Beach vacation on the cheap

Three years ago, we went to the Alabama coast and had a marvelous time.

But the cost? Yikes.

I loved the Gulf Shores condo we rented. (The Lighthouse)

But just three nights at the place cost us more than $1,000. By time we factored in gas, food, etc… well, it was one pricy vacay, believe me.

This year, I did some research, and eventually found a place near Fort Morgan, a 15-minute drive from Gulf Shores.

A “Sunsuite” at the Gulf Shores Plantation cost us less than $1,000 for FOUR nights. Breakdown: $250 deposit with $750 due at check-in.

The Lighthouse was definitely more luxurious, but given that Hubs and I are tent-campers, anything that has a shower, bed and functioning kitchen is just fine by us.

I would describe our Sunsuite as “family-home shabby.” For example, the shower knob lacked the actual knob, but still worked. The bedspread likely came from a big-box store.

But a Sunsuite, which sleeps four, suited our needs: A place to eat a quick breakfast, change in and out of swimsuits, grab lunch, change in and out of swimsuits and sleep.

Here are Sunsuite layouts. We had the one on the right.

Perfect size for a small family, especially one that spends most of the time outdoors!

Hubs and I shared a bed in the nook.

Our bed, temporarily occupied by the children.

Another view of "the nook."


The kids slept in bunkbeds tucked into a space between the living area and the kitchen.


They agreed that each got to spend two nights in the upper bunk.

Here’s the living area. I forgot to shoot a photo of the kitchen, but it was sunny yellow with a table for four.

This is a sleeper sofa, but the kids preferred the bunk beds.

Our mini-balcony-for-two offered a lovely view:

My Hubs isn't included. You'll have to bring your own.

Taken (by Hubs) from our balcony.


Still Life: Hubs Foot


Tootie chills on the balcony

Gulf Shores Plantation has six large and nicely maintained pools. We tried out every pool but the indoor one. Whirlpools also are scattered throughout, including a large outdoor one and a couple inside of our building, Plantation Dunes, as well.

Larger condos and cottages are available, but as I said, we were trying to avoid a costly vacation this year. So a Sunsuite was perfect for us. We had access to a laundry room and towel exchange. A card entitled us to free DVDs throughout our stay, although we never used it. Nor did we use the fitness room, since Hubs and I convinced ourselves that charging through the waves and swimming in large pools constitutes exercise!

Here’s a layout of the entire complex:

On our beach vacations, we typically eat breakfast and lunch in the condo and then eat out at dinner. Tomorrow, I’ll describe our dining experiences, the good, bad and overrated…

Weekend plumbing unpleasantness

Scene: Hubs is on the floor in the kitchen, trying to replace a sprayer hose. Problem is, it takes a contortionist to work under our sink and Hubs is more than 6 feet tall. His head is now bleeding — after an unfortunate bump — and the cussing is growing ever louder.

Cathy: Can you tone it down a little? The kids can hear you.

Hubs: I thought they were outside.

More cussing.

Cathy, speaking to the E-man: Daddy’s getting frustrated with the sink. Just ignore the bad words.

E-man: How can I ignore them when he keeps saying them?


After a long hiatus … back to the Big Bend Tales

So last fall, I regaled you with tales from our last trip to Big Bend National Park and surrounding small towns. (Background: Hubs and I got married there 11 years ago and return each year for ((sans children)) for a week of camping and roaming and hiking.)

I started off last October with the first tale, which focused on our pet skunk. Ever showered with a skunk? I have.

And then I followed up with this post and this one and this one.

And then I got distracted by all sorts of other goings-on and never finished.


Having left Big Bend, Hubs and I next headed to Chinati Hot Springs, recommended to us by former Democrat-Gazette executive editor Griffin Smith, who also has a fondness for the Big Bend area.

Getting there involved a lengthy — but absolutely breath-taking — drive.

Upon arrival, we unloaded our gear in our one-room cottage, which boasted a fenced-in outdoor tub fed by natural hot springs.

After days of hiking, I couldn’t wait to get in. Before trying out our own tub, however, Hubs and I decided to venture into one of several public tubs. We settled on this pretty spot:


Periodically, we’d look behind us, up on that bluff in the background, and see a herd of wild burros.

After a long soak, we sat outside for awhile on a roomy swing, drinking wine and laughing over our most recent adventures, i.e. a 12-mile hike that included a thunderstorm while we were on top of a mountain.

We loved this swing. Hubs studied it closely, hoping that at some point he could build one for us at home.

Next, we headed to the large, communal kitchen, where Hubs whipped up a marinade for the steaks we’d brought.

I LOVED this kitchen. It had a long porch running behind it, where we drank coffee in the morning. It was open and sunshiney and also had a large dining room.

Here's a portion of the dining area. There were also a lot of picnic tables outside, near the grills.

That night, a large, extended family from New Mexico arrived. We ended up sharing the picnic tables outside and therefore got to indulge in their homemade salsa and tortillas.

The next morning, I finally got to try out our private tub.

I wish I could take a bath outside every day during the warmer months!

Here’s a photo montage from Chinati Springs’ website:

Rugged, but oh so pretty.

After a relaxing stay here, we headed next to Terlingua, home to the chili cookoff, great bars and … scorpions.