by VICTORIA HENLEY
Known and acclaimed around the world for its snow-white beaches and crystal blue waters, Pensacola, Fla. is immensely proud of its rich heritage and significant place in American history.
Foley, Ala., a hidden gem of a city only an hour from Pensacola Beach, was originally best known for being instrumental in the development of a rail service to make travel to the coastal area easier for visitors. Now, Foley is perhaps best known for the Native American-owned OWA, which boasts an array of top-notch theme park rides, shops, and shows.
These cities offer a multitude of opportunities to make special memories during your next family vacation, I recently scoped out the best of the best attractions and eateries that are sure to make your trip one to remember.
UFO’s MINI GOLF, ICE CREAM, AND ARCADE
UFO’s Mini Golf is a one-of-a-kind alien invasion themed miniature golf course based upon the unprecedented true-life accounts of UFO sightings in Pensacola throughout the 1980s.
Spaceship replicas, alien figurines dressed in campy beach attire and other space themed decor adorns the terrain of this fun and challenging course, providing plenty of social media photo opportunities.
A walk- through cave replica featuring various stalagmites and stalactites with glowing purple lights, a covered overlook that allows visitors to have a picture-perfect view of the course (as well as Pensacola’s famous bay front), and cascading waterfall sets, are just a few of the many aesthetic elements that come together to make UFO’s a truly unique attraction that you cannot experience anywhere else.
By night, join UFO’s again for an exclusive light show, set to all the aliens’ favorite “space jams.”
After you’ve played the cosmic course, be sure to visit UFO’s arcade, which offers all the traditional arcade games you know and love, after which you can cool off with a sweet treat from the ice cream bar.
Before you leave, take a moment to read the chilling accounts of alien and UFO sightings by Pensacola residents throughout the ‘80s in local, regional, and national newspaper clippings.
Several party packages are available at UFO’s, tailored to fit your size and budget. Parties can include mini golf, arcade games, ice cream, hot dogs, nachos, and even access to the pool next door. (Call the UFO’s main line for additional details.)
Fast Eddie’s Fun Center has gained a solid reputation as a premier destination for family fun in Pensacola for over 32 years.
Newly renovated and boasting a multitude of exciting attractions, including a full arcade, a snack bar, batting cages, mini-golf and go-carts, Fast Eddie’s offers high energy excitement for the kids and the kids at heart.
Classic arcade favorites including PAC-Man Mania, Milk Jug Toss, King of the Big Wheel, Fast Gunman (a Wild West Lazer shooting game), and more, fill the large Fast Eddie’s play space, and our personal favorite games include Skeet Ball (four lanes are available, so you can play with the whole family at once), Lane Master Bowling, Air Hockey and the Toy Machine Games, offering an adorable selection of plushies as well as “Play Until You Win” games, with prizes including rubber ducks and assortments of stuffed animals.
Miniature “cranes” are available outside the arcade for kids (and adults alike) to enjoy scooping sand, lifting logs and completing various challenges with rubber tires, balls, and more.
The go carts offer a smooth, fast-paced and bump-free experience on a wide, meandering track that allows guests to zoom around several times, either at their own leisure, or in friendly competition with other riders.
After you have explored Fast Eddie’s many other attractions, make your way out to the Fun-tastic Miniature Golf Course, which features a beautifully landscaped nine-hole course themed around the Tropical Gulf Coast. Obstacles, twists and turns are located throughout this mini-golf course that is perfect for even the smallest golfers in your family.
Several party packages are available offering customized experiences to fit the needs of all your guests, and a private party room is also available.
CREEKSIDE MINI GOLF AND ARCADE:
Creekside Mini-Golf offers 36 total holes of fun along with beautiful scenery, raging waterfalls and lifelike figures of alligators, turtles, boat and plane replicas that takes mini-golf to the max!
Two challenging 18-hole courses are available: The Seaside Course, which allows guests to venture up the mountain and into a cave of wonders; or the Creekside Course, which offers a more laid back, nature-themed experience.
All courses are handicapped accessible and offer a great opportunity for photo ops alongside each hole.
Host your next group event, or family tournament on the course (a large family was holding their annual tournament during our visit) as Creekside Mini Golf features a myriad of fun, yet strenuous, obstacles throughout the course that create a perfect atmosphere for some friendly and fun competition.
The course is open until 10 p.m. daily, so if you want to beat the heat, come on out to the course after the sun goes down as all 36 holes are fully illuminated.
Creekside is now the proud home of south Alabama’s newest arcade, where you can test your luck and gaming skills on 31 new and classic arcade games.
Some of our personal favorites include “Ice Man” (a water game, where you can “freeze” zombies in themed locations from around the world), skee ball, miniature bowling, Play Until You Win Toy Machine (which allows players to win a guaranteed prize with each play, for a very small number of tokens) and Basket-Ball, just to name a few.
During our visit, a young woman named Karli won a Michael Kors purse (valued at over $300) in the Key Master game.
High ticket payouts, a great selection of prizes and a thrilling variety of games make the Creekside Arcade an experience that can’t be missed.
Brandon Styles, a magician and one of the world’s only singing impressionists, has been performing magic since the age of 7. By the tender age of 13, he began doing magic professionally.
Quick wit, an incredibly smooth and nuanced presentation, laced with the impersonations for which he has become renowned, make a Brandon Styles show a magic experience unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else.
Upgrade to a VIP Pass for an up close and personal private magic show backstage with Brandon, which highlights mind-blowing sleight of hand card and coin tricks from an incredible vantage point.
VIP spaces are extremely limited, so be sure to call the box office well in advance to reserve your spot.
Action packed and filled with top notch magic content from start to finish, Brandon infuses his show with several impressions based upon both original characters he created and real celebrities. Some personal favorites include “The Best Magician in the World”, Brandini, a Superhero with Light up Thumbs, and a hilarious impersonation of Criss Angel. Cameo appearances by Brandon’s family, including his wife Diamond, their 9-year-old daughter, and their precious chihuahua, Moo-Moo (who does some tricks of her own) are featured during this one-hour show. The Magic Shop is a comprehensive way for aspiring magicians of all ages to learn the craft. The onsite shop also offers Brandon’s Magic Rope, Light Up Thumbs, and many more magic themed items you can take home as a souvenir.
Be sure to return to the Brandon Styles Theater to catch his other amazing shows including The Brandon Styles Variety Show (1 Man, 1 Hour, 60 Impressions), the Trip Down Memory Lane Dinner Show (which was voted “Gulf Coast’s Best Date Night”) and several other specialty touring shows, including the Murder Mystery Dinner Show, and a comedy hypnotist.
COMEDY HYPNOSIS WITH TERRY STOKES JR:
Terry Stokes Jr, a world-renowned comedy hypnotist, has been traveling the world wowing sold out crowds with his unique brand of comedy hypnotism for over two decades. He performs Thursday, July 29 at the Brandon Styles Theater for an hour of family friendly hypnosis fun that will keep you laughing long after the show’s end. Star of his long-running resident show at the HarborWalk Village in Destin, Fla. (where you can catch his adults -only show), Stokes Jr. brings wild antics and non-stop laughs to his one-hour show.
The best part?
You just might get to be the star. Stokes opens his show by giving some insight into the age -old art of hypnosis (Did you know that intelligent people are reportedly easier to hypnotize, and aside from being used for entertainment purposes, hypnotism has also been utilized for weight loss, quitting smoking, etc.), then he begins to call volunteers from the audience to join him onstage.
If you are not interested in being part of the show, do not dismay. Terry will not force you onstage, as a large component of someone’s ability to be hypnotized depends upon their open-mindedness to the hypnosis process.
However, if you do want to be part of the show, arrive with an open mind, movable clothing, and comfortable shoes, as you will more than likely be asked to move (possibly even dance) around and will not have much memory afterward of exactly what you did.
Participants are not made to do or say anything inappropriate or embarrassing, and the show is all in good fun for everyone involved.
Audiences are treated to a completely unique show as Terry, quick on his feet, improvised to tailor challenges for each hypnotized individual onstage. One man impersonated Elvis, one became the first “Pregnant Man” and a young girl was quite dismayed to discover that the lips on her Rolling Stones T-Shirt were indeed spitting on her.
EL DIABLO TAQUERIA AND CANTINA:
Exquisitely decorated with “Dia de Los Muertos “paintings and artwork through the restaurant, El Diablo Taqueria and Cantina offers chef prepared Mexican Food (Drawing inspiration from various regions of Mexico) at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Offering an exceptionally-well curated menu filled with varieties of signature chicken, seafood and steak options, El Diablo is more than just another Mexican Restaurant- it is truly a fine dining experience.
Our server, Daniel, provided outstanding service and was highly knowledgeable regarding the menu items and his suggested food and beverage pairings completely hit the mark.
Courtland (one of the onsite managers) and Joel (a kitchen manager who oversees the preparation of food) were highly accommodating and went over and beyond to ensure we had the best dining experience possible.
Only open since May 2021, this phenomenal cantina is already gaining fast acclaim as one of the must-try restaurants at OWA Park.
Here are some of our favorites:
The Caribbean: Featuring 1800 Coconut Gran Gala, Coco Real, pineapple juice, served in a freshly cored pineapple, this drink could be described as “A Taste of the Tropics.”
Blueberry Mojito: Including real blueberries and just the right combination of rum, sweetness and signature mint, this unexpected twist on a classic “front porch” cocktail is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer’s day.
Lynn, our resident “Sweet Tea” connoisseur, highly recommends ordering the sweet tea as a non-alcoholic beverage. El Diablos sweet, dark, fresh brewed tea rivals that at any down-home country cooking establishment.
Sopa: Hearty, fresh-cut tomatoes, lean, shredded chicken, flavorful broth, all topped off with crispy tortilla strips make this traditional Mexican soup an unexpected treat, as most traditional Mexican eateries do not offer soup as a menu option. El Diablo’s Sopa is savory, scrumptious, and the ultimate Mexican Comfort Food.
Empanadas: This traditional appetizer consisting of pastry and filling, most common in the Southern European, Latin American, and Filipino cultures. The quintessential starter features grilled chicken, varieties of melted cheeses and thinly cut veggies.
El Diablo’s is also acclaimed for its extremely large, prime cut steak, that is finished off and cooked to perfection in a fiery blaze table-side, right before your eyes.
Red Fish Vera Cruz: Seared redfish, served over cilantro rice and black beans, topped with delicious Vera Cruz sauce -featuring tomato, caper, onion, and green olives- and finished with a lime crema. An artfully prepared and indescribably delicious dish, the red fish is a “Must Try” menu item at El Diablo that we highly recommend if you are looking for a high-end dinner option.
Soppapillias: The premier desert option on El Diablo’s menu highlights lightly fried flour tortilla strips dusted with casa cinnamon sugar, served with vanilla ice cream and choice of caramel or chocolate drizzle.
A true celebration of multi-cultural Mexican cuisine, El Diablo is a culinary experience to remember.
THE GROOVY GOAT
The look and feel of your favorite sports bar paired with plenty of kid friendly selections and an adjacent arcade make The Groovy Goat your family destination for great food, drinks, sports, and games.
Featuring cute and casual “Groovy” decor and wall art, the Groovy Goat has quickly become one of the most popular casual dining destinations at the OWA due to its expansive menu, large bar surrounded by flat screen tv’s, and friendly customer service.
Here’s what we recommend:
Beachside Manners: A special twist on the classic cocktail, “Sex on the Beach” Beachside Manners’ exclusive recipe features a concoction of peach, orange, and cranberry flavors, all tied together with Smirnoff Vodka.
Red Bull Tea: Filled with fruity flavor, this drink will have you feeling at once buzzed and energetic; this unique beverage is a signature take on a Blue Long Island Iced Tea, topped with an entire can of Red Bull.
Crisp Parmesan Garlic Mushrooms: (Large mushrooms grilled to perfection, hand buttered in the scratch kitchen with a spicy dough, and served with a rich herb aioli sauce
Greek Salad: (A healthy accompaniment to any order, or perfectly suitable as an entree all on its own, the Greek Salad includes Romain Lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, olives, pepperoncini, and marinated feta, served with traditional Greek dressing.
OWA Grown Up Grilled Cheese: This all-grown- up take on the kids’ classic comfort food highlights a satiating and generous blend of sliced cheddar, Swiss, shredded cheddar jack, and blue cheese crumbles with red onion, bacon jam, and avocado, on buttery rye bread. We recommend ordering the thick cut sweet potato logs as your included side.
Crispy Shrimp Platter: This generous dinner platter is big enough to share, featuring large, crispy Gulf Coast shrimp breaded with seasoned flour, and served with atomic cocktail sauce and jalapeño. Each dish comes with two sides, and we highly recommend the fresh steamed broccoli and signature tater tots.
Unlike any bread pudding you’ve ever tried — and bursting with sweet, savory flavor– this hearty dessert is soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and served piping hot with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream and warm caramel drizzle.
Our server, Caitlyn, who is also a manager, provided exceptional service and was highly accommodating throughout our dining experience.
The Groovy Goat is great fun for everyone that you won’t want to miss on your next trip to the OWA.
Victoria Henley is host of Backstage Pass on FCB/ IHeart Radio and a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model.”