I checked into the new Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, just five days after it opened. After a long travel day, I found the Gulf Shores, Alabama property calming. The added bonus of eco-friendly features made this an ideal stay.
Going Inside the Lodge at Gulf State Park
Inside the two-story lobby, massive beams anchored a peaked wood ceiling. Natural wood tables complemented comfortable seating clusters. A fireplace burned near the front desk and a three-dimensional wall resembled sea turtle tracks in the sand.
We passed a beautiful boardwalk and inviting infinity pool along the breezeway that led to our guestrooms. Turquoise lounge chairs decorated my balcony. Crashing waves and warm November breezes captivated me. And I slept between crisp sheets each night with the balcony door opened.
Two bunks and a king bed made my room perfect for small families. Poster art and an aqua bedside clock echoed the past. These old-school touches honor The Lodge that operated here for three decades. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan wiped out the hotel and nearly flattened the dunes. It’s no wonder Hilton incorporated historic touches throughout the property.
An Eco-friendly Site
Set amid Alabama’s Gulf State Park, The Lodge is LEED© Gold, SITES© Platinum and FORTIFIED Commercial ™ certified. Hotel designers LakeFlato and Rabun Architects reduced the building’s footprint by nearly one third and carefully preserved mature sand oak trees. Setting the hotel back more than 200 feet from the Gulf also allows for greater dune restoration and movement. Because of this orientation, and wood screens, guests enjoy passive access to sunlight and Gulf breezes.
Sasaki Associates incorporated native landscape across the property. Approximately 75 percent of this landscaping features native species that thrive without irrigation, chemical pesticides, or fertilizers. In addition, a TrueGrid permeable parking system allows rainwater to drain into the ground. Collected rainwater is directed to onsite wetlands. This helps to restore the natural coastal landscape while supporting native wildlife habitats. To further protect wildlife, no light from the site points toward the beach.
Sustainable Hotel Design
The Dallas-based interior design firm Looney & Associates incorporated color, texture, and contrast across comfortable indoor spaces. Use of rot-resistant, old-growth cypress minimizes the use of new wood for furnishings or ‘decoration.’
I refilled my water bottle at a specially equipped fountain, which helps to reduce interior water use by 35 percent. In addition, the air conditioning system directs condensed water into the swimming pool, removing more than 650 gallons per guest room, per year.
The hotel also reduces energy usage by 32 percent. Energy efficient lighting features motion sensors, turning off air conditioning when guests leave balcony doors or windows open. Other ‘green' features in guestrooms include recyclable, biodegradable trash bags and environmentally friendly tissues. Bathrooms also feature wall-mounted shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers.
During our visit, we enjoyed the rooftop cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres at Perch. A breakfast buffet inside Food Craft featured yogurt parfaits, muffins, custom omelets, and much more. We also savored a multi-course gourmet dinner at Food Craft and sipped spirits at Roasted Oak Coffee and Wine Bar.
The Lodge has made additional eco-friendly choices throughout dining services. These include Just Water® plant-based water bottles and beverage straws crafted from biodegradable bamboo shoots. No beverage napkins are offered and cloth dinner napkins are laundered using ‘green’ processes. Although dining services generate plenty of trash, the property recycles while sending some waste to compost and some for livestock feed. The hotel also recycles its cooking oil.
Opening Challenges and Natural Wonders
Minor room issues during our visit included poor hot water delivery and difficulty adjusting the thermostat. Otherwise, the hotel was remarkably ready for guests. I followed the boardwalk to the beach several times. Sandpipers skittered across shell-strewn sand and a massive heron stood motionless in the surf.
I also walked elsewhere in Gulf State Park. It features 6,150 acres of pristine coastal scenery and wildlife habitat amid nine ecosystems. Twenty-eight miles of hiking/biking trails and 800 acres of freshwater fishing lakes beckon visitors too.
Tennis, kayaking, paddleboards, and geocaching are other popular activities. Take a guided nature walk, watch birds or butterflies, or enjoy the Nature Center. In addition, families love the playgrounds and picnic areas.
My stay at The Lodge at Gulf State Park refreshed and relaxed me. If you appreciate gorgeous beach views and environmental stewardship, book your own stay here. For more information about this area, see the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer received accommodations and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.