This is being written from the Jones/Byrd clubhouse at Sea Trail Resort & Conference Center in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (half way between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina) while Hurricane Charley roars overhead. We were given a choice: stay in our condo rooms during the hurricane with no promise of electricity or food, or come to the clubhouse, which had food, wine, television set to the weather channel, air-conditioning, and most important, a generator if the power goes out. It is windy (100 miles per hour at the max), rainy, yet sort of serene.
We could watch the trees be uprooted, and anything not tied down start flying away. I even ventured out on the patio, but only for a photo op. let’s go backwards to the start of my trip.
It was only one hour non-stop from New York City to Myrtle Beach, where I spent the first two nights (and because of the road closings and flooding the last night also) at the newly opened 402- room Radisson Plaza Hotel adjacent to the Convention Center. A little bit Manhattan, a little bit South Beach, this Four Diamond property has an indoor swimming pool with outdoor sun deck, fitness center and free Internet access. At the Concierge level you get free continental breakfast and lounge. It also features true “southern hospitality” with the nicest employees I have ever encountered in any hotel.
The surrounding area is known as the Grand Strand, which stretches from Georgetown, South Carolina, to Wilmington, North Carolina, and is filled with hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions and golf courses. I will be concentrating on the area surrounding Myrtle Beach. Unfortunately, the hurricane closed the roads south of the airport and did not allow me to visit Brookgreen Gardens, Litchfield Golf & Beach Resort, and Pawleys’ Plantation as originally planned. I guess that will be for my next visit.
I was able to walk two blocks from the Radisson to the beach, and here are the hotels, motels and restaurants catering to the family crowd. If you are looking for a restaurant with excellent food and wine, plus reasonable prices, stop at Papa’s before you begin your Ocean Boulevard walk.
If you prefer riding to walking, spend $1 and ride the Lymo, a replica of the San Francisco streetcar (plus larger buses) and the public transportation system for town. It runs the length of Ocean Boulevard, past the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and the “touristy” Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and 4D Movie Theater. The Lymo also travels perpendicular to the water, past the Radisson about a mile to Broadway At The Beach. This eight-year-old shopping and dining entertainment complex encompasses 350 acres and 100 specialty shops, which includes Ripley’s Aquarium, a world-class facility that changed my mind about skipping anything with the name Ripley. I stayed around for the hourly Dive Show where two divers swim among the fish. I strolled along the 350-foot underground tunnel with moving walkway, a great way to view the thousands of species in the giant tank. Also new are the 28 interactive exhibits that tell the story of the Titanic.
Broadway has a separate nightlife district, Celebrity Square with nightclubs, dancing and live entertainment. I wish I had time to see the baseball Class A Pelicans play a game; their stadium was directly across from the shopping center, as is the Myrtle Waves Water Park and NASCAR Speedpark. The day I was there the new Adventures in Science, History & Nature Building was opening, featuring the H.L Hunley exhibit that tells the story of the first submarine built by the confederacy in 1864. After successfully sinking a Union warship the Hunley disappeared and was discovered on the ocean floor in 1995.
The newly opened 14,000 square-foot Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant was my choice for lunch since it is next door to the Hundley exhibit. Again, a quality operation for food, drink and entertainment (after 10PM it morphs into a nightclub). It is a fun place with 375 seats, indoor-outdoor seating, hurricane simulations (the day before the real thing), with a reproduced 75 foot high lighthouse.
I love to shop, so I jumped at the opportunity to tour the 1 ½ year old 100 stores) Coastal Grand- Myrtle Beach Shopping Mall that has created an old-fashioned beach charm with live oaks, massive fish nets, sand fences, and a “river” carved into the concrete flooring. My evening was spent back at Broadway At The Beach at the Palace, a 2,700 seat luxury venue where I saw Broadway, a compendium of Broadway show tunes sung by a British cast (don’t we have out-of work American singers available?). Also appearing in the lounge was The Rat Pack, three actors portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr. singing their greatest hits.
The next day I was off to Alligator Adventure, “The Reptile Capital of the World,” a 20-acre wetland habitat with over 600 American Alligators, plus Utan, at 20 foot gator weighing in over a ton, the largest crocodile ever exhibited in the United States. Knowing my love for anything vinous my hosts stopped at La Belle Amie Vineyards that produces wines from the Muscadine grape varieties. Sadly, the owner has lost her grape harvest four times to hurricanes, and I am afraid Charley, coming the next day, will be number five. Driving a few miles across the North Carolina border brings me back to the start of the story.
Sea Trail is a 2,000 acre property, founded in 1976, with single-family homes, six different condo villa and suite models, rental properties, two clubhouses, indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, fitness center, tennis courts, three golf courses, banquet and spa facilities. Even the hurricane could not stop Chef Michael Vodjiak as he prepared hundreds of boxed luncheons for the guests and workers, knowing they would be seeking shelter from Charley.
Looking on the bright side, 12.7 million visitors come to Myrtle Beach, many to golf on the 123 courses. Myrtle Beach also attracts lots of families and is reaching out to the conference and convention business. Despite the effects of Charlie, everything was back to normal a few hours after the storm headed north. The airport was open, and I was headed home after four days of fun in the sun, wind, and rain, but with great stories and photos.