The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most popular summer vacation spots in North and Central America. Tourists flock to the beaches, pristine waters and white sands, palm fronds shading their faces while they soak up rays of golden sunshine… Since the recent oil spills, many tourists are wondering if their Gulf holiday will be ruined. If your heart is set for a beach holiday in the Gulf this summer, don’t cancel your bookings. The Gulf Coast is just as desirable as always, oil spill or not.
Mexico and the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida) depend on summer travellers spending their holidays there and to support their economy. Since the oil spill, many have been wondering whether or not the water is still clean, cancelling flights, time-shares, hotel rooms and beach time to stay home. Panama City, located along the north-western coast of Florida is more than 100 miles from the oil spill and the city is gearing up for summer traveller’s as usual.
Some hoteliers may be sweating with hotel bookings slowing down, cancellations and empty rooms during one of the USA’s biggest holiday, Memorial Day weekend (which is usually booked solid far in advance), but this only means one thing: cheap hotel rooms. Resorts, hotels and guest houses are discounting room rates, eliminating cancellation fees, and the premiums usually added for booking during the week of Independence Day (July 4th) in order to lure travellers back to the Gulf Coast, sometimes as much as 20%.
So what if the oil reaches the coast?
If bp doesn’t manage to clean up the oil before it reaches America’s beaches, there are still plenty of summer fun prospects in the area, more than enough reasons not to cancel any vacation to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country.
- Practise your golf swing – if Florida and Alabama are famous for something besides their beaches, it’s their golf courses.Maybe leave your snorkelling gear and home and pack your clubs. Alabama in particular is home to the famous (at least among golfers) Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a string of greens with breathtaking vistas along the coast. A battlefield from the war of 1812 has even been turned into a gold course in Louisiana, the perfect opportunity to visit a historical site and practise your swing.
- Lake swimming – skip the seawater and head to the lakes. Who said that pretty beaches only line the ocean? Learn to dive off a dock, perfect your cannonball and rent a lake-side cottage for the weekend. There are dozens of National and State Parks located near the Gulf Coast with great opportunities for hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and geocaching. Atchafalaya Swamp, America’s largest river wetland is the perfect place to go horse-back riding and bird-watching.
- Head to a festival – Louisiana is the festival capital of the country so there is bound to be something going on while you’re visiting the area this summer. Check out everything from Mardi Gras, a summer jazz festival to craw fish festivals for a couple of days to learn some Cajun dancing and taste the region’s celebrated flavours.
- Hiking in a national park – Mississippi is home to some of the country’s most beautiful national parks, De Soto National Forest and Clark Creek Natural Area in particular. With more than 50 waterfalls and countless miles of hiking and horse-back riding trails, a camping vacation is a perfect alternative to the beach.
- Master your J-stroke – canoeing and kayaking are favourite water sports that are popular all over the country. Florida is no exception. Sign up for a kayak trip down Coldwater Creek and Blackwater River, the state’s clearest sand-bottomed river. Trips range in difficulty and prices (canoeing is $25 a person or $40 for an overnight trip).
- Water parks – ride the slides in a rubber inner tube or laze in the wave pool. There are water parks, of all types, themes and sizes along the Gulf Coast, especially in Florida. Try Big Kahuna’s Water Park or Shipwreck Island in Panama City.
At this point it is still uncertain as to whether the oil spill will reach the coastlines or not, although some oil has already turned up in Louisiana. Oil spill or not, destination cities along the Gulf Coast offer a lot more than just white sandy beaches. Hire a car and head down the coast on a road trip, exploring as your go along or stay-put and enjoy the sweet life of a coastal city. Have any more ideas of things to do in the Gulf Coast this summer? Leave us a comment!
Img: Ray Devlin / flickr cc