Set amid a grove of three hundred-year-old live oak trees, pines and magnolias along Mobile Bay, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort & Spa is a full service family resort, with 405 guest rooms in five buildings on 550 acres. For more than 160 years, the Grand Hotel has offered gracious southern hospitality to its guests, many of whom return year after year.
Buffeted by a series of hurricanes, as well as the ravages of the Civil War, since it was founded more than century and a half ago, the historic Grand has always come back. On November 1, the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort & Spa, a AAA Four Diamond Award winner for the last decade, emerged from its most recent restoration, a careful $50 million renovation after damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
General manager David Clark says the hotel is better than ever, with more than $100,000,000 spent on renovations in the last two years, including what was spent just before Hurricane Katrina hit, as well as after the storm. “We’re 160 years new,” he commented. Every guest room has been refurbished, as well as the conference facilities and restaurants. Almost 40,000 square feet of conference and meeting facilities include eight new meeting rooms and a new ballroom.
There are two recently renovated golf courses, with a total of 36 holes, as well as the 20,000 square foot European-style spa, voted #1 in guest satisfaction in the United States, according to a survey by Marriott International. Water activities include several swimming pools and waterfalls located along the shore of Mobile Bay, a bay beach, boat charter and jet skis. In addition, there is a marina with 37 slips for sailboats, yachts and fishing boats. There are eight rubico clay tennis courts, four of them lighted.
The boardwalk running along Mobile Bay has been re-landscaped and leads out to a gazebo on the water, ideal for either relaxing or romantic weddings. Point Clear faces west across the wide bay and is known for spectacular sunset views. During the Gulf Coast’s mild winters the hotel and resort attracts golfers and spa-goers as well as conferences, to its acres of gardens and oak trees, seafront pathways and curving central lagoon. Summer weekends and holidays year-round are popular with families. There are weekend and holiday promotional packages available; book early, especially for major holiday weekends.
Almost 400 staff members went through 5,000 hours of re-training in the two weeks prior to the resort’s re-opening. Almost half of them are returning workers, including several who have worked at the Grand Hotel for more than forty years, and who remember many local patrons from when they were children.
The original cedar-paneled hotel building, which dates back to before the Civil War, is the site of the venerable Bucky’s Birdcage Lounge, long the spot for mint juleps, martinis and appetizers overlooking the sunset on the bay. The historic structure houses the Grand Dining Room and Saltwater Grill, as well as the original guest rooms. These have been completely renovated and, while they have smaller bathrooms than the newer rooms, are preferred by many because of their views, comfort and historic significance.
Rooms in the spa building, built in 2003, overlook the bay and marina, while rooms in the North and South Bay and Marina buildings offer bay or garden views, and proximity to either conference facilities or pools. All the buildings follow the landscaped shoreline of Point Clear. Each room now includes the Marriott bedding package, with 300-thread count sheets. The Presidential Suite at 1,800 square feet is well done and spacious, with two sets of French doors that lead out to balconies overlooking the marina and bay. Recently the suite hosted singer Patti LaBelle; other well-known hotel guests have included Colin Powell, Barbara Bush, Dolly Parton and local celebrity writer Fannie Flagg.
In 1864 the hotel served as a Confederate hospital and was used as a WWII training base by the Army Air Corps when the soldiers took off their combat boots inside to avoid scratching the original heart pine floors. An old Civil War cemetery nestles under the oaks along a fairway of the golf course.
In addition to the Grand Hotel’s six restaurants there are a number of excellent places to eat fresh Gulf and bay seafood in the area – among them are the Fairhope Inn in Fairhope, the Wash House in Point Clear, Tin Top in Bon Secour, and Jesse’s in Magnolia Springs. The concierge at the Grand Hotel will arrange reservations for hotel guests.
The little town of Fairhope, one of the original American Utopian communities, offers walkable streets lined with art galleries, boutiques, coffee shops and antique stores. A favorite of visitors from around the United States and abroad, Fairhope has carefully preserved its old Southern setting without losing the authenticity of a thriving small community. Its annual Arts and Crafts Fair, held in March, attracts 300,000 visitors a year.
Fairhope/Point Clear is across Mobile Bay from Mobile, AL, where flights arrive from Atlanta, Memphis and Houston. Equally as close is the Pensacola, FL, airport. The resort is about a three and a half hour drive from Birmingham or New Orleans.
The Marriott Grand Hotel Resort & Spa is one of seven landmark properties owned by PCH Hotels and Resorts, funded by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Known for their high quality facilities and services, these properties include the Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa, which hosts PGA tournaments and the Porsche Driving Experience; the entire Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (www.rtjgolf.com); 55 Water Street in New York, and varied media interests.