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Fun and Affordable Family Vacations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
The high cost of travel and tighter budgets have many families dreaming of a beach vacation this summer, but instead considering a “staycation.” A visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast can be the beach vacation your family wants at an affordable price to match. With 62 miles of coastline bordering the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has something for every member of your family. From beaches and sunbathing to space exploration and children’s museums, a Gulf Coast vacation is sure to create lasting memories and keep your pocketbook happy.
Mississippi Barrier Islands
Approximately 12 miles south of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast lie the five barrier islands that separate the Gulf of Mexico from Mississippi Sound. Spanning eighty miles of coastline, the five islands — Petit Bois, Horn, East and West Ship Islands and Cat Island — feature sugar-white beaches and clear blue waters, towering sand dunes and grassy meadows, dense maritime forests, secret lagoons, and fertile marshes.
With the exception of a few privately owned acres on Cat Island, the barrier islands became part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore under the National Park Service in 1971. The islands themselves have been protected from commercial development, offering vacationers a to enjoy the pristine, untouched beaches. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, the islands are a prime spot for fishing, birdwatching and hiking. Spotted trout, redfish, mullet and Spanish mackerel are among some of the varieties anglers can expect to catch along the shoreline. The islands are also a haven for resident and migratory birds such as mallards, bald eagles, herons, gulls and gulls. Dolphins are a common sight around the barrier islands. West Ship Island is also home to Fort Massachusetts. Built shortly after the War of 1812, the brick fort has withstood war, disease and two major hurricanes.
Tent camping is allowed on Horn, Petit Bois, East Ship Island and in the public section on Cat Island year-round. Most of the barrier islands are only accessible by private or chartered boats. West Ship Island is also accessible via a private passenger ferry that departs from the Gulfport Yacht Harbor.
Infinity Science Center
Dedicated in April 2012, the 72,000-square-foot Infinity Science Center is a state-of-the-art educational facility connected to NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. The center combines science, space exploration and fun as visitors learn about space exploration through the decades, into the future and across Mississippi.
As soon as visitors walk through the door, they are catapulted into the world of outer space. Mississippi Gulf Coast astronaut and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise has been instrumental in making the center a reality and greets guests in a special welcome video. Indoor and outdoor exhibits include a 4,000-square-foot maze that includes an interactive, multimedia journey from early sea exploration to space travel; a nearly six-foot rotating animated view of Earth and the solar system, featuring geography, weather patterns, seismic patterns and more; a full-size International Space Station module; and a chance to get up close with a real H-1 rocket engine.
Visitors also have the opportunity to enjoy a free 30-minute bus tour of the Stennis Space Center – America’s largest rocket engine test facility. The tour takes guests behind the scenes of the 14,000-acre facility, where they’ll see the huge structures used to test the rocket engines that have sent us into outer space for more than 50 years.
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center
Named one of the 50 best children’s museums in the United States by Parents Magazine, the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center offers 15,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space and an additional six acres of outdoor play space. . As Mississippi’s first children’s museum, LMDC encourages children to explore, pretend, play, climb and touch.
Visitors can take a stroll down Children’s Street, a child-sized subdivision equipped with gas lamps and paved roads; stop and buy some groceries at the Winn-Dixie Morning Market, a recreation of a Mississippi grocery store; working behind the scenes or in front of the camera at WLMDC-TV; or board the Outback Express at the Dolan Avenue Depot. Kids outside can play hide and seek in the Tree House Village or visit Bear Creek complete with rustic log cabin, babbling brook and a kid-sized wooden train.
Center for Maritime Education and Research
Located within the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, the newly constructed Center for Marine Education and Research is the first education and research facility dedicated to dolphin rescue and rehabilitation for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. In addition to a veterinary clinic and pools large enough to hold an animal through each stage of rehabilitation, the 12-acre site also features an interactive museum and “touch pool” where visitors can experience underwater creatures such as horseshoe crabs, fish, blue crabs . starfish, and sea urchins. Guests can also learn about tropical birds and reptiles during animal presentations at the museum or search for a souvenir shark tooth at the fossil digs.
The center is also home to Bo and Buster – two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Through the Dolphin Encounter Program, guests have the opportunity to feed, touch and interact with a dolphin face-to-face. Better yet, swim alongside the dolphins with the Dolphin Dive Program.
The center is open to the public on a limited basis and reservations are required. Morning and afternoon sessions are available, in addition to weekday and weekend appointments.
Live Oaks Bicycle Route
If your family enjoys sports and physical activity, consider renting a bike for the day and exploring all or part of the 15.5 mile round trip Live Oaks Bicycle Route. The route takes riders along the waterfront and along the new Biloxi Bay Bridge, where you can enjoy sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico and the barrier islands.
The route continues through Ocean Springs to Davis Bayou Park, part of the Bay Islands National Seashore. Once there, families can enjoy a picnic, hike a nature trail, or enjoy the view. Live Oaks Bicycling Route maps are available at the Gulf Islands Visitor Contact Station and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce.
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