Tourism Tuesdays December 9, 2014

  • Thirty-one Alabama tourism representatives attend Travel South International
  • Delta Sky magazine features The Barbecue List: Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q
  • With her MLK drama Selma, Ava DuVernay is directing history
  • For the Met Museum, a major gift of works by African-American artists from the South
  • Scenes from Scottsboro: more to offer than Scottsboro Boys, Unclaimed Baggage
  • Marking a moment
  • Forest Service announces Great Escapes mobile app
  • Deal of the week: only football teams don’t want to visit Alabama in the winter
  • 15 reasons Alabama is a great place to celebrate Christmas
  • Vote for the best public holiday lights display
  • Welcome Center educational retreat 2015 RFP
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

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Thirty-one Alabama tourism representatives attend Travel South International

The third annual Travel South International Showcase was held in New Orleans last week with tourist destinations across the state of Alabama represented.  A group of thirty one that included hoteliers, attractions, outdoor activities, museums and tourism destination organizations meet with representatives of international tour companies and large U.S. based receptive tour companies.

Attending the showcase this year were:

Alabama Black Belt Adventures – Pam Swanner, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame – Leah Tucker, Alabama Shakespeare Theatre – Katie Perkowski, Alabama Tourism Department – Lee Sentell, Alabama Tourism Department – Della Tully, Alabama Tourism Department – Grey Brennan, Alabama Music Hall of Fame – Dixie Griffin, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – Bonnie Clark, Colbert County Tourism – Susann Hamlin, David Johnson Productions – David Johnson, Florence, AL Tourism – Debbie Wilson, Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau – Cynthia McInosh, Greater Gadsden Area Tourism – Breanna Puttman, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism – Kay Maghan, Helen Keller Home – Sue Pilkilton, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau – Jennifer Moore, Innisfree Hotels – Gulf Shores – Stephanie Mahoney, Marriott Shoals & Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa – Susan Adams, Mobile Bay CVB – Ron McConnell, Montgomery Chamber of Commerce CVB – Meg Lewis, Moundville Archaeological Park – Bill Bomar, Northeast Alabama Adventures – Holiday Inn Express – Paige Mewes, Renaissance Hotels of Mobile – Bailey Mixon, Sheraton Birmingham Hotel – Mathew Beard, Staybridge Suites – Gulf Shores – Sarah Green, Swampette Music Tours – Judy Hood, True Adventure Sports – Israel Partridge, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission –Tina Jones, U.S. Space & Rocket Center & Space Camp – Tom White, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development / Tourism  – Candace Johnson Skelton, USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park – Karen Conner

The Alabama tourism delegations had pre-set appointments with the tour operators from Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom as well as 15 receptive tour operators that are based in the U.S. but have clients worldwide.

The Three Travel South Post FAM tours a hit

Departing New Orleans at the end of the Travel South International Showcase were 7 tours; three of which came to Alabama.

South Alabama Tour

On the southern tour, that included stops in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Fairhope and Mobile, where 14 tour operators and escorts Grey Brennan and Rosemary Judkins from Alabama Tourism.

The tour operators included:

Brazilian journalist – 1, French tour companies – 3, German tour companies – 2, Irish tour companies – 2, Italian tour company – 1, U.S. based receptive companies – 2, United Arab Emirates tour company – 1, United Kingdom tour companies – 2, Worldwide travel booking website – 1.

That group, at its first stop, had the option to take a tour of Fort Morgan, the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, or a guided tour with the Gulf Shores CVB.   Lunch for the group was at The Wharf, where they split into the three tour groups and ate at different restaurants.  The group that went with the Gulf Shores CVB met Bob Baumhower at his Compleat Angler restaurant.  Later they regrouped and watched the sunset on the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores/ Orange Beach before heading off to LuLu’s for dinner and then on to the Florabama to listen to live music.  The group overnighted at the Hilton Garden Inn on the beach at Orange Beach.  The following day, the group had breakfast and a site inspection of the Staybridge Suites in Gulf Shores and then headed off for a visit of Fairhope’s pier.  Along the way the group drove past the Grand Hotel in Point Clear.

After a tour of Fairhope that included local history, the group went to Mobile where they toured the Mobile Carnival Museum, had lunch at Moe’s BBQ, toured the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and had a preview tour of the Gulf Quest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico.  Dinner was at Wintzell’s, where most ordered fresh gulf seafood, before heading out to see the Christmas lights and a home tour at Bellingrath Gradens and Home and a tour of downtown Mobile by motorcoach before ending the night at the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa.

Central Alabama Tour

On the central Alabama tour, that included stops in Monroeville, Montgomery and Phenix City where 14 tour operators and escorts Brian Jones and Della Tully from Alabama Tourism.

The tour operators included:
Australian tour company – 1, Brazilian tour companies – 4, French tour companies – 2, German tour company – 1, Italian tour companies – 2, South African tour company – 1, U.S. receptive company – 1, United Kingdom tour companies – 2.

The group’s first stop was in Monroeville where they toured the courthouse and were treated to a dramatic reading of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  In Montgomery, the group toured the Alabama Museum in the evening and then went to the Railyard restaurant and later visited the Alley Entertainment District.  They overnighted at the Hampton Inn downtown.

The following day, the group toured the King Parsonage, stopped outside the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church, visited the Civil Rights Memorial and toured the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.  Lunch was at Martha’s Place where they heard about her story and the restaurant.

From Montgomery, the group traveled to Phenix City to hear about exciting whitewater rafting and hotels and attractions of the city.

North Alabama Tour

A group comprising tour operators from China visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center where they visited the museum and had a mini Space Camp experience.

Delta Sky magazine features The Barbecue List: Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q
Delta Sky, December Issue

Open in Birmingham since 1984, Miss Myra’s serves real hickory-smoked barbecue, cooked in a custom-built brick pit.

You really need to try the ribs.  I always take mine to go, because when I’m there I usually polish off two orders of the best BBQ chicken in America first.  Brittle golden skin, sweet, smoky, moist yardbird and her famous “white sauce.”  Miss Myra’s tangy, creamy version of the Alabama state BBQ sauce is a perfect dip for the expertly smoked chicken.  It all comes with a slew of home-style sides such as green beans, coleslaw, potato salad and deviled eggs.

And at Myra’s, you have to save room for dessert.  Without question, the banana pudding is a must.  But don’t stop at the pudding, you gotta try the pies: key lime, chocolate cream, coconut, pecan.  It’s dessert heaven.

With her MLK drama Selma, Ava DuVernay is directing history
(Editor’s Note: The American Film Institute has named Selma, filmed in Atlanta, Montgomery and Selma, as one of the top ten films of 2014.)

By Jada Yuan, Vulture.com, Dec. 2

Selma director Ava DuVernay’s father, Murray, didn’t join Martin Luther King Jr. during his five-day Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, but he wasn’t far away, watching the protesters pass by his family’s farm in Lowndes County located smack-dab between the two cities.  “He’s from the backwoods, where Klan snipers were hiding in the trees trying to pick off marchers,” says DuVernay, who’s widely expected to make some history of her own, with Selma, by becoming the first black woman to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Director. These days, her father drives a mail truck in Montgomery, says DuVernay, and one fine morning this past June, he got off his shift, headed downtown, and saw “his daughter shut down the streets of the capital of the state of Alabama so she could shoot a movie about Dr. King.”

DuVernay, 42, didn’t just close streets for the triumphal final scene of Selma, the riveting civil-rights drama she also co-wrote, which chronicles three pivotal months that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She took over the marble steps of Montgomery’s state capitol building, the very ones that Governor George Wallace had tried to prevent King (played in Selma by David Oyelowo) from setting foot on when he made his march-capping speech. “Now I had taken over that building,” says the filmmaker, “and my dad was standing there with a tear in his eye. That may be one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Getting to that moment was a long, unlikely journey.  To again point out the obvious, DuVernay is a black woman, and there aren’t many people like her directing movies of any budget these days, let alone a $20 million studio tent pole about a historical icon that’s opening on Christmas Day.  By comparison, her last movie, 2012’s Middle of Nowhere, was an intimate look at the life of a woman waiting for her husband to get out of prison.  It cost $200,000.  This hundredfold leap is daunting stuff, but it hardly shows.  The first time I meet DuVernay, she plops down next to me and starts gabbing in her great raspy voice like we’re old friends.  We’re at a decadent ­Paramount-hosted dinner, the existence of which indicates the studio is betting big on the movie.  This isn’t even a premiere; it’s a celebration of the first look at five minutes’ worth of semi-finished scenes at New York’s Urbanworld Film Festival.

DuVernay is so charming and chatty that we’re about 12 shoulder squeezes and knee slaps deep before I realize she has no idea I’m writing about her.  She’s fully clued-in three weeks later, when she picks me up in her car during a momentary escape from the Selma editing bay.  We’re off to get vegan soul food in Inglewood, the historically black neighborhood in South Central L.A. that was her old stomping ground. (DuVernay grew up in Lynwood, next to Compton.  Her parents and four younger siblings moved to Montgomery after she finished high school.)  She majored in African-American studies at UCLA, and the dreadlocked DuVernay doesn’t seem far removed from those college days, looking every bit the urban intellectual in her black-framed glasses, floor-length cotton dress, army-green jean jacket, and sandals. “I came here every weekend for eight years,” she says as we cruise down Crenshaw Boulevard.  “The closest I can describe it for non-black people from the hood would be American Graffiti,” she says.  “Kids in cars, black and brown people, looking at each other and having a good time.”  Back in the day, she says, they’d call it the ’Shaw: “‘You going to the ’Shaw this Sunday?’  ‘Yeah, we rollin’.’”

Our route takes us into the hills of View Park and Leimert Park, bastions of L.A.’s African-American upper and middle classes. DuVernay tried unsuccessfully to buy one of the glorious Spanish Colonial homes here.  “Listings don’t come up in traditional sources,” she says.  “It’s all like, ‘Miss Johnson is in the hospital,’ and you’ll be like, ‘Woo, her house is coming up.’  It’s very inside, and I wasn’t inside.”  So she moved to Beachwood Canyon and spent $50,000 she’d saved for a down payment on her 2010 feature debut, I Will Follow.  “I bought a career instead of a house,” she says.

“I never had a desire to be a filmmaker,” DuVernay tells me.  “As a child and a teenager and in college, I was not aware of black women making films.”  But she loved movies and wanted to be around them, so after UCLA she worked as a publicist at 20th Century Fox, then started her own marketing firm at 27.  Her DVA Media + Marketing specialized in delivering audiences of color to films like Dreamgirls and Invictus.  She was even hired as a consulting publicist on Selma years ago when Lee Daniels was attached as the director and the U.K. producer, Pathé, needed help facilitating communications with the King estate.  “I remember getting a call from some British people asking if I would work with this film,” says DuVernay.  “I wasn’t even directing at that time.”

It was while working as a unit publicist on Michael Mann’s 2004 L.A. neo-noir Collateral that DuVernay felt the urge to tell her own stories.  She made a short film, 2006’s Saturday Night Life, about a day in the life of a single mother, and followed that with 2008’s This Is the Life, about the Leimert Park café where she used to rap as part of the duo Figures of Speech, and 2010’s My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Womenin Hip Hop for BET, all while running her marketing company.  She had an idea, inspired by “a homegirl of mine,” she says, that would become Middle of Nowhere.  But she couldn’t get funding, so she did the more modest I Will Follow, based on DuVernay’s experience packing up the house of an aunt who had died of cancer.  Roger Ebert was an early champion, calling it “the kind of film black filmmakers are rarely able to get made.”

DuVernay says she remembers during the I Will Follow shoot “thinking what a waste it had been to be on spin 12 years as a publicist.”  But eventually she realized that her years as a flack weren’t a hindrance.  She was organized and knew how to prioritize, communicate with actors, and articulate her vision, “the skills one uses as a publicist,” she says.  She also knew the business and co-founded the African-­American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which aims to get black cinema into movie houses.  AAFRM initially released I Will Follow to five theaters, and the film earned back three times its budget.  Still, DuVernay kept her day job, at least for a while.  The Help (2011) was the last movie for which she did publicity before putting her company on hold to make Middle of Nowhere.

She became the first African-American woman to win Best Director at Sundance for that movie.  Yet the win, she says, “raised my profile from zero to 2.2, maybe.”  Prada commissioned her to do a branded short starring Gabrielle Union, and for ESPN she made Venus Vs., about Compton native Venus Williams’ fight for gender pay equality in professional tennis.  “They were the only two,” says DuVernay.  “It wasn’t a clamor from Hollywood at all.”

To read the entire article, go to: http://www.vulture.com/2014/12/ava-duvernay-on-the-long-road-to-selma.html

For the Met Museum, a major gift of works by African-American artists from the South
By Randy Kennedy, The New York Times/Arts Beat, Nov. 24

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced recently that it had received a major gift of 20th-century works by African-American artists from the South, including 10 pieces by Thornton Dial and 20 important quilts made by the Gee’s Bend quilters of Alabama.

The works, 57 in all, are being donated by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which was begun in 2010 by the scholar and collector William S. Arnett to raise the profile of art by self-taught African-Americans. Thomas P. Campbell, the Met’s director, described the gift, which also includes work by Lonnie Holley, Nellie Mae Rowe and Joe Minter, as a significant enlargement of the museum’s holdings of work by black American artists. “It embodies the profoundly deep and textured expression of the African-American experience during a complex time in this country’s history and a landmark moment in the evolution of the Met,” Mr. Campbell said.

The donation will give the Metropolitan the first Gee’s Bend quilts to enter its collection; the geometric-patterned quilts, which have been made for more than a century by women in an isolated community along the Alabama River, have been hailed as among the most innovative and beautiful works of American modernism. The donation also gives the museum its first significant works by Mr. Dial, 86, whose grandly chaotic assemblage paintings and sculpture often take on difficult social and political issues. An exhibition at the Met devoted to works from the foundation is planned for the fall of 2016.

To read this article online, go to: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/for-met-museum-a-major-gift-of-works-by-african-american-artists-from-the-south/?_r=1

Scenes from Scottsboro: more to offer than Scottsboro Boys, Unclaimed Baggage
By Kelly Kazek, AL.com, Dec. 2

Although this Jackson County town is known primarily for two wildly divergent claims – site of the infamous Scottsboro Boys trials and the Unclaimed Baggage store, home of lost luggage – most of its 14,000 residents would prefer it to be known for its small-town atmosphere and family events such as the 102-year-old Trade Day.

Founded ca. 1850 and incorporated in 1870, Scottsboro is named for early settler, Robert Thomas Scott, who served in the Alabama Legislature. Before incorporation, the town was called Scott’s Mill, Scottsville and Sage Town, according to ScottsboroHistory.com.

Scott, born in 1800, died in 1863 of heat exhaustion after Union soldiers burned his home and forced him to pull a wagon into town, according to a marker on his grave.

Scottsboro is the seat of Jackson County, which is named for Andrew Jackson, the country’s seventh president. An oddly shaped statue of Jackson on the courthouse lawn in downtown Scottsboro is listed as an unusual roadside attraction on several websites, such as RoadsideAmerica.com.

Unclaimed Baggage
Unclaimed Baggage, one of the town’s largest tourist attractions, is also listed on dozens of sites as a must-see attraction. The massive store, more than 55,000-square-feet, sells used items recovered from lost luggage that is never claimed. The one-of-a-kind business has been featured on numerous TV shows and in magazines. Learn more here.

First Monday Trade Day
In 1902, an event then called Horse Swapper Day was held on the first Monday of each month, which is also when court was held, according to the Facebook page First Monday Trade Day Scottsboro, Ala. The event later became known as First Monday and eventually became a flea-market style event featuring dozens of vendor booths. It is now held Saturday-Monday, the first full weekend of each month.

Scottsboro Boys
The infamous case of the Scottsboro Boys began with the arrest of nine young black men in 1931 after two white women accused them of rape while on a train. Although many people assume the young men were arrested in Scottsboro, they were actually arrested at the depot in nearby Paint Rock and taken to Scottsboro to jail. After years of trials with varying outcomes for the defendants, one of the women recanted her testimony, which many officials already believed to be contrived.

The case was a pivotal moment in an as-yet-defined Civil Rights movement and divided much of Alabama. In 2013, the men were posthumously pardoned by the State of Alabama. Gov. Robert Bentley held a ceremonial signing of the legislation in Scottsboro. Read more here.

The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, a museum with items related to the case, opened in 2010 in the 1878 Colored Methodist Episcopal Church of Scottsboro at 428 W. Willow St.

To read the article online, go to: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/12/scenes_from_scottsboro_a_town.html#incart_river

Marking a moment
By Russ Corey, TimesDaily.com, Dec. 5

A little drizzle didn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd of about two dozen who attended Friday’s unveiling of a marker commemorating The Rolling Stones’ stay in Florence and their three-day recording session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

In early December 1969, the British rock band decided to fly under the radar and log some studio time in the venerable studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield.

The sessions produced three of The Rolling Stones’ biggest hits — “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses” and “You Gotta Move,” The Stones’ version of an old traditional song recorded by Mississippi Fred McDowell and 12 years earlier by The Blind Boys of Alabama.

The marker is on the corner of South Court and Limestone streets near the front of the hotel property where they stayed.

State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said the marker was located at what is now a Hampton Inn for a couple of reasons.

“We are placing the marker at the site of the former Holiday Inn because a film crew documented not only their sessions in Sheffield, but also their stay at the Florence Holiday Inn in the 1970 documentary ‘Gimme Shelter,'” Sentell said. “Most of that same footage was included in the recent ‘Muscle Shoals’ documentary.”

He said another historic marker will eventually be erected at the venerable studio.

“Many bands recorded at 3614 and a marker will be located at the old studio in the future that covers a wide range of artists and their hits,” Sentell said.

Sentell said the story of Muscle Shoals Sound has not ended. The studio is part of a partnership with Beats Electronics, which was recently bought by Apple Computers, and the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation.

The marker was erected on the anniversary of the last day of The Stones recording sessions, which took place Dec. 2-4.

Studio co-owner Jimmy Johnson ended up being the lead engineer on the sessions when the band’s engineer, Jimmy Miller, was unable to make the trip.

“They loved being there,” Johnson said. “Keith (Richards) had been trying to get them to come here for 10 years. They cut three of the biggest records they ever had.”

The text on one side of the marker is about the band’s stay in the Shoals while the reverse side provides information about “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.”

The text was written by Sentell with help from Johnson and local music historian Dick Cooper.

“I had a great time working with them,” Johnson said.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.timesdaily.com/news/marking-a-moment/article_e84c8bb0-7d08-11e4-bf2d-63a41ec205d6.html#.VIMClQRdb8c.aolmail

Forest Service announces Great Escapes mobile app

Visitors enjoying Alabama’s national forests now have a variety of information at their fingertips.  The U.S. Forest Service announced today the initial phase of a newly created mobile device application  for outdoor enthusiasts interested in planning trips to Alabama’s four national forests – Bankhead, Talladega, Conecuh and Tuskegee.

Alabama “Great Escapes” mobile app provides essential information using a blend of website and native app capabilities. Currently, users who download the app will have a GPS feature that gives them the closes national forest, a list of recreational activities and sites, alerts, national forest news, fees, opening dates, directions (on website) and contact information.  They can also share national forest memories with family and friends through Facebook and Twitter.

The Forest Service is asking the public to provide feedback on additional features they would like to see in the “Great Escapes” mobile app. “We are building a mobile app with the goal of meeting the needs of those who enjoy spending time in national forests,” said Tammy Freeman Truett, public affairs staff officer for the National Forests in Alabama.  “We are happy to introduce the first phase of the mobile app that provides essential information; however, we need the public to download the app and help us decide its future as we implement new capabilities throughout the year.”  Mobile app comments should be emailed to pa_alabama@fs.fed.us.

The National Forests in Alabama is currently expanding its social mobility engagement.  The public can follow the National Forests in Alabama on Twitter at @NFinAlabama to learn Forest news and interesting facts. A share button for Twitter is included on the newly released “Great Escapes” mobile phone application.

Further expansion of application capabilities is planned and a version of the app for iOS users will be developed in coming weeks. The National Forests in Alabama expects to announce the opening of a Facebook page soon and the new mobile app includes a button for easy Facebook access. Visit the website at www.fs.usda.gov/alabama.


Deal of the week: only football teams don’t want to visit Alabama in the winter

Golf Digest/The Loop/Travel, Dec. 5

The Robert Trent Jones Trail’s marketing conceit is straightforward: Promote the collection of 11 RTJ-designed courses owned in the state by Retirement Systems of Alabama and generate visits from golfers from both within and beyond the region.

The quality of golf along the Trail is uniformly good, and you won’t go wrong booking a time at any of them. But some have better deals than others over winter, when temperatures are in the high 50s and low 60s. Ross Bridge is conveniently located just outside Birmingham, and it has a 260-room Renaissance resort attached to it.

Considering the course runs 8,100 yards from the tips, its Ketel One winter package is apropos. From now until Dec. 31, you can get two rounds of golf, a room at the resort, a gift bag filled with apparel and balls and vouchers for two Ketel One drinks for rates starting at $380.

Save the vodka for the bonkers ninth hole, a roller-coaster 518-yard par-4 from the tips that’s protected by a lake, a waterfall and a fairway bunker magnetized to attract ProV1s. The Champions Tour last played an event here in 2010, and some of the older guys are just now finishing up on 18.

If you’re looking to make a weekend out of it (assuming you still have balls left), fellow Trail member Oxmoor Valley is next door in Birmingham, and it has two championship courses of its own–the Ridge and Valley–built on mountainous former U.S. Steel property. You can book an unlimited play winter day rate of $77 at either course through February 8.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.golfdigest.com/blogs/the-loop/2014/12/deal-of-the-week-only-football.html

15 reasons Alabama is a great place to celebrate Christmas
By Kelly Kazek, AL.com, Dec. 4

Outsiders may think Alabama is too warm and humid for a good Christmas celebration but those of us who live here know otherwise.

What are the reasons you love spending Christmas in Alabama? Send them to kkazek@al.com.

Here are my 15 reasons Alabama is a great place to celebrate Christmas:

1. Our towns host spectacular light displays in fun public places, such as the Wells Fargo Zoolight Safari at the Birmingham Zoo, Christmas Lights Festival at the Montgomery Zoo, Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Garden, Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Christmas at the Falls at Noccalula State Park and Holiday Spectacular Park in Wicksburg, to name just a few.

2. The country group Alabama from Fort Payne gave the world two of the most popular Christmas songs: “Christmas in Dixie” and “Angels Among Us.” (Trivia: “Angels Among Us” was not written as a Christmas song, according to lead singer Randy Owen. However, over the years, it has become a Christmas standard). Read the history of “Angels Among Us” here.

3. We host amazing festivals. Here are a few of the dozens across the state (for a more complete list, visit the Alabama Tourism Department website or festivalnet.com): Selma Holiday Festival; Cullman Christmas Arts and Crafts, Old Fashion Christmas Festival in Boaz; Tuscumbia’s It’s a Dickens Christmas, Y’all; and Victorian Christmas in Dothan.

4. Most every town has a Christmas parade on land but we also love to decorate our boats and hold river parades. Here are just a few: Christmas on the River in Demopolis, Christmas Parade of Lights in Decatur, Christmas on the Dog River in Mobile and Stars in the Harbor in Guntersville. Boat parades are also held on Lay Lake, Smith Lake and in Gulf Shores.

5. Plenty of private homes are decked out, too. Most communities have at least one home that is a must-see attraction, courtesy of that family who just can’t get enough of Christmas and shares its enthusiasm with the rest of us. While we couldn’t possibly name them all, here are a few across the state: The Wright family display at 4170 Ricks Lane, Leighton; Carter Family Christmas Light Show, 523 Lanier Road, Huntsville, Dr. John Higginbotham, Horseshoe Trail, Huntsville; The Phillips family, 12 Red Fox Drive, Pelham.

6. Classic Christmas movies and Wurlitzer sing-alongs at the beautiful and historic Alabama Theatre. What better place to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas” than in the gold and red-velvet luxury of this 1927 movie palace? Before each film, join the caroling sing along accompanied by the theater’s original Wurlitzer organ. See a schedule of this year’s movies here.

7. You can ride on the Arctic Express Christmas train. Children and adults can take a ride on this authentic steam train at Wales West RV Resort and Light Railway in Silverhill near the Gulf Coast. Learn more here.

8. Alabama’s numerous quaint downtown squares that look like they came straight from a Christmas card. Get the old-time feel of Christmas by strolling around your downtown square to look at window displays and holiday lights as carols play on the loud speakers.

9. Christmas pecan pie and divinity candy from Priester’s Pecans. Two holiday desserts are best-sellers for Priester’s Pecans, a family owned company founded in 1935 in Fort Deposit, according to co-owner Ellen Burkett. Pecan pies, of course, but also divinity, a candy so difficult to make it was often made only at Christmas. “People who order it say, ‘My grandmother or my mother used to make divinity every Christmas,” Burkett said.

10. We have lots of historic home tours. Hundred-year-old homes? Alabama has them in spades. From plantations to mansions, many are on tour during the holidays. Search AL.com or your town’s website to find one in your area.

11. Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday and we know how to celebrate it. In the early 1800s, northern and southern states were not only divided on the issue of slavery but on Christmas, as well, according to thehistoryofchristmas.com. Christmas was an important part of the southern social scene, but many northerners thought the celebration was sinful. It is widely reported on the internet that the first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were Alabama in 1836, followed by Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838. While no documents have been unearthed to prove Alabama’s legislators took action on the holiday, the date is accepted by most historians.

12. We don’t stop thinking about college football, even when the regular season is over. Whether you are a fan of Auburn University, the University of Alabama or one of the state’s smaller colleges, you can find plenty of ornaments, wreaths and yard decorations that show your team pride.

13. We love decorating Christmas trees. We host Tinsel Trails and Festivals of Trees, and many towns erect a tree on the downtown square and hold a tree-lighting ceremony. Some places for the public to view decorated trees include: Gadsden Festival of Trees, Festival of Trees at Historic Donnell House in Athens; Huntsville’s Tinsel Trail, Guntersville Festival of Trees, Fayette Festival of Trees and more.

14. Christmas bazaars offer one-of-a-kind gifts. Lots of Alabama towns host expos and bazaars so small-business owners and crafters can sell their wares, including Birmingham Christmas Market and Small Business Holiday Bazaar, Daphne Winter Bazaar, NEACA Christmas Craft Show in Huntsville and more.

15. Snow! OK, so we rarely see much of the real stuff, but several places in Alabama provide fake snow to get people into the holiday spirit. A few sites with snow are Cloudmont Ski Resort in Mentone, Santa’s Village in Huntsville and Let It Snow! An Indoor Winter Wonderland Exhibit in Gadsden.

To read this article online, go to: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/12/15reasons_alabama_is_a_great_p.html

Vote for the best public holiday lights display
By Lydia Schrandt, USA TODAY 10Best, Nov. 24

Temperatures are dropping, turkeys are roasting and soon electricity bills will start to soar. It’s the season for loading the family into the car and heading out to see the twinkling lights, and our 20 nominees for the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice award for Best Public Lights Display are some of the best, biggest and brightest in the nation. USA TODAY 10Best teamed up with Deborah Norville, host of Inside Edition, to select 20 nominees, and now it’s your turn to help name a winner.

Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens & Home in Theodore is on the list.

Vote for your favorite public lights display once per day until voting ends on Mon., Dec. 15 at 11:00 a.m.

To read the entire article, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/holiday-lights/2014/11/24/best-public-lights-display-10best-readers-choice-nominees/19488297/?CSP=holiday-lights

Welcome Center educational retreat 2015 RFP

The Welcome Center Educational Retreat continues to be a unique opportunity to update the Welcome Center staff on your organization, attractions, accommodations and special events.

The Alabama Tourism Department is now accepting proposals for the 2015 WC Retreat.   Your proposal must address the requirements listed in the Request for Proposal.  The Welcome Center Retreat RFP may be accessed on this link: http://tourism.alabama.gov/about/welcome-centers/

If you are interested in hosting the 2015 Welcome Center Educational Retreat, Nov. 8-10, 2015, please submit your proposal by Feb. 27, 2015 to:

Jerry Hale, sumter.center@tourism.alabama.gov, 205-392-5443, or
Trisa Collier, Ardmore.center@tourism.alabama.gov, 256-423-3891.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Dec. 15                        Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Christmas Tour & Barbecue book signing with Annette Thompson at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop
Jan 10-13                    American Bus Assoc.Annual Meeting – St. Louis, MO (America’s Center Convention Complex)
Jan 16-18 & 21-25      Cincinnati Travel, Sport & Boat Show – Cincinnati, OH
Jan 18-22                    National Tour Association (NTA) – New Orleans, LA
Jan 22-25                    Louisville Boat, RV & Sportshow – Louisville, KY
Jan 27-28                    Snowbird Extravaganza Show – Lakeland, FL

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Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to: www.tourism.alabama.gov

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at: peggy.collins@tourism.alabama.gov

Alabama Tourism Department
www.alabama.travel