By Brian Jewell
They are the quintessential backdrops of the American vacation — beach destinations where sun, sand and waves mix with a robust dining and entertainment scene to keep visitors entertained day and night.
Like many Americans, you may have spent your childhood summer vacations at beaches around the country that have become favorite family destinations. In college, spring break might have taken you to other beach towns with hot nightlife and wild reputations.
Those memories have their place; but today, some of the same destinations offer a world of discovery for tour groups, as well.
In addition to enjoying a stay at a resort, groups that visit beaches will find opportunities to explore and learn about the maritime environment. Sightseeing cruises or fishing charters get passengers out on the water, and shows, shopping and other entertainment options add man-made excitement to the mix.
Consider some of these popular beach destinations for your 2012 tour calendar.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast
The famously turquoise waters and powdery white sand of the upper Gulf Coast draw throngs of visitors to Alabama’s beaches every year. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, groups visiting coastal Alabama have abundant opportunities to get up close with the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico.
“We have a huge charter-boat-fishing fleet,” said Beth Gendler, vice president of sales for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s a great option for a half-day, full-day or even overnight activity.
“They can take groups as small as six people or as many as 40 to 50 people. You can fish in the Gulf or stay in the back bays.”
Other boat companies offer dolphin-watching cruises. Dolphins enjoy the warm, shallow waters near the coast, so dolphin sightings are virtually guaranteed on these cruises.
Groups can also take a nature cruise, during which guides trawl the sea floor and then bring fish, shrimp, crabs and other animals aboard to introduce them to visitors. Other cruise options include sunset cruises, morning sightseeing cruises and catamaran cocktail parties.
The Gulf Coast is a prime area for shrimp, crab and other commercial fishing, and restaurants around the area give groups a chance to enjoy the fresh local catch.
“There’s lots of local seafood, in every restaurant,” Gendler said. “One of the big things here are royal reds. They’re kind of a succulent, sweet-tasting large shrimp that are a specialty here at certain times of year.”
Visitors will also find plenty of oysters on the half shell, as well as small crab claws, which are often fried and served with a creamy dipping sauce.