Tourism Tuesdays January 20, 2015

  • State tourism department hires Debbie Wilson
  • Alabama Tourism promotion at Selma opening in London
  • Attendance figures deadline is Friday
  • National Geographic brings films to Huntsville
  • The Boston Globe features Mobile’s Mardi Gras
  • Mobile’s historic Battle House a ‘Top 500’ hotel for 2015
  • Baumhower to transform former Bienville Club into upscale Dauphin’s restaurant
  • Visit America’s Abbey Road: Muscle Shoals tour a must
  • State Parks to offer free camping February 8-12
  • Lawler’s original barbecue in Athens closing in favor of express stores
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


State tourism department hires Debbie Wilson

Florence tourism executive Debbie Wilson will become the manager of the Alabama Tourism Department’s welcome center program which operates eight information centers, director Lee Sentell said.

She will supervise 40 people at the centers on interstates at the state borders and create displays that communicate messages to 5 million visitors each year, he said.

Sentell said Gov. Robert Bentley instructed Cabinet members to recruit the best possible people for senior positions during his second term which begins next Monday. “I approached Debbie several months ago and didn’t stop until she agreed,” he said.

The state tourism department took on support of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2013 because of a positive relationship with Florence-Lauderdale Tourism.  In addition, museum staff members organized the induction ceremony a year ago with assistance from Wilson’s agency and Judy Hood, wife of “Swampers” musician David Hood, he said.

Wilson will remain involved with the Shoals community as the North Alabama regional director, Sentell said.  The state tourism agency assigns a staff member to be a liaison with each of the state’s four regions.  She succeeds Brian Jones, a Decatur native and graduate of the University of North Alabama, who will become the contact with another region.

“I’ve worked with Debbie for most of the 20 years she has been at Florence-Lauderdale Tourism.  She is a creative, high energy professional who is totally committed to our industry.  She is a great leader and will be fantastic in her new role,” said Sentell.

Ms. Wilson will join the agency Feb. 16.  She succeeds Frances Smiley, who began as a tour guide at the State Capitol, became director of the agency, and most recently manager of welcome centers during a 30-year career.  The position has been vacant for a year.

Alabama Tourism promotion at Selma opening in London

When the film “Selma” premieres in London on Jan. 27, the Alabama Tourism Department will partner with Bon Voyage tour company to host 20 tour operators and journalists at the VIP event, director Lee Sentell says.

A 30-second commercial linking the film with Alabama destinations will be shown at the Curzon Mayfair Cinema that night and play on other London screens for four weeks, he said. The official promotion is in partnership with Pathe, the international distributor of Selma.

“Our campaign will stress how Alabama has changed in the half century since the events depicted in the movie,” Sentell said. A clip from the film where actor David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King Jr., says, “Come to Selma,” is included in the tourism commercial.

Attendance figures deadline is Friday

The Alabama Tourism Department is asking representatives from state attractions and events to turn in their attendance figures for 2014. These attendance figures are used by state tourism in economic impact studies and are the basis for the annual “Top 10” listings of tourism destinations. The figures serve as an invaluable guide for state government, local organizations and the media. They are also distributed in press kits to travel writers and group tour operators.

In order for you to be counted we must have your data by Fri., Jan. 23. The reporting process has been streamlined to allow you to enter your attendance figures directly online. The entire process should take less than 5 minutes to complete.

Please follow this link to enter your attendance figures:

National Geographic brings films to Huntsville
By Carla Fields, WAAYTV, Jan. 19

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is now home to award-winning films through National Geographic. The National Geographic chose Huntsville as one of 12 cities to partner with, to show 2-D and 3-D films that won’t be seen anywhere else.

The Space and Rocket Center is honored to show those unique films. “It really does speak about out credibility. It speaks to our exhibit to our museum to space camp and to what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s all about Huntsville, it’s about the Space and Rocket Center and it’s about our community,” added Tim Hall with the museum.

The inaugural films include “Jerusalem,” “Wildest Weather in the Solar System,” and “Electropolis.”

To read this article online, go to:

The Boston Globe features Mobile’s Mardi Gras
By Patricia Harris, The Boston Globe, Jan. 17

With all the Mardi Gras glitz, it’s hard to believe that the most coveted souvenir is a strand of black plastic beads thrown from a float full of women dressed in black. But that’s what I was after as I waded into the crowd along Royal Street on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

Sure you can deck yourself out in multiple strands of gaudy beads — purple and gold are Mobile’s signature colors — but that’s just adornment. The staid black beads are history. And the only chance to get them is during the Joe Cain Procession on Joe Cain Day, when Cain’s Merry Widows dispense them to the crowd.

Nearly 35 parades march through the streets of Mobile in the three weeks before Lent. The real flurry of activity takes place in the five days leading up to Ash Wednesday — this year Feb. 13-17. Joe Cain, the market clerk who set Mobile Mardi Gras on its quirky, populist path, always claims pride of place on Sunday. It’s true that New Orleans Mardi Gras gets more attention these days, but the folks in Mobile still throw a family-friendly, less rowdy, but equally rousing party attended by about 1 million people a year.

Almost everyone agrees that the first Mardi Gras in the United States was held in 1703 at a French settlement on the site of the current Mobile and that the city launched the tradition of the mystical societies that sponsor the signature parades. Joe Cain, however, is credited with reviving Mardi Gras as Mobile recovered from the Civil War. His first parade in 1867 may have been modest, but it certainly made an impression. Dressed as Slacabamarinico, a “chief” of the Chickasaw tribe, Cain drove a coal wagon through the city, trailed by the Lost Cause Minstrels, a group more adept at making lots of noise on homemade instruments than at carrying a tune. Now Cain’s parade is the highlight of Mardi Gras season.

If you go to Mobile, Ala.

Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa is on a parade route and has an upper terrace for great viewing.

To read this entire article, go to:

Mobile’s historic Battle House a ‘Top 500’ hotel for 2015

By Kelli Dugan,, Jan. 15

Mobile’s own Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa has been named one of the “Top 500 Hotels in the World” for 2015 by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Margo Gilbert, general manager of the North Royal Street gem in downtown Mobile, called the accolade an honor for “the Battle House, the local area and the entire state of Alabama.

“That says a great deal about our staff, our hotel, our ownership and our commitment to our guests. To have one of the top hotels in the world be located in the middle of downtown Mobile speaks volumes to the exciting transformation the city is going through,” Gilbert said, adding, “The more I study the results, the more humbling this honor is.”

Indeed, the Battle House’s overall score of 88.17 ranked higher the Beverly Wilshire, Ritz-Calton Fort Lauderdale, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, JW Marriott Marquis Miami, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, Ritz-Calton Lodge Reynolds Plantation, Ro’a Kea Hotel & Resort in Hawaii, Four Seasons St. Louis, ARIA in Las Vegas, Ritz-Carlton New York Battery Park, St. Regis Houston and Four Seasons Resort Dallas among others.

Click here to see the complete list of 239 U.S. hotels making the 2015 list.

In its nod, the internationally-renowned travel publication calls the Battle House a “Beaux-Arts landmark in the city’s historic downtown,” blending “old-world grandeur with modern amenities, including a new 10,000-square-foot spa.”

The magazine also encourages patrons to “order the seared salmon salad under the Trellis Room’s restored stained-glass cathedral ceiling” as its insider tip.

The Mobile landmark, which first opened its doors in 1852, was last named to the Travel + Leisure list in 2009, following a massive renovation. It is the only Alabama hotel on the 2015 list.

To read the article online, go to:


Bob Baumhower to transform former Bienville Club into lavish, upscale Dauphin’s restaurant

By David Holloway,, Jan. 14

The space is virtually empty now with a few stray tables scattered about and some dining room chairs that have seen their glory days stacked neatly in a corner. The large kitchen is similarly quiet with pots, pans and cooking equipment scattered about; and the bar sits unoccupied and empty.

But in a short while the former Bienville Club that occupies the 34th floor of the newly renovated RSA-BankTrust Building in downtown Mobile will be transformed into a lavish, stylish new dining destination. The storied private club and arguably the most exciting bit of restaurant real estate in region will open for business as Dauphin’s.

Down in the basement plans are also unfolding for a second no-less ambitious entertainment venue that will feature a late night, low-key bar reminiscent of the Caribbean. It will be named El Floridita (after the legendary Havana watering hole of the same name) and feature high-end cocktails, small plates, live entertainment and cigar bar in an old bank vault.

These are the latest endeavors by former NFL great and University of Alabama All-America Bob Baumhower. During a recent tour of the facilities he could barely contain his enthusiasm for the project. He started the tour on the top floor in the now empty Bienville Club.

“Look at that view,” he said, gesturing south toward Mobile Bay and beyond. “I bet you can see Fort Morgan on a clear day,” Baumhower said.

Baumhower said he plans to capitalize on that unmatched panoramic view with 40 or so private booths that don’t obstruct the view. Preliminary plans are to knock out walls and make a more open, inviting open kitchen plan that will allow a few lucky diners to eat in the kitchen at Chef’s Table.

It is a large footprint, with nearly 7,000-square feet of space that Baumhower plans to decorate in what he called a “modern art deco look.” The color schemes will be a mixture of teal, red and softer hues that fit the décor.

The menu is still being planned, but Baumhower said it will be familiar and approachable. “We want to feature local Alabama seafood because it’s the best in the world,” he said. The lunch menu is also a work in progress, but Chef Steve Zucker said he is aiming for a bill of fare influenced by the forces that helped shape the region’s unique culinary heritage.

“I’m still working on it but it’s going to be comfort food that we all grew up with,” Zucker said, “a sort of upscale meat and three.” Baumhower said whatever it ends up being, “it will definitely have Mobile’s fingerprints all over it.”

The name Dauphin’s is also no coincidence. It’s an obvious homage to the region’s French founders, but it is also more than that. Baumhower’s entire 10 year NFL career was spent in Miami playing for the Dolphins and he admits the new restaurant’s name is a sly take off on that name. “It’s fun and that’s what we’re all about,” Baumhower said.

Work on El Floridita is also just getting started; the walls are still bare sheet rock and the floor is unfinished concrete. But it is not difficult to see what is taking shape.

The centerpiece for the expansive basement bar is the huge abandoned bank vault that dominates one wall. A steel door two-feet thick opens into the old vault and Baumhower plans to incorporate some of the bank’s old accoutrements into the bar scheme.

The old safety deposit boxes will be restored and repurposed to store cigars and other items for frequent patrons.

The food offerings will be brief, Baumhower said, mostly cold foods and small plate dishes. “It is a bar with what I expect to be a speakeasy feel to it,” he said.

Right now it is still very much a work in progress. Baumhower said his team is working with architect employed by his landlords – the Retirement System of Alabama – to come up with a final plan. He expects work to begin in a few weeks and it is even too early for anything resembling a timetable.

But he is shooting for sooner rather than later. “I’m anxious to get started,” he said.

To read this article online, go to:

Visit America’s Abbey Road: Muscle Shoals tour a must
By Erin Shaw Street, The Daily South/Southern Living, Jan. 13

Ok, that’s a big claim. But we think that a corner of Northwest Alabama qualifies. Specifically, the town of Muscle Shoals, where legends like Duane Allman, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett laid down tracks.

You’ve probably heard about Muscle Shoals from the 2013 documentary with the same name. (And perhaps you’ve read our story on The New Sound of Muscle Shoals.) If not, the primer: this tiny town an hour off the interstate is where some of the most legendary songs of all time were recorded (see: The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome”).

For years, the studios were only open to artists, but now they are open to the public (on a limited basis). The best way to visit? On a behind-the-scenes tour.

Judy Hood, wife of swamper David Hood, runs her “Swampette” tour on the first Saturday of every month. The tickets, $35, sell out like hotcakes. And the first tour of the year– scheduled for February 7–go on sale today.

Here’s the story: Judy Hood was raised in Sheffield, Alabama, just down the road from the Shoals. She grew up just a few blocks away from the man who would become her husband, David, a bass player and member of the Muscle Shoals Swampers known for their iconic sound. Judy and David have been married for 28 years and together, help carry on the mission of telling the story of the Shoals.

After the documentary’s release, tourists have flocked to this part of the world. But when the documentary premiered, there was no public tour. So, soon after, Judy, a recently retired PR executive, said yes to the local tourism agency asking her to lead one. Comandeering a trolley that seats 35, Judy took her first group of folks to FAME Studios and 3614 Jackson Highway (also the title of a Cher album, recorded here) as well as to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Held the first Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., each of the Swampette Tours have sold out. So far, the youngest attendee was 18 months, the oldest, 83. Judy says, “You can watch the documentary or read about the Shoals, but without being here you can’t touch the piano Aretha Franklin played or go to the room where the Stones recorded ‘Wild Horses’ and be in a place that’s rock and roll heaven. I’ve had people break down in tears, especially at 3614 Jackson Highway.”

The best part of the experience: it’s lead by Judy herself, who is passionate about sharing the story of the Shoals sound, and how it continues to influence music today. She keeps the sessions small so visitors have time to ask questions, to interact with each other, and hear about the future of this area. (The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation purchased 3614 last year, and with the help of support from Beats Electronics, will be renovating it into a fully operating recording studio.)

If you go, keep your eyes out: a Swamper or two has been known to appear, and might just pick a song or two.

For more information, or to order tickets, call Florence Lauderdale Tourism (256)740-4141.

To read this article online, go to:

State Parks to offer free camping February 8-12
Lodging Discount Also Available

In a show of appreciation to its customers, Alabama State Parks is offering free camping during its Customer Appreciation Days from February 8-12, 2015. During the event, campers can stay for up to five nights based upon the availability of campsites. The free camping offer applies to both improved and primitive sites, but is not available to extended-stay campers. Prior or day-of reservations are welcome.

In addition to free camping, Alabama State Parks is also offering 50 percent off lodging at parks with hotels and cabins during its Customer Appreciation Days. The discount applies to regular seasonal rates on all lodge and hotel rooms, cabins, chalets and cottages. Lodging tax is not included in the Customer Appreciation Days offer.

“In recent years, our visitors and partners have continued to show their support for Alabama State Parks during tough financial times,” said Greg Lein, State Parks Director. “These Customer Appreciation Days are intended as a show of gratitude to everyone who enjoys the state’s park system. We appreciate their support.”

To take advantage of the Customer Appreciation Days free camping and discounted lodging offers, contact the individual parks for availability and to make reservations. For individual park contact information, visit or call 1-800-ALA-PARK.

Alabama State Parks Customer Appreciation Days are the first in a series of upcoming state park specials. In 2015, the park system’s theme will be “Bring a Friend,” which encourages regular visitors to invite a friend who has never explored an Alabama state park. For more details about Bring a Friend, visit in the coming months.

Alabama State Parks is proud to provide world-class experiences at each of its 22 state parks. Park improvements and accommodation specials such as Customer Appreciation Days are made possible only through the continued support of Alabama’s state park partners and the state legislature. At Alabama’s state parks, Partners Pay the Way.

Lawler’s original barbecue in Athens closing in favor of express stores
By Kelly Kazek,, Jan. 19

The retro architecture, with its A-frame roofline, made Lawler’s Barbecue and Catfish Restaurant an Athens landmark, but it’s the homemade pies and cooked-’til-they’re soft veggies that kept customers coming back.

For 20 years, customers have visited the Hobbs Street restaurant, one of the few remaining buffets in town, for its offerings of hot vegetables, barbecue plates, fried catfish, hush puppies and homemade desserts. But on Jan. 31, the restaurant will close as brothers Jerry and Phillip Lawler focus on operating their seven Lawler’s Barbecue express stores, which feature the same award-winning barbecue but not the hot buffet.

“It’s always been a little bit of a problem that the store didn’t have the same things the others did, plus it’s an older location that requires maintenance, so we’re going to move on to just operating express stores,” Jerry Lawler said. “As bad as we hate to, we’re just going to close that one down and let it go so we can concentrate on having them all the same.”

Lawler’s has seven express stores, including locations on Whitesburg Drive and South Parkway in Huntsville, Jeff Road in Monrovia, Hughes Road and Balch Road in Madison, U.S. Highway 72 in Athens and Alabama Highway 231/431 in Meridianville.

Lawler’s Barbecue has won numerous awards, including runner-up for Best Barbecue in North Alabama in The Year of Alabama Food Contest in 2013, among others.

To read this entire article, go to:

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Jan 22 – 25                  Louisville Boat, RV & Sportshow – Louisville, KY
Jan 27 – 28                  Snowbird Extravaganza Show – Lakeland, FL
Feb 5                           Alabama Lifestyle Expo – Gulf Shores, AL
Feb 6 – 8                     Kansas City Golf Show – Kansas City, KS
Feb 8 – 10                   Select Traveller (Bank Travel) – Nashville, TN (Renaissance Hotel Nashville)
Feb 13 – 15                 St. Louis Golf Expo – St. Louis, MO
Feb 13 – 15                 Grand Rapids Golf Show – Grand Rapids, MI
Feb 20 – 22                 Outdoor Adventure Show – Toronto, Canada
Feb 20 – Mar 1           Louisville Golf Show – Louisville, KY
Feb 20 – Mar 2           Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show – Indianapolis, IN
Feb 20 – 22                 Toronto Golf & Travel


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:

To subscribe to the weekly Alabama Tourism News, please contact Peggy Collins at:

Alabama Tourism Department