“Is the water always this blue?” Rebecca asked.
The three of us responded with our own versions of confirmations.
“Yup!” from Mary. “Incredible, isn’t it?” from Sharon. “Every year,” from me.
The four of us were standing on our balcony, overlooking the Gulf. Ahead of us lay a sugar-white beach and waves of sparkling water in a brilliant ombré from teal to sapphire, which met sky blue at the horizon.
Sharon, Mary, and I were on our eighth annual ladies’ getaway to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama—our first visit with the addition of Rebecca. Rebecca had recently married our mutual friend Greg, and we were thrilled she agreed to join us, so we could get to know her better.
There were traditions our trio had unintentionally started over the course of our near-decade of getaways, and I was excited to introduce Rebecca to our weekend of memories. Perhaps she’d teach Mary, Sharon, and me a thing or two of her own.
Breaking a habit
Our first stop was Cobalt the Restaurant—a favorite of ours for both its sunset views and its seafood. We timed it perfectly: the sky had just started to show hints of pink and orange, which we saw from the floor-to-ceiling windows, as we walked through the restaurant toward the back patio.
“Let’s sit on those Adirondack chairs outside,” Rebecca suggested.
“How funny,” Mary said. “That’s where we always try to sit!”
Rebecca smiled as we continued to the brightly colored chairs around the fire pit. A waitress met us for drink orders, which included the Orange Beach Sipper (Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum and Tropical Red Bull) and the Sunset (Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, banana liqueur, and pineapple juice).
And as for Rebecca? “I’ll go for The Lei,” she said.
“I’ve never tried that one before,” I responded. Since I tasted the Sunset a few years ago, it became my go-to.
“Here—take a sip,” Rebecca said when the blue-green drink (which reminded me of the colors of the Gulf) was dropped off. It was an instant new favorite: Captain Morgan, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum, Blue Curacao, and pineapple juice. Like a vacation in a glass, appropriately enough.
As we watched the sun dip lower, we talked to Rebecca about how we usually spent our time on these trips—a little spa time here, a little beach time there, and drinks and dinner between.
“Would anyone be up for some shopping?” Rebecca asked. “The Tanger Outlets are huge and nearby, and we passed a couple cute boutiques on the way in.”
“I think it’s been three years since we’ve treated ourselves to retail therapy at the outlets. We’re in!” Mary declared.
The next time our server came around, I ordered myself The Lei.
A worthy excursion
“I can’t believe it’s been so long since we’ve been here,” Sharon said the next day, as we walked toward our car, arms heavy from that morning’s purchases, including from retailers new since our last visit.
Tanger Outlets was less than a half-hour’s drive away from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, a small amount of time—especially when considering all that we were able to score. Our bags contained:
- Pink leather loafers and a navy blue clutch from the Coach outlet
- Six button-downs in a variety of colors and patterns from J. Crew Factory, including an orange gingham one that I planned on using as a cover-up on the beach later
- A cute shift dress from Kate Spade New York, which Mary said she’d wear to her sister’s birthday party
- Sports bras, compression leggings, and a baseball cap from Nike Factory Store for the Zumba class that Mary and I attend every Tuesday
We also managed to be proactive and pick up a couple Christmas gifts for Sharon’s and Rebecca’s kids. Conveniently, their boys are around the same age, so they gave each other recommendations for gifts that their respective sons would love.
On the drive back to Orange Beach, our car was filled with chatter. Rebecca and Sharon bonded over the challenges of raising teenage boys, while Mary and I talked about our Zumba class. Of course, we all ended up jumping into each other’s conversations and switching from topic to topic. We may have only known Rebecca for a few months, but the way we were all getting along made us sound like we’d been friends since college.
We spent that afternoon/early evening relaxing during a tradition that was popular for a reason: massages, body treatments, facials, and pedicures at Fusion Spa Salon.
Mary, Sharon, Rebecca, and I separated for our treatments, and then rejoined each other later at pedicure chairs. From years past, I knew that I’d leave feeling glowy, buffed, and relaxed. My favorite facial was the Dual Exfoliation Treatment, which rejuvenated my skin, and left it looking much smoother. The best part of the spa, in my humble opinion, was the Rosemary Mint Awakening Body Wrap, which was energizing and refreshing.
When the four of us regrouped after our day of pampering, we each looked a little brighter. Even more so when Mary suggested we end the day with red wine and Italian food for dinner.
Ways to go
We spent our last morning on the beach, only stopping conversation when one of us headed to the warm water for a swim, or pausing to read a couple chapters of our books.
Sharon, Mary, and I had seven years of photos of our group at the beach, sometimes posing in front of an amateur sandcastle the three of us built together, sometimes standing with our arms around each other on the shore. They’re some of my favorite photos.
I kept our beach photo tradition in the back of my head when Mary rallied the group for a casual game of beach volleyball. In years past, we’d form a triangle and simply try to keep the ball out of the sand, but with Rebecca in our group we were able to split into teams—lucky for me, as she was on my team and the superior athlete.
After Rebecca and I won the game by three points I shouted, “Let’s get a group photo!”
“I can take it,” Rebecca volunteered.
“Nonsense,” I responded as I asked a nearby fellow beachgoer to take a picture of the four of us posing with the Gulf behind us. It was one of the best yet.
“I still can’t get over how blue the water is here,” Rebecca said.
“Like I said on our first day—it’s the same year after year. You’ll just have to come back with us next year to see for yourself,” I said with a smile.