella Terra.
At BT, the owners had their own network of friends (mostly other owners) and more or less left us transients to ourselves – rumor has it that the owners there are planning an “owners only” clubhouse so you can draw your own conclusions about that. To be honest, we didn’t really put ourselves out to meet people there either, but of the owners we did talk to, while outwardly friendly, we didn’t sense we had much in common.
Actually this was not a problem because we were very busy exploring the area. It’s taken this second year for us to realize that we like state parks or Army Corps of Engineering or even some private (non ownership) type of campgrounds (such as Williston Crossings) which are usually cheaper than the RV resorts. Despite the fact that the high end RV ownership resorts are beautiful, we’ve come to realize they are just not our cup of tea! I guess you learn these things as you travel and gain more experience (this is only our second winter and only 1.5 years with our coach).
Back to my commentary on Gulf State Park – at the Nature Center, they have live snakes, turtles, baby alligators and two cute rescued screech owls (which were hit by cars and have vision problems) and many other exhibits including a soft shelled turtle which was very weird looking!
The very friendly and very knowledgeable staff there will spend a lot of time explaining things to everyone who walks through the door. And during peak season, they have various ranger programs during the day. Near the Nature Center, they also have lots of purple martin gourd style birdhouses which were very active. Not sure if the martins were building nests or if they already had babies but they were fun to watch flying in and out of the gourds.
On our first day there, Saturday, we met a couple from Pensacola who had just purchased their motor home so this was their first excursion. That evening we invited them over to join us at our campfire. Funny though we never did learn their names, but we had a great conversation!
What great people (photo on the right)! Tina (pronounced Tie-na) and Robert are a retired couple from Nashville where they live with their two dogs (photo on the left) and spend a lot of time with their 4 grandchildren. This was their first long excursion in their new Roadtrek so it was a learning experience for both of them – we certainly could relate to that! It was pretty sunny but we were having such a good time chatting with them that we finally suggested that they join us in the shade under our awning. After a couple of hours, they had to return to their unit because a friend was coming to visit. It was a beautiful evening so we invited them (including their friend, Pam) over to enjoy our campfire with us. Fun time!
On Monday, we did a few errands – mailed our taxes which Rob finally finished that morning (woo hoo!) and went to the Aquila Fish Market in Bon Secour (supposedly the home of the Royal Reds) where we bought a pound of Royal Reds (haven’t tried them yet – they are resting comfortably in the freezer) and a pound of extra large shrimp.
As we drove down the street towards Aquila, we saw “Our Mother” a beautiful (usually beautiful isn’t a word you use to describe a commercial vessel but this one was) blue and white very large shrimp boat heading out (wish I had taken a picture).
In talking with the gentleman behind the counter at Aquila, Our Mother was headed out to catch Royal Reds and will be gone for at least a month (Hmmm, could this be a new Discovery Channel show? “The Reddist Catch” maybe?) When I asked him how much shrimp they typically catch in a month, he said that they had just returned with 20,000 pounds of Royal Reds.
When I mentioned we had talked to several people who didn’t like the Royal Reds, he said that was because they didn’t cook ’em right. He then provided us with cooking instructions (only documenting here because I’m sure I’ll forget).
Thaw, rinse in cold water, then bring water to a boil. Once boiling, add the shrimp and return the water to a boil and cook for one minute! How easy is that! After they’re done, you can sprinkle them with some Old Bay seasoning or eat them plain dipped in butter. Of course, before you eat them you have to remove the heads. Stay tuned for a future review! Just FYI, the counter folks at Aquila seemed a bit more friendly than Billy’s which we mentioned in a previous post – both had much better prices than the other seafood markets in the area).
After we got back, Robert came over and asked us if we wanted to join them for dinner someplace. Oh, twist my arm, please! Since they weren’t familiar with any of the restaurants in the area and they both love fish, we ended up going to our favorite, Shipp’s Harbour Grill where Robert, Rob and I had the Grouper Pontchatrain (again) and Tina had the Coconut Grouper. They loved it there (thank goodness)! After dinner, we walked out on the dock at the marina and then eventually returned back to Gulf Park. Wonderful evening, great food and super nice people! We’ve exchanged emails and phone numbers – they want us to call them when we get to Nashville so hopefully we’ll be able to get together again.
On Monday, we also met another super friendly, very nice couple, Nancy and Mike with their teenage daughters from Michigan who were camping in a tent trailer on the other (starboard) side of us. They had just come from Mammoth Caves which they raved about so they gave us a lot of tips about visiting there. I wish we had had more time to visit with them.
We really, really love this area (Gulf Shores/Orange Beach/Foley/etc.) and have been having such a good time that we wished that we could stay longer.
Just as a note of interest, we had stopped in at the Gulf Shores State Park office last week to see if we could make reservations for next year but they are totally booked already! Darn! It’s such a beautiful park I can understand why it is so popular. Plus it is one of the few state parks that allow stays of a month or more. Oh well, if we come back to the area next year, we’ll just have to do what we did this year and make a reservation for the beginning of April.