More than five years have passed and more than $60 million has been spent, but Sept. 26 marked the official opening of the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum on the bank of the Mobile River — billed as “the first museum dedicated to the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime traditions, and one of the only interactive maritime museums in the country.”

The museum’s first day saw a little more than 1,300 guests come aboard, GulfQuest spokeswoman Diana Brewer wrote in an email Monday morning. Those figures included ticket sales, children under 5 years old and complimentary visitors. The museum celebrated its first day of operation with a christening ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 24, and a tossing off of the “bowlines” two days later.

“This is certainly a historic day for Mobile,” Councilman Levon Manzie said at the opening ceremony. “I’m glad to see this day has come. I’m hopeful hundreds of thousands of people will visit. I look forward to a multiyear partnership with you.”

During the ceremony, GulfQuest Board President E.B. Peebles said the museum would focus on the history of “America’s sea,” which isn’t discussed too often.

“It’s an honor to preserve and teach … the history of the South coast,” he said.

After the opening remarks, Manzie, Peebles and council President Gina Gregory removed the ropes, or “bowlines” separating the museum’s lobby from the exhibits.

As visitors began to trickle in and many walked past the museum’s first exhibit, GulfQuest Executive Director Tony Zodrow called the opening “unreal” and explained why this day was a long time coming.

“In order to do this … we wanted to do it right,” Zodrow said. “This puts us in a position to exceed expectations.”

Zodrow anticipated interest from the museum’s opening, but added that the facility would keep interest high through traveling exhibits and films in the museum’s theater, including one coming in February about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“It’s an incredible journalistic effort,” Zodrow said of the film. “These are the kinds of things we’re going to do in the future.”

Following the ceremony, Manzie noted the many construction and other delays that delayed the opening for years.

“For it to finally be open is monumental for the city,” Manzie said.

Sally Burns, a retired teacher who brought her grandsons to the museum on opening day, said she “couldn’t wait” to check it out.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “I want to be a part of the field trips.”

While Patrick Burns, 8, and Jack Burns, 10, walked through the exhibits on the first floor or “deck,” their grandmother acknowledged the series of “disappointments” during the museum’s construction, but said she was happy to finally see this day come.

“I’m glad it’s open,” Burns said. “I think it will be hugely successful.”

GulfQuest officials have previously said they expect to draw 800 visitors per day to the museum. Adult admission for GulfQuest costs $18, youth tickets for ages 13 to 17 run $16 and tickets for children ages 5 to 12 run $14.

Bryan Blackwell of Dothan and his son Harrison were the first in line to buy tickets to the museum Saturday. The elder Blackwell said they came for the University of South Alabama football game and decided to walk across from their hotel to learn more about the facility. He said admission prices were “reasonable.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Blackwell said. “There are a lot of science-related exhibits.”

Blackwell had also heard of the delays, but didn’t seemed bothered by them.
“It has taken a while,” he said. “All good things take some time.”

Shane Perry and his wife, Vicky, traveled across the bay from Spanish Fort to check out the museum on its opening day, arriving shortly after 9 a.m.

“I’m anticipating a pretty nice experience,” Shane Perry said. “So far it looks pretty good.”

Perry said they were concerned about the delays, but ultimately knew the museum would open.

“Quasi-captive audience”
GulfQuest officials were excited about the possibilities available for the museum when the Carnival Fantasy cruise ship sails into the Port of Mobile in November 2016.

Zodrow said prospective cruisers could use the museum to learn more about the body of water on which they would travel from Mobile to destinations in Mexico.

“Carnival’s return is great news for GulfQuest,” Zodrow said. “We believe [travelers] would be very interested in learning more about the Gulf before departing.”

In addition, Zodrow said, GulfQuest has an exhibit dedicated to Chichen Itza, Mayan ruins in Progreso, one of the Fantasy’s planned destinations from Mobile.
Peebles also praised Carnival’s return as “wonderful” and “very positive” for the museum.

The return of a ship to the Alabama Cruise Terminal, which shares a vehicle entrance with GulfQuest, could prove to be a great opportunity for the museum, Manzie said.

“It gives them a quasi-captive audience,” he said. “I’m hopeful patrons of the ship will see this as an opportunity. It gives them another reason to invest time and resources into Downtown.”