GULF SHORES — March and April are considered the Spring Break season for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. City officials are preparing for a busy season this year and want to warn visitors that they aim to keep everyone safe in a family-friendly environment.
The city of Gulf Shores will have a ban on alcohol on the beaches from March 4 through April 24. Grant Brown, the director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs for Gulf Shores, told 1819 News the ban was put into place for the first time in 2016 after Panama City Beach, Florida, banned alcohol. The city council has renewed the ordinance every year since.
“We were prepared to pass that ordinance, and what was happening was, we would get large, large parties of kids on the beach partying, lots of underaged drinking, and we had officers that would show up and try to control the situation because these kids are around families and other people, not being the best behaved,” Brown explained. “By the time an officer would show up, there would be 50 or 60 kids, and that’s not safe for a police officer to try and get in there and break that up before it gets to that point.”
The alcohol ban includes anything south of the Coastal Construction Line (CCL), typically from the sand dunes down to the water’s edge. Not included in the CCL are condominiums, pool decks, restaurants and houses.
“It allowed our officers to be proactive,” Brown added. “If they saw a party starting, they could go down there and make sure there wasn’t anything bad going on, and if there was, they could get it off the beach, so it’s been really good.”
Orange Beach Police are doubling patrols during March and April. Lt. Trent Johnson said the main calls the department gets during Spring Break include noise ordinance violations and underage drinking.
“State law is that if you’re under 21 and you have alcohol, you go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200,” said Johnson. “So, if we see someone that appears to be under the age of 21, we will approach them and ask them for their I.D.”
There is no alcohol allowed on state beaches in Orange Beach, and glass is prohibited on all beaches. However, beaches that are owned by condos allow alcohol in Orange Beach. Johnson said it is pretty easy to identify whether the beach you are on allows alcohol. Furthermore, he explained that state park officials can search bags on state-owned beaches.
“Generally, if there is a public parking area, it’s a state park beach,” he said. “If it’s not out in front of your hotel or your condo, it’s going to be a state park beach.”
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon hopes people are respectful when visiting the city.
“Spring Break is just like summertime for us; we treat it the same,” Kennon said. “We want kids to know they’re welcome to come here with their family, their church, their community organization and be a positive. But if you’re coming to party, you’re coming to the wrong place because if you break the law, you’re going to jail. There are no do-overs. If you break the law, you are going to jail.”
Orange Beach closed the Alabama Point East Bridge for the Spring Break season because there have been problems in the past.
“We close that down for multiple reasons.,” Johnson said. “One of which is so they can’t go off in that area and hide. The other is people like to jump off the pylons into the water, and that can be very dangerous in that area, especially if you’ve been drinking. So, come down here, have fun, but do it legally and do it respectfully.”
The city of Gulf Shores and the city of Orange Beach have mutual aid agreements with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office to add more deputies when needed. Brown said that is a way “[w]e plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Beth Gendler, the president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, has been looking at the number of reservations on the books. She predicted the Spring Break season for 2023 would look much like the 2022 season.
“It looks to me, by some forward-looking data that we have, starting the middle part of March through Easter will be the biggest time span,” Gendler revealed to 1819 News. “Then we will have a little bit of a lull after Spring Break before the main visitors start to get there. But from what we are seeing, we are able to look at reservations that are on the books. They are much in line with the last two years. They’re slightly under where they were for Spring of 2021 and just within a percentage of last year. So, based on that, we expect that the crowds will be equal to last year’s crowds.”
Gendler said the alcohol ban in Gulf Shores had not impacted the number of visitors the area sees yearly. She said people are so dedicated to the family-friendly vacation destination that COVID didn’t even significantly impact the local economy. Although public beaches were closed for Spring Break 2020, lodging sales were only down 7% that year, following a record-breaking 2019. Then in 2021, lodging sales were up 48% over 2019. Gendler said 2022 saw numbers in line with 2021.
“We hope to hold our numbers in 2023 and stay equal to 2022, so we have big shoes to fill this year because we do have competition with international travel and cruising and the reopening of big cities,” she said. “So, we have some more competition that we didn’t have over the last couple of years.”
With tourism being a vital part of the local economy, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism have been spreading the word about all the Gulf offers.
“We have beautiful beaches, but we’re not just a beach,” explained Gendler. “We have Gulf State Park with 28 miles of paved boardwalks and pathways through it, kayaking, paddle boarding, golf and fishing, all of those reasons are why people come here time and time again.”
“We have a wonderful selection of restaurants, most are locally owned,” Kennon added. “We have a lot of unique retail that is locally owned. We have the beaches. We have dolphin tours, fishing — the list just goes on and on.”
Also, during the Spring Break season, there will be multiple concerts, a boat show, a car show, festivals and athletic tournaments and events. Check for events on the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism page.
Above all, safety is key, Gendler said.
“We are ramping up our Beach Safe campaign to inform visitors that come down here what the flag systems are and what flags are flying each day so that they can be safe while they’re here and know whether they can go into the Gulf of Mexico, whether there is a warning about going into the Gulf of Mexico or whether it’s illegal to go into the Gulf of Mexico,” she said. “We want people to come here, have a great time but also be safe and be good stewards of our beaches and leave only footprints.”
Text ALBEACHES to 888-777 to receive texts about daily beach conditions during your stay.
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