Tourism Tuesdays June 19, 2018


Seven Alabama state parks earn total of nine TripAdvisor Hall of Fame honors
Chef from Birmingham’s Bistro V aces Alabama Seafood Cook-Off
2018 will likely set new tourism records for Alabama
Comedian W. Kamau Bell takes stereotype-busting CNN show to Alabama
Ariya Jutanugarn wins the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek
July 4th celebrations across Alabama
Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Seven Alabama state parks earn total of nine TripAdvisor Hall of Fame honors
Seven Alabama state parks earned nine Hall of Fame honors from TripAdvisor and 12 parks in the 22-park system earned Certificates of Excellence from the world’s largest travel website. Overall, the parks received 16 Certificates of Excellence for 2018.

To earn Hall of Fame recognition, a park, attraction or business must have received a Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. The certificates are awarded based on users’ reviews and opinions on

The Hall of Fame winning parks are Cathedral Caverns State Park, Chewacla State Park, DeSoto State Park, Gulf State Park, Joe Wheeler State Park, Monte Sano State Park and Oak Mountain State Park.

“The most rewarding facet of this recognition is that it comes from visitors’ opinions and rankings,” said Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks Director. “For seven parks to receive Certificates of Excellence for five straight years is remarkable. We are so proud of our staff and volunteers for the hard work they do that is reflected by the high regard our visitors hold in the parks.”

According to TripAdvisor, to qualify for a Certificate of Excellence, a business must “maintain an overall TripAdvisor rating of at least four out of five; have a minimum number of reviews; and have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least twelve months.” The awards are announced annually in May.

The Hall of Fame recognition for the Alabama State Parks system totaled nine as Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores was recognized in three areas: Beaches/State Parks/Nature & Parks/Outdoor Activities; State Parks/Piers & Boardwalks, Nature & Parks, Sights and Landmarks, Outdoor Activities; and the Gulf State Park Campground for Specialty Lodging.

The other Hall of Fame designees are Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville (Caverns & Caves/Nature & Parks); Chewacla State Park in Auburn (State Parks/Nature & Parks); DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne (State Parks/Nature & Parks); Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville (State Parks/Nature & Parks); Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville (State Parks/Nature & Parks); and Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham (State Parks/Nature & Parks/Biking Trails/Outdoor Activities).

Four parks – or parks attractions – were back-to-back winners, picking up Certificates of Excellence in 2017 and 2018. Those are Cheaha State Park in Delta (State Parks/Nature & Parks); DeSoto Falls (Mountains/Nature & Wildlife Areas/State Parks/Waterfalls/Nature & Parks); Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail at Gulf State Park (Hiking Trails/Nature & Parks/Outdoor Activities); Lake Guntersville State Park (State Parks/Nature & Parks); and Wind Creek State Park in Alexander City (State Parks/Nature & Parks).

Two parks were awarded Certificates of Excellence for the first time: Meaher State Park in Spanish Fort (State Parks/Nature & Parks); and Rickwood Caverns State Park in Warrior (State Parks/Nature & Parks).

For the complete article please see

Chef from Birmingham’s Bistro V aces Alabama Seafood Cook-Off
From the article by Mary Colurso on

Jeremy Downey, chef at Bistro V in Vestavia Hills, won the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off this week in Bayou La Batre.

Downey aced Wednesday’s competition by preparing a creative grouper dish — specifically, cast iron grouper with Royal Red mezcal ceviche, Benton’s bacon, sweet onion, chayote squash and lump cab stuffed with squash blossoms, tempura style with salsa verde.

He competed against three other finalists: Jeremiah Matthews of Southwood Kitchen in Daphne, Jason Ramirez of Villaggio Grille in Orange Beach and Scott Simpson of The Depot in Auburn.

Downey will represent his home state later this year in the 15th Annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans. He also qualified to compete in the 2018 World Food Championship, set for November at The Wharf in Orange Beach.

“It was a great experience to compete with truly talented chefs in such an exciting environment,” Downey said in a statement posted on the Alabama Gulf Seafood website. “I am more than proud to be a part of Team Alabama and represent the seafood industry. I hope I can make them proud and bring back a title.”

Downey is a native of Bayou La Batre and a 1992 championship player for the University of Alabama football team, according to his profile on the Birmingham Restaurants website. He became the owner and chef of Bistro V in 2010.

Birmingham chef and party planner Martie Duncan was the emcee for the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off, now in its fourth year.

Judges were Jim Smith, chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission; Brody Olive, 2017 winner of the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off; Jason Burnett, founding editor of and; David Holloway of, food writer and enthusiast; Ernie Anderson, owner of Graham Shrimp Company; and David Calametti, CEO, president and publisher of Alabama Coasting.

The annual Alabama Seafood Cook-off is organized by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission.

For the complete article please see

2018 will likely set new tourism records for Alabama
Alabama tourism had a record year in 2017, but new attractions in 2018 and 2019 should help the state easily eclipse those record numbers, Tourism Publications Editor Rick Harmon said Sunday on WNCF’s “Your Community This Week.”

During an interview with Alabama News Network Anchor Tim Lennox, Harmon said that in 2017 for the first time in the state’s history there was an almost $1 billion increase in the impact of Alabama tourism, which rose to $14.3 billion. The number of state visitors increased by 810,000 to top 26 million visitors for the first time.

“The incredible part is that this should only get better this year and next year,” Harmon said. “Every major city in the state is creating new attractions.”

Gulf State Park will open its new lodge, interpretive centers and walking and biking trails in November, he said. The Grand Hotel Marriot Resort is just completing a $32 million renovation. Huntsville’s Constitution Village is completing a major renovation. The Space and Rocket Center is opening a new planetarium, and Decatur’s Cook Museum of Natural Science is set to open within the next year. With Birmingham’s Highland’s Bar and Grill winning the James Beard Award for the best restaurant in the country, the Birmingham area has cemented its reputation as a foodie mecca.

“But Montgomery may see the biggest turnaround,” Harmon said. “In 2017 the city made modest gains that were pretty far behind the rest of the state, with about a 1.3 percent increase in earnings from tourism and a 3.3 percent increase in lodging taxes.

But thanks largely to the opening of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail and the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and its Legacy Museum, Montgomery is poised to have what may be the biggest tourism year in its history, Harmon said.

Montgomery estimated that just the opening weekend of the EJI attractions had a $20 million to $25 million economic impact, and the city is projecting a 300,000 increase in tourists visiting the city in 2018.

“If that projection is true, that would be more than a third of the entire state’s increase in tourists for 2017,” Harmon said.

He said the creation of the EJI attractions have created a synergy for the city that increases its tourism appeal exponentially.

“Montgomery has 11 sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which mainly includes places that played a historic role in the Civil Rights Movement – that is more than any other city in the country and is almost a 10th of all the sites on the trail,” he said.

“When you combine that with the EJI memorial, Southern Poverty Law Center’s memorial, the Rosa Parks Museum and all the other modern attractions Montgomery has, the city has become the closest thing the country has to a civil rights mecca. Visitors may come to see the new EJI attraction, but then spend the rest of the week seeing all the other important civil rights sites that Montgomery has to offer.”

Comedian W. Kamau Bell takes stereotype-busting CNN show to Alabama
From the article by Brendan Kirby on

For three years, comedian W. Kamau Bell had trained his sharp eye on exotic slices of America to break down stereotypes.

On Sunday, he took his myth-busting CNN show to a more familiar setting — Alabama, where he spent part of his youth. As is the show’s format, Bell spent the show interviewing a variety of strangers. But the Father’s Day airing also included time talking to someone he knows well — his own dad, former Alabama insurance commissioner Walter Bell.

The depictions of Alabama were familiar to home-state residents, particularly those in the southwestern corner. Bell showed a national audience the gorgeous beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast, told folks about Mobile’s status as birthplace of Mardi Gras in America and explained how to pronounce the Port City’s name — not like a cell phone, Bell says, but Mo-BEEL.

The program featured plenty of familiar shots of downtown Mobile, Orange Beach and the Causeway connecting Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Bell acknowledged Alabama’s past — there was an obligatory clip of segregationist Gov. George Wallace — and alluded to the nation’s “complicated relationship with Alabama.” He also talked a bit about Alabama’s controversial present, with references to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who nearly won a special election to the Senate last year despite facing allegations of sexual impropriety that purportedly occurred decades ago.

But overall, Bell showed a side of the Heart of Dixie that many people in the rest of the country never think about — or perhaps even know about.

“There’s always sort of a general outside-of-the-South condescension [toward] the South,” he said. “And I realize it’s like, people really don’t know what they’re talking about. I felt like I want to try to tell my truth of Alabama.”

Bell later added that he was not enthusiastic about coming to Mobile as a kid. He spent summers visiting his dad and attended high school in Mobile for a time. But as an adult, Bell said, he loves it and the South.

“And when people have never been here condescend to it, it makes me defensive of it,” he said. “Which means we don’t actually get to talk about the goodness of it.”

Much of the show was Bell’s personal journey. He took viewers to the modest house he lived in for a time. He showed off his grandmother’s house — now boarded-up — where he has many fond memories.

And Bell took care of some “unfinished” business at the downtown branch of the Mobile Public Library. He returned a book on comics that he had checked out in 1986. The clerk had to get a supervisor, who informed Bell that it was so old, it was not in the computer system.

So, Bell made a $1,000 donation to the library, instead.

“Should we hold out for two?” the supervisor joked.

Bell also went with his father to his childhood home — now a hunting camp — in rural Vredenburgh, Alabama, about 100 miles north of Mobile.

The plot of land where the family shack once stood contains a small cemetery of Bell’s ancestors. He saw the gravesite of his great-great-grandmother, who was born during slave times and had a son — Walter Bell’s grandfather — five years after slavery ended.

“You can be born anywhere, and you can end up anywhere,” Walter Bell said on the show.

Walter Bell was insurance commissioner under then-Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. As the son put it, Walter was Alabama’s highest-ranking black person at the time and the first Alabamian to serve as president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

And what would his father think of that, Kamau Bell wanted to know.

“Well, he was a union guy,” Walter Bell answered. “I mean, bled union blood. For me to have worked for a Republican governor, he probably would have had a few things to say to me about that.”

Kamau Bell ended the show with him and his father fishing in Mobile Bay.

“I have a great life here, you know? I know people. People know me,” Walter Bell said. “And making a living and making a life is two different things. And, when you make a living, you also want to make a life.”

For the complete article please see

Ariya Jutanugarn wins the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek
Thousands braved the wind and rain and then heat and humidity to see many of the world’s top women golfers.

Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Birmingham was the site of the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn, 22, won after battling Hyo Joo Kim through four playoff holes. The victory was Jutanugarn’s second in three weeks and her second major championship.

Players and spectators raved about the quality of the course and the work done to get the grounds ready for the championship despite being affected by bad weather. Shoal Creek, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course, was affected by over six inches of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto and still proved to be a wonderful backdrop for a memorable USGA championship win. In fact, golf course superintendents from across the state rushed to Shoal Creek after the deluge canceled Tuesdays practice round to assist in minimizing the impact on play.

Birmingham was thrilled to host the U.S. Women’s Open — the most prestigious competition in women’s golf in the world.

July 4th celebrations across Alabama
Fireworks, great summer food and live entertainment highlight July 4th celebrations across Alabama. Visitors can choose from more than 20 Independence Day events and firework shows.

The celebrations include the Spirit of America Festival 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 baseball game in Montgomery, sample fresh watermelon at the Watermelon Festival in Grand Bay or watch reflections of fireworks on the waves at Gulf Shores.

The Alabama Tourism Department suggests the following July 4th events. For a complete calendar of events listing see

Athens Athens Fireworks Show
Fireworks at Athens High School football field. Free.

Birmingham Thunder on the Mountain
Vulcan Park & Museum. Birmingham’s annual fireworks display with Vulcan as the centerpiece of the program. 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. This year is the festival’s 52nd anniversary. Free.

Eclectic – 4th of July Fireworks and Concert
The AMP on Lake Martin. Watch fireworks over the lake from the lawn of the amphitheater after enjoying music concerts. Admission charged.

Fairhope – Fourth of July Concert and Fireworks Display
Henry George Park and Fairhope Municipal Pier. The Baldwin Pops Band Independence Day Concert begins at 6:30 p.m. with a variety of patriotic music before and after the fireworks display at 9 p.m. Free.

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

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

Greenville – Celebrate America
GHS Stadium. Family activities and fireworks. 6-9 p.m. Free.

Gulf Shores Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration
Gulf State Park Pier. Fireworks at 9 p.m. Free.

Guntersville Fourth of July Fireworks on Lake Guntersville
Lake Guntersville. Fireworks show 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 live music, winery tours, wine tastings, barbecue and fireworks. Admission charged.

Henagar – Sand Mountain Potato Festival
Celebrate with live music, arts and crafts, entertainment, games and fireworks. Event begins at 10 a.m. and culminates with a firework display at Free

Huntsville – U.S. Space & Rocket Center July 4th Celebration
Enjoy special, family-friendly patriotic activities during regular museum hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Rocket Center will close at 5 p.m., and there are no evening activities inside the park on July 4. Instead, the Center will launch its largest fireworks display ever for the city of Huntsville at 9 p.m.

Mobile – Fireworks on the Fantail at USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Fund raiser for Battleship Memorial Park. Entertainment by the band SWING, dinner, drinks, spectacular fireworks show over downtown Mobile and an ice cream buffet. Event begins at 7:30 p.m. with fireworks at 9 p.m. Admission charged.

Montevallo Independence Day 1776
The American Village. See the stories of America’s founding with period re-enactors, play Colonial games, patriotic music, fireworks and more. Gates open at 11 a.m. Admission is $5 per person. Veterans, active military, and children 4 and under are free.

Montgomery – Montgomery Biscuits vs. Jacksonville Suns
Enjoy baseball at Biscuits Stadium with a fireworks show following the game. Admission charged.

Opp – July 4th Celebration
Family fun event held at Frank Jackson State Park in Opp beginning at 10 a.m. with live entertainment during the day and fireworks at Free.

Pike Road – Summer Fest
Family fun, food and live entertainment. Held at The Waters with gates opening at 4:30 p.m. Fireworks spectacular overlooking Lake Admission charged.

Prattville Prattville Independence Day Celebrations
Events kicks off with a parade through downtown at 9 a.m., followed by a Lions Club BBQ fundraiser at 10 a.m. at Pratt Park, Cardboard Boat Races at 10:30 a.m. at Pratt Pool and a patriotic program followed by fireworks beginning at 6 p.m. at Stanley Jensen Stadium. 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. Free.

Wetumpka 4th of July Celebration  
Gold Star park. Fireworks show at 8:30 p.m. Free.

Restaurants, sign up now for Alabama Restaurant Week 2018
Restaurants, sign up and be a part of the locally owned and operated restaurants that participate in Alabama Restaurant Week 2018. This year the more-than-weeklong event is Aug. 10-19. Last year almost 100 restaurants were a part of the event showcasing local food, fun and flavor.

This year, participating restaurants will receive in-store promotional items and be listed on the website along with their meal offerings. Participating restaurants set meal prices at $10, $20, $30 and $40 for dinner and $10 and $15 for lunch. In all cases, the price is per person and does not include tax, tip and drink. Restaurants have the choice of offering one or more meals at the preset price.

There is no cost for restaurants to participate in this statewide promotion. For more details and sign-up information, please or contact Courtney Austin at 334-242-4674 or Grey Brennan at 334-242-4545.

Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is Aug. 4-7 at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa.

The conference provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and celebrate achievements.

For an agenda, list of speakers and registration information please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
One of summer’s biggest holidays is a few short weeks away! Are you planning a special event for the 4th of July or maybe your hours of operation will be different? Keep visitors up to date by submitting an event or updating your Partner page.

Not a Partner yet? Registering is simple! Follow the link and get started today.

Deadline: June 30. Would you like to be featured in the 2019 Alabama Vacation Guide? Login to your Partner account and submit your event.


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

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Alabama Tourism Department