Tourism Tuesdays December 2, 2014

  • Tourism bonanza expected from Selma-to-Montgomery March’s 50th anniversary
  • Construction begins on City of St. Jude’s CAMPSITE 4 project
  • Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours
  • Alabama Tourism at Travel South International Showcase
  • Alabama Supreme Court rules against Dothan gambling hall
  • The Rolling Stones get place in Alabama history
  • The Village People to perform at MoonPie Over Mobile on New Year’s Eve
  • A visit to the Helen Keller museum provides a reflection of Alabama’s culture
  • Alabama’s Grand Hotel named best in the south by Condé Nast Traveler
  • Huntsville connection to Italian astronaut aboard International Space Station
  • The New York Times features a place where lost luggage gets another shot
  • Montgomery #3 on Trivago’s U.S. Best Value Cities for 2015
  • 370,000 non-stop airplane seats between near-by Atlanta airport and Germany
  • Stat: travel to U.S. to top 88 million by 2019
  • LPGA sets date for Prattville and tentative date for Mobile tourneys
  • Windham to be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame
  • Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail makes the top 7 places to hike in the U.S.
  • 10Best: pays respects to Southern royalty
  • 15 Alabama restaurants that will blow the taste buds out of your mouth
  • Vote for the best public holiday lights display
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events



Tourism bonanza expected from Selma-to-Montgomery march’s 50th anniversary
Associated Press, Nov. 29

State and local officials believe the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, which celebrates an event that ushered in a new day for civil rights, could well usher in a new day for Alabama tourism.

Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel, sees a perfect storm approaching that will rain torrents of publicity on the March 2015 event — publicity he believes may permanently elevate Alabama’s civil rights tourism.

Sentell said the 50th anniversary of such a historic event would attract huge numbers of tourists from throughout the country and beyond on its own, but that next year a number of factors will multiply those numbers.

The Oprah Winfrey/Brad Pitt-produced film “Selma,” which is about the historic march, is scheduled to open in late December in Los Angeles and New York so that it is eligible for the 2014 Oscars, and will open across the country on Jan. 9.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine a more spectacular promotion of the event,” Sentell said.

Dawn Hathcock, vice president of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Convention & Visitor Bureau, agrees and gives credit to the Alabama Tourism Department and the Alabama Film Office, which helped convince Winfrey, who shot much of the film in Atlanta that parts of it needed to be shot in Selma and Montgomery.

“Knowing that they filmed in Selma and Montgomery will be a big push as far as tourism,” Hathcock said.  “It’s not one of these films where it is about events in your city but was filmed in Canada or some other place.  In the movie, they will see the real bridge, the real Capitol, among other thing, and they will want to see those places in person.”

Then there is the possibility of who might show up at the event.  There is the hope that Winfrey or Pitt may come, as well as celebrities from the original march, such as Harry Belafonte.

And some of America’s most famous leaders are not just a possibility, but an expectation.

President Barack Obama, when he was campaigning for the office the first time, took part in the March 2007 bridge-crossing celebration, walking across the bridge just feet away from Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Sentell said he fully expects the White House to be represented at this year’s event.

“All the living presidents have been invited,” Hathcock said. “We don’t know that they will all come, but it being the 50th anniversary, I think you can assume that we may have some very high-level dignitaries here.”

Sandra Taylor with the National Park Service serves as park superintendent for the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, and will help coordinate any presidential visits, but she said it will be a while before she will know who might attend.

“I’m hoping we may know 30 days in advance, but I’m not sure we will get that much warning,” she said.

She did say she already knows three planeloads of congressmen and their staffers are flying down with Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell for the celebrations.

Note that she said “celebrations,” plural — something Sentell said will be one more huge publicity factor.

For there is a Selma march that will also publicize the successful Selma march.

The first attempt to make the march to Montgomery, on March 7, 1965, was met with violent opposition by state and local police, who attacked the peaceful marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. The event became famous as “Bloody Sunday.”

“It will also be the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and there will be enormous press coverage of the Bloody Sunday re-enactment on every network across the country,” Sentell said.

“This will be two weeks before the anniversary of the successful Selma-to-Montgomery march and will only make people want to come to that event even more.”

How many people does Taylor expect to come to the celebrations?

“I don’t have a clue,” she said. “I can’t even estimate a number because we’ve never had anything like this before. We have done some big events but not anything of this magnitude.”

Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said there may be upwards of 30,000 to 40,000 people for the Selma-to-Montgomery march, and if you add in those here for the Bloody Sunday event, there are estimates of crowds greater than 50,000.

“Some will be in Selma, and some may go to Birmingham for the civil rights sites there, and we hope many will come here,” he said. “But with that many people, the entire state will benefit from the events next year.”

With so many churches, schools, civic groups and universities planning activities, Hathcock said one of the best ideas was to create an inclusive website where groups that might not have the money to publicize their events can be included.

“We have created a website,, and what we are doing is including events big and small from not just Montgomery and Selma but wherever the events are being held,” she said.

Groups throughout the state, from the Park Service and city and county groups to Alabama State University and the state Tourism Department have been working for about two years preparing for the opportunity 40,000 to 50,000 tourists can bring.

But it’s not a one-time tourism bonanza that the state is after.

Rosemary Judkins, who works as the group sales manager for the Alabama Tourism Department, said it is looking at the 2015 event to permanently elevate civil rights tourism in the state.

“Of course, we expect this to continue to grow,” she said, “once the word is out and these people go home and start telling others of their experiences and what they saw taking place here.”

She said groups from all over the country are getting in touch with the Tourism Department about the event, and they are trying to make sure they stay in touch.

“Groups are getting in touch with us, and we are passing those contacts on to area visitor centers, and the hope is that they won’t just be one-time contacts, but permanent contacts,” she said.

Strange said that is also Montgomery’s aim.

He said the fact the city is spending a fortune along the civil rights trail, creating streetscapes, planting trees, putting up new fencing, adding new sidewalks, repaving streets, putting up statues and things like that should tell people something.

“We expect the 2015 celebration will have a very positive impact during that time frame, but the reason we are spending big bucks to improve things along the march route is for the next year, and the next year and the next year after that, because once people see what happens during the upcoming march, they are going to want to participate in it, too.”

And for Montgomery, which in May was named in USA Today as the Best Historic City in the country, the opportunities the Selma-to-Montgomery march presents aren’t only about the historic civil rights event.

“Not only do we have the 50th anniversaries of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery march, but we also have the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in December,” Hathcock said.

“And a lot of the groups that we are hosting in 2015 we are encouraging to encompass some of these themes or go to some of the other attractions while they are in town. We absolutely believe there will be return traffic.”

To read this article online, go to:


Construction begins on City of St. Jude’s CAMPSITE 4 project

WSFA 12 News, Nov. 26

Construction has started on a project to celebrate The City of St. Jude’s history and its role in the 1965 Voting Rights March.

The City of St. Jude was the fourth and final campsite of the march. Marchers arrived in Montgomery on March 24, 1965, and it was the only place that allowed the marchers to camp on its grounds and use its facilities.

The new project, called CAMPSITE 4, will include a memorial garden, several outside exhibits and a museum, according to The City of St. Jude.

To read this article online, go to:

Governor’s Mansion open for candlelight tours

Gov. and Mrs. Robert Bentley will open the Governor’s Mansion for candlelight tours on Monday, Dec. 8 and 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Designers from across the state have volunteered their time to decorate the Governor’s Mansion and the neighboring Hill House for the candlelight tours.  “The Governor’s Mansion belongs to the people of Alabama and we want to share it with them during this wonderful season,” said Mrs. Bentley.  A new treat this year is a gingerbread house that is the creation of the Governor’s Mansion chef, Jim Smith, and former Next Food Network TV Star contestant and Alabama native, Martie Duncan.

Author Annette Thompson and photographer Art Meripol will sign copies of their new book, Alabama Barbecue at the Governor’s Mansion gift shop.  Meripol will sign on Dec. 8 and Thompson will sign copies of the book on Dec. 15.   The colorful 128-page hardcover book features more than 75 barbecue restaurants in 52 cities across the state.

Tickets for the tours are available free of charge at the gift shop prior to the tours each day.  The gift shop is located at 30 Finley Avenue across the street from the side entrance of the mansion.

The Governor’s Mansion is a 1907 Colonial Revival house located at 1142 South Perry Street in Montgomery and has served as the official residence for governors of Alabama since 1951.  The neighboring Farley-Hill House became part of the Governor’s Mansion complex in 2003 and will also be open for the candlelight tours.

Each tour night will feature choirs from different areas of the state to entertain guests.  The mansion will be open for candlelight tours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 and 15.

More information is available about the Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours by going online at

Alabama Tourism at Travel South International Showcase
Afterwards select operators will visit seven Alabama cities

The Travel South International Showcase in New Orleans is currently underway.   Thirty-one Alabama tourism representatives have meetings with tour operators and receptive companies during the marketplace.

The Alabama Tourism booth with Grey Brennan and Della Tully has a full schedule of 40 appointments. Of those appointments, six are from Australia, seven are large receptive companies based in the U.S., four are from Netherlands, two are from France, eleven from the United Kingdom, four from Brazil, three from Italy, three from Germany.  Joining Brennan and Tully at the showcase will be Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

In addition, the Alabama delegation will have dinner with 14 selected tour and receptive operators during the showcase.  Those 14 include two from Italy, five from the U.S., one from Switzerland, two from the United Kingdom, one from the Netherlands, one from Australia, and one from the United Arab Emirates.

After the showcase, three groups of tour and receptive operators will visit different cities in Alabama.

A group of Chinese tour operators will see the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville in North Alabama.

Another group will visit the mid section of Alabama touring Monroeville, Montgomery and Phenix City.  That group consists of two tour operators from the United Kingdom, two from France, four from Brazil, two from Italy, and one each from Australia, South Africa, Germany and the U.S.

The final group will visit the southern end of Alabama and see Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Fairhope and Mobile.  That group consists of one tour operators from Italy, one from Ireland, three from France, two from the United Kingdom, two from Germany, one from the United Arab Emirates, a journalist from Brazil, two U.S. receptive companies and a representative from a global travel website.

Rosemary Judkins and Brian Jones will join Brennan and Tully in helping to escort the familiarization (FAM) tours in Alabama.

For more information on Alabama Tourism Department’s international efforts, contact


Alabama Supreme Court rules against Dothan gambling hall

By Phillip Rawls, The Associated Press, Nov. 21

Alabama’s highest court on Friday upheld the attorney general’s raid on Center Stage gambling hall near Dothan.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that bingo games allowed in some counties in Alabama are traditional games that involve “meaningful human interaction in a group setting”, not games played on electronic machines.

Attorney General Luther Strange had state police raid Center Stage neared Dothan on July 25, 2012. They seized 691 gambling machines and $288,657 in cash. The Houston County Economic Development Authority, which operated Center Stage, challenged the raid and contended the machines were a legal form of bingo. A Houston County judge ruled the machines illegal and said the state could destroy the machines and keep the money.

The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed that decision 9-0 Nov. 21.

The Supreme Court based its decision on an earlier case upholding a 2009 raid at a Lowndes County casino.

The justices said bingo is a form of a lottery, which is prohibited by the Alabama Constitution. They noted, however, that several counties, including Houston County, have constitutional amendments allowing bingo. They said bingo refers to traditional bingo with players using paper cards, numbers being drawn, players marking their cards, and a win being announced.

The games at Center Stage featured an electronic depiction of a bingo card, but the justices said that will not suffice.

In earlier decisions involving Lowndes and Greene counties, the court said an announcer must be involved in bingo. The court went further Friday, saying the announcer must call the numbers one at a time and allow time between each number for a player to physically mark the card.

To read the article online, go to: Gambling in Alabama: A high-stakes game of political intrigue

The Rolling Stones get place in Alabama history
By Meredith Wood, WAAY TV, Nov. 25

You can’t always get what you want, unless you are Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

To mark the 45th anniversary of the “rock and roll heaven” recording sessions with the Rolling Stones, a historical marker will be unveiled on December 5, 2014.

The ceremony will take place in Florence at the sight of the former Holiday Inn on South Court Street. The hotel served as home for the band while they recorded some of their biggest hits.

“Wild Horses”, “Brown Sugar” and “You Gotta Move” were laid down during the sessions and all three tracks appeared on the album Sticky Fingers in 1971.

Guitarist Jimmy Johnson engineered the sessions and will be present at the unveiling next week.

“The Stones’ visit was a major turning point,” says Johnson, “I am very excited about the marker and appreciate the state support for our efforts to preserve and promote Muscle Shoals Music.”

The historical marker was made by the Alabama Tourism Department.

Everyone is invited to come out and be a part of history.

To read this article online, go to:

The Village People to perform at MoonPie Over Mobile on New Year’s Eve

WSFA 12 News, Nov. 26

It’s almost time once again to ring in the New Year with the MoonPie Over Mobile New Year’s Eve celebration.

This year marks the seventh MoonPie over Mobile celebration and will feature such acts as Evelyn “Champagne” King and The Village People. The two acts will perform at the corner of St. Joseph and St. Francis Streets on the edge of Bienville Square.

Chattanooga Bakery, where the MoonPie was invented, will also be baking the world’s largest edible MoonPie, and the evening’s activities will officially kickoff with the ceremonial cutting of the MoonPie.

To welcome in the year 2015, and the beginning of Mardi Gras season, a 12-foot-tall MoonPie will descend from the 34-story RSA Trustmark Building.

“Mobile’s New Year’s Eve Celebration featuring the MoonPie Over Mobile has become a cultural phenomenon across the country,” said Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson, who is credited for creating the MoonPie over Mobile concept. “Every year, more and more people are getting involved, and thousands more revelers come out to enjoy the festivities. I look forward to this New Year’s Eve being the best that has ever been in our city.”

A lot of people often ask why a MoonPie is used to ring in the New Year.

Well, Mobile is the home of America’s first Mardi Gras celebration, and the MoonPie has been a popular item to throw into the crowd since 1952. Also, the city of Mobile consumes more than four million MoonPies annually.

The event has been featured in Garden and Gun Magazine and O, The Oprah Magazine and both have named MoonPie over Mobile one of the “must do” New Year’s Eve events in the country.

To read this article online, go to:


A visit to the Helen Keller museum provides a reflection of Alabama’s culture

Travel journalist Carol Ann Davidson was part of an Alabama Tourism Department press trip in November.
By Carol Ann Davidson, Tribune News Service, Dec. 1

In 1902 Helen Keller wrote in her autobiography “The Story of My Life”: “… during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly block out.” Born in Tuscumbia, the blindness and deafness that soon ensued did not dint her spirit or mark her searing intelligence.  She became a symbol of triumph over literal darkness, and in some ways a metaphor for the survival of Alabamians throughout their complex history.  As it was my first trip to Alabama, visiting her home, Ivy Green, was a must.  I wanted to touch the water pump where her teacher, Anne Sullivan, guided her in making the cavernous leap from feeling the object to knowing the word that describes it. Her famous first word, “wa wa,” for water, allowed the floodgates of her brilliance to burst forth.

Her home and its adjacent cottage are now a museum, lovingly maintained.  The broad green fields and grand old oak trees, still there, are a testament not only to her memory but also the combined respect in Alabama for its own unique history and its preservation that I encountered during my weeklong trip.

On a lighter note, not far from Ivy Green is Claunch Cafe where my companions and I ate at a modest family-run restaurant tucked away in Spring Park.  Alabama history was literally dished out in platefuls of cornbread, fried green tomatoes, grits, homemade meat loaf, fried catfish, barbecue ribs, fried chicken, collard greens(thank God) and an array of pies that curdled my cholesterol; banana pudding, lemon box pie, peanut butter pie, chess pie and a chocolate fudge pie.  Forks were flying like lightning strikes from one plate to another lest we miss out on trying each other’s sinful dessert. This was all washed down with another Southern specialty – a cold brewed sweet tea – as if we needed more sugar.

As we drove on the road to Birmingham along the swathes of cotton fields, we listed names of famous Alabamians. Among them – Jesse Owens, Willie Mays, Diana Ross, W.C. Handy, Rosa Parks, Truman Capote (who lived there as a youth), and Harper Lee, a lifelong friend of Capote. In her one and only published book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960), Lee created Atticus Finch, a father, a lawyer and a fighter for justice. The timing of her book was significant considering the racial turmoil in the Deep South. Birmingham soon after became the center of the civil rights movement, first under the guiding hand of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and then the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. and his call for nonviolent demonstrations.

I met a young black boy in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We were both standing in front of a video encased in an antique wooden jukebox featuring a 1954 performance by Bo Diddley. The youngster was joyfully swinging his arms and dancing in perfect sync to the music. Later I saw him again, standing quietly in front of the replica of the bus that had carried Rosa Parks. She was arrested in 1955 for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man. That child won over my heart, and I had him in mind when on Sunday morning I attended a 16th Street Baptist Church service and witnessed an utterly rousing display of song and prayer lead by the charismatic pastor, the Rev. Arthur Price, Jr. A choir of children sang their little hearts out with a chorus of “amens” from the enchanted parishioners. In that church on a September morning in 1963, four young black schoolgirls were killed by a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan. As a matter of fact, one of the most haunting displays in the Civil Rights Institute is a Klansman white cloak with its pointed hat and sinister aspect.

On the top of a tower on Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham stands Vulcan. He is the largest cast iron sculpture in the world – 56 feet high – and his muscular bare butt has attracted many a viewer. Patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge, he is the emblem of the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry in the first part of the 20th century. The adjacent museum with its soaring light-filled entrance tells that history, in creative exhibits, of the darkness in which the miners labored to unearth the elements that would be forged into items as varied as sewing machines, potbellied stoves, hydrants and manhole covers. The lives and sacrifices of those miners are well remembered here, as they are in the 1000-plus acre park embedded in the Red Mountain. Above old mine shafts and railway tracks, ziplines have created a forest of fun where kids and adults alike squeal with excitement as they buzz along the lines stretching between wooden platforms perched high in the trees. Below, dogs frolic freely in three spacious dog parks, one of which was built exclusively for deaf and blind canines.

Despite the emphasis on history, Birmingham is becoming a vibrant city of the future. Pockets of urban renewal are evident from the former red light district to the Red Mountain area. National award-winning restaurants and their surrounding upscale shops are gracing the landscape. The elegant Highlands Bar and Grill is a perfect example. Its owner, Frank Stitt, is considered one of the top chefs in the U.S. In the tony area of Mountain Brook, Chez Lulu invites you to sample a fresh take on French cuisine, and the thin-crusted pizzas at Post Office Pies in the south side of the city deserved our bravos.

To make amends for my obvious gluttony, I took advantage of the outdoor pool and superlative spa at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa. Sweating it out in the steam room and treated to a Ginger Renewal massage by the expert hands of Marcie McMath, I pretended for a day that I was svelte again. If I were so inclined, I could have had a round of golf as well, or for that matter endless rounds of golf that the 384-mile Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and its various resorts provide, from the Grand Hotel on Mobile Bay to Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa near the Tennessee border.

Another kind of trail blazing was to be found at the legendary FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound recording studios in Muscle Shoals, along the Tennessee River. Started by the innovative music producer Rick Hall, the studios showcased the talents of performers such as Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Cher, The Rolling Stones. Hall crossed the color barrier by bringing together white and black talent at a time when segregation was the norm. The FAME studio has that Carnegie Hall quality where you can practically feel the ghosts of the greats that performed there. Just touching the keys of the little Wurlitzer piano induced a thrill.

The Trail of Tears ends my journey. In a wooded area just outside the charming city of Florence, the ruggedly handsome 86-year-old Tom Hendrix regales us with the story of his life’s creation. Since 1988, Hendrix has been creating a low, thick labyrinth of a wall slowly built from 8.5 million pounds of individual rocks that he found, transported and layered, to honor his Native American great-great-grandmother. She was the only known person banished from her home, during enforced relocation of Native Americans, to have ever returned to her beloved land near the “singing waters” of the Tennessee River. It took her five years to walk that daunting distance. To wander along this wall and pause to touch these stones under the brilliant blue Alabama sky with the autumn leaves falling silently, was to feel akin to a place that, until this trip, had been unknown to me.

The Alabama I experienced was a revelation.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Huntsville connection to Italian astronaut aboard International Space Station

By Kristen Conner, WHNT News 19, Nov. 23

A Soyuz spacecraft has safely docked at the International Space Station, beginning the Expedition 42 Futura mission.

It transported an American and Russian astronaut, as well as Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.

She’s a flight engineer with the European Space Agency. But before all of that, she attended Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville in 1995.

Cristoforetti told the crowd gathered at her induction into the Space Camp Hall of Fame last July that it has always been her dream to go to space.

“I was at Space Camp and everybody was like me,” she said. “So for the first time I found kinship in that sense, and companionship… we shared so much. We shared that dream.”

Sunday, she achieved that dream as the spacecraft launched from Kazakhstan.

Before leaving earth, Cristoforetti tweeted, “Thank you everybody for your support and enthusiasm.  Time to go.  Talk to you from space!”

She will be on the ISS for 5 months.

“When I come back from space in May,” she said last July, “it will be 20 years almost to the day since the time I was at Space Camp. So it takes a while to fulfill your dream. And if you have to keep it alive for such a long time, it has to be strong.”

NASA’s website says the crews working on the Futura mission will be studying the effects of microgravity on cells, as well as doing Earth observation.

Spacewalks are also expected.

To read this article online, go to:

The New York Times features a place where lost luggage gets another shot
By Mike Tierney, The New York Times, Nov. 24

It is a secondhand store, one of a kind. Its name, Unclaimed Baggage Center, doesn’t quite say it all. Its shelves are stocked not only with luggage lost, forgotten or ditched by airline passengers; the store also carries all the contents of that stray luggage deemed suitable for purchase.

In the G.P.S. generation, when the whereabouts of things as diverse as smartphones, house pets and children’s backpacks are traceable, airline passengers and their possessions still permanently part ways.

While the number of “mishandled” items, as the aviation industry describes checked luggage that disappears or is damaged on its watch, is declining, the boom in carry-on belongings left in seat-back compartments and overhead bins — think iPads — has helped keep this repository of orphaned property thriving. And there is the promise of continued good times as more travelers take to the skies for the holiday season.

How great a business is unclear, given the family-owned company’s reluctance to disclose what it considers proprietary information, other than to insist that the sign that stands outside this nondescript strip mall — “7,000 new items daily” — represents truth in advertising. She did estimate the annual traffic count at nearly a million, drawn from every state and at least 40 countries — including a commercial pilot based in Qatar who drops by regularly with his wife. Buses are welcome.

Little can surprise Mrs. Cantrell anymore after seeing wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, full suits of armor and rare musical instruments wander in. Some items are so unusual that they are stashed in the company “museum,” or exhibited on the store walls, unavailable for any price. On exhibit last week was a tribal breastplate and an African djembe, or drum.

Amazon it is not. There is no online shopping component.

The boldest claim from Unclaimed, as it is known to local residents: There is no other place like it.  Exclusive contracts are locked in with major United States-based airlines to load suitcases and other stuff from primary airports in trucks and haul them back to this northeast Alabama town of about 15,000 that, if not in the middle of nowhere, is in the vicinity.

Recent ramped-up promotional efforts, largely through social media, have generated news coverage. A spot on local TV lured three residents from northern Georgia last Thursday. Sandi Grimm, though impressed, found nothing that she said “floated my boat,” but the shopping cart of her friends Pam Aiken and Ed Lyon was laden with a typically odd assortment of goods seen here: a mattress and an 11-piece cooking set, both new, along with two iPads, cleansed of data from the previous owners. The price was $625 for the pair.

Behind them, the glass display case containing digital cameras could have been replicated from most any department store. On the other side was an article that distinguishes Unclaimed: a saddle mounted on a faux horseback, for the right price.

Nearby was an especially incongruous scene: skis and snowboards for sale in a rural Deep South store. In fact, the first Saturday of each November is Unclaimed’s version of Black Friday. Hundreds of customers with powdered
slopes on their minds queue up overnight to burst through the doors for bargains on skiing gear and garb.

The special last week was on jewelry and wristwatches, marked down further from the usual reduction storewide of 20 to 80 percent below retail.

David Chafin, an Alabamian visiting the area for work, had bought four timepieces earlier in the day and had circled back for more, with his wife and a colleague, Taz Tillery, in tow.

As “Little Drummer Boy” drifted out over the public address system, Mr. Chafin, who said he once ran a clothing and jewelry store, expressed delight with the higher-end apparel, much of which carries designer labels. He eventually toted out seven jackets.

The store “holds up to its legend,” said Mr. Tillery, a first-timer, who poked fun at his co-worker’s binge-shopping.
“My expectations were lower coming in.”

Standing out among the mostly affordable watches was an 18-karat piece with a $15,000 price tag, which amounts to half of the most expensive Unclaimed transaction ever — for a Rolex.

A modest purchase of earrings was made by Zoe Polk, whose father, James, had grabbed artificial fishing baits for a friend. Mr. Polk, who swings by periodically, likens the experience to a treasure hunt.

“You never know what you’ll find,” he said. For example, curious about the contents of a stuffed animal acquired there eight years ago, he cut it open, he recalled, and pharmaceutical drugs spilled out.

For every 1,000 fliers in the United States in the first six months of this year, 3.86 dealt with mishandled bags, according to the Department of Transportation. The rate is about half the peak in 2007, but it is enough to keep Unclaimed’s trucks rolling.

The trend toward carry-ons has partly offset the decline. Unclaimed must wait 90 days to obtain checked luggage while airlines hunt for the owner. Some airlines hold onto the more valuable property for a while longer, but are not required to.

Laptops and cellphones are pouring in so much that Mrs. Cantrell said, “We’ve become quite the Apple Store in our own way.” The section offering headphones and earbuds seemed disproportionately large.

Mr. Tillery eventually piled a stack of garments on the checkout counter. “No telling what you’re going to find,” he said, echoing Mr. Polk’s comment, before his credit card was tapped for $277.65.

Most of the store’s 40,000 square feet is occupied by clothes of all sorts, including wedding dresses and mink furs. Challenging laptops for the steepest hike in incoming items are coats.

“I think everybody who travels carries two jackets and leaves one behind,” said Mrs. Cantrell after detailing her own head-to-toe ensemble, including watch and necklace, that she said was acquired at the store.

Significant competition from similar businesses has been closed off by what Mrs. Cantrell said were exclusive deals and strong relationships with airlines. Several who were contacted about Unclaimed declined to comment, explaining they do not identify vendors or confirm contracts with them.

Unclaimed could not have started smaller, with goods procured from bus lines sold off card tables in a two-bedroom house in 1970. The founder’s son took over a quarter-century later, and inventory today — also supplied by buses and trains — spills over into a second building that serves as the children’s department.

The growth of technology that will allow for more effective tracking of luggage could become a threat, Mrs. Cantrell acknowledged.

Radio frequency identification devices are deployed by at least one major airport and could someday be attached to all checked baggage by airlines as the cost of such tracking devices continues to shrink. “We’ve got some interest in examining RFID technology,” a Delta spokesman, Morgan Durrant, said.

To read the entire article, go to:


Montgomery #3 on Trivago’s U.S. Best Value Cities for 2015

Huffington Post Trivago, Nov. 20

Whether you’re planning a much-needed vacation or a spontaneous weekend away, these 50 bargain hotspots complied by hotel search are not to be missed in the coming year. Based on the annual average price of a standard double room, combined with the city’s overall hotel rating (based on over 140 million user reviews*), the Trivago Best Value City index highlights 50 Undiscovered US Cities that are sure to make your wallet and inner explorer happy in 2015.  Montgomery is #3 on the list.

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370,000 non-stop airplane seats between near-by Atlanta airport and Germany

The U.S. Commercial Office has released its study of non-stop flights between the United States and Germany.  The report released on Nov. 14 lists five non-stop flights between German cities and the Atlanta airport, the closest international airport  to Alabama.  Those flights run between 5 to 7 times weekly with 208 to 267 seats available per flight, for a total of more than 370,000 capacity annually if all flight remain active year round.

The flights are:

Delta Airlines – Atlanta/Frankfurt with daily flights of 245 seats each flight
Delta Airlines – Atlanta/Stuttgart with 5 flights a week of 208 seats each flight
Delta Airlines – Atlanta/Stuttgrat with 5 flights a week of 208 seats each flight
Delta Airlines – Atlanta/Munich with daily flights of 245 seats each flight
Lufthansa Airlines – Atlanta/Frankfurt with 7 flights a week with 217-267 each flight

The report shows that Delta Airlines is the most aggressive airline between Atlanta and Germany.  This is good news for Alabama tourism as Delta serves all of Alabama’s major cities.  This means Germany travelers who wish to arrive in Alabama by air could reach Alabama via Delta airlines with one a single stop in Atlanta to go through customs and plane change.

While there are many flights with one stopover offered by U.S. and European airlines between Germany and the United States, the study covered only non-stop flights. The study used information from provided by airlines as of January 2014.

The Alabama Tourism Department promotes Alabama as a tourism destination in the German market though the Deep South Alliance, Brand USA, TravelSouth USA and the website at . The Alabama Tourism Department also attends the ITB tourism marketplace in Berlin.

For information on the Alabama Tourism Department’s international efforts, contact


Stat: travel to U.S. to top 88 million by 2019, Oct. 28

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), international travel to the United States is projected to grow to 88.3 million visitors by 2019, an increase of 27 percent over 2013.

Visitor volume in 2014 is expected to increase 5.9 percent and reach 73.9 million visitors who stay one or more nights in the United States. This growth would build on the 4.7 percent (revised) increase in arrivals in 2013, which resulted in a record 69.8 million visitors.

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LPGA sets date for Prattville and tentative date for Mobile tourneys
By Tommy Hicks,, Nov. 18

The LPGA has announced its 2015 tournament schedule that includes a new date for the Yokahama Tire LPGA Classic in Prattville and tentatively a continuation of a May date for the Airbus LPGA Classic in Mobile.

Prattville’s Yokahama Tire LPGA Classic moves from a September date (Sept. 18-21) this past season to an August date (Aug. 27-30) for the 2015 schedule, moving the tournament played at Capital Hill Golf Club of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail out of the college football season. The state’s five Football Bowl Subdivision teams (Alabama, Auburn, South Alabama, UAB and Troy) all are scheduled to open their seasons on Sept. 5 next year.

The Airbus LPGA Classic, played at Magnolia Grove, also on the RTJ Golf Trail, is the only tournament on the LPGA’s 2015 schedule that was released Tuesday, that is tentatively scheduled. The tournament is scheduled to be played May 21-25, which would match the date it held on the schedule in 2014 (May 22-25).

“While work continues on the final details with Airbus and the LPGA, we are very hopeful the Airbus LPGA Classic will be returning to Mobile in May 2015,” said John Cannon, president of the Sunbelt Golf Corporation that oversees the tournament. “Over the years, Mobile has been a great supporter of the LPGA and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.”

Cannon said more details involving the tournament will be announced once the date of the event is finalized.

The two LPGA tournaments, if both dates hold on the schedule, will combine with a new PGA Tour tournament at the RTJ Golf Trail’s Grand National course in Opelika — the Barbasol Championship — for an active summer golf schedule. The PGA Tour event will be played July 16-19, opposite the British Open.

Jessica Korda is the defending champion of the Airbus tournament, with Mi Jung Hur the defending champion of the Yokahama tournament.

Attempts to reach the LPGA regarding a timeframe for finalizing the date of the Airbus LPGA Classic were unsuccessful.

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Windham to be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame
The Selma Times-Journal, Nov. 15

Selma legend Kathryn Tucker Windham will be inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in March 2015.

A native of Selma, graduate of Huntingdon College and lifelong resident of Alabama, Windham is well-known as a master storyteller, author of 24 books, playwright, photographer and popular public television and radio personality.

Windham began her writing career at the age 12 when she became movie editor for her cousin Earl Tucker’s weekly newspaper, The Thomasville Times.

After spending her childhood in Thomasville and graduating from Huntingdon College, she went to work as a reporter for The Alabama Journal.

In 1942, she moved to Birmingham and in 1944 she joined The Birmingham News.

She married A.B.Windham in 1946, and they moved to Selma, where their three children were born.

Windham joined the staff of The Selma Times-Journal in 1956 and won several Associated Press awards for writing and photography.

Although Windham retired from newspapering in 1973, she never retired from spinning tales and truths to anyone who would listen — and thousands did.

She founded the Alabama Tale Tellin’ Festival, which has been held annually in Selma since 1978.

Windham loved to tell stories about ghosts and about growing up in rural Alabama. She was featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and was a regular storyteller on Alabama Public Radio’s Alabama Life.

In 1995, she received the National Storytelling Association’s Circle of Excellence Award and Lifetime Achievement Award.

According to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame’s guidelines, a nominee must have been deceased for two years.

Windham died at age 93, on June 12, 2011, shortly before the publication of the last of her 29 books. It is titled: “She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life.”

The induction ceremony will take place in Alumnae Auditorium on the Judson College campus in Marion, and will be open to the public at no charge.

A luncheon in her honor will follow the induction ceremony.  Reservations will be required for the luncheon.

The AWHOF, founded in 1970, is housed in the A. Howard Bean Hall on the campus of Judson College in Marion.

The induction ceremony will be held in Alumnae Auditorium on the Judson College campus. Additional information will be available on the AWHOF website at

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Alabama’s Grand Hotel named best in the south by Condé Nast Traveler

UK Finance, Nov. 25

Since 1847, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa has maintained a gracious tradition of Southern hospitality on Mobile Bay. The readers of Conde Nast Traveler have taken notice and once again named it one of the “Best Resorts in the South” in the 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards. This follows Conde Nast Traveler naming the Grand’s spa one of the best in the country earlier in 2014.

The honors for the Queen of Southern Resorts continue to arrive for the Alabama Gulf Coast hotel. ConventionSouth magazine readers voted the Grand Hotel a Readers’ Choice Award winner for best meeting sites in the South. Additionally, ConventionSouth named the Grand Hotel one of the “South’s Top 18 Golf Resorts for Groups.” Successful Meetings magazine presented the Grand Hotel with its Pinnacle Award for excellence in meeting locations in 2014. And Meetings South named the resort one of the “Best of the South” for service.

“Honors from national travel and meeting publications are a true testament to our exceptional staff,” said Bruce Smith, general manager of the Grand Hotel. “With 405 guest rooms, the Grand works well for larger meetings but also maintains the intimacy and luxury desired by leisure guests.”

In 2013, the Historic Hotels of America named the Grand Hotel “Best Historic Hotel” in the country with more than 400 rooms. This year, Historic Hotels of America named the Grand’s social media efforts the best in country for historic properties. The Grand Hotel embraces its rich history through daily pageantry and a cannon firing. Meeting attendees enjoy the Grand’s exceptional amenities, updated meeting facilities and great cuisine, as well.

The Grand Hotel, along the Alabama Gulf Coast is located on Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and is adjacent to Fairhope, Alabama.

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Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail makes the top 7 places to hike in the U.S.
By Deb Thompson,, Nov. 24

You don’t have to leave the country to find great places to hike. In fact, some of the most stunning trails in the world can be found under a flag of red, white and blue! Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just an eager beginner, here are seven places to work up a good sweat.

Orange Beach is home to the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, and like the name suggests, there’s a lot of backcountry to be explored. You’ll see everything from alligators to bobcats in the Alabama wild, and if you listen very closely, you might even hear the call of the yellow-headed blackbird.

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10Best: pays respects to Southern royalty
By Eric Grossman, USA TODAY, Nov. 25

Hank Williams Museum – Montgomery

As one of the biggest names in country music history, Hank Williams has inspired countless performers to pick up a guitar. Music lovers make a detour to Alabama’s state capital to pay their respects to the “Hillbilly Shakespeare.” Situated in historic Downtown Montgomery, the museum helps visitors trace Williams’ rise to prominence from humble beginnings and presents the stories behind the songs that made him one of the genre’s most respected and influential figures. Fans spend hours examining vivid artifacts such as the 1952 baby blue Cadillac in which Williams made his final journey, as well as outfits, awards, musical paraphernalia, and more.

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15 Alabama restaurants that will blow the taste buds out of your mouth

By Spencer McKee, MOVOTO Insider, November
Seafood, bbq, and Chicago deep dish pizza—it’s hard to stop eating in Alabama.

1. Saw’s food will heal your soul

A true hole-in-the-wall-gem, Saw’s Soul Kitchen offers up some of the best BBQ around. The “pork and greens” dish is something everyone needs to try at least once, and the sweet tea chicken sandwich is to die for.

2. Reward your inner foodie at Highlands Bar and Grill

Highlands Bar and Grill is a bit pricier and more upscale than most of the other items on this list—however, visitors definitely get what they pay for. With an awesome atmosphere and creative dishes to match, they’ve got one of the most talented kitchen crews around. No matter what you order from the menu, you can’t go wrong.

3. Los Dos Hermanos aka Taqueria Guzman aka that one taco truck by the gas station aka the best tacos you’ve ever freakin’ tasted

Patrons might not be able to pick a name for this mobile food stand, but with food this good…does it really matter? It’s cash only, closed Monday, and only really open during lunch hours on the other days of the week, but a trip to this seemingly unpredictable operation is always totally worth the trip, as they serve up some of the most authentic and reasonably priced Mexican food around.

4. Seafood has never looked prettier or tasted better than at Hot And Hot Fish Club

A great place to find anything from the sea, the beautiful presentation of dishes headed to other tables makes it difficult to wait for your order to come up. They’ve also got a lively bar with a kitchen view, allowing patrons to see the masters at work while they craft an entire range of delicious dishes from the sea.

5. See what all the hooting is about at The Hungry Owl

Home to the Tony Burger, a one pound burger stuffed with onions, peppers, jalapeno, sausage, and cheese, the Hungry Owl is for serious eaters. Their menu doesn’t stop at burgers, as they’ve also got delicious seafood and Creole classics as well.

6. The deeper the dish the better at Tortugas

Tortugas is a true rarity in the South, authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, and it’s worth every calorie. A few bites and a quick look around this Chicago themed joint will have anyone thinking they’ve somehow been transported to the Windy City. It doesn’t take long to realize why this place is consistently winning awards for their pies, with tons of fresh ingredients and flavors that are spot on.

7. Barbecue sauce comes in different colors—and all are delicious

The meat at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is pretty good, but the sauces are what people come here for. Big Bob’s white sauce is a barbecue sauce that’s literally pale white, practically one-of-a-kind in the entire country. While it’s a secret recipe, it’s tangy, peppery taste pairs well with nearly any meat. You’ll definitely want to take a bottle of it home with you.

8. This is scrumptious seafood with a view

The Original Oyster House in Spanish Fort not only has a huge selection of fresh seafood dishes, guests are able to sit dockside and watch fishing boats float by while they dine. Their best dish is anything with the crab claws, a Southern favorite. Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop.

9. These burgers and beignets can’t be beat

When it comes to burgers, paninis, and beignets, Pete knows best. With plenty of New Orleans flair, this is one stop that can’t be missed while trekking through ‘Bama. They’ve got daily specials featuring creative blends of ingredients, like the very popular beer cheese bacon burger. For those with a sweet tooth, the beignets might be the best in the country.

10. Who knew antique clubs had such awesome food?

The self-proclaimed “Bloody Mary Capital of the Eastern Shore” has everything you’d want in bar food. With a delicious selection of sandwiches and drinks, Manci’s unique blends of sauces put a special twist on nearly every order. While it’s hard to recommend just one dish, the “spider sandwich” with soft shell crab will have you leaving happy.

11. Miss Myra’s pit is the place to be

A true hidden gem in Cahaba Heights, Miss Myra’s has perfected the “meat and sides” platter. They keep it simple here, a true blast from the past, with humble selections that are the tastiest around. Very delicious and a great bang for your buck, once you try it, you’ll be back.

12. 463 miles from New Orleans, Po Boy Factory is still the best cajun around

Upon entering Po Boy Factory, the décor throws you into New Orleans mid-Mardi Gras. Their Creole and Cajun seasonings could not be better and would make any true Louisianan proud. Make sure you try the “Hot Damn” sauce before you leave.

13. Take D’Road to flavor country

D’Road Café is a tiny restaurant, but don’t let that fool you, they’ve got the biggest, baddest flavors around. With everything made from scratch on the ever-changing menu, a trip to D’Road is always a memorable experience, as they’re probably the only place in Alabama serving up these Latin American options at such a high level of caliber.

14. Get your brunch on at Trattoria Centrale

Trattoria Centrale serves up what might be the best brunch in the state. With options like French toast topped with mascarpone and berries and fully stuffed omelets, this place will have you convinced that brunch is the most important meal of the day.

15. In Gianmarco’s hands, Italian food comes to life

Gianmarco’s has some of the best Italian food on this side of the Atlantic and the fancy, upscale atmosphere to match. This place does a great job putting an Alabaman twist on classic dishes from Italy, using local ingredients and flavors. They’ve also got a stunning wine bar that will have you turned into a sommelier in no time.

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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.

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Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Dec. 8              Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Christmas Tour & Barbecue book signing with Art Meripol at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop

Dec. 15            Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Christmas Tour & Barbecue book signing with Annette Thompson at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop

Dec. 2 – 4        Travel South International Showcase, New Orleans

Dec. 5 – 8        Travel South International Super FAM to Alabama

Jan 17-21        National Tour Association (NTA) – New Orleans, LA


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.

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Alabama Tourism Department