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By Derek Osborn

 

A monthly editorial piece of masterful opinionated writing (insert joke here) regarding life and times in the big town of Tuscaloosa coupled with the musings of a guy nicknamed “Oz.” 

 

Thinking of escaping the cold winter months by traveling to an exotic locale specializing in fru-fru drinks and men in thongs? Happen to be looking for tips from a native Tuscaloosan who, on average, travels outside of the United States once every ten years or so?

 

You’re in luck! Your local faux-tourism specialist has got you covered. And for this edition of LoO, my indiscretions are most definitely your gain.

 

For our 10th anniversary, the missus and I decided to fly off to the tropical paradise of the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana, to be exact. 

 

One of our traditions when traveling to exotic locales is to pick up a local rent-a-wagon and go exploring beyond the safe havens of the resorts and the traditional tourist traps. This is fun and spontaneous but can also be ill advised at times, depending on the “State of the Island” (in all sincerity, you should always check travel advisories for your desired destination).

 

The following are tips based on the unplanned Dominican adventure we experienced after attempting to, and eventually succeeding, in the rental of the aforementioned wagon. 

 

Know a little of the native tongue: You don't have to go full-fledged Rosetta Stone, but it does help to have some knowledge of common phrases without staring at the Griswold translator handbook while attempting to get directions “to…a…beach.”

 

Know the exchange rate of the local currency vs. the U.S Dollar: When you stop to fill up and the amount you owe at the pump is 2,088.79, don’t freak out. We’re dealing in pesos, and in the Dominican that equates to about $46.

 

Notify your credit card company that you will be traveling outside of the U.S.: Because when the gas station runs your credit card and it declines the sale for fear of a fraudulent transaction, things can get really shady fast if you only have $40 in your pocket.

 

Notify your debit card company that you will be traveling outside of the U.S.: Because when the ATM runs your debit card and your bank declines the request for fear of a fraudulent transaction, things can get out of hand quick if you still only have $40 in your pocket.

 

Be prepared to drive fast: While there are traffic laws in place, there is very little enforcement, and the local driving culture could be related to that of the Autobahn combined with total disregard of common road signs. Oh, and because we shorted the gas station 272.45 pesos. And because of the security guard wielding a loaded shotgun.

 

To be fair, we warned our rental car agent and the gas station attendant that we only had $40. Their response? “No comprende.”

 

I tweet insignificant things @ozborn34.          

 

Derek Osborn is the Executive Director of PRIDE of Tuscaloosa by trade and writer by hobby. He lives in Tuscaloosa with his wife, Lynn, and daughters Savannah and Anica. 

 

Article sponsored by Hudson Poole.

Find them on the web at: http://www.hudsonpoole.com

 

 

We did it: We just booked our first-ever trip to Europe! 12 days of fun and frolicking in London and Paris. And of course, this means a lot of walking. As much as I heart my Antelope wedges, something tells me they won’t work so well on the cobblestone streets of the UK and France. No, I need new kicks that will give me enough support to walk much more than I normally do.

By Tori Linville

 

A five star experience doesn’t mean a bad bed in a gross hotel and it doesn’t mean bad food. Even if you’re not on vacation, no one wants to deal with subpar experiences, regardless of the establishment. So wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing – whether you’re a native or a visitor, we’ve hit up Trip Advisor in the area to help you have a top-rated time.

 

TUSCALOOSA

 

Top Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton

 

This Tuscaloosa hotel gets nothing but praise for its staff and amenities. One reviewer labels it a “southern gem,” while another says “Tuscaloosa got exactly what was desperately needed” while describing their stay.  Most visitors really enjoy the location of the Embassy Suites, as it’s next to plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities. And if you don’t like it, be sure to say so on Trip Advisor – the general manager, Steven, makes sure to reply to most reviews and digs deeper into why a customer didn’t enjoy his or her stay.

 

Top Restaurant: The Ave Pub

 

Great burgers, great fish tacos, great drink selection. Trip Advisor has spoken and The Ave Pub is one of the best places to fill a stomach. One review by added, “I am glad that they offer healthier foods with real substance, such as their greens in their salad; it's not just your average iceburg lettuce.” From the service to the food presentation to the drink selection, people are raving about all the good things happening down at The Ave.

 

#2 Thing to Do: Paul W. Bryant Museum

 

Why the second? Because in a town like Tuscaloosa, the obvious first choice is Bryant-Denny Stadium. No need to explain. Since it’s off-season, the second choice is Paul W. Bryant Museum. Just down the street from the stadium, the museum is the perfect off-season stop to help all your Alabama football yearnings. As one reviewer said, “Bear will love to see you stop in and visit.”

 

BIRMINGHAM

 

Top Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham/280 East-Eagle Point

 

If you’re in the mood for some comfortable beds, clean rooms and some above-average complimentary breakfast (seriously, who isn’t?) then Trip Advisor says the Hampton Inn is for you. The location and hotel basics are a shoe-in at this place and the staff seems to be on top of their game. As one reviewer put it, a stay at this Birmingham hotel is “always a great stay.”

 

Top Restaurant: Highlands Bar and Grill

 

Trip Advisor has 834 restaurants listed for the Birmingham area and Highlands Bar and Grill lands at number one. Highlands offers a fine dining experience that can’t be missed. The menu changes frequently and the wine is not to be missed. It is a more high-end place though, which threw some reviewers off. That’s not to say you won’t be welcomed regardless – it’s still true to its Southern hospitality.

 

#1 Thing to Do: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

 

The top-ranked thing to do in Birmingham lies with Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Why? The Trip Advisor consensus is that there’s just so much to see, one trip is only the tip of the motorcycle iceberg. The museum boasts the largest collection of Lotus cars in the U.S. and as one reviewer said, “This is a one of a kind museum for everyone to see. You don't have to be interested in motorcycles or a 'gear head' to appreciate this spectacle.”

 

DESTIN

 

Top Hotel: Henderson Park Inn

 

Not only is it the number one hotel for Destin on Trip Advisor, Henderson Park Inn is also Destin’s 2015 Travelers’ Choice for the website. Number one thing to know? It has a no children policy – this is for the adults who need time away! The staff is more than accommodating and the beach location definitely doesn’t hurt. Dinner reservations are a must, but freebies abound in the form of water, candy bars and other treats. Take it from the guy who flew from New York City on a whim: “We were very impressed. It's got excellent location, a solid restaurant, friendly staff - everything we wanted for a getaway. Highly recommend. We will be back.”

 

#2 Restaurant: Buck’s Smokehouse

 

Since the top rated restaurant was Beach Walk at – you guessed it – Henderson Park Inn, we decided to switch the scenery and check up on the number two. Buck’s Smokehouse is home to some of Destin’s best barbeque. Though some reviewers were disappointed in comparing it to Texas barbeque, the brisket is still a crowd favorite. Add it to a clean atmosphere, friendly staff and an array of sauces that’ll have you coming back for more, it’s no wonder it’s dubbed the “best BBQ on the beach” by one reviewer.

 

#2 Thing to Do: Crystal Sands Beach

 

In a coastal town like Destin, obviously the main thing to do is to veg out on the beach and get some well-deserved sun. The number one beach was back to the Henderson Beach State Park, so we again saw what number two had to offer. Crystal Sands Beach stands on its own (not literally), with “sugary white sand” and “gorgeous blue water” that has reviewers handing out five stars all around. The best parts? It’s great for children, but not too crowded.

 

Article sponsored by Tuscaloosa Tourism Black Warrior and Tuscaloosa Tourism Veterans.

Find them on the web at: http://visittuscaloosa.com

 

By Tori Linville

 

Road trips require a sense of adventure, time and most of all, patience. Traffic is a guaranteed obstacle and keeping the family entertained during jams or open stretches of road can be forgotten in the bustle of activity. So bringing entertainment to pass the time is always a good idea. Thanks to Pinterest and common sense, there are some easy, innovative ways to keep your passengers satisfied.

 

Portable DVD Player

Some cars have WiFi hotspots built in and if you have one, just substitute the DVD player for an iPad with downloaded entertainment for hours. If not, slipping in a favorite movie can easily kill a couple of hours of the journey. Pick favorites while packing, then sit back and relax.

 

Snack Smorgasbord

Use an old tackle box as a way to store a variety of mini-snacks for the ride. By using each little compartment as a place for some Chex Mix, crackers and other snacks, this smart idea knocks out a lot of birds with one stone. Not only are different snacks accommodated for different tastes, storage is saved by compiling the goodies into one box.

 

Backseat Activity Center

Throw an old cloth shoe rack over the back of a car seat to maximize space. Load the shoe rack up with books, snacks, drinks and other must haves. This way, whatever a passenger needs is right in front of them. While this is great for children, others can benefit too.

 

Book on CD

Rent a book on CD from your local library and bring it with you to listen to during the trip. By sliding the book on CD into the CD player, it allows a group experience in which even the driver can participate. Conversation starter, for sure.

 

Baking Sheet Activity Tray

Slide a regular baking sheet under the seat for a passenger to use as multi-functional surface. The tray can be used as a writing surface for crossword puzzles, craft surface for little ones or even a table for lunch on the go.

 

1.) United States Space and Rocket Center – Huntsville, Alabama

Whether you would like to experience the Mars Climbing Wall or to try out the G-Force Accelerator, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center will be a fun time. The Center is one of Alabama’s most famous museums as science and space-lovers alike travel from around the world to visit. The Center also serves as NASA’s Visitor Center.  It offers day camps where trainees choose from three distinct camp options: Space, Aviation or Robotics. Each camp offers a variety of learning opportunities that children can apply to their future goals and love of science. 

On Saturday, March 14, the Center will celebrate Albert Einstein’s Birthday and Pi Day.  There will be a lot of festivities, including hula-hoop competitions, a pie toss, and a birthday celebration with Professor Einstein himself! If you are planning to stay over night in the area, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center has partnered with area hotels to provide an exclusive rate for guests who wish to stay overnight in the Huntsville community. Further information about lodging, camps, exhibits, education, and simulations can be found on the Center’s website:  http://www.rocketcenter.com 

2.)  Alabama Sports Hall of Fame – Birmingham, Alabama 

The slogan of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame proudly states, “The State of Alabama is Made of Champions!!!” And this amazing museum works to showcase all of Alabama’s many athletic celebrities and it has become a benchmark for other Sports Museums across the country. The museum exhibits over 5,000 sports artifacts elegantly displayed in over 33,000 square feet. Out of ESPN’s list of the Top 100 athletes of the 20th Century, five out of the top 15 greatest ever are in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, these include: Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron, Joe Louis, Willie Mays, and Carl Lewis. 

For more information on Hall of Fame events, please see their website.  http://ashof.org 


By Amber Bara

Spring break in the south is a big deal. There are many phenomenal spring break spots from which to choose every year, and this year will be no different. Whether you are a pirate looking at 40, a family of four, or a cohort of college friends needing a four-bedroom condo as a launch pad to fun, there are many options that fit your needs.


Red River Kennels owner Daniel Bailey started the Fosters HWY Clean Up four years ago to give back to the community he calls home.

By Laurie Mundy Perrigin

Anyone who lives or regularly visits the Fosters area of Tuscaloosa County will tell you: It’s filled with stunning natural beauty. One local business is working hard to ensure that the area remains that way, by sponsoring a special clean-up day. If you’d like to get on board, you’re more than welcome.

Red River Kennels is a facility located on 40 acres off Sylvan Loop Road in Fosters. Owner Daniel Bailey says Red River is committed to the local community, and events such as the upcoming Fosters Clean Up Day on April 18 benefit everyone.

“This is our fourth annual clean up. We’re inviting all to come out with family and friends to support awareness and to help keep our great outdoors clean,” Bailey said. He added that he’s looking forward to meeting new volunteers, and he appreciates all the support Red River has had from the community at past clean up events.

The Fosters HWY Clean Up begins on Saturday, April 18 with a safety meeting at 10 a.m. The clean-up will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the gate, and kids get in free. Lunch and bottled water will be provided at 1 p.m., and the fun afternoon includes door prizes, guest speakers, live music, and more. Vendors are also welcome.

“If you’d like to set up at the venue free of charge, just contact us,” Bailey said. “This is open to all businesses, crafts, kennels and organizations.”

At 3 p.m., Red River Kennels will hold a Coon Hound and Deer Dog show that features a tree race and a water race. The cost to enter a dog is $5.

To reach Red River Kennels, and to learn more about the Fosters HWY Clean Up and the services they offer (including training, boarding and breeding), visit the official website, the Red River Kennels Facebook page, or call (205) 292-4115.

Photo: Red River Kennels

Spring has sprung and May is just around the corner. While children are getting out of school and pollen counts skyrocket, the music festival scene emerges in the background. Check out some of these local festivals to get your music fix as summer approaches.

 


By Stan J. Griffin

Although it is basically a glorified scrimmage in many respects, the University of Alabama's annual spring football game serves a couple of very significant purposes.

First of all, the A-Day contest allows Nick Saban and his staff an opportunity to take a look at many of the Crimson Tide players, especially the younger and less-experienced ones, in a live situation that is as close to an actual game as possible.

Secondly, it allows football-starved Alabama fans a first opportunity to get a first glance at the team that will take the field later in the fall. It offers them a little taste of pigskin action to watch, cheer on and, later, dissect until Saban's team kicks off the season for real on Sept. 5 against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas.

The 2015 A-Day Game is set for April 18, with the game scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m.

The A-Day game is the culmination of a full day of activities on campus, including 2014 permanent captains Amari Cooper, Blake Sims, Landon Collins and Jalston Fowler putting their hands and cleats in cement outside of Denny Chimes prior to kickoff.

Admission is once again free for the contest, and another large crowd is expected. Last year, an announced crowd of 73,506 attended the game.

As usual, there are several interesting storylines heading into the contest, and several individual players that those attending will be keeping a sharp eye on.

The Crimson Tide enters the season with questions at several spots, including at quarterback, at receiver, and in the secondary.

As usual, the quarterback competition will likely be the most scrutinized position for the 2015 Crimson Tide, and several of those candidates for the position will likely get extended playing time during the spring game, including senior Jake Coker, sophomore David Cornwell, junior Cooper Bateman, senior Alec Morris and perhaps even highly-touted freshman Blake Barnett.

Barnett, from Corona, California, is one of eight freshman (now seven after Jonathan Taylor's dismissal) early enrollees, along with running back DeSherrius Flowers, safety Ronnie Harrison, offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy, running back Bo Scarbrough, safety Deionte Thompson and offensive lineman Dallas Warmack.

Several of those early enrollees may figure prominently into the Tide’s plans for the A-Day game, and also for the 2015 season, including Barnett, and possibly athletes such as Harrison and Thompson in the Tide secondary, as Alabama looks for much improvement in that area.

Although Alabama lost talented offensive contributors such as Cooper and running back T.J. Yeldon, the Tide will be bringing in talented newcomers at those positions, but A-Day will also allow some weapons still on the roster, such as Chris Black, Cam Sims, Ardarius Stewart and Robert Foster a chance to shine and show their abilities.

It will also be interesting to see how much all-purpose threat Kenyan Drake will be allowed to participate in the game, as he continues to get back to speed after suffering a devastating leg injury against Ole Miss last season. Saban has said that Drake continues to recuperate well from the injury, but is still a bit behind in his overall conditioning.

Photo: UA Athletics

Look at this happy woman with her mullet! You throw, girl!

By Raelyn Mae Holmes

Ah, the Mullet Toss: It’s right up there with the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo when it comes to weird, but somehow intriguing, events and activities. The annual Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Biggest Beach Party is one of the more legendary, but odd, tourist draws the Gulf Coast has ever seen. On the last full weekend in April each year, the beautiful white sand beaches are positively jam packed – and with good reason. This year it’s the 31st anniversary of the event, and it promises to be great fun April 24-26. Are you going? Good for you!

If you haven’t been to the Mullet Toss, you are missing out: It’s a massive beach party, right behind the famed Flora-Bama Lounge and Package on Perdido Key. Because nothing says “Party!” like people lining up to throw a dead fish over the Alabama/Florida state line to see who can throw it the farthest. This has nothing to do with a really *bad* haircut. It’s about the flying fish. And the party. And yeah, it’s a little gross, but it’s hard not to find yourself caught up in the excitement.

How, exactly, did this bizarre tradition begin?

I mean, I’ve been to the Mullet Toss countless times. I’ve partied, I’ve cheered on the participants with unbridled enthusiasm, though I’ve never flung a fish myself. Too icky. And at each year’s event, I’ve met folks from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and beyond, who pull into town ready for some freaky fish action (seriously, the crowds are insane year after year for the Mullet Toss). But in all this time, until now, I never really stopped to consider how the heck this all got started.

So I did what any naturally curious person would do at 11 p.m. on a random weekday night. I looked it up. Apparently, the Mullet Toss began in 1985 as a really small party out on the beach. Low key, you know? Because that’s just how people roll along the Gulf Coast. “Hey, let’s get some beer and see who can toss this little, relatively insignificant fish, the farthest!” Supposedly the fact that the little mullet has a gizzard adds enough weight to make the thing more aerodynamic than your average fish. Not sure if that’s true, but I’m not about to start throwing dead fish around my backyard to find out.

So that’s that. Now you know. Famous people have participated in the Mullet Toss – including the likes of Kenny Stabler (he tried, unsuccessfully, to throw a perfect spiral mullet) and others. There’s even a special Celebrity Mullet Toss event over the weekend. Oh and lest you think this isn’t a family-friendly event, there are special kids’ Mullet Toss events as well. Everyone can get in on the action, and believe me, they do - the beach is crazy crowded and SO fun!

See? Totally packed with mullet tossing revelers!

It should also be mentioned that proceeds raised from the Interstate Mullet Toss support local charity organizations. The event raises as much as $20,000 annually for local charities. So hey, throw a mullet for a good cause, why don’t you? Put this event on your Bucket List. Last I checked, it only costs about $15 to get a chance to participate in the Mullet Toss. What have you got to lose?

Oh and one last tip if you do go: Parking is a zoo on all three days of Mullet Toss, so consider taking shuttles set up from Orange Beach and/or Perdido Key to the Flora-Bama. It’s worth the $5, trust me.

For more information on the Interstate Mullet Toss, visit http://www.florabama.com.

Photos: PNJ.com and Flora-Bama.com

Rocket City Journal is Huntsville, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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