Life is grand on Alabama's gulf coast

by Mac Lacy 15. October 2010 00:49

When we pulled into the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama on a Sunday afternoon, there were three wedding parties set up on the grounds. As it turns out, this is the place to get married on Alabama's Gulf Coast. Leon Maisel, president of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, told me the next day that his own daughter will marry there at the end of the month.

My wife, Kim, and I had come down for a few days of pleasure and business. We had planned originally to go to New Mexico, but after the oil spill, we both knew Santa Fe could wait. We wanted to come to the Gulf Coast and I had been to the Grand a few years earlier, so I knew just the place to stay. This venerable old hotel and resort grace a point off the coast where the sun sets every day into Mobile Bay.

For several days, we'd get up early for coffee, go for a walk/run on the grounds, head into Fairhope for some shopping or lunch, relax by the pool and watch the constant flow of ships in and out of Mobile Bay. And we discovered a lunch stop in Fairhope, MaryAnn's Deli, and a dinner spot in Point Clear, the Wash House, that should be on anyone's list while in this area.

"Everyone in America needs to know how important this bay is to this country," Ron McConnell told me at dinner one night. "Most of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico come into this bay to spawn. The ecological system here is irreplaceable."

After a summer of crisis management, media scrutiny and general upheaval, this pristine part of America has regained its graceful southern pace. Meetings and receptions were being held on the grounds, brides were having the weddings they had dreamed of, and pelicans were skimming the bay in search of a meal. The Alabama Gulf Coast and the Grand Hotel are again enjoying grand times indeed.

A landscaping employee tends to the resort's immaculate grounds


Monarch butterflies by the hundreds rest at the resort before moving on to Mexico for the winter

Massive live oaks grace the grounds at Point Clear's Grand Hotel

The resort's beach offers bicycles and kayaks for guests

A bayside evening reception gets meticulous planning from hotel staff


A solitary pelican surveys his world at sunset on Mobile Bay

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Alabama Gulf Coast

Find time for Foley and Stacey's Rexall Drugs

by Mac Lacy 14. October 2010 02:53

From our homebase at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, we made a daytrip today down the coast and inland a bit to Foley, Alabama. Someone had told us to check out Stacey's Rexall Drugs, and to maybe do a lunch stop there.

It sounded like our kind of place. There is a huge Tanger Outlet in Foley, so the idea of heading that way had even additional merit to Kim. We made our way down there in a half hour or so and I dropped her off at the Ann Taylor store, one of maybe 50 stores in this complex.

I headed over to Cracker Barrel for a cup of coffee since it was mid-morning and I had a bit of time to kill. I met a couple there, Mark and Nina Will, who live in Fairhope. Mark is an artist--he works in acrylics and paints sunsets from the area.

The sun sets directly over the bay from Fairhope and Point Clear, so he has his pick of dozens of gorgeous landscapes a year, I'm sure. I asked him if he had a website he'd like to include in this blog for his art and he smiled and said, "No. I gave all that up when I retired from my real job. People find me anyway."

I picked Kim up about 12:30 and we headed to Stacey's Rexall Drugs back in mid-town Foley. When we sat down, one gentleman next to us was having an ice cream cone and a table of four were doing the same in the corner. We ordered sandwiches--Kim had the egg salad that had been recommended highly to us, and I had tuna salad. I asked the table of four if they minded if I got a shot of them and they said to feel free.

"We all go to church on Wednesday and then come down here and have an ice cream cone for lunch," said one woman.

"Every week?" I asked.

They all nodded yes. After our sandwiches, we ordered a Turtle to split. It's made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel syrup and pecans. This iconic drugstore and soda fountain is the oldest in Baldwin County and dates to 1929. Next time, we'll make it for breakfast--coffee's only 10 cents a cup.


A father and son from Tuscaloosa played checkers as they waited for a table

Fairhope artist Mark Will and his wife, Nina, had breakfast in Cracker Barrel in Foley

These two couples from Foley have ice cream cones for lunch at Stacey's Rexall Drugs every Wednesday after church

Stacey's Rexall Drugs has been in business in Foley since 1929

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Alabama Gulf Coast

An October getaway on the Alabama Gulf Coast begins with golf

by Mac Lacy 13. October 2010 04:17

I was invited to join a good friend, Ron McConnell, and others from the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau for dinner and a round of golf during their annual Slice and Hook program for meeting planners during a getaway to the Alabama Gulf Coast.

We joined their group of 20 or so meeting planners for dinner at Felix's Fish Camp overlooking Mobile Bay. These planners from across the country who were in town to do some fishing, play golf and check out the meeting facilities in the Mobile area. I took the chance to reacquaint myself with two downtown properties that handle a lot of the city's convention delegates, the Renaissance Riverview Plaza and the Renaissance Battle House Hotel and Spa. The Riverview has been completely remodeled in the past several years and the Battle House was a restoration of one of Mobile's grand old hotels. They both look great and give Mobile more than 600 first-class rooms across from its convention center.

I played golf with the group the next day at the Falls Course at Magnolia Grove, on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. I joined Ron, Bill Tunnell with the U.S.S Alabama battleship, and Kent Blackinton, the general manager of the Riverview Plaza. Paul Martino, the director of golf there, told me they have just re-opened the Falls course after extensive redesign. The Crossings course was also re-designed and in total, $12 million has been spent making these two layouts a bit more friendly to average golfers. They're still exceptional, but there are fewer shots into elevated greens. The greens are also larger and have less undulation.

We had our BankTravel Conference here in 2006 and it was good to see so many of the industry people who worked to make that meeting a success.

The Falls Course at Magnolia Grove included gorgeous fall-colored marshes on many holes

Bill Tunnell putted while Ron McConnell and Kent Blackinton looked on

The 18th on Crossings features a new lake since its re-design

We joined the Mobile group for a dinner at Felix's Fish Camp on Mobile Bay

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Alabama Gulf Coast

Equestrian Games were an international hit

by Mac Lacy 12. October 2010 01:56

On Friday, October 8, my wife, Kim, and I took the afternoon to enjoy the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.  Throughout the course of the week, the games had been drawing increasingly large crowds as equestrians from dozens of countries around the world joined fans from those countries and America at the Kentucky Horse Park for the two and half week event.  We rode over in the elaborate shuttle system from downtown Lexington that carried thousands of fans over the course of the event to the front door of the huge complex.

We arrived in time to stroll through the trade show and Kentucky Experience pavilion for an hour or so before heading over to the Driving Stadium to catch the finals of the dressage event for driving.  This sport involves carriages and wagons pulled by four horses who are driven by world-class horsemen and women.  We watched as six finalists took their teams through a series of maneuvers before a full stadium of fans and five judging stands.  A team from Australia was clearly the best to even us--novices in every sense.  When they finished the stadium erupted in applause.

After the event, we headed back to the Kentucky pavilion to enjoy the beer tasting station offered by Alltech's Kentucky Ale brands and listened to two musicians with guitar and dulcimer.  We found some Christmas ornaments and one full-blown gift for a friend's three-year old son--a pair of Justin boots that he'll probably be able to wear for all of two or three months before he outgrows them.

I told several friends that this event, when coupled with the Ryder Cup just two years earlier in Louisville, has stamped Kentucky as a major destination for thousands of new fans and friends across the world.

The Makers Mark Visitor Center was a popular stop

Equestrian toys and models were on display in the event trade show

A huge mural adorned the event's primary stadium

A team performed in the finals of the Driving Dressage competition

Many visitors took the opportunity for a bourbon or beer tasting in the Kentucky Experience pavilion



It was all business, that is, until it was time to relax

by Mac Lacy 8. October 2010 01:37

Play hard?  No problems there.  Especially in a city that was getting its groove on at its annual Red River Revel festival, one of Louisiana's biggest and baddest music and arts events.  The entire delegation was taken to the festival, treated to all they could enjoy in the way of regional foods and beverages and was given ringside seats to some great Louisiana blues music.  The evening was one no one will forget.

"Wow!  The Red River Revel was everything we'd heard it would be for our delegates," said conference CEO Joe Cappuzzello.  "Stacey Brown, Dianna Douglas, Kim Brice and their entire staff went over the top in bringing our meeting planners and destinations to this great event.  And when you add their superb opening evening dinner, Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau really did themselves proud."

In addition to Shreveport's signature evening events and hospitality, delegates enjoyed hosted breakfasts and lunches, marketplace refreshments, welcome receptions and more. 

"I don't think the entertainment could have been any better," said conference partner Herb Sparrow.  "It was very important that our inaugural conference set the bar high in that regard and Shreveport and their partners did their part.  I think the word of mouth coming from this conference will be very positive and will enable us to move into our second year on a very strong note."

Social marketing speaker Lesley Kyle, right, previewed a sponsor's material before delegates arrived for a meal

The Gemini Cruise Mardi Gras Museum was a hit during Shreveport's sightseeing tour

Delegates in custom T-shirts took time to shop for fine handcrafts at the Red River Revel

Delegates took a moment to pose with conference partner Herb Sparrow at Red River Revel

Shreveport's Red River Revel was a smash hit with delegates

Conference partners Charlie Presley and Joe Cappuzzello shared a moment with Dianna Douglas, far right, and others at the Red River Revel

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2010 SMM Conference

It was all business at the new Small Market Meetings Conference in Shreveport, Louisiana

by Mac Lacy 8. October 2010 01:22

There were two distinct sides to the first Small Market Meetings Conference held October 4-6 in sunny Shreveport, Louisiana.  The first was all business, the second was all fun.  The meeting planners who attended from 18 states did a superb job of accommodating both.

"Work hard, play hard.  That's what we tell them," said conference partner Mac Lacy.  "Our office in Ohio runs a very straightforward business model for all our conferences and we followed it again for Small Market Meetings.  We were all about generating new meeting business for dozens of smaller destinations during the day, and we were about enjoying each others' company in the evenings. Not a bad formula."

The business side of the conference included more than 2,000 individual meetings between buyers and sellers of meeting sites and services, three professional development seminars on topics like social media, dealing with aging boomer delegates and online RFP technology, and exploring the huge upside to smaller meeting destinations in terms of cost, convenience and service compared to larger cities.

"We couldn't be happier with the first conference," said partner Charlie Presley.  "We had committed delegates who understood that in today's economy, value and service count.  And our planners were here because they see a big upside in those areas to second and third-tier cities."

Kim  Dolan, center, and Tammy Knox, right, registered a meeting planner at Small Market Meetings Conference

Kelly Tyner, center, and Vickie Mitchell, right, registered two meeting planners in Shreveport

Business was brisk in two marketplace sessions between planners and destinations at the conference

The Little Rock CVB sponsored a luncheon for delegates in Shreveport

Attendees learned about aging baby boomer clients during the Extreme Aging seminar in Shreveport

Volunteers described the aging process during the Extreme Aging seminar with Dr. Vicki Rosebrook, right

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2010 SMM Conference

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