Tourism Tuesdays January 31, 2017

Trivago lists 2 Alabama cities among its 17 Best Value Destinations for 2017

From the recent announcement of the “17 Best Value Destinations for 2017” by travel website trivago:

Coming in at an impressive number two is Alabama’s capital city, Montgomery. With attractions such as the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the Montgomery Zoo, there is no wonder as to why Montgomery ranked so high. 

Number sixteen on the Best Value Destinations is Alabama’s port city, Mobile. For those who love parades and free beads, Mobile is the place for you. Being the founders of Mardi Gras, Mobile has almost an entire month full of parades.

Determined by an exclusive algorithm that considers both hotel prices and guest reviews, the 17 destinations that top the list aren’t only easy on the wallet but also offer entertainment options for nearly every type of traveler.

Montgomery ranks number one as Best Value Cities significant to African-American History

Also released by trivago was a list of the “Best Value Cities significant to African-American History” with Montgomery ranking number one on that list. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum was noted as helping catapult the city to the top.  (Editor’s note: The Rosa Parks Library and Museum will be celebrating Rosa Parks’ 104th birthday with free admission, music, arts and crafts, theatrical performances, birthday cake, and other special activities on Saturday, Feb. 4 from 9am-3pm.)

For the complete article please see

Auburn/Opelika Marriott starts off 2017 as top Marriott Hotel in North & South America

Renovated in 2016, the Auburn/Opelika Marriott and Conference Center at Grand National has offered the best satisfaction out of the 363 full-service Marriott hotels in North and South America.

Tabulated by an outside firm specializing in guest satisfaction in the hospitality industry, the Auburn/Opelika Marriott ranked higher than any other Marriott hotels and resorts for intent to recommend property. The Marriott also had the highest scores for hotel maintenance/upkeep and room cleanliness. Staff service overall and internet performance both ranked second out of 363 properties. The quality of food and beverage ranked fourth with check-in experience ranking sixth.

“All 129 guest rooms and most common areas were renovated last year, but our exceptional team keeps our property clean and our guests happy,” said Kevin Cross, general manager at the Auburn/Opelika Marriott. “While the year is just under way, we are off to a great start,” said Cross.


The Top Five Marriott Hotels for Guest Satisfaction as of Jan. 20, 2017 were:

1. Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel & Conference Center

2. Chicago Marriott Suites Downers Grove

3. Milwaukee Marriott West

4. Calgary Airport Marriott

5. North Charleston Marriott

“From check-in experience to satisfaction with guest rooms, our staff, plus food and beverage quality, our team exceeded across the board, and we are very thankful,” said Cross. “Through an exceptional facility and staff, our future in Opelika looks very bright in 2017 and beyond.”

The Auburn/Opelika Marriott is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama and part of the RTJ Golf Trail’s Resort Collection. The other RSA Hotels were highly ranked including: Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa (15th); Marriott Prattville (21st) and Marriott Shoals (27th).  The Auburn/Opelika Marriott opened in 2002 and has been consistently ranked Auburn/Opelika’s top hotel and golf destination.

New Alabama UK representative hits the ground running

By Grey Brennan

Alabama Tourism Department

In his new job as Alabama’s representative for the UK and Ireland market, Andy Facer has gotten off to a quick start.  Facer just returned to the UK after meeting potential tourist and tour operators at the Holiday World Show in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 27-29.   The show included a four-hour trade-only event on the first day, followed by two and a half days of public attendance.

Facer attended the show in the Deep South booth.  The Deep South is an alliance of five southern states that pool together resources to jointly market in Ireland and the UK.  The five states are; Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. 

Facer said he was busy during the three-day show and reported a lot of interest in Alabama and predicted many holidays will be booked to the state as a direct result of his attendance.  Other USA destinations at the show include Discover New England, St. Louis, Florida Beaches, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Illinois Tourism, Kansas/Oklahoma Tourism, Kissimmee, Last Vegas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, California, and North Carolina.

In February, Facer will visit Alabama on a five-day tour escorted by Graham Roderick of the Alabama Tourism Department.  You may contact Facer by email,

Alabama promoted on popular Chinese social media WeChat

By Grey Brennan

Alabama Tourism Department

Alabama tourism information is being featured on the WeChat social media platform under the Travel South USA account.  The Chinese language postings include an introduction to Alabama and information on the state’s largest city, Birmingham.

The Alabama introduction article includes 12 colorful photos, a state map and features on Gulf Coast beaches, food, golf, music and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

The posting on Birmingham includes 17 photographs and features on the city’s top restaurants, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Barber Motorsports, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Robert Trent Jones Golf Course and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

WeChat is a mobile messaging app with 846 million users that was developed by the Chinese company Tencent. The postings are part of the Alabama Tourism Department’s participation in Travel South USA’s global partner program and were written by Catherin Li of Travel South USA and the team at East West Marketing.  

China is ranked 3rd in overseas visitors to Alabama with a total of 21,300 estimated for 2016. The number of visitors from China to Alabama is expected to grow to 41,400 by 2023. 

For more information on Alabama marketing efforts in China, contact

Barber ranks No. 10 on list of Top 100 Stadium Experiences

From the article “Top 100 Stadium Experiences of 2016” by Paul Swaney in Stadium Journey:

In 2016, the writers at Stadium Journey reviewed 761 different stadium experiences. We renewed our love for many of the venues that have consistently been on our best stadiums list. We also found some new destinations that we had either not known about or previously did not appreciate as much as they may have deserved. Perhaps this list of our top 100 stadium experiences of 2016 will inspire you to venture out into the sporting world and see a new town, community, and team. Happy New Year, and Happy Journeys!

No. 10- Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park

The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama is one of the hidden gems of the racing world. Nestled in the mountains of northern Alabama, just east of Birmingham, is Barber Motorsports Park, a premiere racetrack that rivals any in the country.

While visiting Alabama, barbecue must be one of the staples of your diet. Plain and simple. Soul food and good old-fashioned, homemade cooking is what makes this track so brilliant when it comes to feeding the masses. Even if you want just a burger or a hot dog, the price is very manageable (a big, juicy cheeseburger is $6.50). But if you really want to enjoy the local culture’s cuisine, several of the vendors in the fan zone and around the facility provide you with some of the best smoked barbecue in the world. Even the drivers are known to stop by to grab a bite to eat, which is a true testament to how good the food is.


Alabama in the spring is absolutely beautiful. The track is a natural terrain road course, meaning the track follows the rolls and undulations of the mountains upon which the facility was built. Additionally, the foliage around the track is mesmerizing. The trees are tall, old, and majestic, and the wind flowing through them provides a true bonding with nature. The roses, azaleas, and wildflowers blossom on the hills and fill the air with the scent of clean, fresh floral greatness. What does this have to do with racing? It puts you in a state of relaxation while watching a race that makes IndyCar even more enjoyable than it already was.


In the heart of Alabama, you may never expect to find a herd of hard-core sports car racing and IndyCar fans. Indeed, Barber Motorsports Park is full of fans who are seriously knowledgeable and who are loud and rowdy in support of their favorite drivers. Outside of Indianapolis, Barber Motorsports Park may be home to some of the best IndyCar fans there are. Perhaps this was easy to predict when the simple fact that a pre-season test at the track in 2009 drew a near-capacity crowd.

Return on Investment

No bones about it, Barber Motorsports Park is a brilliant race track to visit. The price paid for admission is well worth the action on the track and the atmosphere around the speedway. The fans are top notch, the food is among the best that a sports fan’s money can buy, and it is difficult to imagine a better facility in which to watch an IndyCar Series or sportscar race.


This track is chock-full of extras. First, and biggest, is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Billed as one of the largest motorsports museums in the country, this museum shows you some of racing history’s best machines from the past. The museum is currently in the stages of an expansion as well to make it even bigger.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a great way to enjoy racing, be it IndyCar Series, motorcycles, or sportscar racing, Barber Motorsports Park is a wonderful track in which to view some of the best racing in America. Add to that a vintage museum that showcases the coolest machines in racing history, and you have a great location in which to watch sports.

For the complete article please see

For the companion article on Barber please see

Wilson returning to Shoals

from the article by Lisa Singleton-Rickman in the Times Daily:

Debbie Wilson will return to Florence this spring to work in the music tourism industry.

Wilson spent 20 years as tourism director in Florence and the last two with the Alabama Tourism Department in Montgomery. 

Before returning to the Shoals in March, Wilson will travel to Liverpool, England, next month to participate in an international panel discussion about music tourism, its impact and the role of the Americana Music Triangle.

Beginning this spring, Wilson will begin working with Judy Hood, who leads the popular Swampette Muscle Shoals music tours. Hood is the wife of David Hood, the bassist for the renowned Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section also known as the Swampers.

The music tour and promotion partnership with Hood will involve public and private tours of world-renowned music studios in the Shoals, primarily FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals and the newly renovated 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield.

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia is also a part of the tour, as is the Gold Record Room in Florence. 

Wilson plans to open a tourism consulting business in April, working with tourism and convention bureaus among other tourism-related entities.

“We’re going to continue fostering music in the region and beyond, and doing corporate tours and special event marketing,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned a great deal working for Lee Sentell at the state. I’ll be finishing up my commitments there and will be back in the Shoals around mid-March.”

Hood said when she began doing the Swampette tours and began promoting the area’s music, the interest and growth came fast.

“I wasn’t anticipating that, but with the attention brought to the area by the ‘Muscle Shoals’ music documentary, the demand from all over the world hit with people wanting to see the studios,” Hood said. “Now, we’re at a pivotal point in Muscle Shoals music tourism growth. The next two to three years have massive potential, and it’s critical that we harness that.”

She said she needed a professional of Wilson’s caliber to “help get music tourism to the next level.”

“Debbie and I will work together to build the kinds of networks that help sustain the viability of Muscle Shoals music tourism for years to come,” she said. 

For the complete article please see

Rare Hall, Swampers interview available on DVD

From the article by Russ Corey in the Times Daily:

Music fans can be credited for the release of a DVD featuring an exclusive interview with some of the legends of Muscle Shoals music.

“The Alabama Music Hall of Fame Presents: The Muscle Shoals Sound” is a DVD featuring discussions by FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall and members of one of his most famous rhythm sections — the Swampers, including bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Roger Hawkins. Keyboardist Spooner Oldham, a frequent Swampers collaborator, is also featured on the disc.

Alabama Music Hall of Fame Manager Dixie Connell said the interview, which was filmed in the Sam Phillips suite at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence, was featured on a video screen near the recording studio area in the museum.

She said museum visitors would ask if the interview was available for purchase.

“We had more people wanting a copy of it,” Connell said.

She got in touch with Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell and told him about the demand for the material. She asked Sentell if a DVD could be made. 

Connell said as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame honors and awards banquet was approaching, organizers needed a gift to give to attendees. At the 2014 banquet, attendees received a copy of the “Muscle Shoals” documentary.

“Since everyone was wanting one, we thought that would be a nice thing for people to take home,” Connell said of the DVD interview. “In the past, we’ve given CDs of the artists performing at the show. It really came from our visitors wanting a copy.”

The interview was filmed and directed by Muscle Shoals Music historian Dick Cooper.

Cooper said the state tourism department was in the Shoals filming a commercial when the filmmakers decided to shoot the interview.

Cooper said he had 17 pages of notes and questions to ask the group, but was only able to get through eight pages or so. The session had to be stopped when the camera ran out of storage space.

“We were doing it in chronological order,” Cooper said. “What we covered was pretty much the first half of Muscle Shoals music.”

Cooper said he encouraged the Tourism Department to release the footage after it was shot.

“I wish we could get them back together again to follow up,” he said.

The DVD is only available in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame gift shop.

“It was a one-of-a-kind thing, so it’s pretty neat,” Connell said.

For the complete article please see     

Tuscumbia mayor encouraged by sportsplex meeting

from the article by Bernie Delinski in the Times Daily:

Mayor Kerry Underwood said he was encouraged by the reaction from members of the Alabama Musical Hall of Fame Board of Directors after a meeting on a proposed sportsplex behind the tourist attraction.

Underwood, who met with the group Friday, said they did not make any commitments but expressed interest in looking into the feasibility of such a project.

“They didn’t take a vote, but everybody spoke positively about the idea, and they spoke highly of Tuscumbia,” Underwood said. “They liked the notion of having a musical title connected to it.”

Underwood wants officials to explore building a sports complex in an open field behind the hall of fame. He said that would be an ideal location for tournaments.

The complex would have four fields for baseball and softball use, with a center building that would provide concessions on the ground floor and a window-encased top floor for scorekeepers and other tournament officials.

Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell attended the meeting.

“The committee members were intrigued at the prospect,” Sentell said. “Without making any commitments, we decided to do due diligence to decide on the best way to study this.”

He said they will consider whether a long-term lease with the city for the property would make the most sense, as well as issues such as who would pay for upkeep.

Sentell said the group likely will come back in about a month to look further into the proposal.

Underwood will get cost estimates and explore ways to fund the project. The mayor said Tuscumbia will pay off some 10-year bonds in 2019 that cost the city $270,000 a year. The savings from retiring the bonds could go toward the project.

He said the project could involve a walk of fame that would recognize members of the Colbert County Sports Hall of Fame. He envisions concrete markers on the ground with each square representing a class of the hall of fame.

He believes the idea of having an event within walking distance of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame would help entice travel teams and others to take part in a tournament at the location.

One criticism the mayor has heard about the idea has come from residents who want funds dedicated toward paving roads.

Underwood said if the city reissues the bond, less than half the funds from the bond would go toward the sportsplex, freeing up money for much-needed paving in Tuscumbia. 

However, he said the city would benefit economically from the sportsplex. Underwood said the average family attending a travel-ball tournament spends $175. If a tournament has 40 teams, with 11 players per team, that results in an economic impact of $70,000 per tournament weekend.

For the complete article please see

Sundance Film Festival loves ‘The Mars Generation’ shot at Space Camp

from the article by Lee Roop on

Alabama’s role in America’s space history is heading back to the national spotlight in the new documentary “The Mars Generation” filmed in 2015 at Space Camp in Huntsville.

The film opened Utah’s 2017 Sundance Film Festival last week, and it premieres on Netflix this spring. Utah audiences loved the story and the teenagers who came in their Space Camp flight suits to promote it.

The teens’ journey through Space Camp frames the film. Their passion leaves little doubt that, as the press release said, “given the support and the opportunities they need, these kids can and will get humanity to Mars.”

Mars gets the title and the kids are the film’s heart, but the story is about America’s space program and what happened to it. Time, Inc. funded the film, and director Michael Barnett said Time wanted him to, “Tell the story of space right now.”

Von Braun history

That story is familiar to many Alabamians, especially those who live in Huntsville. It starts with Wernher von Braun’s World War II rocket development for Hitler and moves through Von Braun’s worldwide celebrity and declining influence after the Apollo moon landings.

When Apollo ended, the film says, Von Braun had the plan, the team and the infrastructure to take America to Mars. But then-President Richard Nixon said “no.” Nixon’s reasoning – that it was time to develop NASA’s discoveries for Earth use – sounds as weak today as it did then.

“NASA lost its way,” scientist Michio Kaku says in the film of what came next. He and others portray the space shuttle program that followed Apollo as “a financial sinkhole” and ultimately “a carousel of flights around the Earth for 20 years” that got humanity no farther into space.  

NASA’s big new rocket, the Space Launch System, gets plenty of screen time, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Marshall Space Flight Center Director Todd May show up to represent the agency. But director Barnett lets celebrity scientist Bill Nye express doubts that the new rocket is on schedule or adequately funded.

Heart of the film

Barnett’s real mission in “The Mars Generation” is telling the story of humanity at risk from a civilization-ending catastrophe. Our destiny is Mars and beyond, the film argues, and it suggests commercial rocketeer Elon Musk will get us there.

What makes these arguments come alive is Space Camp and the teens who come there from around the world. Barnett follows one team as it escapes from a flooded helicopter, launches an “eggstronaut,” and conducts a simulated mission to Mars.

“Despite all the cool simulations and things you saw in the movie,” Veeraj “Raj” Majethia said of Space Camp in an audience Q&A, “the most important thing for me was the social phenomenon that was created when a bunch of kids, boys and girls, met up with the mutual interest of space.

“Honestly, the conversations we had from, not Day One, but Hour One Minute Five, were like ridiculously in-depth,” Majethia said. “I learned more about space in that bunk room than in the previous rest of my life. It’s great.”

That’s a commercial for the camp experience that delighted Dr. Deborah Barnhart, Space Camp CEO. She came to the premiere and had a message for her Alabama team from Utah. “Prepare to get busier,” Barnhart said.

For the complete article please see

Rare NASA photos on display at Von Braun Center in Huntsville

from the story by Tiffaney Bradley on WAFF-TV:

Arts Huntsville is partnering with Marshall Space Flight Center to display original artwork by NASA artists at the Von Braun Center.

The art gallery at the Von Braun Center is titled: Between Imagination and Invention: The Art of NASA in the Space Age.

It features more than 40 original pieces by NASA artists, many of the pieces are never-before-seen beyond NASA’s walls.

The pieces, by more than 20 artists from the 1960s through the 1990s, conceptualize the organization’s vision for space exploration vehicles and unseen planets, while others document historical events.

“We really see this gallery as the perfect intersection between the arts and sciences,” said Daniela Perallon, Marketing Manager with Arts Huntsville. “So, we want people to come out here, adults and families and kids, to come out here and see these pieces because they’re so inspiring. They really show what creative and innovation reside here in the Rocket City and continues today in our thriving art community.”

The exhibit is the first in Arts Huntsville’s year-long celebration of the Alabama 200 Bicentennial Celebration.

The “Exploring Our Places” project will feature four gallery exhibits throughout the year showcasing the places that make Huntsville stand out in the state.

The exhibit will be on display in the Von Braun Center through March 2017 and can be found between the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall and the VBC Playhouse. It can be viewed during VBC hours seven days a week.

For the complete article please see

City of Mobile and GulfQuest announce grand opening of new exhibit

The City of Mobile and the Board of Trustees of the National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico (GulfQuest) are excited to announce the grand opening of its newest exhibit: SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure. The museum will open its doors on Feb. 18 with new operating hours, revised ticket pricing and free parking. Beginning Feb. 22, GulfQuest will be open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays.

SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure provides a fun, attractive and appealing entertainment and educational opportunity for citizens and tourists alike,” said Mayor Stimpson. “We will continue to work closely with the Board of Trustees to identify a path forward that leads to a sustainable GulfQuest operation.”

USA TODAY: What’s behind our fascination with Zelda Fitzgerald?

(Editor’s note:  Montgomery is home to the only museum in the world dedicated to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  The Fitzgerald Museum takes up the first floor of the two-story clapboard and brick house in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood where the couple lived from 1931 to 1932. Fitzgerald worked on his novel Tender is the Night and Zelda began her only novel, Save Me the Waltz while living there.  For more information on the Fitzgerald Museum see

from the story by Patrick Ryan in USA TODAY:

Nearly 70 years after her death, America’s first flapper is more ubiquitous than ever.

Zelda Fitzgerald has long been a source of pop-culture fascination, inspiring both a song (The Eagles’ Witchy Woman) and a video game character (The Legend of Zelda), and cropping up in movies (Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris) and TV shows (a Season 4 episode of Magnum, P.I.). Last fall, news surfaced that Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson are attached to competing biopics being developed about the Jazz Age icon. Now, Amazon Prime is hopping on the Fitzgerald fixation with its new streaming series Z: The Beginning of Everything.

Based on Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, the 10-episode period drama stars Christina Ricci as the fashionable socialite and writer, tracing her modest beginnings in Montgomery, Ala., and whirlwind romance with novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. The first season culminates in Zelda’s discovery that she’s pregnant with her first and only child, Frances (aka “Scottie”) — years before her marriage to Scott was mired by alcoholism, mutual infidelity and her struggles with mental illness.

Going into Z, “I kind of knew the common misconception everyone has about her, that she was a crazy alcoholic woman who ruined F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life,” Ricci says. “To me, any time someone’s dismissed that way, it’s kind of, ‘Oh, there must be something really interesting here.’ … For us, giving Zelda a first-person account felt like a bit of justice for her.”

Before Nancy Milford’s definitive 1970 biography Zelda, the most telling window into her life was through her husband’s novels: he featured aspects of her personality and their marriage into This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night — the latter was written around the time of Zelda’s hospitalization in 1932 for schizophrenia. She died 12 years later at age 47 in a fire at a psychiatric hospital in Asheville, N.C., where she was being treated.

“We’re very attracted to this glam couple of the ’20s, but the flip side of their story is this somber tale of a lot of misfortune,” says R. Clifton Spargo, author of Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. “In the ’30s, a lot of the adversity the Fitzgeralds face in their personal lives is some of what makes them ultimately admirable. There’s a way in which we treat her too reductively as the ‘it’ girl flapper, and then on the other side, the easily caricatured version of her and her mental breakdown.”

Preparing for the role, Ricci found biographies such as Sally Kline’s Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise helpful in illuminating Zelda’s glittering personality and devotion to motherhood. She believes we continue to be intrigued by Fitzgerald, who published only one novel (1932’s Save Me the Waltz), because she was a woman ahead of her time.

“Her mindset was much more like a modern woman’s,” Ricci says. “There’s a negativeness that’s been perpetuated about her, and I think that’s because it took us so long to catch up to her thinking. Before, people were obsessed with her because her behavior and thinking was so mysterious to them and off-putting, because it wasn’t necessarily socially acceptable at that time. But now, I think we are where she was, and people relate to her.”

For the complete article please see




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