The Wharf has had some unanticipated challenges, including Hurricane Ivan and Katrina, escalating insurance premiums, and the coastal real estate crash during the planning and building phases. Since the Wharf has opened for business, the country and most of the world has been confronted with an economic crisis said to be the worst since the Great Depression. But the Wharf has persevered, offering coastal residents and visitors dining and entertainment options that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago.
The Wharf is the first thing you will see coming over the toll bridge over the Intracoastal Canal at Orange Beach. Look towards the left for the ferris wheel; that's the west side of the Wharf-Orange Beach. The ferris wheel at 112 feet tall is said to be the largest in the Southeast.
We took a ride on it on the ferris wheel before the Wharf Orange Beach was officially open, and from the top we saw the new high-rise condos on the beach. (A few weeks ago I took pictures of the ferris wheel from the the 27th floor of the new Phoenix West on the beach. Is that progress, or what?)
The Wharf Orange Beach is a true destination resort. There is something at the Wharf to keep an entire family as busy as it wants to be. If you own or rent a condo at the Wharf, you could dock your boat at the marina in one of the more than 200 boat slips. If you don't own a boat, you can charter one to take you back bay or deep sea fishing.
At the Wharf Orange Beach you have numerous shopping options - most of them owned by local merchants. Sand Dollar Lifestyles has a beautiful two-story storefront. Many locals buy their casual footwear at Sand Dollar, and it seems that every other home in Baldwin County has a big green egg on their patio - the vast majority of those eggs came from Sand Dollar.
The Wharf has its own storefront, the Wharf Store, where you can pick up "exclusive" T-shirts and caps imprinted with the Wharf logo. You can also purchase tickets to concerts and other events at the Wharf Amphitheater at the Wharf Store.
Pleasure Island's only cigar bar, the aptly named Our Cigar Bar, is located at the Wharf. This isn't going to be for everybody, but a lot of smokers can tell the difference between a hand rolled premium cigar and a cheap one. (I just did a fact check and saw that CHEAP ones cost $2+ each, so bring plenty of money.) The cigar bar also offers a full-service bar serving wine, beer and other beverages. The amenities include wide screen TVs, easy chairs, and views of the canal.
Anything that gives beach tourists something else to do close to the beaches on rainy days is a good thing. The entire family can enjoy Paradise Indoor Miniature Golf.
Before Rave Motion Pictures opened at the Wharf, coastal residents had to drive all of the way to Pensacola or Daphne to see their movies Rave-style. Most likely, very few beach tourists even considered driving that far during their limited vacation time. With 15 screens there should be something showing at the Wharf at any given time to interest even the pickiest of movie goers (like me).
Not all of the local merchants who set up shop at the Wharf are going to be able to make it. Unless the entrepreneur is independently wealthy, there is tremendous risk in setting up shop - now more than ever, and a tourist town is particularly tough. Fans of the Blue Girl Beading Company can now buy her beads and attend her classes in another location on the island.
For those who want something creative to do while they are at the Wharf, they can create their own teddy bear at Build-A-Bear Workshop. I would wonder how this business could make it if it weren't for the knowledge that my daughter, when she was younger, would have insisted on building a few bears in this shop. Since my wife would have been there with her, we would have doubled whatever that number that would have been.
The Wharf offers plenty of dining options. Live Bait, which has a big following on the beach, has opened a location at the Wharf.
Our favorite restaurant at the Wharf Orange Beach is Shucker's Oyster Bar. Shucker's is rapidly becoming one of the most popular restaurants on the island. And any restaurant on the island gets extra points from me if it offers waterfront dining. Shucker's is located on the East Side of the toll bridge.
Our son, who works in the hospitality business on the beach, used to say that if a Starbucks ever opens on the island it is going to be a huge success. Before Starbucks opened at the Wharf Orange Beach, Starbucks patrons had to leave the island for their Starbucks habit - and no doubt, many did. Well Starbucks fans - it was good while it lasted, but Starbucks at the Wharf closed, a victim of the recession and the company's over-expansion. In its place is Emerald Coast Coffee and Grille, an up-scale coffee house with "healthy food options," including "nutritious" fruit smoothies.
Water fun at the Wharf Orange Beach includes a lazy river and a wave pool.
The Golf Club of The Wharf Orange Beach features "18-championship holes", a club house and a pro-shop.
My wife and I were anxiously awaiting the opening of the Amphitheater at The Wharf Orange Beach: Big name national touring acts on the island. That's huge. On May 27, 2006, Hank Williams Jr. played the amphitheater, making history twice: the first act to play at the