Chris and Janet Eberly may be among the biggest and best in Gulf Coast water sports today, but they started out with a little dream. She was a waitress, and he worked offshore. Mixing their passions for fare and seafaring, the Missus had the bright idea to offer dinner cruises to the people of coastal Alabama. In 1998, they brought the Southern Rose from Wilmington, Del. to her new home in Orange Beach, Ala. (No doubt her change of location prompted the change in title, but “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”)
Dinner cruises, however, were not the sweet spot. As the Eberlys soon discovered, dolphins were what the people wanted to see. At that time, there were only two such companies in the area – today there are 30. So what gives the Southern Rose her charm? First and foremost, her size is formidable, even if you can’t see out her bottom. “We’re a large, comfortable boat – no gimmicks, no glass bottoms,” says Jack Fisher, who runs the company alongside the founding Eberlys and their children, Jason and Brittany. They also have an air-conditioned upper deck, a full bar and roomy restrooms. There’s a lot of space to move around, for passengers who don’t like crowded boats.
The business, along with its sister venture Chute ‘Em Up Parasailing, can attract as many as 1,000 people a day in the summer, so make your reservations early. Cruises aboard the Southern Rose depart from Happy Harbors. Once aboard, you can expect to be treated to a narrated tour of area waterways including the Gulf of Mexico, Intracoastal and Perdido Bay, with the sound of relaxing beach music underscoring your search for the bottle-nose dolphin. If you get hungry for more than a dolphin sighting, an onboard snack bar serves sandwiches, chips, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, beer, wine and mixed cocktails. Guests are allowed to bring coolers for their own nonalcoholic beverages.
The Eberlys haven’t escaped entirely from Janet’s original vision. They still book Sunset Dolphin & Dinner Cruises for private parties, including special events and weddings of up to 65 people. However large or intimate your party, a good time is guaranteed aboard the Southern Rose – and so is a dolphin sighting. If you don’t spot one of the glorious creatures, you get your money back. “I’ll stay out there until I find them,” Fisher says. Thank goodness for that snack bar.