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Fun and Affordable Family Vacations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
The high cost of travel and tight budgets have many families dreaming of a beach vacation this summer, but considering a “staycation.” A visit to the Mississippi Gulf Coast could be the beach vacation your family wants with 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
About 12 miles south of the Mississippi Gulf Coast are the five barrier islands that separate the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi Sound. Spanning eighty miles of coastline, the five islands — Petit Bois, Horn, East and West Ship Islands, and Cat Island — feature black-and-white beaches and azure 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, providing vacationers with a one-of-a-kind opportunity to enjoy pristine, untouched beaches. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, the islands are a prime location for fishing, bird watching and hiking. Trout, redfish, mullet and Spanish mackerel are some of the varieties that anglers can catch along the shoreline. The islands are also a haven for resident and migratory birds such as ospreys, bald eagles, herons, terns and gulls. Dolphins are a common site 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 permitted at Horn, Petit Bois, East Ship Island, and the public portion of Cat Island year-round. Most of the barrier islands are only accessible by private or chartered boat. West Ship Island is also accessible via a privately owned 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 guests walk through the door, they are launched into the world of space. Mississippi Gulf Coast native and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise was instrumental in making the center a reality and welcomes visitors in a special welcome video. Indoor and outdoor exhibits include a 4,000-square-foot maze that features 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-sized International Space Station module. and a chance to get up close and personal 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 visitors behind the scenes of the 14,000-acre facility, where they’ll see the massive structures used to test the rocket engines that have sent us into space for more than 50 years.
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center
Named one of the top 50 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 another six acres of outdoor play space. As the first children’s museum in Mississippi, LMDC encourages children to explore, pretend, play, climb and touch.
Visitors can stroll down Kids Street, a children’s subdivision equipped with gas lamps and paved streets. Stop and pick up some groceries at the Winn-Dixie Morning Market, a recreation of a Mississippi grocery store. work behind the scenes or in front of the camera at WLMDC-TV. or board the Outback Express at the Dolan Avenue Depot. Outdoor kids can play hide-and-seek in the Tree House Village or visit Bear Creek with a rustic log cabin, stream and a kid-sized wooden train.
Center for Naval Education and Research
Located within the Marine Mammal Studies Institute in Gulfport, the newly constructed Marine Education and Research Center is the first educational 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 accommodate an animal at any stage of recovery, the twelve-acre site also features an interactive museum and “touch pool,” where visitors can meet underwater creatures such as horseshoe crabs, fish, blue crabs. sea stars, and sea urchins. Visitors can also learn about tropical birds and reptiles during the museum’s animal shows or search for a souvenir shark tooth in the fossil dig.
The center is also home to Bo and Buster – two Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins. Through the Dolphin Encounter program, visitors have the opportunity to feed, touch and interact with a dolphin face-to-face. Better yet, swim alongside the dolphins with the Take a Dip with the Dolphin 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 course takes riders along the coast and crosses the new Biloxi Bay Bridge, where one can enjoy sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico and the barrier islands.
The trail continues through Ocean Springs to Davis Bayou Park, part of the Gulf 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 Information Station and the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce.
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