July is National Vacation Rental Month!

Consider a Vacation Rental in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach!

July is the ideal time to take a vacation. School’s out, the weather’s nice, and it’s the right time to make memories and have an adventure.

Finding the perfect vacation spot can be a challenge. First, you have to find the right location. After finding the right location, your focus turns to deciding on the type of amenities you prefer. Hotels offer limited space, and things can get cramped, depending on the number of people in your party. Have you ever considered a vacation rental in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach? You should!

Why? Here are some advantages:

Vacation Rentals yield more space and privacy. Vacation Rentals are practical for families and large groups. Sharing a space blends the idea of togetherness with enough breathing room for everyone. Vacation rentals in complexes also provide additional amenities such as golf, private pools, and tennis courts.

Vacation Rentals offer variety. From the cozy one bedroom condos to the sprawling 12 bedroom castles on the beach, there’s something for everyone. Depending on your price range, you can choose your own property for your vacation. You can even choose to be near the beach, the golf course, or high in the sky! The possibilities are endless. Most properties are also located in gated communities and residential neighborhoods. This allows you to blend in, experience the local culture, and have the security of knowing you and your family are safe.

Vacation Rentals also offer elements of comfort. Vacation Rental properties are often loaded with amenities. Private pools, multiple master suites, state of the art kitchen appliances, and high speed internet are featured in a number of condominiums and large houses, all while making it feel like home. You can have a truly relaxing vacation.

Don’t want to eat out? All properties have fully equipped kitchens. Fully equipped kitchens can give you an opportunity to make healthy meals for you and your family. Most vacation rentals have refrigerators and wet bars that are ideal for entertaining guests and sharing a snack.

The Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast Offers the Ideal Vacation Setting

With miles of white sands, rolling waves, and turquoise waters, the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast is the perfect backdrop for your next vacation. Count on Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to provide the ideal place to relax, unwind, and have a fantastic time.

Shopping in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

You don’t have to look far to find stores selling t-shirts, swimsuits, towels, and other cheap beach souvenirs, and there’s a great deal of repetition amongst these stores. With that said, I never miss a chance to stop a Souvenir City and The Purple Octopus when I’m in town.

Conveniently located next door to each other, their entrances are guarded by oversized sea monsters beckoning for a mandatory photo op in the mouth of a shark or in the tentacles of an octopus. Both stores have maintained that old beach town feel, far different from the big, neon Surf Styles on every corner and stretching down to the Florida state line.

Souvenir City and The Purple Octopus feel different from the others. Souvenir City has been family owned and operated since 1956. When you go inside, (after you pass through the shark’s mouth and look inside the shark’s stomach), look immediately to the right on the wall behind the cash register. The store owners have left the line on the wall where the high water mark was when the place was flooded by Category 5 Hurricane Ivan in 2006. That year, Gulf Shores took a direct hit, and the water line inside the store is about 4’ high, which is somewhat surprising since the store is not on the beach.  It shows just how high and far the water came in during the storm.

The Purple Octopus

Both stores have all the typical beach souvenirs one would expect, but they also have the best shell selections anywhere. RoadsideAmerica.com names The Purple Octopus as the World’s Largest Purple Octopus and mentions Souvenir City as another offbeat place located nearby. Did I mention the full-size pirate ship in the back of Souvenir City? I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it’s all a bit kitchy but totally necessary, even adults can’t resist. The Purple Octopus has the largest and most varied assortment of beach Christmas ornaments and both are iconic features in Gulf Shores not to be missed.

Heading over to The Wharf are my three favorite stores: Melanie’s, MII and Lucca.

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Melanie’s and MII

What’s not to love in these stores? Both stores are owned by local interior designer, Melanie Martin. MII serves more as a design studio, while Melanie’s serves more as a retail environment. Although they both sell merchandise, the studio also has samples of various products used for her interiors clients, and they’re conveniently located just a couple doors down from each other.  Melanie‘s shops are full of meaningful and unique pieces, and while so many stores are crammed with junk from The Merchandise Mart, her shops are different. They are thoughtfully curated and offer handmade items and art that support local artists and empower women in other countries.

Melanie brings her overall design aesthetic, which is calm, cool, crisp, and rich in texture and material presence to both of her stores. Her stores are full of glass, shell, stone, alabaster, fur and so many other yummy materials.

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One of the most unique finds specific to the area has to be the Indian pottery shard and oyster shell necklaces by Oysterdrift. The Indian pottery and oyster shells are collected from all along Gulf Coast beaches and waterways. The father (an archeologist) and daughter team of Oysterdrift collect pieces and make one-of-kind necklaces out of these artifacts, said to be hundreds to thousands of years old. They also make a similar line of Christmas ornaments.

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TheWharfShop13Melanie’s sells Raven+Lily, a socially conscious brand empowering women all over the world. With an exotic look and made with materials such as horn, wood, leather, jute, recycled silver, copper and brass beads (melted down from bullet casings) and many other recycled and organic materials, this brand gives women, including those HIV+, training to use their local resources to design eco-friendly pieces.

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The long, recycled copper and brass bead necklace above (pic via Raven+Lily site) is on my must-have list and would look great with a plunging v-neck dress.

Melanie’s also sells GAIA, another socially conscious brand employing and training refugee women in Dallas, TX. Just like Raven+Lily, GAIA is also ethically made by hand from repurposed textiles.  GAIA offers bright, bold, patterned fabric and geometrics with fringe, tassels, and fabric wrapped beads.

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I couldn’t resist buying one of these white marble vessels with the gold agate on top, along with a couple other things. I’m saving these colorful GAIA pouches and clutches for my next visit, when spring and summer happily return.

I also bought two of these brown paper, metal cuff note holder. While at the store the girls said they weren’t sure what they were for, but I decided to write quotes and positive affirmations on mine and keep on my nightstand. The friend I’m giving the other one to has several parties throughout the year, and I thought what a great idea to leave out at a party and have friends write notes on them for her to read later, almost like a guest book but something a bit more personal. These would be great for bridal and baby showers, too!

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Melanie’s also carries Bella Dahl, a clothing line out of Los Angeles. This effortless line makes it easy to look coastal chic. Bella Dahl has created their own specific wash, so it looks perfectly worn in and soft, and the fabric hangs like a linen which gives it a luxurious, flowy look without trying too hard. I could see being comfy on the weekends with one of these on and some stretch pants, or dressing it up with white skinny jeans, a sparkly necklace, and of course I’d pair it with one of those GAIA clutches.

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Lucca

Just a few shops down from Melanie’s is Lucca.

Lucca carries many different lines: White+Warren, Vince, Rag and Bone, Chan Luu, Theory, DVF and much more. I instantly fell in love with the Rag and Bone hat on the top and had to purchase it.  It’s a perfectly muted mauve color and looks fabulous with grey, beige, creamy white, and even camp/army green.

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For the most part, everything is arranged by color or coordinating colors, which I love, and they offer a lot in neutral tones.

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Right now, they have some beautiful cashmere capes (pictured above), and below was the most adorable shirt with champagne glasses on it that I’m regretting not buying…because seriously, do champagne glasses ever go out of style? Besides, isn’t this the perfect shirt for a classy girl who’s ready to party?  I did however buy this amazonite necklace with the camel colored leather tassel. I love how this stone ranges from very blue to very brown with all the combinations of those two colors in between.

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Lucca also carries a great selection of jewelry and J Brand jeans, and I almost left with this black bracelet, too.

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So hopefully amidst all the bright neon, low quality beach stores which cater to a certain crowd and fulfill the quick necessaties, you can head over to The Wharf for a bit more upscale shopping. Enjoy!

All information and photographs were provided by our guest blogger, Cassandra Buckalew. Recently, Cassandra took us on a dream drive down Fort Morgan Road. Follow her adventures and take some on for your own. 

Entrepreneur and designer, Cassandra Buckalew, is an Atlanta native. She and her husband own a home on Fort Morgan and fell in love with the area after their first visit in 2006. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta and owns a trolley company, a pedicab company and a ghost tour in the metro Atlanta area. She has traveled all over the world but spends her down town rejuvenating on Alabama’s beautiful coast. She enjoys the Gulf Coast lifestyle and friendly laid-back attitude. A lover of photography, travel, design, food and fashion, you can follow her images and adventures on her Instagram account at: cassbuckalew or her Facebook design page: Cassandra Buckalew Interiors. She can be reached at: cassbuckalew@gmail.com.

Cassandra Buckalew

Biking Gulf Shores

Biking, or cycling if you may, is an amusement for some and a lifestyle for others. Along the beach area, you’ll see a variety of bikes and biking enthusiasts. The beautifully streamlined carbon fiber road bike, the iconic beach cruiser, the handy, traditional trike perfect for holding all of your beach supplies… You may even see a unicycle. An interesting option to consider while you’re at the beach is a ‘fat bike’. A fat bike is somewhat like a mountain bike, but it has much thicker, fat tires that allow for effortless maneuvering of loose, sandy conditions. It also works for snow, which we had for the first time in 20 years this past winter.

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A biker rides a recumbent bike on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail.

Alabama and Florida laws biking laws vary slightly, but it’s important to note that they’re in place for your safety as well as the safety of others on the road. For the sake of simplicity and your well-being, we’re going to recommend the same setup for both states. Any person under the age of 16 is required to wear a helmet, but adults might consider the use of one as well, especially when it comes to high speeds, heavy traffic or hilly terrain. Be prepared for evening rides with a bright, white head light and a rear red reflector as well as a rear red tail light. Riding around at night without lighting is simply not safe, and it’s also illegal. Sometimes it helps to double up on your headlights with a head lamp, in particular for dark trails that are secluded from city and street lights. For example the trail on Fort Morgan Road, at night can be pitch black and very intimidating. Riders should not wear headphones; all senses should be engaged in the ride.  You may see plenty of bikers riding the sidewalks down 59 to the public beach, but technically, bikers are not allowed to ride on the sidewalks in Alabama. In Florida, however, they are, as long as you yield the right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks, and give an audible signal before passing pedestrians.

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Flora spotted along the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail

If you’d like to rent a bicycle, there are several shops that can help, including Infinity Bicycles out of Orange Beach, Beach Bike Rentals in Gulf Shores, in Perdido Key and Pro Cycle and Tri out of Fairhope. We spoke with Bill Gable, owner of Infinity Bicycles, about which local trails are the most popular. The Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail out of Gulf State Park was top of the list. The trail system is 10 miles long and composed of 6 trails, each with their own distinct ecosystem. He also mentioned the latest extension, Coyote Crossing, which connects the Backcountry Trail with the 6 miles of trail along Fort Morgan Road. If you’re interested in biking further down the peninsula, you should know that it’s very dangerous, since there is no bike trail, and traffic is often going very fast around the curves of the road. Bill did say that once you get to Martinique or Kiva, the road becomes substantially safer as traffic is much less this far down the peninsula. A great option for those who are up for it is to bike from these areas down to the ferry. It’s only $5 one-way to ferry with your bike over to Dauphin Island, and exploring will be much easier on two wheels. Infinity Bicycles also hosts two weekly ride-a-longs on Saturday morning. Riders can choose from a 30-35 mile road ride, averaging around 17 mph in speed, or a leisure, no-drop ride, where the ride is only as fast as the slowest rider. The road ride is at 7:30 a.m. and the leisure ride is at 10:30 a.m. If you would like to participate, they ask that you call ahead to let them know you’ll be joining. They also recommend a bike in good working order (although you can rent bicycles from them as well), a helmet, water, and ID, a spare tube, nutrition and emergency money. They can be reached at 251-974-1727.

Another biking event you can catch this month is the 29th annual Tour de Beach, with over 400 cyclists expected to participate September 20-21. The two-day ride has 25, 45 and 75 mile options, with rest stops set up in key areas like historic Fort Morgan and Mullet Point Park in Fairhope. Riders are asked to raise at least $200 to benefit the Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. To register or learn more, visit bikeMS.org or call 1-800-FIGHT-MS.

Looking for a place to stay? We have vacation rentals in Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan, and Fairhope, Alabama as well as Perdido Key, Florida. Be sure to check out our rental specials; they’re updated weekly!

Bucket List: Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival Mass Ascension

Cross ballooning off your bucket list on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Up, up and away! The butterflies never came as we gently lifted into the air. Waving goodbye to our ground crew, the scene before us got smaller and simultaneously opened up to bigger views of the sky and ground. It was just after sunrise and the soft dawn light and puffy clouds provided the perfect backdrop as more balloons followed behind us.

The beauty of a mass hot air balloon ascension is undeniable and totally accessible. *Every year, the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival brings balloonists from all over to the small town of Foley, Alabama, just minutes from the beautiful coastal city of Gulf Shores. Entry to the festival is free, and the entertainment includes an interactive hot air balloon display, a hot air balloon glow and mass ascension, tethered rides, live music, a frisbee dog show, kids zone, arts and crafts village, retail marketplace, antique tractor display and more. The festival always takes place on Father’s Day weekend, so keep that in mind when thinking about a unique gift for dad. Daredevils can schedule a tethered ride, which usually cost $15-$20 per person.

Hot Air Ballooning on the Gulf Coast

It truly was a stunning end to the 10th annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival.

10 Things I Learned From My Hot Air Balloon Experience

  1. Hot air ballooning is one of the earliest forms of flight, and it is actually very safe. Leave the butterflies at home!
  2. During tethered rides, if a large balloon had just one tie-down, it could lift up an entire van.
  3. You can’t just take off and touch down anywhere. Landowner relations are an important part of determining your launch site and landing place.
  4. Direction is determined with a mylar balloon. To find our launch site, we drove into the wind, away from our predetermined landing spot.
  5. You don’t turn in a hot air balloon. You rotate.
  6. Your job is to help watch for power lines, even if the pilot says otherwise. Beyond that, just lean back and enjoy!
  7. Ballooning is a very expensive hobby. By supporting a pilot with your business, you help keep the art of ballooning alive and well.
  8. Because of their massive size, shape balloons are a dying art. One shape balloon can cost up to $200K for just the balloon itself and can weigh up to 1400 pounds.
  9. Larger balloon generally have a smoother landing due to their weight. It helps if you soften your knees.
  10. Hot air ballooning is fun — really, really fun!
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Take dad for a tethered ride on Father’s Day weekend at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival.

If you would like to schedule an untethered ride in a hot air balloon with one of our local pilots, be sure to contact them in advance. Winds must be less than 5 mph to fly, so balloonists are very restricted in terms of when they can go up. Typically, your flight will be scheduled at dawn, because the winds can die down to almost 0 mph around that time. Ready to check something off your bucket list? Here are some local balloon pilots and their contact information.

Balloon: Let’s Get High
Pilot: Captain Ellis Calvert
Location: Orange Beach, AL
Contact: 251-752-2248

Balloon: Hope Floats
Pilot: Tommy Rachel
Location: Magnolia Springs, AL
Contact: 251-970-FLYU (3598)

Pilot Warren's pirate balloon

If you were to hold this image to a mirror, it would read “Not all treasure is silver and gold me mates, for a gift of flight be precious. A Pirates Life For Me!”

If you are travelling to the area, we highly recommend you stay near the coast! Meyer Vacation Rentals has one of the largest selections of condos and beach houses in the area, and the search feature has a variety of different filters to make your search easy. How does that sound? A beach getaway and a magical hot air balloon ride. Share in life’s wonderful experiences with your friends and family.

I’d like to send a special thank you to Pilot Tom Warren and crew of American Balloons (Land O’ Lakes, FL) for the fantastic, fun and thoroughly safe experience, as well as Pilot Tommy Rachel for all of his hard work organizing the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival and finally Meyer Vacation Rentals for being a sponsor of this local event and helping to keep ballooning alive and well on the Gulf Coast.

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Thanks to Pilot Tom Warren and crew for the wonderful experience!

Lemur Encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

When you visit Gulf Shores, put the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo on your itinerary. You and the kids will love the unique offerings the zoo has, like hands-on animal encounters that allow you to visit with endangered species in a safe setting. Your guide will have plenty of knowledge to share with you about the animals, so look at is as an educational experience.

Currently the zoo is raising both red ruffed lemurs and black-and-white ruffed lemurs. The red ruffed lemur is an endangered species, and the black-and-white ruffed lemur is critically endangered. Deforestation is a major contributor to the decline of their species, along with poachers, who abduct baby lemurs and sell them on the black market as pets.

The lemur encounters are very popular with our visitors. One of the first things that may strike you during the encounter is the incredible softness of their hands, which helps them grip the bark of a tree when climbing. They actually have fingernails and even little fingerprints! That’s because they are primates.

We visited with Aries and Leo. They were both born in Tampa and will be returning once they reach their second birthday. Lemurs reach full maturity at two, and they become very aggressive once mature. The zoo is also raising other lemurs, including some babies who will be available for encounters soon!

Baby tigers are another popular draw. Recently, the zoo got two new baby tigers in, Romar and Hamlet. Romar is a golden tabby, and Hamlet is a royal white. The zoo usually offers only three tiger encounters a day, so if you want to visit with them, call in advance! Book your animal encounters today at 251-968-5732.

And don’t forget to browse our wide variety of Gulf Shores condos and beach houses available for rent through Meyer Vacation Rentals.

Lemur Encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast zoo boast cuddly fun.

Lemur Encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast zoo boast cuddly fun.

The lemur's little hands are surprisingly human-like.

The lemur’s little hands are surprisingly human-like.

Hangout Fest 2014 in Video

Hangout Fest 2014 was absolute perfection. For everyone who came, thanks for visiting our beautiful beaches and sharing a magical weekend with us. If you didn’t make it, there’s still next year! And we stopped dancing and singing just long enough to take a few videos for you. Enjoy! We’ve got Gary Clark Jr, Trombone Shorty, Jack Johnson, Outkast, Portugal. The Man, Capital Cities and The Lonely Biscuits lined up for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Reserve Your Condo or Beach House for Hangout Fest 2015

Are you hooked on Hangout Fest? If you’re coming back next year, reserve your condo or beach house now for the best selection. Get within biking distance, or even better, walking distance. Your best bet will be to find something in Gulf Shores. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach is the next closest town, and many of the condos and beach houses there are withing biking distance. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, expand your search to include everything from Fort Morgan to Perdido Key (Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are the towns in between). Hangout Fest has shuttle lines that service these areas, so you’ll still be able to travel to and from the festival with ease, and best of all, you’re still on the beach! If you look beneath the map on the individual property descriptions, it should list how many miles away the rental is from Hwy. 59. This is also the exact distance that you will be from the center of the festival.

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