Sunday, July 22, 2007

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

We pulled into Myrtle Beach on a Saturday afternoon with the sky looking threatening. We had known we were getting closer to the destination as the number of beach, shrimp and adult toy shops climbed. (For some odd reason resort towns have an unusually high amount of “adult” shops.) I noticed that on the outskirts of town a fair amount of stores were boarded up with “out of business” signs on them. They did not appear to have storm damage so it must have been for lack of business.

We proceeded to idle in stop-dead traffic with movement at the lights every 5 minutes or so for the next full hour. We only were trying to go 6 miles. The beginning of our vacation did not look promising. But as it turns out it was the witching hour of 3:00 check-in on Saturday - and the traffic did not continue this way the entire week.

We pulled into our resort as the skies opened up. Our first hour of unpacking also had the children freaking out as the balcony started to flood and the lighting crashed around us. My hubby stated we were in the middle of a squall. So instead of dining out on seafood with great cocktails, it was Bud Light and hot dogs in the living room of the condo while thunder and lighting were our ambiance.

But then the clouds disappeared, the people came out to play on the wonderfully clear and clean beach, the music started at the tiki hut bar under our condo and down in Myrtle Beach proper (We were about 8 miles away), fireworks were going off.

It was wonderful!

The next day we wandered into Downtown Myrtle Beach, to discover it’s like any other resort beach town. People ambling mindlessly into traffic, cheap shops selling souvenir t-shirts, and overpriced food.

They also have an amazing amount of Putt Putt Golf attractions (known to the rest of the world as Mini Golf), but not your usual small tacky ones. These were masterpieces of design. 5 story tiki huts, giant skulls that blow smoke, jungles, volcanos, etc. Each one was on a grand scale. We did the Tiki Hut one, Mt. Atlanticus and the kids adored it. Hubby and I had our legs collapsing after the 4th level, but it was worth it.

What follows is a listing of the places we visited and my short review of each. I will state here that at all the shops/stores/restaurants we went to the people were lovely, kind and friendly in a very real way - not the fake "make the customer happy so they'll leave a big tip" way.

We ate at Sea Captain’s House in downtown, which had a lovely view and wonderful outdoor seating behind the sea grass where you could wait for your table. Average wait…… 2 hours. The service was quite nice though and the food was fairly good. The view was wonderful and on a nice day there was no irritation at the wait. They did have a full bar to keep you busy.

The next night we tried to go to The Hard Rock CafĂ© at Broadway on the Beach. What a mistake to go to that massive arena mall at night! Hard Rock actually had a 25 minute wait just to get to the door of the restaurant to get in line to eat. Tried again the next day at lunch time – walked right in – apparently most people wait for dinner to go out. The restaurant was busy, and food took a long time to get to us, but the wait staff were very friendly and professional and the kids loved being allowed to walk around all the other tables (they were encouraged to) looking at the goodies on the walls. Pricey though - $10 - 12 hamburgers, $3 sodas…..but the food was nicely prepared and tasty.

Also at Broadway on the Beach was Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and the music was too good to resist so we wandered over there. After we waited in that line for 10 minutes to get to the door we were told that the wait was 3 - ½ hours! There was no way we could wait that long. I'm not sure if lunch is any easier to get a reservation for as we didn't make it back to try. We were later told by several people that while the atmosphere is great there, the food lacks quite a bit. Mind you, I didn't try it so I couldn't say, but that is what I heard. If so, I recommend a drink at the Smuggler’s Cove Bar, listen to the music, skip the restaurant and move on.

Joe’s Crab Shack – this is where we ended up when we couldn't wait for Margaritaville. Great service and only an hour wait to be seated – bonanza! Food was reasonably priced and also tasty. This is a chain restaurant, in fact there’s one by my house, but it was on the water and kid friendly. We actually went back one more time for lunch.

Spuds @ Merrell’s Inlet – Fantastic view of the inlet. Live singer on the outdoor seating balcony really added to the enjoyment. Food was quite nice and the outdoor seating was wonderful. Shortest wait time for dinner we had at the restaurants yet - it may have been a slow night, it seemed like it usually got very busy there.

Broadway on the Beach – This is an absolutely massive piece of real estate. It boasts at least 6 major restaurants (Hard Rock and Margaritaville included), an IMAX theater, tons of shopping, a Kiss Coffee House (that was hilarious to go into) a regular 16 choice movie theater and the Ripley’s Aquarium. There’s also a mini amusement park and a putt putt golf with a volcano that scares you to death every time it goes off. It continues across the street with many more stores and Planet Hollywood. We never went across the street so I can't really comment on that side. The side we were on though was wonderful – most restaurants on the water, little water taxis shooting around from side to side, fish to feed. Really nicely done.

We did go to the Aquarium, which we, the parents, were less than enthusiastic about since we've been several times to the same aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Turns out though that it was just different enough to not feel that we were just repeating ourselves in a different town. The kids, of course, loved it. I personally have enjoyed the Ripley's Aquarium over any other I've been to just for the friendly, hands on atmosphere.

Angelos Steak and Pasta - Wonderful little "old school" Italian restaurant. Dark and cozy. We loved it - ate there twice. Great service, warm little semi-private rooms intermixed with larger communal areas. The food was great, all you could eat salad and rolls included. There are two sides of the restaurant and one is definitely the older side with a bit more charm that the newer side, but the food stays the same. One night the wait was only 20 minutes and the next night, Friday, we thought we would stroll right in as many people already left town from their week stay, but it was 1-1/2 hours as it was packed with locals. That right there tells you it's good stuff. It is most assuredly on our visit again list.

One last note – we stayed at the Myrtle Beach Resort and do they cater to the families. From the beach to the water park for little kids to the Lazy River – they also have planned children activities throughout the day. They have little food bars and “stores” all over for quick bites and items you run out off. They have a little buffet restaurant with simple food if you don’t want to leave. One of our favorite places was the Tiki Bar with live music at night. This is actually a “family bar”. All ages allowed with security around being friendly and making sure no one gets out of control. There’s a volleyball court where all the kids tend to gather and have giant games with as many children as you can fit on the court. I was up in front of the band with my little girl and a ton of other smaller children as she was dancing away with the teenagers and adults. They also server burgers and hot dogs there. Papa John’s supplies each “restaurant” there with pizza every day.

My overall impression of Myrtle Beach: beautiful beaches, very friendly people, clean town (always important). The town itself is the usual ticky-tacky that is a beach town, but it is also extremely kid friendly. If you want to get off the beach there is definitely a full days enjoyment to be had elsewhere. We mainly stayed on the beach and therefore don't have as many activity reviews as other might have. We have in general been Gulf Shores people for our vacations, but we might have to do a little switching off in the future and include Myrtle Beach in "our" places to stay.

Looked for Celia but didn’t see her anywhere. ☺