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Myrtle Beach and I both Survived "Charley"
By Ron Kapon, Contributing Travel Editor

Myrtle Beach
Hotels and tourists dominate the beautiful Myrtle Beach coastline.
Myrtle Beach, SC - Since timing is everything in life, mine was not exactly the greatest when I found myself on my laptop from the Jones/Byrd clubhouse at the Sea Trail Resort & Conference Center in Sunset Beach, North Carolina (half way between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina) earlier this year (2004) while Hurricane Charley was wreaking havoc on everything in its path, including yours truly. The choice at the time was simple - stay in the condominium rooms provided during the hurricane and wait it out with no promise, or even a hint of a positive outlook, of electricity or food...or, alternately, go to the clubhouse which had food, wine, televisions set to the weather channel, air-conditioning and, most importantly, a generator if the power went out. Not a tough decision to make at the time with the wind howling and thundering by at a respectable 100 miles per hour at its worst, accompanied by occasional blasts of rain pelting everything from the pavement to pedestrians that could not resist the temptation to step outside. Watching trees being uprooted was not exactly an enticement to venture outside, and anything not tied down was likely to be airborne in an instant. A quick turn onto the patio for a photo or two was the limit of my bravery.

That was the hurricane. There was a trip, however, one about which I would like to tell you.

Radisson Plaza Hotel
The Radisson Plaza Hotel is located next to the Convention Center.
It was only one hour non-stop from New York City to Myrtle Beach with the first two nights there spent at the newly opened 402-room Radisson Plaza Hotel, conveniently adjacent to the Convention Center if that happens to be one of the reasons you are in the area. And, if so, book well ahead of the conference or exhibition you may be attending. The Radisson, and the area, is a combination of a bit of Manhattan, a touch of South Beach and the expected southern hospitality. This Four Diamond property offers an indoor swimming pool with outdoor sun deck, fitness center and free internet access...for openers. If you are able, via membership and/or availability, to get an upgrade to the Concierge level floor, go for it. Check all your memberships before you leave for the airport and make sure you are aware of the resort's affiliation - e.g., Starwood, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton, Westin, Wyndham, Four Seasons, and so forth. The convenient, not the necessity, of a continental breakfast that precludes crowds and lines, plus the convenience of a lounge in which to relax, have a meeting or just take an evening cocktail is a plus, not an essentiality.

The surrounding area is known as The Grand Strand, which stretches from Georgetown, South Carolina, 50 miles to the south, to Wilmington, North Carolina, 60 miles north, and it is filled with hotels, restaurants, shops, tourist attractions and golf courses. For this particular trip I focused on Myrtle Beach and everything within "striking distance" of it. Unfortunately, the hurricane closed the roads south of the airport and that did not permit me to visit some of my planned destinations, Brookgreen Gardens, Litchfield Golf and Beach Resort and the enjoyment of an overnight respite at Pawleys Plantation but put them on your lists. I'll pick up the baton next time around.

Just two blocks from the Radisson is the beach, where the bulk of the hotels, motels and restaurants cater to the family vacationers and all looked inviting. Unable to stay at, visit or dine at each, the selections during this trip narrowed down to places like Papa?s along Ocean Boulevard - excellent food and wine, plus reasonable prices. If you prefer riding to walking spend a dollar and take the Lymo, a replica of the San Francisco streetcar (plus larger buses), the public transportation system to and from 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 to Broadway At The Beach, an 8-year old shopping, dining and entertainment complex that encompasses 350 acres with 100 specialty shops that include Ripley?s Aquarium, a world-class facility that will change your mind about skipping anything with the name Ripley on it. Time your visit, or wait if you must, for the hourly Dive Show where two divers enter the tank and swim among the fish - great for kids!!!

Take a stroll along the 350-foot underground tunnel with moving walkway. It's a great way to view the thousands of species of marine life looking back at you from the giant tank. There are 28 new interactive exhibits that tell the story of the Titanic and that stop is an absolute must given all the publicity and lore about that sad, but historical, event.

Hunley Submarine
Amongst other informative topics, the Adventures in Science, History & Nature Building provides information on the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. (Artwork by R.G. Skerrett)
Broadway has a separate nightlife district, Celebrity Square with nightclubs, dancing and live entertainment. Take the kids and get there early or, without them, stay later and have all the fun you can absorb in one evening. For baseball fans, real fans, there is the Class A Pelicans and their stadium is directly across from the shopping center, as is the Myrtle Waves Water Park and NASCAR Speedpark. The new Adventures in Science, History & Nature Building has officially opened and it features the H.L Hunley exhibit that tells the story of the first submarine built by the confederacy in 1864. For history buffs, after successfully sinking a Union warship the Hunley disappeared and stories flowed fast and furiously about the events surrounding that but none have come to the surface, no pun intended, as the real reason for its suddenly vanishing from sight. But, it was discovered on the ocean floor in 1995.

The newly opened 14,000 square-foot Jimmy Buffett?s Margaritaville restaurant is an excellent choice for lunch since it is next door to the Hunley exhibit. As is usually the case with Margaritaville, the place to go for food, drink & entertainment (after 10:00 p.m. it morphs into a nightclub)...375 seats, indoor-outdoor seating, hurricane simulations (the day before the real thing), with a reproduced 75-foot high lighthouse.

Coastal Grand-Myrtle Beach Shopping Mall
The Coastal Grand-Myrtle Beach Shopping Mall provides extensive and scenic shopping options for the traveler in need.
Shoppers have to make a bee-line to the one-and-a-half year old 100 stores Coastal Grand-Myrtle Beach Shopping Mall where they have created an old-fashioned beach charm with live oaks, massive fish nets, sand fences and a "river" carved into the concrete flooring. After a day of looking, buying, deciding, changing my mind, the evening was spent back at Broadway At The Beach at the Palace, a 2,700 seat luxury venue where you can enjoy Broadway, a compendium of Broadway show tunes sung by a British cast instead of the expected and anticipated American one. I, for one, have always wondered how the Brits suddenly sound so American when they are singing but not when speaking. Also appearing in the lounge was The Rat Pack, three actors portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr. singing their greatest hits.

Fun for all is Alligator Adventure, "The Reptile Capitol of the World," a 20-acre wetland habitat with over 600 American Alligators, including Utan, at 20 feet and weighing in at over a ton...the largest crocodile to ever be exhibited in the United States.

Mention wine to me and I am there. That meant La Belle Amie Vineyards, where they produce wines from the Muscadine grape varieties. The owner has to be one of the unluckiest and unfortunate people around. She had lost her harvest four times to hurricanes and Charley was number five. Driving a few miles across the North Carolina border brought me back to the occurring, and in some places as yet untouched, and pending hurricane and Sea Trail, a 2,000 acre property founded in 1976, but the current site of 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 Charley could not stop Chef Michael Vodjiak as he prepared hundreds of boxed luncheons for the guests and workers, knowing they would be seeking shelter at any moment.

The final tally is that 12.7 million visitors come to Myrtle Beach annually, most with golf on their minds at one of the 123 courses. Myrtle Beach also attracts it share of families and it is now 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, together with many, many others, was headed home after four days of fun in the sun, wind and rain,.


Ron Kapon is seeking wine tasters for the New York Tasters Guild. Please go to www.tastersguildny.com or email him at Ron@tastersguildny.com.