Sick of snow? The recent weather may have many in North Georgia dreaming of a winter vacation.
Myrtle Beach, S.C., once had the reputation as the place to go for a beach, go-karts and putt-putt golf. On our family trip over the holidays, the first time there in about eight years, I learned there's much more to this vacation destination.
Myrtle Beach has definitely come of age and should be on the short list of getaway spots for area residents seeking a great family vacation in less than a day's drive away.
Summer, when the population in the area swells to more than 500,000, is the preferred season for most visitors.
But our trip gave us a chance to experience Myrtle Beach in the winter.
Those who choose this time of year won't be enjoying water sports or sun tanning, but they will find reduced off-season prices. While we didn't get in the water, we did enjoy Frisbee on the beach outside of the Royal Palms Hilton where we stayed.
It was nice to have the kitchen in our room, but with great food all around, we really didn't use it. We dined at the Hilton's Café Amalfi, Margaritaville and the Hard Rock Café, the only Hard Rock shaped like a pyramid. Myrtle Beach features great seafood and great food in general at many restaurants, but you can't go wrong with the places we dined.
In addition to good food, Margaritaville and Hard Rock definitely gives a memorable dining experience — whether it's servers on stilts and indoor hurricanes or great rock music and rock memorabilia. The Hard Rock's 70-foot high pyramid creates a fascinating ambience to relax and enjoy the music and food.
When visiting Myrtle Beach, it's hard not to take in a few go-kart rides and rounds of putt-putt golf. We couldn't resist these traditional forms of entertainment. NascarSpeed Park had an indoor track and three outdoor tracks, which provided plenty of opportunity for racing. It's easy to spend an entire afternoon there with an arcade on site.
For our putt-putt experience, we left the speed park and drove the short distance to Broadway on the Beach where we played at Dragon's Lair. When the "dragon" roars and releases a fireball, you can really feel the heat.
Putt-putt is fun, but for those who actually play golf, Myrtle Beach is populated with one fantastic golf course after another. Even in the very cool December temperatures, there were numerous golfers on the courses.
There are many other attractions outside of go-karts and putt-putt. MagiQuest, a live-action role playing game lets players use their magic wands to discover treasure and score points. The Myrtle Beach MagiQuest location is the largest and most elaborate in the U.S.
As you sort out your itinerary, be sure to carve out time for Ripley's Aquarium. In addition to viewing a variety of fish, sharks and other marine life, we were actually able to touch sting rays and horseshoe crabs in special hands-on pools.
Myrtle Beach in the day is all about the beach and other fun activities, but at night it's time for live shows.
There are a number of great shows at various locations. Palace Theater offers excellent music and dance shows year-round, and several other venues also have live entertainment.
On our first night there, we went to Carolina Opry and we couldn't have made a better choice. Even if you're not a big country music fan, you will still find yourself tapping your toes to great music and laughing out loud at the comedians.
"Myrtle Beach is probably the most affordable family vacation destination on the East Coast," said Lei Gainer, who handles promotions for numerous Myrtle Beach attractions. "No other place offers so much to do and is so affordable. The beach is the primary attraction, but there are so many other reasonably priced places to visit that no matter their budget, a family can have great week of fun."
Gainer said Myrtle Beach attracted no fewer than 10 million visitors annually before Broadway at the Beach opened in 1995. Now, the tourism base has grown to nearly 14 million. While all of the growth may not be attributed to Broadway at the Beach, the national media attention it has garnered has gone a long way to help.
Tourism growth is expected to continue when two new attractions, WonderWorks and Legends In Concert, join Broadway at the Beach this year. WonderWorks will feature more than 100 interactive exhibits for adults and children, and Legends In Concert is a live musical celebration featuring the world's greatest celebrity tribute artists.
There are a number of getaway spots that are a day's drive or less from Atlanta, but Myrtle Beach may pack the most bang for the buck when it comes to your vacation dollars.