Vacay Tips from a Long-Time Beach Visitor

Families, couples and even solo travelers who choose beach trips for their vacation usually have a few things in common: they love the sun, the sand and the water.

As someone who has visited Gulf Shores and Orange Beach often, I can assure you, those are all fantastic reasons to visit the area. Even more valuable, this long-time beach visitor can offer some great tips to help you plan and enjoy your next trip to Alabama’s coastal paradise.

Accommodations in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL
Lodging Options
Accommodations

Accommodations may seem like a no-brainer, but here are a couple of tips to help when planning where to stay.

  • Perhaps you want a Gulf view on a certain floor of a particular resort or hotel. Book sooner rather than later to ensure the best rate and availability.
  • Is there a fun or luxury property you’ve been dying to stay at, but can’t swing the cost? Go to their website a couple times a month and check for specials or deals. Many websites will have a tab that says just that, and sometimes you can snag a deal. Also, many luxury properties are so large that you can split a unit with another friend’s family. Half the cost, but all the same amenities!
  • There are plenty of lodging choices between Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and the beautiful Fort Morgan Peninsula (actually part of Gulf Shores). If you want to get a little off the beaten path but give up nothing with regard to sugar-white, sandy beaches and amazing turquoise waters, consider a rental in Fort Morgan.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Dining

There are so many fabulous places to eat on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Seafood is abundant and fresh, but you can also find a variety of other dining options as well. Here are a few tips that might save you a little money and a whole lot of time.

  • Make at least a mental list of where you’d like to eat while in town. Popular places have a wait during high season, so check out their websites and see if there are early-bird dining options or ways around the long wait times. A good example is Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s, where they have something new called Beat the Wait – Go Online to Get in Line. It’s not a reservation, but you can go to their website and put your name on the wait list in advance of getting there, which is a big help.
  • If you are on a tighter budget, consider eating out for lunch. Portions are, many times, the same as dinner, but lunch specials are a good bit less expensive. Also, many restaurants offer brunch, especially on the weekends, and often have drink specials such as bloody marys or mimosas for a couple of bucks.
  • If you are staying in a condo and planning on preparing some meals in the room, make a grocery list for when you get to town. Also, make note of what things you can bring from home: salt and pepper, flour, sugar, paper towels, chips, etc.
  • Look for Groupons! Often restaurants will offer discounts through Groupon (especially in the off season). I have saved up to 50% with Groupon in the past. (HINT: There are also good deals for things aside from dining, like fishing charters and spa treatments.)
  • Stop by the welcome centers! The Gulf Shores Welcome Center and Orange Beach Welcome Center both offer rack cards with discounts and coupons.
Shopping at The Wharf in Orange Beach, AL
Shop The Wharf
Rainy Day Plan

Sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve ball when visiting the beach. Truth be told, those often become my favorite days. Rainy days create an awesome opportunity to relax and do special things you may not have time to indulge in while back at home. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Head over to The Wharf in Orange Beach for lots of rainy-day activities such as shopping in unique boutiques, a fantastic coffee shop, tasty restaurants, a theater (movies and rainy days are made for each other) and so much more! If there are breaks in the rain, enjoy a walk around the marina, mini golf or a Ferris wheel ride.
  • Make it a spa day! Pamper yourself with salon services, massages and the like at area spas. Fusion Spa and Salon is located at The Wharf, and The Spa and Salon at the Beach Club is in the Fort Morgan area. Both are excellent and guaranteed to soothe your soul, rain or shine.
  • Bring some DVDs and microwave popcorn from home or find a local Red Box for a lazy day inside. It’s also a great idea to bring along a deck of playing cards and some favorite board games in case of a weather day.
Camping

If your family loves camping, be sure to check out the Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores where there are myriad activities awaiting. There’s a golf course, tennis courts, a pool, fishing, beaches, hiking and biking. Save a little money on accommodations and enjoy the natural beauty and cool things to do at Gulf State Park.

Little Extras

Sometimes in a week-long stay, kids need more than the beach and the pool. Here are a couple of little extras that your family may enjoy.

  • Waterville USA is a waterpark and amusement park with lots of rides and attractions. Take a relaxing lazy river ride, test your skills on the Flowrider, enjoy the wave pool or dare to plunge down a waterslide! There’s something for everyone, and even cabanas to rent.
  • Families love time spent at The Track where Go-Karts, mini golf and kiddie rides are the happening things. Two tips for saving money at The Track: sign up online for email specials and purchase your rides online for BIG savings – up to 33% off regular prices.
Best Tip

Families love the beach during summer, but if you can sneak away during one of the shoulder seasons (bookends to summer), you can often save a lot of money! Late September and all of October prove to be incredible times to visit because the crowds have thinned out, the water is still warm, the weather is slightly cooler and the lines at favorite restaurants are gone. Also, accommodations cost less during the off season and many area attractions run specials as well.

Enjoy your beach trip even more by remembering this tip: Never pass up the opportunity to be still and watch the sunset over the water. It’s totally magical.

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