Tourism Tuesdays June 23, 2015

  • Governor Bentley announces the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame
  • Marsh pledges to renovate Anniston mansion
  • Ten Alabama State Parks awarded TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence
  • City of Huntsville, CVB unveil signage for downtown Huntsville
  • How one Alabama hotel helped transform a community into a must-see tourist destination
  • MONEY tabs Prattville as top place for retiring golfers
  • New historic Selma audio tour designed to enhance tourism
  • USA TODAY names 10 Best: Baseball pilgrimage sites beyond the ballpark
  • Alabama bakes
  • ‘Alabama’s Barbecue Legends’ will play Birmingham’s 2015 Sidewalk Film Festival
  • New reality TV competition ‘Beach Flip’ debuts on HGTV
  • Hollywood is in Orange Beach
  • Tour the Alabama studio where Lionel Richie, Commodores recorded ‘Brick House’
  • Nine stunning spots that make you want to stay in Alabama this summer
  • Amazing road trips to take in every state
  • 2015 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
  • Search is on for Alabama Barbecue Restaurants
  • Alabama artists and craftspeople
  • 2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar of Event deadlines
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


Governor Bentley announces the Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame

Governor Robert Bentley on Tuesday announced a newly created hall of fame to honor Alabama’s love of barbecue. The Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame will include 29 restaurants in Alabama that have been open for at least 50 years.
“The State of Alabama has become a destination for barbecue lovers across the country,” said Governor Bentley.

“The hall of fame provides a way for us to celebrate the iconic restaurants that have made Alabama a tourist attraction. Those being recognized are significant members of their communities, and I encourage Alabamians to get out and enjoy the 29 restaurants being honored.”

The hall of fame was developed by the Alabama Department of Tourism as part of its “Year of Alabama Barbecue” promotion highlighting the state’s barbecue heritage. Restaurants will receive a personalized plaque at a June 29 luncheon at the Golden Rule Bar-B-Q restaurant in Irondale.  Golden Rule opened in 1891 and is the oldest restaurant in Alabama.

“A recent survey revealed that barbecue restaurants make up the highest percentage of restaurants in Alabama which rivals any other state. Travelers are looking for an authentic barbecue experience and we want to help drive business to these great local establishments,” said Lee Sentell, state tourism director.

The restaurants and the years that they opened include: Golden Rule Bar-B-Q (1891), Irondale; Dobb’s Famous Bar-B-Que (1910), Dothan; Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (1925), Decatur; Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit (1942), Montgomery; Carlile’s Barbeque (1945), Birmingham; Barbeque Hut (1946), Heflin; Cotton’s Barbecue (1946), Eclectic; Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot (1946), Selma; Mud Creek Fish Camp & Bar-B-Que (1946), Hollywood; Atkins Barbecue (1947), Eutaw; Dick Howell Barbeque Pit (1947), Florence; The Hilltop Grill (1951), Union Springs; Leo and Susie’s Famous Green Top Bar-B-Q (1951), Dora; Old Greenbrier Restaurant (1952), Madison; Top Hat Barbecue (1952); Hayden; Johnny Ray’s BBQ (1953), Pelham; Dick Russell’s Famous Bar-B-Q (1954), Mobile; David Gibson’s Barbecue (1956), Huntsville; Gibson’s Bar-B-Q (1956), Huntsville; Singleton’s Bar B Que (1956), Florence; Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q, Bessemer (1957); Dreamland Bar-B-Que Ribs (1958), Tuscaloosa; Mary’s Pit Bar-B-Que (1958), Gurley; Rocket Drive Inn (1958), Jacksonville; Demetri’s BBQ (1961), Homewood; Archibald’s Bar-B-Q (1962), Northport; Johnny’s Bar B Que (1963), Cullman; Brooks Barbecue (1965), Muscle Shoals; Whitt’s Barbecue (1966), Athens

The Alabama Tourism Department has won top national and regional awards from the United States Travel Association, National Council of State Tourism Directors, Travel Weekly magazine, the Southeast Tourism Society, and the Southern Public Relations Federation for its previous “Year of” marketing campaigns aimed at encouraging the visitors to experience the best of Alabama. More than 24 million travelers spent a combined total of $11.8 billion in the state in 2014, supporting the jobs of more than 163,000 Alabamians and contributing more than $768 million in state and local tax revenues.

A barbecue website, smartphone app, traveling photo exhibit, the book Alabama Barbecue: Delicious Road Trips and a documentary film about the state’s barbecue culture have also been created by the tourism department for its “Year of Alabama Barbecue” promotion. For more information see

July 4th celebrations across Alabama

Fireworks, great summer food and live entertainment highlight July 4th celebrations across Alabama.  Visitors can choose from more than 25 Independence Day events and firework shows.

The celebrations include the Spirit of America at Point Mallard in Decatur, Thunder on the Mountain at Vulcan Park & Museum in Birmingham and Independence Day 1776 at the American Village in Montevallo. Families can also enjoy a picnic at the Riverfront in Montgomery, watch reflections of fireworks on the waves at Gulf Shores or sample fresh watermelon at the Watermelon Festival in Grand Bay.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following July 4th events:

Alexander City- 4th Of July Blast
Lake Martin. Watch fireworks over the lake from the lawn of the amphitheater after enjoying a concert. Gates open 4:30 p.m., show starts at 5:30 p.m. fireworks start at 9:00 p.m., music until 10:30 p.m.  256-397-1019.  Admission charged.

Athens- Athens Fireworks Show

Athens High School. Annual fireworks show 8:30-9 p.m. 256-867-1438. Free.

Birmingham- Thunder on the Mountain
Vulcan Park & Museum. Birmingham’s annual fireworks display with Vulcan as the centerpiece of the program. 9 p.m.  205-933-1409. Free.

Cherokee- Cherokee Independence Day Celebration
2752 Old Lee Highway.  Enjoy live music, arts & crafts, food vendors and a fireworks display at 9 p.m. 256-383-0783. Free.

Centre- Weiss Lake
Fireworks over Weiss Lake at dark – 9 p.m.  256-927-8455  Free.

Cullman- Smith Lake Park 4th of July Festival
Smith Lake Park. All-day entertainment, arts, crafts, food, fireworks and more. 256-734-0454. Free.

Decatur- Spirit of America Festival
Point Mallard Park. Celebrate the nation’s birthday at one of the state’s largest patriotic festivals, featuring children’s activities, live music and a fireworks show. 800-232-5449 or 800-524-6181. Free.

Dothan- Fireworks at the National Peanut Festival
National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds. Gates open at 5:00 p.m. with food, games and entertainment. Fireworks show at 9:00 p.m.  334-793-4323.  Admission charged.

Fairhope- Fourth of July Festival and Fireworks Display
Henry George Park and Fairhope Municipal Pier. The Baldwin Pops Band Independence Day Concert begins at 7:30 p.m. with a variety of patriotic music before and after the fireworks display. 251-929-1466. Free.

Florence- Shoals Spirit of Freedom Celebration
McFarland Park. Live music and family activities with food vendors onsite. Fireworks show after dark. 256-740-4141. Free.

Grand Bay- Watermelon Festival
Festival Park. Sample locally grown watermelon while enjoying local music, arts & crafts. Admission charged.

Greenville- Celebrate America
Greenville High School Stadium. Family activities and fireworks. 7-9:30 p.m. 334-382-3251. Free.

Gulf Shores- Independence Day Fireworks
Gulf Shores Public Beach. Fireworks shot over the beach and accompanied by special patriotic music broadcast on Sunny 105.7 FM radio. 9 p.m. 251-968.1172. Free.

Gulf Shores- Fort Morgan Salute to American Independence  
Fort Morgan State Historic Site. Independence Day is celebrated at Fort Morgan with artillery firing, small arms firing and special tours of the Fort. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 251-540-7202. Admission charged.

Guntersville- All American Celebration
Lake Guntersville. Fireworks over Lake Guntersville at 9 p.m. Best viewed from Civitan Park and Lurleen B Wallace Drive. Free.

Harpersville- Music and Fireworks in the Vineyard
Morgan Creek Winery presents a live music, wine tours, wine tastings, barbecue and fireworks. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Admission charged.

Huntsville- U.S. Space & Rocket Center July 4th Fireworks Extravaganza
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center hosts Huntsville’s largest fireworks display. In addition to the fireworks, there will be: a kid’s zone with activities such as building paper rockets, a moon bounce, face painting and chalk art. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Admission charged.

Montevallo- Independence Day 1776
The American Village. See the stories of America’s founding with period re-enactors such as Patrick Henry and Abigail Adams, play Colonial games, patriotic music, fireworks and more. Gates open at 11 a.m. 205-665-3535 ext.1063. Admission charged.

Montgomery- 4th of July Family Picnic
Riverfront.  Enjoy a picnic by the river with live music and a fireworks show. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. 334-625-2100. Free

Pike Road- Summer Fest
The Waters. Bring a picnic and blanket or lawn chairs to enjoy the musical entertainment and fireworks. 334-272-9883. Gates open at 4:30 p.m. Admission charged.

Prattville- Prattville Independence Day Celebrations
Various Locations. Parade, BBQ/camp stew sale and fireworks. The downtown parade begins 9 a.m. and ends at Pratt Park; The Annual Cardboard Boat Races begin at 10 a.m.; fireworks begin at dark at Stanley-Jensen Stadium. 334-358-0297. Free.

Scottsboro- 4th of July on the Tennessee River
Goose Pond Colony, Ed Hembree Drive. Music, Entertainment, Huge Boat Parade, Food, and ending with a fireworks show at the Amphitheater beginning at 6:00 p.m. Free Admission. Free.

Talladega- 4th of July Fireworks Extravaganza
Begins at 5pm in Veterans Park. Live music, food vendors, games and Inflatables for kids. Fireworks display begins at dusk.  256-362-8186.   Free.

Troy- City of Troy 4th of July Celebration
Veteran’s Memorial Stadium. Fireworks show at the stadium on the Troy University campus at 8:30 p.m. 334-670-2283. Free

Wedowee- Fourth of July Boat Parade
Lakeside Marina, Hwy. 231, Lake Wedowee/RL Harris Reservoir. Boat and personal watercrafts decorated with patriotic themes. 10 a.m.-noon. 256-276-7959. Free.

Wetumpka- 4th of July Celebration
Gold Star park. Live entertainment, celebrity chef cook-off and fireworks. 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. 334-567-5147. Free.

Marsh pledges to renovate Anniston mansion
By Martin Swant, Montgomery Advertiser, June 22

Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh is a handy man to have around the Alabama State House. During the 2015 legislative session, the state’s top senator tore down walls known as filibusters, swept the floor of unwanted bills and drew a blueprint for bringing gambling to Alabama.

For his next project, in his home district and far away from the Statehouse, Marsh will remake a mansion.
Marsh Properties, operated by Marsh, R-Anniston, has acquired downtown Anniston’s historic Victoria Inn from the Anniston City Council.

The council, which voted on Monday to transfer the property to Marsh Properties, is giving away the historic inn for free under the condition that the new owner spends at least $1.5 million on renovations.

The city has sought someone to take over the Victoria Inn since soon after it acquired the property from Jacksonville State University Foundation in 2013.

In an interview this week, Marsh said the city issued a request for proposals but didn’t receive a single response. The city then issued a second request, with Marsh Properties as the only contender.

“It’s not something I would have typically taken on, but my wife and I are in position to take it on and we’re excited about it,” Marsh said. “We think it’s an important historical facility for the area, and we want to maintain it.”

Marsh said the company plans to rename Victoria Inn as Hotel Finial, named after the 19th-century finial atop the main house.

According to the Victoria Inn’s website, John Mckleroy — a Confederate veteran, state school superintendent and two-time candidate for governor — built the structure in 1888 as his home on a hill. Nearly 100 years later, Anniston developer Earlon McWhorter and architect Julian Jenkins restored the home, and in 1984 the National Park Service listed it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Neither Anniston’s mayor nor the city’s manager responded to multiple requests for comment about the property transfer.

Marsh said he plans to leave the outside of the Victoria largely same, while making a number of changes to the interior. Marsh Properties will renovate “every single room,” changing the decor of the 19th-century structure to give it more of a contemporary feel that is “comfortable and suitable” for the present time.

The renovated Victoria Inn will not have a full-scale restaurant, although it will maintain a bed and breakfast. The goal, Marsh said, is to have guests visit area restaurants.

Marsh said he expects renovation costs to exceed $1.8 million, adding that he’s ready to spend “whatever it takes.”
The goal is to be operational by February 2016, he said.

“We think that the Victoria Inn is historic to Anniston,” Marsh said. “It’s the only hotel left in Anniston, and we just think that it’s important that it survive and be brought back to its potential.”

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Ten Alabama State Parks awarded TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

Ten Alabama state parks have been awarded the 2015 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, a travel website featuring traveler-generated content and reviews. The award celebrates establishments that provide excellent guest experiences and consistently achieve positive reviews on the TripAdvisor website,

The 2015 Certificate of Excellence winners for Alabama State Parks are DeSoto, Gulf, Joe Wheeler, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Cheaha, Chewacla, Lake Guntersville, Oak Mountain and Wind Creek.

Eight of these parks also received the award in 2014. Two parks, Cheaha and Wind Creek, improved their rating since last year to receive the award in 2015.

“In the past two years, 11 of our state parks have received Certificate of Excellence awards from TripAdvisor,” said Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director. “We are extremely proud that our customers regard our parks in such a consistently positive manner. The entire parks division deeply appreciates our staff, park volunteers, and the customers who make these awards possible. They have been especially encouraging to our staff during the recent difficult budget experiences.”

Since 2014, Alabama State Parks has conducted a series of open house and public listening sessions across the state.

The sessions offer the public an opportunity to speak about state park related issues and provide insight into how the parks are funded. During the sessions, Lein identifies a list of parks called the “Big 10” that generate the majority of the parks system’s yearly attendance numbers and operating budget. Each park in the Big 10 received a Certificate of Excellence in 2014 or 2015.

“Joe Wheeler, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Guntersville, DeSoto, Cheaha, Oak Mountain, Wind Creek, Lakepoint and Gulf comprise the park system’s Big 10. These 10 parks account for 94 percent of the entire park system’s guest revenue and attendance,” Lein said. “As a ‘user pay system’ it is especially gratifying to know that these 10 parks, which are so significant to the operational revenue for all 22 parks in the state parks system, are being honored with awards from a travel and hospitality business like TripAdvisor and praised by our customers.”

Alabama State Parks is encouraging customers at the smaller state parks to post their observations and experiences at those parks on TripAdvisor as well.

“We hope to use these recent awards as examples at some of our smaller parks,” Lein said. “The more our customers at the smaller parks share their positive experiences the better off Alabama’s state park system will be.”

How one Alabama hotel helped transform a community into a must-see tourist destination

By Elizabeth Beshears, Yellohammer, June 18

The Marriott Shoals celebrates its 10th birthday this week, wrapping up a decade of bringing economic growth and tourism to an area most known for its contributions to the nation’s musical culture.

“Since opening in 2005, we have consistently been one of the top Marriott hotels in North America for guest satisfaction and I credit this to the commitment of the Retirement Systems of Alabama to our hotel and to the caring attitude of our 232 associates,” said Larry Bower, general manager.

According to the hotel, visitor expenditures in Lauderdale County over the last 10 years have increased 230 percent—more than double that of the rest of the Yellowhammer State.

“I’m not aware of any other hotel built in the state in the last decade that has generated such a dramatic increase in visitor expenditures,” said Alabama Tourism Department director Lee Sentell.

The success of the Marriott Shoals has also spilled over into the tourism industry of the surrounding area—prompting seven additional hotels to set up shop.

“Today the leisure and hospitality industry employs nearly 1,000 more people than 10 years ago and the dollar value of hospitality is greater by tens of millions of dollars,” said Shoals Chamber of Commerce president Steve Holt. “The Marriott Shoals has been a driving force to develop and enhance our Shoals image throughout the southeast, the United States and around the world. People have now visited here that would probably never have found us before.”
Last month the Americana Music Triangle announced promotion of the “Gold Record Road,” which will run straight through Muscle Shoals.

Officials in the area say they get thousands of tourists a year, including many international tourists, there to soak up the musical history.

The Marriott Shoals is credited with not only bringing more visitors to the region, but with giving them a reason to stick around. In addition to the 232 associates directly employed for the hotel, Marriott Shoals has spent $665,000 booking local musicians. The Four Diamond Award-ranked rotating 360 Grille, luxury spa, and Robert Trent Jones golf courses probably don’t hurt either.

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City of Huntsville, CVB unveil signage for downtown Huntsville
In more than 60 locations, signage to enhance residential/visitor experience

What’s the deal with all of those poles going up in downtown Huntsville? They are the beginnings of installation for new wayfinding, or directional, signage for downtown Huntsville. The City of Huntsville, in conjunction with the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), unveiled the finished product and design of the signs today at a news conference. The location of the first sign to complete installation is located at the southeast corner of Courthouse Square near Harrison Brothers Hardware. Eight different sizes and versions of this wayfinding signage will be installed in strategic areas throughout downtown.

Locations for the signage extend from I-565 near the Washington Street exit on the northern boundary of downtown Huntsville, south to Governor’s Drive, west to Memorial Parkway and east to the edges of the Twickenham and Old Town Historic Districts.

“Downtown is our central gathering place, and we want everyone to feel at home here in the heart of the City,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “For visitors and residents to truly be comfortable, they need to be able to find their way around to attractions, public parking, and the popular arts & entertainment districts. The signs provide a polished look and are a helpful tool for citizens to enjoy our growing and thriving downtown.”

In all, approximately 65 signs will be installed in downtown Huntsville helping visitors and residents alike easily find key destinations such as the Von Braun Center, the Visitor Center, the Twickenham Historic District, the EarlyWorks Family of Museums, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Arts & Entertainment Districts and more. Three larger, stone-based “gateway” signs will adorn key downtown Huntsville entry points.

Downtown Huntsville’s Twickenham, Old Town and Arts & Entertainment districts will have their own, branded icons on signage representing the diverse culture and character of the locations.

“We’re excited to unveil, with the City of Huntsville, the new wayfinding signage as it presents a clear and unified ‘welcome’ to Huntsville’s city-center,” President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County CVB Judy Ryals said. “A big piece of the puzzle when it comes to enhancing Huntsville’s reputation as a visitor and meeting destination is having a vibrant, identifiable downtown that is easy to navigate. These signs will make our visitors’ experiences even better and hopefully promote more return trips and increased word-of-mouth recommendations.”

The design of the signage is centered on a water element representing Big Spring, the original water source for the City of Huntsville and the current location of Big Spring International Park.

Downtown wayfinding signage has been in the works since 2010, when representatives from the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau formed an exploratory committee including Marie Bostick, former City of Huntsville manager of planning and zoning administration, Ken Newberry, planner for the City of Huntsville, Kelly Schrimsher, Director of Communications – Office of the Mayor, Jennifer Moore, CVB Vice President of Tourism and Judy Ryals, CVB President/CEO.

The CVB sincerely appreciates Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr’s assistance in getting this project off the ground. Senator Orr was instrumental in securing initial grant funding. The City of Huntsville embraced the project and oversaw its implementation.

Designed by Virginia-based Frazier Associates, the production of the signage was completed by Tuscaloosa-based company Knight Sign Industries (KSI).

Ultimately, the look, feel, and direction of the signage was determined by a committee of downtown community leaders including City Council President Mark Russell, The Arts Council Executive Director Allison Dillon-Jauken, Von Braun Center Executive Director Steve Maples, President/CEO of Downtown Huntsville, Inc. Chad Emerson, City of Huntsville Manager of Urban and Long Range Planning Dennis Madsen and additional representatives from the City of Huntsville and CVB.


MONEY tabs Prattville as top place for retiring golfers

Montgomery Advertiser, June 16

Prattville was named as the best place for golf lovers to retire in MONEY magazine’s annual Best Place to Retire list released Tuesday.

The magazine wrote about Prattville “If golf and retirement go together like gin and tonic, Prattville may just be the Tanquery 10 of golfing towns. It is home to three championship courses and sits in the middle of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, a 486-hole, 26-course putters’ paradise stretching over 11 Alabama sites.”

The magazine also listed the city’s ratio of 32 percent of the population being over 50, a median home price of $150,415, average annual property taxes of $490 and 24 golf courses within 30 miles of the city in making its decision.

The magazine also praised Capitol Hill’s 54-hole complex.

“Each of Prattville’s courses has its own character. The Judge, which hugs the Alabama River, is arguably the prettiest. The tough, hilly Legislator winds across a cypress swamp. The Senator was named by ‘Travel + Leisure’ as one of the 100 best courses for under $100. They’re all affordable and open to the public. Greens fees run $45 in the winter and summer and up to $74 in the spring and fall.”

Tyler, Texas, Fishers, Indiana, Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Clermont, Florida, were cities named as runners’-up to Prattville in the “best places for golf lovers to retire” category.

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New historic Selma audio tour designed to enhance tourism
By George McDonald,, June 18

From the West Alabama Newsroom–  A new audio-tour is up and running in Selma that tourism officials say its sure to enhance the site-seeing experience of people who visit the historic city.

Selma-Dallas County Tourism Director Ashley Mason says signs have gone up at seventy-five sites around town that give tourists a way to hear historic information about a site using a cell phone.

“Even when a lot of these sites are closed visitor will be able to visit the sites and learn some of its history,” said Mason.

She said the project was funded by the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area.

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USA TODAY names 10 Best: Baseball pilgrimage sites beyond the ballpark
By Larry Bleiberg, USA TODAY, June 12

For true baseball fans, catching a game is just the start. They can also pay homage to the sport at monuments, museums and graves across the USA. “You can have an experience that takes you beyond the ballpark,” says Josh Pahigian, author of 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out (Lyons, $24.95). He shares some favorite sites to visit with Dad with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Rickwood Field, Birmingham, AL – The oldest standing professional baseball stadium isn’t Fenway or Wrigley, but a lovingly restored 1910 minor league park. “In its day it was novel and cutting-edge because it was made of brick and steel,” Pahigian says. Although the minor league Barons now play in a new downtown stadium, once a year they don vintage uniforms and return for the Rickwood Classic. The field remains open for touring year-round. 205-458-8161;

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Alabama bakes
By Chris Gigley, Roads&

The biscuits in my North Carolina kitchen come out beautifully. Nice and crusty on top with only light browning on the bottom, and a delicate, fluffy center that just screams for a generous smearing of butter.

My wife agrees they’re good. But then she says it.

“These are northern biscuits,” she notes. “You know, baking powder biscuits.”

Her tone has an edge to it, so allow me to translate: “Nice try, Chris, but these aren’t anywhere near as good as Alabama biscuits”.

My wife grew up in Alabama and defends the state like her first born. There’s no reasoning with her. You can’t understand, she insists, unless you taste one for yourself.

Challenge accepted. I promptly decide to head to Alabama to see if she’s right.

Editor’s Note: In addition to sampling a number of restaurants in Alabama, Mr. Gigley spent an afternoon with the Montgomery Biscuits.

That afternoon I check out a Montgomery Biscuits game. The Biscuits are the minor league baseball team that plays in a gorgeous ballpark, Riverwalk Stadium, set at the bend of the Alabama River. The team’s owners picked the name out of 4,000 suggestions from locals. The logo is an odd-looking biscuit with eyes peeking out from behind a script letter “M.” The team’s gift shop is called the Biscuit Basket, and it’s decorated with old stoves and kitchen tools and bags of flour. They shoot biscuits into the crowd with a cannon. I had to go.

The stadium blends right into Montgomery’s cityscape, mostly because it incorporates several old buildings that have stood for more than a century. That includes an old cotton depot the Confederate Army used as a military prison in 1862.

Despite heat so thick it blurs distant buildings and parked cars, fans stream into the stadium about an hour before game time so that their kids chase after batting practice home runs and plead for autographs as players do their pre-game stretching.

After a few innings, a group of spirited team employees sprint onto the field, one of them armed with the “biscuit cannon.” It’s alarmingly powerful. Before I can react, a paper-wrapped biscuit whizzes past my ear, and a kid dives for it a few rows back. The crowd goes wild.

Fortunately, the team also sells the biscuits from a small cart near the gift shop. They come two for four bucks with chicken or country ham, or two for three dollars plain. I go with chicken and almost dive right in when I see a couple of dispensers of Alaga syrup.

Alaga syrup is a local thing. It was originally produced by the Alabama-Georgia Syrup Company back in 1906, and locals have been using it mostly as a baking ingredient ever since. Think of it as somewhere between molasses and dark corn, but with a deeper flavor. Alabamans apparently drizzle it and the company’s honey-based Yellow Label syrup on biscuits.

I walk over to the dispensers and squirt a few shots of the original on my chicken biscuits. I’m barely back at my seat before I gobble it all down, and by then it’s too late: I could have used more syrup. After the game I go to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up two large bottles of the stuff. I won’t make that mistake again.

And I have to admit—even to my wife—the results are pretty darn delicious.

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‘Alabama’s Barbecue Legends’ will play Birmingham’s 2015 Sidewalk Film Festival
By Bob Carlton,, June 16

The documentary “Q: Alabama’s Barbecue Legends” is on an early list of films scheduled to play Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival, organizers announced this afternoon.

Also, “For A Few Zombies More,” a new film by Alabama filmmakers and Sidewalk favorites Chuck Hartsell and Chance Shirley, will be among this year’s narrative feature entries.

The 17th annual film festival takes places Aug. 28-30 at the Alabama Theatre and other venues in Birmingham’s downtown Theatre District.

The full schedule, with final dates and times, will be revealed in mid-July.
Below, in alphabetical order, are the Sidewalk films announced today. Plot descriptions are provided by the festival.

Documentary features
Q: Alabama’s Barbecue Legends. Directed by Norton Dill.
Produced by the Alabama Tourism Department as part of its celebration of The Year of Alabama Barbecue, this film features interviews with Alabama barbecue greats such as John Bishop Jr. from Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Don McLemore and Chris Lilly from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Van Sykes from Bob Sykes BarB-Q, and several others.

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New reality TV competition ‘Beach Flip’ debuts on HGTV
By Tony Sokol, KpopStarz, May 29

Although it is not mentioned in the article, this show was filmed entirely at Gulf Shores and we hope will offer additional focus to our beautiful beaches, said Kathy Faulk, manager of the Alabama Film Office.

HGTV announced it will debut its new renovation competition series “Beach Flip” on July 5. Outdated beachfront properties will be transformed into hot commodities in the new renovation competition series.

“Successful titles like Ellen’s Design Challenge and Brother vs. Brother confirm viewer appetites for fun design and home renovation competition series,” Allison Page, general manager of HGTV and DIY Network, said in a statement.

“Beach Flip” will debut on Sun., July 5, at 8 p.m., HGTV and DIY Network.

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Hollywood is in Orange Beach
By Debbie Williams,, June 22

A strange vessel is just off the coast of Orange Beach.

“They first pull up and guests start complaining about an oil rig outside and we call the city and they confirm that’s a movie set out there and guests love it now,” says property manager Greg Crews.

The film, “USS Indianapolis-Men of Courage” starts production this week. The celebrity sightings have already begun. “Mario Van Peebles and his family came last night,” says Flora Bama Yacht Club Chef Chris Sherill. “We were able to feed them and talk about what his life is like as an actor. We really didn’t talk about the movie much but what an awesome guy, family man just an honor to have him here at the restaurant.”

The glitz and glamour of Hollywood has come to Orange Beach but Sherill believes it will be Orange Beach that will leave the lasting impression. “What we know as ambassadors to the area is that they’ll all be treated with southern hospitality and they will never forget being here at the coast.”

The production is only supposed to last for ten days, depending on weather. They will also be shooting a plane crash scene on Wolf Bay.

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Tour Alabama studio where Lionel Richie, Commodores recorded ‘Brick House’

In their prime, the Commodores spent six months a year working out of Commodore Studio, an expansive Tuskegee space where the band wrote, rehearsed and recorded classic songs like “Brick House,” “Easy” and “Three Times a Lady.” The band owned equal shares of the nondescript white-brick building on East Martin Luther King Highway, where they made music history for the better part of a decade.

Take a look inside The Commodores Museum that recently opened in Tuskegee Take a look inside the Commodore Museum, a space filled with tons of memorabilia from American iconic funk group The Commodores.

But after Tuskegee-born frontman Lionel Richie left the band in 1982 to pursue a solo career, the Commodores left the studio and the thousands of dollars-worth of equipment and memorabilia within it behind. It all sat unused until about 15 years ago, when the band’s former bodyguard, Johnny Bailey, discovered it was on the market, setting off a series of events that resulted in the building reopening late last month as the Commodore Museum.

“This building needs to be a museum,” Bailey told during a Monday tour of the newly opened museum. “You think about what came out of this building ‘Easy,’ ‘Three Times a Lady,’ ‘Steel,’ ‘Brick House,’ ‘Zoom,’ ‘Jesus Is Love,’ ‘Fancy Dancer,’ ‘Sweet Love,’ all those hits came out of here. I mean, when I walk in sometimes it just amazes me that this was the actual studio and it’s still existing, you know, and set up for tourists to come in and be able to see it.”

Shortly after Bailey found out it was for sale, his mother and an associate purchased the space and Bailey has spent the intervening years turning it into an engrossing time capsule of a museum. Its several rooms are filled with the countless pieces of equipment and other items that were still in the building when it was purchased, as well as a wealth of other memorabilia he, the band’s members and others had accumulated over the years.

You see the keyboards, and those little bongos, all the way up to the squeeze bottles, this is all stage-used stuff.

“Those are all original stage-worn uniforms, stage-used equipment, that’s a platinum record,” he said, pointing to various objects on display in a glass case at the front of the museum decorated like a stage.

“That is the first guitar the Commodores bought for their bass player. And you see the keyboards, and those little bongos, all the way up to the squeeze bottles, this is all stage-used stuff, stuff they actually used on the stage. It was already here, all of it. It was left in here in the building.”

But there is much more to the museum than its impressive collection of equipment, clothing, instruments, travel schedules, rooming lists, and other ephemera. Toward the back of the building sits the band’s pristine recording and rehearsal space, which has been left largely untouched since the early 1980s.

A platform stage set up for live music played host to countless Commodores rehearsal sessions and choreography practices, and the engineer’s booth contains the old-fashioned analog mixing boards, speakers and other devices that were used to put the Commodores’ music on wax.

The Pit is perhaps the most infamous of the various rooms at Commodore Studio. Little more than a couple of orange-carpeted stairs gathered around a square depression in the floor near the vocal booth, The Pit played host to many of the most important moments in Commodores history.

“The Pit is where all the business would happen. That’s where all the songs were chosen, that’s where if you were messing up – when I say messing up you were coming to rehearsal late, or whatever – they would call a meeting back there, they would discuss it, they would have fines set up,” Bailey explained.

“There’s been some things discussed back there that I’d probably have no idea about … If only the Pit could talk.”
Visit the Commodore Museum: 208 East Martin Luther King Highway, Tuskegee, AL 36083, 334-724-0777, admission: $10 per person.  Hours of Operation: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 – 6 or by appointment; Sunday and Monday: by appointment only.

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Nine stunning spots that make you want to stay in Alabama this summer

By Kelly Kazek,, June 11

Have you ever run into those people who aren’t “from around these parts” who didn’t realize Alabama had a coastline with beautiful white sand beaches?

I have spent plenty of time telling people about the natural beauty of Alabama, from its mountains and lakes to its canyons and rivers. If you aren’t aware of our state’s diversity, take a look on the website for the Alabama Film Office under the “Location Search” tab and see the variety of our amazing natural “sets.”

Here are 9 naturally amazing reasons Alabamians don’t have to leave home for vacations:

1. Gulf Coast Beaches
Yes, we have them. Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have beautiful white sand beaches perfect for families. And when you’ve had enough sun, visit Waterville amusement park, The Wharf for dining and live entertainment or one of the area’s famous eateries such as Lulu’s, Pirate’s Cove or the Flora-Bama.

2. Dismals Canyon
An incredible deep, privately owned canyon filled with boulders, waterfalls and Dismalites – glowing critters that are actually insect larvae. Plus, guides can throw in tales of outlaws and ghosts if you ask. Gorgeous scenery and public camping facilities at this site near Phil Campbell.

3. Lake Guntersville
If you get tired of camping, fishing, boating, watching nesting bald eagles, water skiing or jet skiing at Marshall County’s Lake Guntersville, you can take drives to nearby scenic Cathedral Caverns, Buck’s Pocket State Park or High Falls Park.

4. Bellingrath Gardens
Sure, it’s man-made but Walter and Bessie Mae Bellingrath created their gardens using the natural resources available in the town of Theodore, Alabama. The site gained such a reputation that the couple opened the 65-acre gardens to the public in 1934. Each Christmas, a light display fills the gardens. After a visit, if you haven’t gotten enough flowers, make a trip to the botanical gardens in Birmingham and Huntsville.

5. The Shoals
This four-city area – Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield –known for its rich music heritage also has hidden natural beauty, much of it preserved by the Tennessee Valley Authority. After hiking the nature trails, check out Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Helen Keller’s birthplace, the world famous Key Underwood Coon Dog Graveyard and the Rattlesnake Saloon.

6. DeSoto Park and Little River Canyon
East Alabama was blessed with natural beauty in the form of incredible waterfalls, rapids, canyons and hiking trails. DeSoto State Park and Little River Canyon these sites are located near the historic mountain town of Mentone, which provides additional tourist fun, as well as Alabama’s only ski resort. Sure, the snow is man-made, this is Alabama, but that doesn’t distract from the fun.

7. Dauphin Island
As if beaches and birding trails weren’t enough, Dauphin Island is home to Sea Lab, which provides all kinds of educational nature activities for families. The brave can look up the pirate history of the site, which was once called Massacre Island.

8. Mobile
Pronounced Moe-beel, y’all. This historic port city, home of the country’s first Mardis Gras celebration, has lots to offer, including beaches and boating, as well as tours of the battleship USS Alabama and some of the state’s oldest homes and cemeteries.

9. Perry Lakes
This eerily beautiful swamp setting in Perry County is part of the Cahaba River Preserve. Great for a day trip to see a different side of nature – one that includes lots of Spanish moss.

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Amazing road trips to take in every state
By Simone M. Scully,, June 17

USA Today. So, as the weather warms and as the first day of summer approaches, here are some of the best road trips that can be taken in every state, from Alabama to Wyoming.

Alabama: Wonder Falls & More Road Trip: Visit Alabama’s stunning waterfalls in Gadsden, Fort Payne and Little River Canyon on a road trip through northeastern Alabama.  Start with Noccalula Falls, then journey out to see DeSoto Falls and Little River Falls, all while stopping along the way to take in the sights, enjoy good food and even visit Tigers for Tomorrow, an exotic animal preserve and environmental learning center on AL Hwy. 211.

To read this entire article, go to:

2015 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

The 2015 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is being held at the Renaissance Battle House Hotel & Spa in Mobile, Aug. 1 – 4.  The group rate of $125 per night is good from July 28 through Aug. 6, 2015.  The last day to be able to take advantage of the group rate is June 30.

To reserve a room at the host hotel, go to: Book your group rate: Alabama Governors Conference on Tourism 2015 >> or call 866-316-5957.  When calling be sure to refer to the Alabama Governor’s Conference in order to get the group rate.

Several of the fascinating speakers you have to look forward to are:

As president & CEO of Coastal Alabama Partnership (CAP), Wiley Blankenship oversees a private sector-led, not-for-profit organization focused on providing a platform for regional leaders to convene, collaborate, build consensus and advocate for Coastal Alabama’s top priorities.

Greg Schumann is Group Publisher of All You, Coastal Living, Southern Living, and Sunset, four award-winning Time Inc. multi-platform brands. In this role, Schumann oversees business operations, product development, sales strategies and marketing initiatives for each of these properties.

Carol Hunter moved to Mobile in 1992 and took a job at the local NBC affiliate where she won several awards for her investigative and human interest stories.  She left the world of TV in 2000 to help organize Mobile’s Tricentennial celebration, and has been working on some of the Tricentennial’s legacy projects since then.

To register for the conference and see an agenda, go to:

Search is on for Alabama Barbecue Restaurants

The Alabama Tourism Department is conducting a search for barbecue restaurants around the state that might not have made it into the Alabama Barbecue book.  If you are or know of any barbecue restaurants in your area, please go to to sign in and join Alabama Tourism’s Year of Alabama Barbecue.

Alabama artists and craftspeople
Alabama is home to a vast number of talented and creative artists and craftspeople who produce a wide variety of items including, but not limited to, woodwork, paintings, ceramics, fabrics and a lot of food.
The Alabama Tourism Department is looking for information about these artists and crafters and their products.  We are interested in the home-grown cottage industries rather than the industrial giants.
Please send information about people and their products, including contact information, to Peggy Collins, or call 334-242-4545.

2016 Vacation Guide & Calendar of Event deadlines

It’s time to submit information in order to have your attractions and events listed in the printed version of the Alabama Vacation Guide & Calendar of Events.  The listings must be entered into the website by June 30, for the Calendar of Events, and July 10, for the Vacation Guide.

The web address is:

If you have any questions, call Pam Smith at 334-353-4541.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

June 30                        Deadline for Calendar of Events
June 30                        Battlehouse Mobile group rate ends for AGCT
July 9                           Alabama Tourism Workshop in Montgomery
July 10                         Deadline for Vacation Guide
Aug 1 – 4                    Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism – Mobile
Aug 8 – 12                  Alabama Motorcoach/SCMA/GMOA Regional Meeting
Lake Lanier, GA


  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