February 2017

Intriguing adventures await along the Gulf Coast

by Edward Schmidt Jr.

Looking for post-meeting pursuits that will raise the enthusiasm level of the agenda? The magnificent Gulf Coast region, with its sugar-white sand and turquoise waters along Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, offers groups diverse meeting destinations and a spectacular menu of adventure activities.

When your group wants to de-stress from meetings and enjoy camaraderie with other attendees, the options are fun, plentiful and unique on the Gulf Coast.

Even though your attendees may not know the difference between leeward and windward directions, the Offshore Sailing School of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island is designed to accommodate novice sailors. Founded by Olympian and National Sailing Hall of Fame member Steve Colgate, the program is enjoyable and educational.

“It’s a great opportunity for leadership development or teambuilding during the intensive sailing classes,” said Pam Brown, conference and event manager for the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, which promotes Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island. “The school takes place in the sun along some the most beautiful islands in southwest Florida.”

Each boat is assigned a team of four or five participants with an expert Offshore Sailing School coach, and each team member rotates as captain and crew. The courses can be a half day, full day or multiple days and accommodate groups of up to 30 people per program.

In Pensacola, the National Naval Aviation Museum, one of TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Museums in the United States” has more than 150 restored aircraft and 3D and HD flight simulators. Museum admission is free and open to the public.

The MaxFlight Simulator allows guests to experience air-to-air combat and stunt flying, and the HD Motion-Based Simulator is a fully enclosed capsule where participants can execute horizontal rolls, longitudinal pitches and vertical climbs.

“As the third-largest aviation museum in the world, we give our patrons near unfettered access to our artifacts,” said Capt. Sterling Gilliam USN (ret.), director of the National Naval Aviation Museum. “Our docents are second to none and do a superlative job relating the rich 106-year legacy of Naval Aviation.”

Groups meeting in the Mobile area have easy access to the Champion Cypress Kayak Adventure presented by Wild Native Tours.

The four-hour guided program in tandem kayaks takes guests to the Champion Cypress, Alabama’s largest cypress tree, with a 27-foot base, and through swampy terrain where alligators, wild hogs and other animals roam. Available for groups of up to 40 people, there’s even a brief swamp hike included.

“It immerses you in a world of cypress trees, dripping Spanish moss and the unique fauna and flora of the swamp,” said Michael Dorie, president of Wild Native Tours. “The tour has a special feel and vibe, and people really learn to appreciate and enjoy the swamp.”

Adventure-seekers should also consider The Wharf Adventure Center, formerly the Gulf Adventure Center, in Orange Beach, where a zipline course takes you as high as 90 feet above the ground at speeds of up to 40 mph. Each tour accommodates 12 participants at a time.

“This exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping experience helps build camaraderie and rewards riders with an amazing panorama of the destination,” said Beth Gendler, vice president of sales for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “It’s the perfect teambuilding exercise.”



For shrimp lovers, the Biloxi Shrimping Trip aboard the 49-passenger Sailfish is a hands-on way to learn about the delicacy.

Captains Brandy and Mike Moore and their crew entertain and inform while dropping a 16-foot trawl and dragging the bottom of the Mississippi Sound for shrimp and other seafood. Guests learn about catching, cooking and eating shrimp.

“Combining excitement and insight into the region’s seafood industry, the Biloxi Shrimping Trip is an activity that groups thoroughly enjoy,” said Kristen Livingston, leisure group sales manager for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “It provides an authentic opportunity for visitors to learn about the life of a shrimp through interactive presentations aboard the Sailfish.”

Beach lovers are drawn to the pristine sands at Ship Island, 11 miles south of Biloxi and Gulfport, which is accessible via a 50-minute ride aboard Ship Island Excursions ferry boats.
“Ship Island Excursions is an excellent option for groups of up to 200 to experience one of Mississippi’s barrier islands and historic Fort Massachusetts,” said Crystal Glover, regional sales manager for Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “Get ready for dolphin sightings and breathtaking Mississippi Gulf Coast sunsets, and walk away with a newfound love for the area’s natural offerings.”

If your group is looking for authentic, made-from-scratch Cajun cuisine, the Cajun Culinary Adventure is a superb choice.

Attendees travel by bus to the town of Galiano, about a one-hour drive from New Orleans, to feast on a down-home Cajun meal prepared by Alzina Toups, whose kitchen is amazingly set up in an old muffler shop. She can accommodate up to 20 guests in the kitchen for a chef’s table-style event.

“It’s not fancy or upscale, but Alzina makes some of the best crabmeat lasagna and shrimp and crawfish etouffee you’ll ever taste,” said Kelley Troia, president of Clandestine, a New Orleans event company specializing in customized events and experiences. “Alzina is a wonderful, friendly person and she makes it a special and unique dining experience.”

Another great way to party on the Louisiana Gulf Coast is the Bayou Boat and Cajun Party in New Orleans. Suitable for 25 to 175 people, the program includes a swamp tour on custom-designed, flat-bottom boats, a Cajun fais do-do (a traditional Cajun-style party), live Cajun and Zydeco music with a dance demonstration and tutorial, and a crawfish or shrimp boil.

“With a true Cajun fais do-do and crawfish boil, even large groups can get the true feel of authentic Louisiana,” said Abby Sanders, marketing manager for Pelican New Orleans, a destination management and event planning company. “Tourists tend to visit the same parts of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, but there is so much more culture to explore in our little corner of the South.”

“A sailing experience from Sea Star Base Galveston is a natural fit given the island’s location and maritime culture,” said Meg Winchester, director of the Galveston Island CVB. “The state-of-the-art facility, situated on 10 acres of scenic coastal property, offers groups maritime education programs in a private setting, with spaces designed for collaboration and teambuilding.”

Participants sail aboard a schooner boat from the Galveston Sea Scout Base. A licensed captain teaches interested passengers the basics of sailing, and others can just sit back, relax and enjoy the cruise. The complex has dining halls, recreational areas, meeting spaces and various vessels for learning and racing to accommodate small and large groups.

Thrill seekers will want to experience the new MASSIV Water Coaster at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Galveston, which stretches 926 feet and propels riders uphill with rapid jets of water.

“It’s the world’s tallest water coaster, and it’s been a huge hit since opening last year,” Winchester said