We try to give our kids first-hand experiences when we can. I love seeing them learn while they are having fun. Field trips give these experiences and make learning fun.
To kick off the new school year, we took a big family field trip to the Gulf Shores, Alabama area. I’d say it was part vacation and part education, but it was so much fun that it all seemed like vacation! A friend in Gulf Shores told me it was “Edu-tainment.” Very accurate!
The beach is my favorite part of the Gulf Shores area. I could spend all day playing and lounging on the sugar white sands and swimming in the warm waters of the Gulf. This is pure relaxation and bliss for me. The beach is, also, a blast for the kids.
The kids spend their time on the beach discovering shells, fish, sand, sand dollars, plants and animals that live in the dunes, and maybe even a sea turtle nest. They love wearing goggles while swimming and watching little schools of fish swim in the shallows.
At night, we grab our flash lights, nets, and buckets and head back to the beach to chase and catch ghost crabs. I enjoy watching the little lights along the beach of other families doing the same. It is dark and I can’t really see what they are doing, but the excited/terrified screams of ghost crab hunters is unmistakable.
Books from the library and field guides are great to have around so the kids can identify and learn more about their beach finds.
The Estuarium at Dauphin Island
Dauphin Island is a short ferry ride across Mobile Bay at Fort Morgan. The ferry ride alone is an education. My son was so curious about the buoyancy of the ferry and how it worked that I am looking at a boat study for the near future.
While on the ferry, we saw dolphins, terns, gulls, brown pelicans, jelly fish, oil rigs, and huge ocean going vessels. There were lots of new sights to stir up that curiosity.
Just off the ferry landing is the Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL). The DISL is a marine science research facility owned by the state of Alabama. It serves its colleges, universities, and schools with research facilities, educator education, and field trip opportunities.
The Estuarium is the public side of DISL. The path to the estuarium walks you through the dunes and saltwater pools and displays explain the significance of each. Inside the estuarium, you’ll find aquariums and hands-on exhibits teaching about the unique ecosystems found in the area.
We touched and held shark and turtle skulls and other remains of sea life. My son liked the touch tanks holding the horseshoe crab. We had been reading and talking about them, but to see them in person made it all come together and real.
The highlight of the Estuarium for my daughter and husband was the ray and shark touch tank. The huge tank was filled with graceful rays that would swim right up to the side of the tank and let you pet them. The tank also held a small hammerhead shark which stayed mostly on the bottom, but did venture up enough for us to touch it. Very cool.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
No matter where travel, we try and visit their local zoo. Each zoo, no matter how big or small, has its unique character and features. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is no different.
Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo has one very unique draw that you don’t find in other zoos. This small zoo is a very, and I mean VERY, hands on zoo.
When you come in the door, you are offered a cup of food for purchase to feed the animals that will come up to you. You are, also, offered the opportunity to have “animal encounters”.
These animal encounters give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with lemurs, snakes, alligators, and baby tigers!!
These baby Bengal tigers were the highlight of the trip for my animal loving daughter, although the tigers loved climbing on my son!
The chance to hold and play with these guys while they are still little and safe was amazing. This alone makes the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo a must stop when in the area!
I’ll be writing more details about our zoo visit soon.
My son loves go-karts, so a visit to The Track had to be on our agenda.
This is such a fun place with 5 kart tracks, water blasting bumper boats, mini-golf, a Kids Country ride area for the little ones, the skycoaster, and an arcade. There is something for everyone.
We pretty much stuck to the go-karts. We are a pretty competitive bunch and had too much fun trying to out race each other.
From the beach, we have seen dolphins swimming out in the gulf. I have always wanted to get a closer look. Taking a dolphin cruise is a great way to do that.
We took a sunset dolphin/nature cruise with Cetacean Cruises in Orange Beach. This privately owned company is located on the owners’ private land on Wolf Bay.
The captain and first mate were entertaining and so knowledgeable about the area and dolphins. It was like taking a marine biology class…..only better.
These guys have been doing this so long that they actually know the individual dolphins by the shape of their dorsal fin.
Staying At Gulf Shores
There are so many options to stay in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach/Fort Morgan area. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer hotels, condos, and beach houses right in the heart of the action, or off the beaten path. There are great family-friendly beaches, restaurants, and shopping.
If you want to get away from the crowds, head to the Fort Morgan area. This area offers many rental houses and resorts. The Gulf Shores Plantation resort was the perfect spot to base our homeschool field trip from.
We stayed in a 2 bedroom condo overlooking the pool and the beach. The kitchen was great to make our breakfast in each morning. Having 2 bathrooms was a great time and sanity saver, and the balcony was a great place to sit and enjoy the view.
The beach at Gulf Shores Plantation is amazing. Sugar sand, warm Gulf water, close to the condo, close to the pools…what more could you ask for?!
Gulf Shores Plantation was just 20 minutes from downtown Gulf Shores, making it close enough to everywhere, but far enough away to feel away from it all. There are units available at Gulf Shores Plantation to rent and to purchase. I’m trying to convince my husband we need a condo here of our own!
When planning your vacation at Gulf Shores Plantation, check out their blog. It has great tips on what to bring and what to do when you get here from travelers like yourself. It was very helpful to us!
You Gotta Eat
All that experiencing and learning will make you hungry. We had the opportunity to eat at a couple really good local restaurants in the Gulf Shores area that I highly recommend.
LuLu’s is a must stop. This quirky, over-grown beach shack had a fun vibe that the whole family loved as soon as we walked up. The wait staff was friendly and helpful and the food was to die for. The mahi-mahi tacos were amazing and my husband’s new favorite sandwich is LuLu’s pot roast sandwich.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have lots of wonderful restaurants close to all the vacation hotspots to suit any taste or budget. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the downtown areas, take the short drive to The Beach Club Resort and have an amazing, relaxing meal at The Coast restaurant.
Our family sat outside at The Coast overlooking the pool and the beach. The weather was perfect and the food was fantastic. Everything we ordered looked and tasted out of this world!
The Coast is more upscale than your typical beach restaurant and made for a really special family night out. The fact that it was just a mile from our resort was an added bonus!
Your Field Trip
I’m hoping that by now you are ready to plan your trip to the Gulf Shores Orange Beach area. I have been planning our next trip since we left!
A good place to start your research and planning is GulfShores.com. You’ll find lists of places to stay and things to do. If you homeschool or are looking for field trip ideas, check out their homeschooling page. It is full of educational activities and destinations for you and your family.
I’m using the homeschooling page to plan our next trip! There is so much more to do and learn in the Gulf Shores Orange Beach area.
Where is your favorite homeschool field trip destination? Have you ever turned your vacation in to a field trip? What kind of activities do you plan?