When I think of Mobile, Alabama, several things come to mind, but expensive tourist destination isn’t usually one of them. Unfortunately, that is what we found. The admission costs to main attractions in Mobile are as high as almost anywhere else we’ve been. Over the course of two days, Shannon and I spent $80 getting into just three attractions; the art museum ($10, each), the USS Alabama ($10, with coupon), and the Bellingrath House & Gardens ($20, we skipped a river boat ride that costs an additional $8.50, each). $80 for a weekend may not seem like much when you’re on vacation, but if you try to do it all the time, like we do, that amount spent every two days accumulates to almost $15,000 over the course of a year. That’s a lot of scratch for admissions.
So what did we get for our $80? It was a bit of a mixed bag. The museum, billed as the largest along the Gulf Coast, was surprisingly unremarkable. Most of the collection didn’t grab our attention the way other museums have. We did appreciate the intermingled display areas, though, where sculpture, glassware, and various styles of paintings were often shown in the same room. It makes for a more engaging experience when different styles and mediums complement and compete with one another. This way they also avoid a trap many large museums fall into; homogeneous and boring rooms filled with stuff you don’t care about . . . “Hey look, thousands of vases behind glass. Awesome.”
I think we would have enjoyed the battleship Alabama more if we hadn’t already visited the USS North Carolina. The Carolina is somewhat bigger, more decorated, and in better physical shape, than the Alabama, which felt a bit threadbare. But otherwise, the experience was largely the same and nearly as impressive. One area where the Alabama rises above the Carolina is the surrounding grounds of Battleship Memorial Park. On display here are 22 military aircraft, an assortment of tanks and other military equipment and the USS Drum submarine, which is also available to tour.
The highlight of our visit was the Bellingrath House and Gardens (seen above). The 15-room, 10,500 square feet, English Renaissance home rests on a beautifully landscaped 65 acre estate. The gardens feature flowering plants for all seasons, making it a worthwhile stop anytime of year. Spring azaleas were in bloom during our visit, but summer roses, autumn chrysanthemums, winter camellias and an incredible assortment of other plants are also on display.
The balance of our time we spent touring the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and strolling through the city’s downtown which, sadly, appears to be struggling. Interesting shops with beautiful architecture frequently neighbored boarded-up store fronts. We tried to do our part to help out by purchasing some deliciously spicy, but heart-stoppingly salty, Creole peanuts from the A&M Peanut Shop.
Overall, I enjoyed Mobile, but was left with mixed feelings. On one hand, I see the area as holding the promise for the kind of urban revitalization we saw most recently in Pensacola, and in our hometown of Hoboken, NJ, many years earlier. On the other, I wonder if some of its high-priced attractions may be keeping tourists away. Here’s hoping they figure it out, because Mobile has the potential to be a great destination.