Today is Saturday June 26, 2010. The sun is shining, the waves are rolling, the sand is white, and the water is mostly clear at Pensacola Beach. If it were not for the large number of dump trucks, tractors, media vans, haz-mat tents, and occasional tar balls, a visitor would not know that earlier this week the beach was closed due to a massive wash-up of messy brown sludge from the oil spill in the Gulf.
Although I’m sure the crowds are down, I was glad to seeing that parking lots were mostly full, lines were forming outside of local restaurants, and traffic coming toward the beach was heavy.
Friends who have reservations along the Gulf Coast have been calling to ask whether they should cancel their reservation or come on down. While I don’t want anyone to come to the coast to be miserable, my best advice is to “come on down.”
There are at least five good reasons I think those having reservations on the Gulf should consider keeping their plans in place:
1. Most hotels, property owners, and real estate companies are offering unprecedented guarantees. If there is a major influx of oil prior to or during your stay, you should receive a full or partial refund.
2. The seafood is still some of the best in the world. Today we ate at Peg Leg Pete’s, one of our many favorite local establishments. A large part of the Gulf is still open for fishing, so the shrimp, the oysters, and the grouper were all harvested from Gulf waters. I am convinced that the Gulf seafood is safe, but for those with doubts, many local markets are also carrying farm-raised fresh water shrimp, as well as Atlantic and Pacific seafood.
3. Resort swimming pools offer a safe, oil-free alternative. Our friends who were vacationing in Gulf Shores two weeks ago enjoyed the beauty of the Gulf for the first two days of their trip. On day three, the brown sludge came ashore. As the Gulfront was being cleaned, a few miles of the beach was closed to swimming for a couple of days. During the brief closure, their family simply spent more time with children and grandchildren around the pool, time that became a highlight of their vacation.
4. There are many sites and attractions in addition to the beach. All along the coast there are waterparks, arcades, shopping malls, golf courses, tennis courts, and movie theatres. The Naval Air Museum in Pensacola is a must-see. The Wharf in Gulf Shores offers a variety of concerts. In Gulf Shores, Alabama or Gulf Breeze, Florida your family can spend a day at the zoo learning about animals from around the world. Rafting and kayaking trips are available in area state parks. In other words, you can have a fun week on the Gulf Coast, even if the beach is temporarily inaccessible.
5. The price is right. Many hotels, condo owners, and property management companies are offering properties at significantly discounted prices. As we continue to emerge from the recession of recent years, you can negotiate a quality beach vacation for an unusually affordable rate. Additionally, many local restaurants are offering specials similar to the “snowbird specials” that we typically see during the winter months.
Being a resident of the Gulf Coast, I am a little biased, but I think the beaches along the panhandle are among the most beautiful in the world. However, the Gulf Coast has so much more to offer than a walk on the beach. In the months ahead, I expect that we will continue to see brown blotches periodically on our white sands. But for now, that makes for a mild inconvenience.
The full impact of the oil spill on the Gulf is not yet known, and certainly there will be serious environmental consequences. However, one of the ways we counter the negative impact of the oil spill, is to focus on the venues that we as coastal residents enjoy all year long. Don’t let the spill spoil your summer vacation. Come on down and discover how many fun things you can do on the Gulf Coast.