A Grand Vacation to Point Clear, Alabama
by Linda Holloway
Photography by Larry Holloway Photography, www.larryhollowayphotography.com
I have dreamed about a place like this—where children arelaughing and adults are relaxed. Gunnar, our grandson, led the way as we biked alongwinding brick paths under century-old live oak trees. There is something mesmerizingabout the dozens of majestic oaks with their bowing knarled limbs and SpanishMoss waving in the Mobile Bay breeze. These same trees have captured vacationmemories for thousands of families since 1847. From the lush landscape to theallure of the water, life is indeed grand at The Grand Hotel in Point Clear,Alabama.
Alabama’s best kept secret was discovered in January 2011when The Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa was chosen as one ofthe best in the World in Travel + Leisure magazine.The Grand scored better than many of the highest rated hotels and resorts inthe country, such as The Plaza Hotel in New York and The Bellagio in LasVegas. “In the Southeast, wescored higher than every hotel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky,Alabama and all of the hotels in Atlanta,” said David Clark, General Manager ofthe Grand.
The reason for all of the attention is simple: tradition,upscale amenities, the friendliest staff anywhere and location, location,location. The Grand is outlined by Mobile Bay—perfect for splashing on theexpansive beach, fishing and enjoying nature’s bounty. The nationally acclaimedart town of Fairhope is to the north and the beautiful Gulf beaches are to thesouth of the resort.
You can choose from 404 guest rooms and suites with exquisiteviews of the bay or marina, while others provide pool and garden vistas. Welodged in the Spa building overlooking the Grand Marina. Here, the gentlespanking of the water against the hulls of private sailboats and yachts lulledme to sleep from my rocking chair on our private balcony. The soothing elegant room décor andplush bedding guarantees a restful night for the entire family. The Spa,Fitness Center and indoor pool was just steps from our suite—always a goodreason to choose the Spa building.
How many times have you found your vacation budget was setin stone only to realize your children required more entertainment? Beyond thesecure gates of The Grand, children will never become bored. Fun in the water begins with theexpansive lagoon-style swimming pool with elaborate waterfalls, and the beachdelights all ages including the sand bucket crew.
Activities such as horseshoes, croquet, ping pong, bocce ball,and bayside putting green are always a hit. The non-motorized beachequipment—kayaks, and Hobie Cat sail boats are great fun for teens as well asadults. Older children and teens also enjoy beach volleyball, Wii Ninteendogames, (Rock Band is a favorite) and Laser Tag. The “big deal” for the younger set is feeding the GrandDucks. These sociable feathered friends gather around the lagoon forfreebies—ask for complimentary cracked corn at the concierge desk.
One of Gunnar’s favorite activities was visiting the Grand Pierwhere fishing poles and bait are supplied. Tom Sawyer playground is a popularspot and comes complete with a tree house and see-saw. Face painting is part ofthe daily arts and crafts and recreational activities provided by the staff,and the pre-school crowd are avid fans of the sea shell hunt. It is “game on”with Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Beach Ultimate Frisbee. Bikes of allsizes are available and the first hour is complimentary. A great familyadventure is to ride along the bike trail into nearby Fairhope.
The fee-based daytime summer Fun Camp allows children toconnect with others for a reasonable charge. It also gives mom and dad “timeout,” for rare couple and individual activities. The competent counselors takethe children on outdoor adventures, including scavenger hunts and shelling, andgames such as putt-putt and croquet. Bekah Traylor, director of resort activities,said, “The session is from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., so a meal would be included.We begin the session with a game as an ice breaker to introduce the children toone another as well as to the counselors. During the summer days, we try to gooutside as much as possible.” Indoor activities included well-planned arts andcrafts where decorating a new pair of flip flops is the en vogue fashion craze,and don’t be surprised if your offspring is sad when it is time to leave theprogram.
Go ahead and enjoy a date night. You can check the kids intothe evening Fun Camp program (fee-based) from 6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., and theywill never miss you. The program features a variety of activities, but Friday nightsin the summer, the staff entertains with a bonfire complete with the culinarydelicacy…s’mores. Saturday nights include “dive-in” movies, and Laser Tag.Reservations must be made in advance by contacting the concierge.
Spend your alone time wisely with a romantic dinner in theGrand’s private Secret Garden. This outdoor hideaway is perfect for witnessingsunsets. For family dining, start the day with breakfast in the Grand DiningRoom where even finicky eaters find spectacular dishes with a southern flair onthe buffet. Be sure to try the made-to-order omelets. After a healthy breakfast,Gunnar finished with a real treat, home made donuts. The Sunday Jazz Brunch isa tradition where rows of decadent food combined with the toe-tapping beat ofjazz musicians is a tradition, and for sandwiches and snacks, the kids’ choiceis the Pelican Nest.
Finish your daily activities in time for the Grand Salute tothe Military. This tradition begins every day in the main hotel lobby at 3:45with a brief historic presentation followed by processions around the GrandHotel grounds, concluding with the firing of the cannon at 4:00 p.m. Also, enjoy “Tea Time” beginning at4:00 p.m. in the Upper Lobby of the Main Building where complimentary cookies,coffee and specialty teas are served.
Me Time and Tee Time
With the resort’s Fun Camp, visitors can savor what I liketo refer to as “Me Time and Tee Time,” for overworked parents who enjoyinggolfing and a visit to the spa. Of course this time could be used for activitiessuch as playing tennis at the Grand’s Lakewood Club at the Colony, sailing, fishingcharters, and shopping in Fairhope(check times for the resort’s shuttle.) For my “me” time, I checked into theSpa and checked out of reality.
There is a reason The Grand Spa was voted the number one Marriottspa for guest satisfaction in the world for the second year in a row! Myjourney began in the “Quiet Room,” where I was sure I was in Europe. Here, Iwas surrounded by mosaic tiled walls, candles, and soothing music. I succumbedto the over-sized whirlpool, and then drifted back to sleep in the comfortablechairs. I can honestly say my treatment (a facial) was the best I have everexperienced. I looked ten yearsyounger after my esthetician managed to diminish my dark circles—a miracle. The Spa staff takes Southern hospitalityto a new level. For “tee time,” you cannot do better than a Robert Trent JonesGolf Trail property, and The Grand offers two 18-hole championship layouts—Azaleaand Dogwood.
For a day trip to the beach, travel25 miles and visit Gulf Shores State Park. Enjoy the new beach pavilion withrestrooms, private showers and a snack bar. Also in Gulf Shores, the TrackFamily Recreation Center, Waterville and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo are alwaysfun. With Gunnar’s persistence, we explored The Grand one more time by bikesbefore checking out of our new-found paradise. With every turn we foundunmatched beauty. It was as if the elements had conspired to awaken our senseson this beautiful morning at The Grand.
The Grand: 251-928-9201, www.marriottgrand.com
For area tourist informationcontact Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce,
Gulf Shores: 1-800-745-7263, www.gulfshores.com
Historic Facts about The Grand
- In 1847, P.H. Chamberlain built Point Clear Hotel. The two-story building with 40 rooms was a magnet for antebellum society, and guests originally arrived by steamboats.
- The hotel was used as a hospital during the Civil War. More than 300 Confederate soldiers died while in the hospital. These soldiers are buried in Confederate Rest, a cemetery adjacent to the hotel grounds.
- After the war, Captain, H.C. Baldwin, restored the property and, in 1875, renamed it as The Grand.
- After a fire, a second hotel was built in 1937 and another structure was built in 1941.
- During World War II, The Grand Hotel was the focal point for “Operation Ivory Soap” training—code name for a secret U.S. military project. These 5,000 highly trained Air Force seamen supported the landings in the Philippines, Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa and were instrumental in saving many lives.
- The Retirement Systems of Alabama, owns the property. With over $50 million in renovations after Hurricane Katrina, The Grand is once again the “Queen of Southern Resorts.”
- Visitors to The Grand have included Billy Graham, Sally Field, Angelina Jolie and Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.