My family got to spend the 4th of July at the beach this year, and I was pleasantly surprised at how this vacation went. We stayed in Perdido Key, FL, literally on the state line next door to the famous Flora-Bama, near Orange Beach, AL and Gulf Shores, AL. We make this beach trip every summer, but the week changes from year to year based on everyone’s summer calendar. It is hard to find 1 week each summer that works perfectly for my family and Jennifer’s mom, stepdad and brothers’ families. This year the best week included the Independence Day holiday weekend. I went to Gulf Shores on the 4th a few times with my own family growing up, and the crowds were always insane. I figured it would be the same way this year during our beach vacation.
As we made the drive down to the coast, which should be about a 6-hour drive according to Google Maps, it confirmed my concern that the beach would be way overcrowded during our vacation. The drive took well over 10 hours thanks to numerous traffic jams on I-65 South starting in Birmingham. Jennifer and I stopped at the Gulf Shores Walmart on the way in, and you could barely move inside the store because it was so crowded. I definitely had some doubts about being there on the holiday weekend, but then one key moment changed my mind about going to the beach, at least to our particular condo, on the 4th of July.
From our 3rd floor balcony we had quite the close-up view of the Flora-Bama’s spectacular July 4th fireworks show. The condo where we have stayed the last 2 years has a wrap-around balcony, and one side literally looks down on the Flora-Bama parking lot. In other words, we could not be an closer to the fireworks show put on by the Flora-Bama. They were shooting the fireworks less than 100 yards from where we were standing, and the booming explosions were powerful from so close. Here are some pictures.
Here is a short video of the Flora-Bama fireworks show on the 4th of July.
I have been to some pretty amazing fireworks shows in my life. Disney World obviously puts on a great show every night at the Magic Kingdom. The biggest and longest fireworks show I have witnessed is “Thunder Over Louisville.” Locally it is really fun to watch the Lake Guntersville July 4th fireworks from a boat in the water. The Flora-Bama show definitely is toward the top of my favorites list now. I might not say that if our condo was a quarter mile or further down the coast, but from our view I have never experienced fireworks quite like this before. I really was impressed.
From there the week kept bringing more good surprises. This year July 4th fell on a Monday, making it an ideal 3-day weekend (or gave an excuse for people to add an extra day or two to their normally week-long vacation) for many beachgoers. What this meant is that the rest of the week, the crowds shrunk both on the beach and at restaurants. We stay at a small condo building that only has maybe 40 units, so we never have crowds like the mega-condos that litter the Gulf Coast. However, the crowds got so small after the 4th that we basically had the pool to ourselves the rest of the week, which was wonderful since Julie Beth and Sam just learned to swim a few weeks ago (click here to see their new swimming skills), and we were never right on top of other families at the beach. At restaurants where we expected long waits for tables, we were seated immediately. It was great!
FAMILY BEACH PICTURES
We also got family beach pictures taken again this year. We have done this twice before. The first time several years ago, the pictures were awful. We must have gotten a newbie photographer that time or something. We tried it again last year and loved the photographer and her work. She is both good and affordable, so if you are looking for a good beach photographer in the Gulf Shores, Alabama area, definitely check out Courtney Reynolds Photography. My storiesbystephen.com logo is actually a silhouette that I made in Photoshop based on a picture she took last year of me throwing Sam up in the air at the edge of the water and catching him. She just posted a sampling of our photos from this year, so here are a few.
Next year the 4th of July falls on a Tuesday, which means it is not an automatic long weekend for people to take trips to the beach. Perhaps without the long-weekenders the number of week-long-stayers will be much higher during the week of Independence Day, but since we are thinking about planning our family vacation that same week in 2017, I will keep my fingers crossed that we have a similarly enjoyable experience next year!