Mobile's tourism industry received a shot in the arm in late 2016, when 2,052-passenger Carnival Fantasy began offering jaunts to Cozumel, Costa Maya and Progreso, Mexico. It was the cruise industry's first return to Mobile after pulling out in 2011.
The late writer Eugene Walter called Mobile "sweet lunacy's county seat." Walter's grave, which can be found in the historic Church Street Graveyard only a mile west of the Mobile cruise terminal on oak-canopied Government Street, is marked by a tombstone etched with the words, "When all else fails, throw a party." Mobilians are certainly good at that. They have been doing it since the city was founded as the first capital of French Colonial Louisiana in 1702. This predilection for an active nightlife has often given rise to comparisons with New Orleans, as have the city's French street names (some of which are identical to those in New Orleans' French Quarter), architecture, Cajun and Creole cuisine (fresh seafood is always on the menu), and an economy centered around a bustling seaport. But Mobile has a spirit all its own.
Situated on Mobile Bay with Gulf beaches only a short drive away (it's the largest coastal city between New Orleans and St. Petersburg, Florida), beach culture runs deep in Mobile. Singer-songwriter -- and beach life aficionado -- Jimmy Buffet spent part of his childhood here and played some of his first gigs in the city. Bring your seersuckers and flip-flops, and you'll fit right in.
Also known as the Azalea City, for the vivid flowering bushes that blanket yards and parks in the spring, Mobile boasts a mild subtropical climate with high temperatures in the 90s during the summers and 60s in the winters. Be sure to bring an umbrella: Mobile is wetter than Seattle with approximately five feet of rain each year.
The Mobile Cruise Terminal is a two-story, 66,000 square-foot facility with an attached 500-space parking garage. The garage has six covered pick-up/drop-off lanes and is accessible via four elevators, an escalator and stairs. The terminal is within minutes of numerous banks and ATMS, hotels, restaurants and other attractions. It is a half-mile from Interstate 10, and six miles from the junction of I-65 and I-10. To herald the return of Carnival, the terminal is working with the city's architectural department to unveil a new look featuring artwork and a new color scheme. Wi-Fi is available.
Mobile's downtown and riverfront has evolved into a full-fledged tourist destination, with an eclectic array of shops, restaurants and museums within a five- to 10-minute walk of the cruise terminal. Both Fort Conde Museum and Welcome Center and the Cooper Riverside Park are less than a quarter mile from the port, as is the 90,000-square-foot GulfQuest maritime museum, which boasts a gift shop modeled after a sunken Spanish galleon and interactive exhibits showcasing marine archeology, Gulf marine life and shipbuilding. GulfQuest boasts the only restaurant immediately overlooking the Mobile River; called The Galley, it serves local specialties such as shrimp and grits, and mahi-mahi prepared a variety of ways.
Name pronunciation: Just as New Orleans natives scoff when out-of-towners say "New OrLEENs," Mobilians prefer you pronounce their city's name properly: "MOH-beel," rather than "moh-BILE."
On Foot: Attractions such as GulfQuest, the Exploreum, Fort Conde and downtown are within walking distance of the Mobile cruise terminal.
By Taxi: Should one want to venture further afield, there are a variety of options. Cab companies include Yellow Cab of Mobile (251-545-3265), for which the one-way fare between the airport and cruise terminal is approximately $40, and recent arrival Uber, which has become a popular option among downtown revelers as a way to get around.
The United States dollar is the only currency accepted in Mobile. You'll need to find a nearby ATM if you need to withdraw cash.
English is the language spoken.
Mobile's restaurant scene is expanding and evolving, with an impressive array of ethnic offerings joining the Southern cooking and seafood mainstays for which the area is famous. Barbecue restaurants also continue to multiply. Many of the city's best restaurants, from fine dining to bar food to fusion, can be found within the confines of downtown.
Mama's on Dauphin: This restaurant offers reasonably priced Southern favorites such as red beans and rice with locally made Conecuh sausage, chicken fried steak and collard greens. Owned and operated by the same folks who run The Galley, Mama's also has seafood platters and specialties such as crab cakes. (220 Dauphin Street, 251-432-6262; Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., closed on the weekends)
Spot of Tea: Farther west, try breakfast, brunch or lunch at this local favorite, which has been serving up house dishes such as Eggs Cathedral (an English muffin topped with a crab cake, scrambled eggs and a sauce made with blackened Mexican grouper and crawfish) since 1994. You can also enjoy al fresco dining overlooking Cathedral Square, the park for which the dish gets its name. (310 Dauphin Street, 251-433-9009; Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
The Blind Mule Restaurant & Bar: This eatery is another popular brunch and lunch spot just off Dauphin; it's known for its hand-made fried cheese planks and, on Sundays, brunch specialties such as The Hangover, a giant pancake filled with Conecuh sausage and topped with a fried egg and bacon. (57 N. Claiborne Street; Monday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 4 a.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
OK Bicycle Shop: On the west end of Dauphin you'll find this historic bicycle shop-turned-bar. Recently, the bar has expanded to include the Dauphin Street Taqueria (think gourmet tacos and items such as housemade chorizo queso dip) and Liquid Sushi, which offers interesting takes on sushi. (166 Dauphin Street, 251-432-2453; Monday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.)
Moe's Original B Que:
If barbecue is what you're after, there is no place else to be than Moe's, right across the street from the OK Bike Shop at the intersection of Dauphin Street and Springhill Avenue. (701 Springhill Avenue, 251-410-7427; open daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.)
Look for Mardi Grad beads, doubloons, cups and masks from the Mobile Carnival Museum gift shop, or Wintzell's "Fried, Stewed and Nude" (a reference to ways you can eat their oysters) T-shirts or koozies from the restaurant.