On nearly every cruise, we make it a point to visit a place we had not been prior.
For our July 2010 cruise on Carnival Elation, this new port was our embarkation city—Mobile,
Knowing little about Mobile—I even learned later that I had been mispronouncing it
for years—I set out to do some research. We planned two nights in Mobile—one pre-cruise,
and one post-cruise. We figured that this gave us time to explore historic downtown
Mobile, visit the USS Alabama, and possibly take in a Bay Bears minor league baseball
game at the Hank Aaron Stadium.
Yet, once we arrived, we were immediately enchanted with Mobile’s historic district,
and opted to spend all of our time there. Between a Dauphin Street Historic District
Walking Tour map from Main Street Mobile (available in our hotel), the free moda!
trolley system, and the advice of our hotel’s concierge and others we met along the
way, we had a wonderful time on our first visit to this Southern city.
Several months prior to the cruise, we made reservations for the Battle House Renaissance,
located on the fringe of the historic district near the Convention Center. There
are two Renaissance hotels in Mobile, roughly two blocks apart. We chose the Battle
House, as I have a penchant for historic buildings. And, was I ever in for a treat.
The Battle House Renaissance consists of two buildings—the historic Battle House
(built 1908 on the site of the original 1852 Battle House) and part of the modern
RSA Tower Building (2007). The latter is the tallest building in Alabama, reaching
37 stories, with hotel rooms and meeting rooms on the first seven floors and offices
For our one-night pre-cruise stay, we were in a room on the fifth floor of the Tower,
facing the Mobile River. The room was beautiful—dark woods evoking an older style,
but modern amenities. The bathroom was a masterpiece, with separate tub and shower.
The trash can was even lined with a doily! I liked how the designers and decorators
gave a classic décor in the halls and rooms consistent with the rest of the hotel.
Post-cruise, we asked for a room in the historic building (for comparative purposes)
and were given a lovely, large room on the seventh floor. The main room was a typical
rectangle; a hallway led to the bathroom. The décor was similar to that of the room
we had in the Tower. Even the carpeting in the hallway was the same, unifying these
two distinct building styles and eras.
Either way, you can’t go wrong with the room, whether in the Tower or Historic Building.
Keep in mind, however, that the Tower is a longer walk from the main entrance and
lobby, if this is an issue.
Interestingly, part of our exploration of Mobile was touring the hotel. The original
Battle House opened in 1852, and hosted the first Mardi Gras Ball in the U.S. In
1905, the hotel burned, leaving nothing behind. It reopened in 1908, and operated
until 1974. In 2002, plans to restore the building were approved, and it reopened,
along with the new RSA Tower, in 2007. The restoration is, indeed, like stepping
back in time. The lobby is extraordinary, and quite grand. The adjacent ballroom
is lined with paintings depicting Mobile’s history. And, there is a lovely roof deck
on the old building that offers a decent view of the city, facing west.
It’s pretty amazing when I’ve spent so much time writing about a hotel. This says
a lot about its charm. I would, without hesitation, stay here again, for both its
ambiance and location.
A main reason we enjoyed Mobile was its architecture, a mix of styles from the 19th
to 21st centuries. Our first evening in Mobile, we capped off the evening with a
post-dinner walk in the area around our hotel, and were completely enchanted. Within
a block’s radius were several two- and three-story buildings with cast iron balconies
(1870s), Mobile’s first skyscraper (1906, 11 stories), as well as modern office buildings
and a convention center. Nearby was the beautiful Bienville Square and its lovely
walkways and fountain. It was a pleasant way to start a vacation.
Most of our visit in Mobile took place post-cruise, when we had a full day to enjoy
it. And we made the most of the day, mainly on foot, as Neil’s pedometer recorded
nearly 3.5 miles.
Starting from our hotel (having checked in at around 10:00 am), we walked up Dauphin
Street to catch the free moda! bus that loops around downtown. Our first stop was
Forte Conde, a small-scale reproduction of an 18th century fort that once occupied
the site. The original fort was built by the French, and was later in the hands of
England, and then Spain, as each occupied Mobile. An on-site museum depicts the history
of Mobile through photographs and artifacts. (The larger Museum of Mobile is across
the street; we did not get the chance to visit.)
We had a nice conversation with the representatives at the Welcome Center adjacent
to Forte Conde, who recommended Wintzell’s Oyster House for lunch. It was some distance
away, so we got back on the moda! bus, and the driver stopped directly in front of
the restaurant to let us off. (See below for more detail on the meal.)
We then walked back along Dauphin Street admiring the various architectural styles.
My favorite was the Crown Theatre (1909), now named Atlantis, as I loved its arches,
windows, columns, large crowns atop, and the lion faces on the façade.
Cathedral Square, a fairly new park (1979) was serene and pretty, anchored by the
gorgeous Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1849-1895). After a stop in Bienville
Books (used and new), we returned to our hotel, before heading out again for dinner
and another stroll around the historic downtown.
Our first two meals in Mobile were taken at our hotel. On Friday, after checking
in, we went to Joe Cain Café, inside the hotel, where the three of us shared a cheese
pizza, peach cake (like a bread pudding), and peach ice cream. We enjoyed the food
and the ambiance, and were also pleasantly surprised by the low expense.
The following morning, we had a great buffet breakfast in the beautiful Trellis Room
just off the lobby. This room was also stunning and evoked an earlier time. The
buffet was small in size, yet large in variety and flavor. I especially enjoyed the
grits, biscuit and gravy—we can’t find these too easily in the Northeast.
When we returned to Mobile post-cruise, we enjoyed our remaining meals in town. As
suggested by the volunteers at the Welcome Center, we headed to Wintzell’s Oyster
House on Dauphin Street for lunch. We all loved the interior, including the humorous
quips taped to the wall, and the chart showing the results of oyster-eating contests.
The food was superb. I ordered the Lunch Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, containing six grilled
jumbo shrimp in a large bowl of cheese grits with Cajun crawfish sauce. It was so
filling that I couldn’t finish it. Our son had fried oysters with fries, and Neil
enjoyed the J.O. Platter, consisting of fried jumbo shrimp, catfish strips, oysters,
and okra. Wintzell’s is an enjoyable, casual place that I highly recommend.
Dinner was also had on Dauphin Street. Those who know my son know that he loves pizza,
and we wanted to try a place in town. The hotel concierge recommended Hopjack’s on
Dauphin Street, where we ordered two small pizzas (from an extensive menu) and appetizers.
The food was good, yet the service could have been better. (We had to remind our
server of the appetizers, and the final bill needed an adjustment.) The following
morning, preceding our return to the airport, we had breakfast at Serda’s Coffee
Shop down the street from our hotel. We had stopped in here for a snack the day prior,
and were pleased—besides, this was one of few places open early on a Sunday morning.
Most passengers we met on our cruise drove to Mobile. As we flew in, I share our
experiences for those planning to do the same. We decided against renting a car,
as we planned to either walk or taxi everywhere. (In our home town, we are accustomed
to walking or taking public transportation, so this wasn’t a stretch for us.)
We landed at the Mobile Regional Airport around 3:30 pm on a Friday, quickly found
our luggage, and sought a taxi to take us to our hotel. The ride, via the Interstate,
was metered and cost us $43 plus tip. The reverse trip from the hotel to the airport
took exactly one-half hour on city roads on a Sunday morning, registering a little
over $30 on the meter, $10 less than taking the Interstate the other way on a Friday
night. Our driver that morning said that the Interstate is usually faster, but not
so on a Sunday morning. She was right. So, cruisers using Mobile’s airport should
count on $35-$50 with tip each way.
As we did not have a parking package (offered by many of the hotels in the area to
those who drove and booked this in advance), we took taxis to and from the cruise
terminal. Although it was a short distance away, there was a fixed rate of $15 each
way. I do not know if this was a per-person charge of $5 each (as there were three
of us) or a per-car charge, yet we felt it reasonable as we would have otherwise
had to transport luggage over uneven terrain (including active train tracks) in the
heat. Post-cruise, taxis were not readily available; we found someone from the port
to assist us, and were in a taxi within minutes.
Our entire family enjoyed Mobile, and we would not hesitate to return again in a
few years. The Dauphin Street area is still up and coming, with empty storefronts
here and there, yet we also saw some rebuilding and maintenance. The combination
of Federal, Italianate, and Victorian architecture was stunning, and the local populace
could not have been any more welcoming and friendly. While a taxi ride from the airport
is costly ($40-$50), the trip is well worth it and is certainly a wonderful way to
complement a cruise vacation.