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Still rolling with the good timesStill rolling with the good times

Mobile, AlabamaMobile, Alabama

I originally hail from Los Angeles, but when we visited my in-laws in Alabama I learned that “L.A.” really means Lower Alabama. I also learned the folks in L.A., specifically Mobile, really know how to have a good time. Sure, you know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but Mobile hosts the nation's oldest Mardi Gras (aka Carnival) celebration, dating back to 1703. From the French, Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday) has come to mean the whole period of activity related to those events, beyond just the single day. In Mobile, Mardi Gras events begin in November with private mystic society balls, more balls on New Year's Eve and Epiphany, followed by parades and balls in January and February, celebrating up to midnight before Ash Wednesday. That’s a lot of partying. So, as they say in Mobile, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”—Let the good times roll!

  • Mobile is rich with layers of history. Six flags have flown over it, including those from France, Great Britain, Spain, the United States, the Alabama Republic, and, during the Civil War, the Confederate flag. The city hosts the oldest Carnival celebration in the United States, dating back to 1703. Photo courtesy Visit Mobile.
  • Mobile Downtown Airport borders Mobile Bay, so you might want to take a flightseeing tour over the delta, battleship and harbor, and RSA Battle House Tower. The tower, 6.6 nm north of the airport, is Alabama’s tallest building at 745 ft. MSL. Photo by Tad Denson courtesy Mobile CVB.
  • King Felix and his Queen of Mardi Gras ride the crown float each year. Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.
  • Knights of Revelry members toss beads and candy from atop a float. Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.
  • Masks and white suits are costume de rigueur at Mobile Mardi Gras masquerade balls. Photo courtesy The Mask.
  • Elaborate floats transport masked Mobilians who toss trinkets into the crowd, while horns blare from Dixieland marching bands. Photo by Pat David via Flickr.
  • Rain or shine, colorful costumes and libations abound during Mardi Gras. Bring a plastic cup as no glass or metal is allowed. Alcohol-free zones are established to ensure family-friendly areas. Amy Walker Photography.
  • The guns of the mighty U.S.S. Alabama, a 680-foot long battleship that served in combat during WWII, still command respect. Mobile was founded in 1702 as the capital of colonial French Louisiana but it was Confederate territory when Union Admiral David Farragut stormed Mobile Bay in 1864. After hitting a Confederate mine, he uttered the famous words, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The U.S.S. Tecumseh sank and still rests in Mobile Bay. Photo courtesy USS Alabama Commission.
  • Numerous military aircraft from World War II through the Cold War Era fill the aircraft pavilion at Battleship Memorial Park. Photo courtesy USS Alabama Commission.
  • Azaleas bloom in spring on the Spring Hill College Avenue of the Oaks. Photo courtesy Visit Mobile.
  • Founded in 1819, the Church Street Graveyard originally had separate areas for Catholic and Protestant burials. The remaining grounds were reserved for “strangers,” which included Masons, Odd Fellows, veterans, and the indigent. Joe Cain was moved into the cemetery in 1968 and lies just inside the gate to the east. On Joe Cain Day, the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday each year, the graveyard plays host to a huge alfresco festival as members of the Merry Widows Mardi Gras society gather at Cain's grave to weep, moan, and decorate the flat-topped tomb with liquor bottles, beads, doubloons, and palm fronds. The graveyard, open daily 8 a.m.–3 p.m., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Pat David via Flickr.
  • A mural in downtown Mobile. Photo by Lucas Cobb via Flickr.
  • Kayak the delta and its bayous on your own or with a tour. Photo courtesy Delta Safaris.
  • The lobby of the beautiful Battle House Renaissance Hotel. Photo courtesy Battle House Renaissance Hotel.

Fat Tuesday can be as early as Feb. 3 or as late as March 9 (in 2018, it’s Feb. 13). It all depends on the date of Ash Wednesday, which depends on the date of Easter. Parade season (a series of large street parties) begins three weekends prior to that date. Masked Mobilians, often clad in purple, gold, and green, ride elaborate floats and toss beads, doubloons, and Moon Pies into the crowd. Parades have a variety of themes and sponsors, as well as routes, so check the schedule. If you missed the parades, visit the Mobile Carnival Museum, where you can watch parade videos, learn about float construction, and view the collection of lavish robes, jeweled crowns, and scepters. More scheduled events can be found here.

Mobile is rich with layers of history, so visit some elaborate antebellum homes and tour Battleship Memorial Park. The latter displays the 680-foot-long USS Alabama battleship, the USS Drum submarine, and an aircraft pavilion that includes a Red-Tail P–51 like those flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Marine One is a recently restored VH1–N/ Bell 212 helicopter used by Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. The A–12 Blackbird spyplane on display flew 2,300 mph and 93,700 feet high.

During Mardi Gras, wear any color, so long as it’s purple. Photo by Allison Turrell via Flickr.

Not far from downtown, you can tour the Oakleigh Historical Complex of homes built from 1833 to 1850 and surrounded by ancient oaks. The Oakleigh Belles, high-school-age young ladies in period dress, serve as docents. They’re chosen for their good communication skills, academic achievements, and passion for history. Stop by the Church Street Graveyard, final resting place of Joe Cain, the Confederate veteran who is credited with reviving Mardi Gras in Mobile after the Civil War. Other attractions for history buffs include the History Museum of Mobile and adjacent Fort Conde.

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta supports 126 species of fish, 300 kinds of birds, and more than 500 types of plants. Canoe or kayak through sleepy bayous of Tupelo gum, bald cypress, and willow trees, overhung with moss and epiphytes. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center has rentals, an exhibit hall, gift shop, and hiking trails. Fishermen will want to ply the upper delta for freshwater bass, catfish, and crappie, or the lower delta for redfish, speckled trout, and flounder.  

This little fellow is definitely in the swing of things. Along with purple, gold, and green are Carnival colors. Photo courtesy The Mask.

Accommodations in Mobile are historic, too. The Battle House Renaissance Hotel was first opened in 1852, although it’s now connected to the 41-story RSA Battle House tower, built in 2007. When reserving, let them know which building you'd like to stay in. The tower provides elegant suites with aerial views. At the Battle House, vibrant burgundy, gold, and cobalt hues are found throughout the guest rooms and common areas. Don’t miss the Whispering Arch on the second floor: You can stand at one end, whisper, and your companion will hear you from the other end, 35 feet away. The Trellis Room offers breakfast (love those grits!) and evening fine dining under Tiffany stained glass, while the Joe Cain Café is more casual. Hear live jazz, folk, and blues on weekends. A full salon spa is also onsite. Meanwhile, the Kate Shepard House Bed & Breakfast offers Southern hospitality in a Queen Anne home built in 1897. You’ll find original fireplaces, hardwood floors, light fixtures, and Confederate Civil War relics inside, and century-old magnolias outside.

Live music? The best is at BLUEGILL, every night except Monday. But get your seafood at Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Dauphin Street landmark since 1938. Oysters, seafood gumbo, and fried green tomatoes—now you’re really in L.A.! Enjoy!

First opened in 1852, the Battle House Renaissance Hotel features massive archways in the Beaux Arts-style lobby. They frame trompe-l’oeil paintings of four great rulers of countries which have flown their flags over Mobile. They look like they’re carved in stone. The historic hotel is connected to the 41-story RSA Battle House tower, built in 2007. Photo courtesy Battle House Renaissance Hotel.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to aopadestinations@gmail.com.
Topics: US Travel

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