Late Thursday: I peer into darkness enveloping
to witness five red lit lanterns that serendipitously float into the inky-black sky while the ocean rolls in with its steady, sonorous snore.
I have just opened our private 11th floor balcony glass door after checking into the
Hampton Inn and Suites Oceanfront
, an upscale beach house-themed hotel featuring 227 rooms and suites. We occupy a spacious and inviting two-room 'Family Suite' with bunk beds set in the children's room and a full kitchen to help alleviate costs. The suite is bright yet relaxing with a nautical motif. The jettisoned lanterns a great start to our four nights, three days holiday in Myrtle Beach.
Friday: We awake in our comfortable bed, and open the balcony door to the Atlantic's natural rhythm, waves caressing the shore with a few walkers already enjoying the hard-caked sand. Coffee in hand, I sit upon a white rocker, absorbing the sun's rays, a relief after driving through yesterday's snow storm. I relish the panoramic view of the
that stretches endlessly both north and south.
At noon, after a long beach walk, we unwisely take lunch near a mall swamped with cars on
, the busiest day for US shoppers. Later, we arrive at
Broadway at the Beach
to take in
with its glass walk-through area amidst myriad sharks, rays, barracudas and other myriad marine life encircling viewers who are transported slowly along a conveyor belt, cleverly allowing for unobstructed views. We are inches away from rows of nasty-looking, bent sharp shark teeth eager to rip into flesh, and at one point a hammerhead and a saw-tooth, nature's marine carpenters, rest on partition struts directly above us. There are several ray pools and regular sized piranhas augmented by the extra-large version, mirroring the adipose content of NFL linemen.
In the evening, we take in the
Carolina Opry's Christmas Special
in spacious Calvin Gilmore Theater, treated to two hours of entertaining music, comedy, and dance in a 2,200-seat theater with state-of-the-art lighting and sound.
Saturday: Breakfast downstairs in the Hampton's spacious beach-view common room and another 2-mile walk to the pier south of us. Many families occupy the beach; a jogging Santa in a red suit and a white striped tuque zips by along the sand. More balcony-sitting, watching the waves, followed by a visit to the
Market Commons shopping center
converted from an air force base.
For supper, we try the Croissant Bistro restaurant where locals hang out but not tonight according to our waiter, Scott, from Detroit because it's the evening of the
important Clemson vs South Carolina football game
! Scott relates that his ancestors helped burn Newark (Niagara on the Lake)! We toast peace and for dessert, share a delicious serving of
Key Lime pie
Later, we catch the
who sing and dance in Frankie Valli & Four Seasons style, featuring their 1960s hits at the Palace Theatre which seats 2,700 and offers live musicals, Broadway productions and celebrity performances, the Christmas show well received this evening. "Rag Doll, Big Girls Donâ€™t Cry, Dawn, Silence Is Golden" transport many back to their youth.
Sunday: After breakfast and our traditional beach walk, we devote most of the day to
, an amazing 9,100-acre property developed from four former rice plantations and turned into elaborate sculpture gardens by
Archer Milton Huntington
Anna Hyatt Huntington
, his sculptor wife. It's so vast that the entrance fee is good for six days to help one cover it all!
At a small lunch room, we meet Mike Moyer and his Québécois wife Louise. A retired Peterborough accountant, Mike, originally from Fort Erie, relates that they have been wintering here since 1995, staying in north Myrtle Beach at the Barefoot Landing complex. Last year, they shot 32 rounds at
Myrtle Beach's top four golf courses
in two months! The rates are quite reasonable says Mike, because business is eager to draw Canadians back.
Heading to the hotel, we observe that Myrtle Beach has more pancake and waffle houses than we have Tim Horton's in Ontario, and along the way, we finally get rid of our foul Ontario weather in a carwash, manned by four guys with an offer of fresh shrimp from a fifth. It's wise to cultivate the locals here.
For supper, we try the Sea Captain's House Restaurant. The food is tasty: appetizers of sautéed crab cakes, fresh Atlantic Blue Fin Crab with white wine lemon butter, sautéed pecan-crusted grouper with citrus beurre blanc and Chateau St. Michelle Riesling for me and grilled salmon with crawberry-ginger barbecue sauce for my spouse. Yes, we share another delicious portion of Key Lime pie!
This was our first visit to Myrtle Beach, and we will surely return!
Brookgreen Gardens, Dionysus by Edward McCartan, photo by Mike Keenan
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
is a coastal city on the east coast of the United States in Horry County, South Carolina. It is situated on the center of a large and continuous stretch of beach known as the Grand Strand in northeastern South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach is one of the major centers of tourism in the United States because of the city's warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches, attracting an estimated 14 million visitors each spring/summer/fall. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 27,109, with the Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway combined statistical area population of 329,449.