Budget-friendly vacation travel doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the fun. My family and I recently returned from an Orange Beach, Alabama vacation. We choose to stay at the condos located onsite at The Wharf, a dining, shopping and entertainment district on the Intracoastal Waterway. There was so much to do at The Wharf that we barely left the complex during the entire stay. We found several activities that were either free or low cost that kept us entertained throughout the trip. While some are seasonal, it’s easy to find out what the latest happenings are at The Wharf on their website.

  1. Thursdays on Main. Beginning at 5 p.m. during the summer, Thursdays on Main kicks off with a different band or musician. While we were at The Wharf, The Voice’s Shelby Brown performed. An emcee moderates hula hoop contests, holds a trivia contest for prizes and, of course, the SPECTRA Light Show is another star of the night. Before we left for vacation, I found a novelty toy called Rocketcopters at Wal-Mart. The boys added their own flare to the light show with their Rocketcopters. The little plastic toy lights up when it is slingshot into the air and then air catches its wings as it drifts slowly down. They were a hit and kids and parents approached us all night asking where to get them. As it turned out, a store at The Wharf called Light Up the Night also carries them. I highly recommend you purchase a set!
  1. SPECTRA Light Show. Held every night on Main Street, the light and sound show is free. The lights dance to lively music arranged in specific themes. While we were there, one show was a selection of tracks from popular movies and another was a celebration of all the bands and artists who had played at the nearby amphitheater over the last 10 years. The show happens several times throughout the night and you’ll see both the young and young-at-heart dancing to the music.
  1. Blue Marlin Grand Championship of the Gulf. The mother of all sportfishing tournaments was held at The Wharf the weekend we were there. If you can schedule your vacation during an onsite event, there will be even more to see and do. The Wharf boasts a top-notch marina with yachts, fishing charters and even sailboats calling it home. Our fourth-floor condo balcony gave us views of the boats coming in and billfish being unloaded. We walked from our balcony to the breezeway just outside our front door to see massive fish being weighed in. The star of the tournament was this 806-pound marlin that brought in $375,000 in prize money!
  1. Kid’s Night. During the summer months, Wednesday night is Kid’s Night. Each week, there is a different animal the kids can pet, or sometimes ride. While we were there, it was a camel. But there are also llamas and alpacas. In addition, you’ll find bounce houses, a water slide, face painting, juggling and more.
  1. The Oasis Pool. Just like other beach condos, amenities like pool facilities are only available for rental guests. The Oasis is The Wharf’s very own waterpark, complete with zero-entry wave pool, lazy river, kiddie slides, waterfalls, whirlpool spa and even hammocks to relax in. There is also a tiki bar where you’ll find a limited menu of burgers and sandwiches, as well as cocktails and soft drinks. Not surprisingly, the Oasis was the boys’ favorite part of our beach vacation.
  1. Putt-Putt. While not free, I still consider The Wharf’s putt-putt course as low-cost entertainment. And, after all, what beach vacation is complete without a round of putt-putt? The 18-hole course is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., however with hot, Alabama summers, I suggest going in the evening hours. Children ages 4 and under can play for free and everyone else is $7.

Have you visited The Wharf? I’d love to know your favorite attraction there. Feel free to share in the comment section.