Top 5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Explore Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama
The 32 miles of sugar-white beaches along Alabama’s Gulf Coast shoreline is a family-oriented destination that offers great nature and outdoors adventures, some of the most fantastic seafood in the U.S., and plenty of child-friendly activities.
The sister cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach lie a true island, 27,000 acres separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway, and offering nearly 400,000 acres of protected back bay waters.
State and local Alabama officials are doing more to promote Gulf Coast Alabama ecotourism activities, including an Ecotourism Summit, Coastal Cleanup and a sea turtle monitoring program. The beaches here are consistently rated among the best in the United States. Here’s our road map for how to best enjoy their natural resources with your family.
Hike or Bike Wildlife Refuges
This area is a bounty for nature lovers, and the best way to experience it is often on foot or by pedal. Rent a bike from Beach Bike Rentals and hop directly on one of six trails that make up the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, 11 miles of paved paths that are home to six distinct ecosystems. Rare and threatened plant communities, incredible bird sightings, a variety of small mammals and even alligators can all be sighted from cycling trails easy enough for most ages.
Or visit the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1980 to protect the coastal dune ecosystem and its endangered species. Coming from the French for “safe harbor,” these 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat are easily accessible via multiple trails, and a launch site for canoes and kayaks is planned for summer 2013. Designated as one of Alabama’s Ten Natural Wonders, Bon Secour charges no entry fees.
Get on the Water for an Informative Nature Cruise
The water is clearly the pull here. Bill and Cheryl Mitchell of Cetacean Cruises run dolphin and nature cruises on their custom pontoon boat, at a very affordable $15 and up. Spotting the area’s playful dolphins is always exciting, but Captain Bill is extremely knowledgeable and protective of them. “They have the intelligence of an eight-year-old human,” he explains. “If you love dolphins and want to see a sustainable practice, you’ve come to the right place.” Cetacean is the only area company that passed the test to become certified for the Dolphin SMART program from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
For a completely different on-the-water experience, climb aboard with Captain Skip of Sailaway Charters. On a 2-3 hour sailing adventure, Skip shows his guest how to go crabbing and shrimping, as well as various oyster techniques and bird identification. You will very likely also spot dolphin trailing along behind the boat for the leftovers.
Captain your own boat in a Kayak
For a more independent experience, you can grab your own kayak and glide along the peaceful estuaries of Graham Creek Nature Preserve in nearby Foley. These 484 acres of southern gothic waterway wind in and out of marsh grasses and larger bodies of water, with ancient water oaks lining the banks while pelicans and great blue herons fly overhead. Once out in more open water, you’re likely to spot bottlenose dolphin. You can rent your own kayak to launch from the Graham Creek launching dock, or set up with an experienced guide such as Certified Master Naturalist Carol Furman, through Fairhope Boat Company.
Relax on Sugar White Beaches
When all of the outdoor adventures and physical activity has worn you out, it’s the perfect time to recharge on the sands that the island is famous for. Turquoise water meets soft white sand that curves gently up into grass-covered dunes. The city of Orange Beach has three Gulf State Park beach areas, and Gulf Shores has eight. Most offer public restrooms, showers, picnic tables or pavilions and miles of pristine beach. Some, like Lake Shelby, Cotton Bayou and Gulf Shores Public Beach, have more activity going on with people fishing, water skiing, boating or playing volleyball. Others are more secluded and quiet—if that’s your thing, try Florida Point, Gulf State Park or the beach at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
When it comes dining out—and nighttime entertainment—your eco-vacation doesn’t have to go awry. At Lucy Buffett’s Lulu’s at Homeport, run by the sister of famous parrothead Jimmy Buffett, sustainability is an important part of both the food and the business operation. They serve only grass-fed, Alabama-raised beef and sustainably-caught fish—diners are even provided a website where they can see exactly where their fish was caught. Lulu’s also received the prestigious Seventh Generation Award from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in 2009, given annually to the person or organization that embodies the tenets of sustainability, stewardship and pro-active practice in considering our natural resources.
Lulu’s was recognized for, among other things, its installation of an environmentally-friendly windmill and being one of the first public venues to incorporate the rain garden concept into their parking lots, dramatically improving the quality of stormwater runoff into the Intracoastal Waterway. “With the volume of business that we have enjoyed in Gulf Shores, it was a natural progression for us to think of how we could operate from a more environmentally friendly point of view to help take care of the absolutely gorgeous natural beauty of Gulf Shores,” said Buffett. “What we have done at LuLu’s has brought awareness and sparked conversations between all types of people and agencies. Plus, it is just a lot of fun.”
When touring a new city, especially one as massive and varied as New York City, any little bit of insider help goes a long, long way. Find your saviour in the form of a variety credit-card, a small rectangular swipe card that is the New York Pass.
Your local guide and discount dealer, this little beauty will get you priority entry at many of the busiest tourist attractions in town whilst delivering the best value sightseeing to be found in this concrete jungle.
With a massive host of attractions attached to your pass, the deliberating will really revolve around which to make the most of. Free entry is guaranteed to over 70 attractions including the mind-blowing panoramic views from the top of the Empire State Building Observation Deck and the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre). Also included in your pass is the Madison Square Garden All Access Tour, Madame Tussaud's New York, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Sex, City Sightseeing Cruises, Guggenheim Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
If you're looking to get moving though, the pass also includes Bike and Roll NYC Bike Rental, Food on Foot tours, the Real Bronx Tour, Shearwater Sailing and two types of On Location tours. And as for transport, the New York Skyride, New York Water Taxi and Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum Ferry are also conveniently included. A complete list of attractions available on the New York Pass can be found on their website.
Offering one, two, three and seven-day passes, which pass you opt for will depend on both time and budget. The more days you choose, the cheaper it pans out per day. Take note: multiple-day passes must be used across consecutive days, and days are calculated as calendar days rather than 24-hour periods.
To get the most out of your pass it's best to hit the ground running with a plan of attack. Use the accompanying 176-page guidebook (available in English, Spanish, German, French and Italian) to research the attractions and hours of operation, find directions and logically plot your points of interest on the detailed maps inside so you're never zig-zagging across this massive metropolis.
Even better, if you have an iPhone, download the New York Pass Travel Guide App to plan your trip. Here you can create daily sightseeing itineraries, plan your budget, record all your travel and accommodation details as well as any essential notes.
Buy a New York Pass, do your research, and get the most out of your New York City stay.
The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is famous for its inspiration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Here on the Galapagos Islands, animals have evolved and adapted to survive in ways found nowhere else on earth.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to go on a 7-day Galapagos wildlife cruise with Ecoventura, one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable tourism companies in the Ecuadorian archipelago. We set off from San Cristobal, on a path that crossed the equator six times and visited 7 islands during the week. Hiking, snorkeling and kayaking were all part of the activities to view the islands and their unique ecosystems and wildlife. One of the most unusual aspects of Galapagos wildlife is how unafraid they are, how completely unperturbed they are by people. Because they are protected and mostly have no natural predators, they really fear little and see no threat from humans in modern times. They do not flee — there is no searching and waiting to spot wildlife. It is right there in front of you, and you can walk right up to them. Our Ecoventura guides, both named Pepe, were clear about the rules not to touch or interact with the animals. But you literally can walk right up to them — iguanas, birds in their nests with babies, sea lions who will swim right up to the boat and want to play. This can also be their downfall, if not properly protected. "The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world," says Santiago Dunn, owner of Ecoventura. "Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. Tourism to this remote volcanic archipelago is both part of the solution and also part of the problem." One thing I really liked about the Ecoventura line, besides the wonderful guides and staff, was their dedication to making the least footprint possible on this ecosystem. The boat we were on, The Eric, had solar panels and wind turbines to supplement the power. Ecoventura was was the first company to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager, and the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources. This is so important in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planets most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established. In 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk, citing introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration and population growth. Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done prematurely as the Islands still remain very much at risk. Arrivals to the Galapagos have tripled in the past 15 years due to the growth in land-based tourism operations. During this time the type of tourism available to visitors has changed with land based accommodation and activities now representing 50% of the market, according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Pressure to build resort style hotels and bring larger cruise ships to Galapagos is a constant reality. "The growing number of settlers migrating from the mainland of Ecuador to the islands, largely in response to the recent boom in tourism, has also put pressure on a fragile environment that imperils the entire ecosystem," Dunn adds. Visiting the islands by water, as a tourist, has by far a lower impact than land tourism. The number of highly regulated, self-contained non-diving live-aboard tour boats has not changed since 1998 after the introduction of the Special Law for Galapagos. Ecoventura is committed to providing an authentic experience in small compatible groups, lessening the impact on the wildlife, offering value, and a safe, memorable, mind-expanding voyage. The company began offering tours in the Galapagos in 1991 and started “greening” the operation and equipment in 1999, and later worked toward reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the local community benefits by tourism through educational opportunities and supporting marine conservation. So, what should a potential visitor to the Galapagos know, in terms of how to select a reputable tour operator and how to visit the Galapagos in a way that won’t harm it? “They need to do their research through guide books, Trip Advisor, etc. or through a trade organization such as IGTOA (international Galapagos Tour Operators Association),” Dunn suggests. “Unless people have limited time and budget or prefer ports to nature, we suggest they book a tour boat versus a hotel or island hopping trip for various reasons.” Liveaboards are self-contained and have less impact on the local limited resources. Convenience, all the planning and logistics are done, the itinerary is set, all meals are provided, and there is continuity, and you only have to pack and unpack once. Navigating at night means fewer daylight hours are lost while spent in transit and passengers have more time on the islands. Tour boats, also called liveaboards, visit the islands and wildlife in the early morning and late afternoon, when wildlife is more active and the sun less intense. IGTOA also provides a few other tips for visitors to the Galapagos: Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands. Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you. Ask your tour operator if they have a responsible tourism policy. Only travel with operators that can demonstrate that they are doing as much as they can to support conservation efforts and ensure that local people benefit as a result of tourism. Consider your environmental impact when traveling. Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here. Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells Travel with a local tour operator. Ensuring that tourism is of maximum benefit to local people is key to the sustainable development of the islands. Following these guidelines and committing to be a responsible tourist will help to ensure that Galapagos tourism is sustainable in the future.
What do you get when you take an aged 1930s printing factory on Manhattan's far west side, renovate it with style, convert the rooftop into a swish bar with panoramic city views and add a bold lobby full of colour and spruce?
A concoction that screams New York without actually being smack bang in the centre of the tourist-bumping streets.
Located in the once-rough neighbourhood of Hell's Kitchen, right next to the popular Theatre District, Ink48 comes as a pleasant surprise. Although the interior screams overhaul, vibrance and decadence, the exterior nods to authenticity and remains not the only sign of the building's rich history.
In creating Ink48, a Kimpton Hotel, three quintessentially 'New York' architectural features were drawn upon as inspiration - lofts, pocket parks, and the much-loved rooftop terrace. The soaring ceilings in each guest room, ranging from 11 to 15 feet, represent the loft whilst pocket parks were creatively interpreted to fashion a number of inviting seating areas tucked around the corners of the lobby. The rooftop terrace was emphasised for its prime 16th-story location with the opening of PRESS Lounge.
Featuring a classy dining option in the downstairs restaurant PRINT, as well as an onsite fitness centre and full-service luxury spa, Ink48 is well-equipped for every kind of New York City stay. A healthy walking distance to the hustle and bustle of Times Square, Ink48 brings the best of both worlds - you can choose to escape the chaos or completely immerse yourself in the city's famous neon strip and further afield.
Stylish and minimalist with splashes of eye-catching colour and luring large-scale artworks, Ink48 is a welcoming home away from home. With stone-tiled bathrooms, marble countertops, textured stone accent walls and modern linear desks, every aspect is well constructed. Across the 222 guest rooms all include LCD flat screen TVs, full-length mirrors, in-room safes, wireless Internet access, Nintendos, irons and ironing boards, speaker phones with voicemail and complimentary coffee makers (available upon request).
With a wide range of room types on offer, the main differences can be found in room size, bathroom facilities and the view through your window. Rooms dedicated to providing the best views possible include the CityView Premier King Suite with panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline, and the Hudson River Suite boasting fantastic river views. If you're looking to indulge and want both river and city views (plus so much more) the penthouse - Heaven Over Hell's Kitchen Suite - wins hands down.
The sprawling PRESS Lounge offers impeccable views on three sides to accompany the drinks, cocktails and nibbles listed on the menu. Designed by renowned architect Carlos Zapata, the rooftop lounge is open to both hotel guests and the general public - proving quite a hit amongst both.
With the emphasis on prime location, views remain unobstructed by a see-through glass exterior around the 'indoor' seating and glass railings around the spacious outdoor lounge area. PRESS Lounge is a must-see by day and night.
Situated on the ground level and next to the lobby bar, PRINT is Ink48's modern a la carte restaurant. With a menu inspired by regions of Southern France and Italy, this 80-seat restaurant dishes up a decently priced meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. They even use homemade butter from the famous Sullivan Street Bakery.
Wine-lovers out there rejoice! Each afternoon Ink48 hosts a complimentary wine reception for all guests from 5.00pm to 6.00pm in one of the styled 'pockets' of the lobby.
Whilst the name might seem a turnoff, Hell's Kitchen is an area internationally renowned for the range of cuisines on offer. All just a stone's throw away from Ink48, it's easy to find a cheap eat or a fancier restaurant to suit your taste. Fortunately the Hudson River is also nearby - in case you should need to walk off dessert.