With the holidays in the rear view mirror and the cold chilling our bones, it is time to start thinking about spring break, summer, sunshine and warmth. The Our Kids review team (youth ages 6, 8, 12 and 15) wanted to go someplace warm that we could drive to within a day and enjoy swimming in the ocean. After a 6-1/2 hour road trip, we arrived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and had an affordable long weekend that the kids absolutely loved.
Our caveat: none of us are golfers. Indeed, we had allotted only one day for golf and it was rained out. There was still plenty to do and the kids had a blast. If golfing is your thing, then there are many options – different from those we researched – for places to stay and places to play. Nevertheless, given the weather, it was wise that we had several indoor activities planned to keep the kids entertained.
The Dunes Village Resort
After much research, we selected the Dunes Village Resort, located half-way between North Myrtle Beach and South Myrtle Beach. On the one hand, it was not within walking distance to either, which was too bad since a walk to the boardwalk would have been a great way to enjoy the ocean. On the other hand, the resort is flanked on one side by a residential neighborhood which offered much privacy and cut down on the beach crowds (on the other side is a similar resort hotel.) While South Myrtle Beach is bustling with activity, it is densely packed with hotels and motels (at differing price points) and has a commercialized atmosphere. In the end, we were happy we had traded off in favor of the quieter stay and a less crowded beach.
Beside the location, the Dunes Village Resort was appealing because of its two medium-sized indoor waterparks with a lazy river. It did rain several times over the 5 days we were there and it was nice to have the option to stay in the hotel and have the kids active. Two outdoor pools were also available, but we preferred to walk the few feet to the ocean. Cabanas are available to rent on the beach for $70 per day and include 2 lounge chairs, a cooler with ice, a ceiling fan, a grill with propane, a DVD player and cable television.
The Dunes Village Resort is not an all-inclusive resort, along the lines of Club Med or Sandals. It seems to herald the ‘resort’ status because it is a two high-rise hotel complex with on-premises restaurants, Starbucks, gift shop and concierge. There is short-term parking area up front to unload gear and the self-park garage is a short walk away. Our advice would be not to arrive exactly at the afternoon check-in time since we were blocked in parking chaos in the drop off area for over a half-hour.
There is no child-care offered, however there were daily ‘Kids Club Activities’ such as movies by the pool, crafts, duck races, scavenger hunts and face painting. Some of the activities had minimal charges ($5.00 for an ice cream party; $5.00 for tie dye t-shirts; $1-3 for shell painting). Meals are not included and we found the breakfast we had at the Admiral’s Room restaurant to be unremarkable. After the first morning, we opted either to eat in our condo which had a full kitchen, or off the resort at the plentiful chain restaurants.
The angle-oceanfront deluxe 2 bedroom condo we rented to accommodate our family of six had two large bedrooms – one with a king sized bed and an ocean view, and the other one with two queen beds that overlooked a well-traveled hallway. The main area had a small living room with a pullout couch, a full dining room and a kitchen (with cooking accessories) with a full-sized refrigerator, microwave and stove. There was also an apartment-sized washer and dryer (which was put to good use) and a patio facing the ocean. We went in early August, so the suite rental was $340.00 per night (including tax); this price may vary by date of rental and any special pricing offered. While this is not the Ritz or a four-star hotel, you get a good size suite at a very fair price.
WHAT TO BRING: Beach chairs, strong beach umbrellas, rolling coolers and plenty of sunscreen (our teenager enjoyed the beach too much).
Our Myrtle Beach trip quickly became a favorite of our children because of the variety of family-friendly activities to choose from. In South Myrtle Beach, there is a 1.2 mile boardwalk and promenade offering the SkyWheel (a 187 foot tall Ferris wheel) and outdoor amusement rides, indoor arcades, a huge candy store, shops and restaurants. The press of people and the flashing lights offer a carnival-like atmosphere which made just walking around enjoyable. The general area offers lots of cheap beach stores, pancake houses, mini-golf, chain stores and fair prices.
SkyWheel offers climate-controlled enclosed ‘gondolas’ and a spectacular view of Myrtle Beach (adults: $13.00/ride; children age 11 and under $9.00). There was an intercom available should a toddler or other rider need the ride to be halted. Other nearby outdoor amusement rides included the Slingshot ($25.00/ride), the AirStrike ($15.00/ride) and the Bungee Tramp ($10.00/ride). The rides were considered “retro” by some and “dated” by others, but still amounted to old-school fun. Note that there are some height restrictions and for the amusement rides, no refunds should a rider have second thoughts.
We also enjoyed the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium – admission for adults $14.99 and children age 3 to 11 $9.99). We initially thought that the add-on Marvelous Mirror Maze was not worth the extra cost ($8.99 per person age 3 and up) – until they put on the 3-D glasses and experienced the disorienting effect. Our teenager proclaimed this to be not just cool but ‘REALLY’ cool.
A 5-10 minute drive away from the beach is “Broadway at the Beach,” an outdoor pedestrian area similar to “Downtown Disney” in Orlando, Florida. The two times we visited this area were the review team’s favorites. There are numerous outdoor activities and amusement rides in Carousel Park, such as the Herschell-Spillman Carousel. Tickets for the rides can be purchased at $3.00 per ticket or in packs of 9 for $20.00 or 18 for $35.00. Besides the amusement rides, Broadway at the Beach offered a full movie theatre, numerous restaurants and boutiques as well as several other attractions. Our favorites included:
- Wonder Works. Also known as ‘the upside-down house,’ Wonder Works is a multi-story, indoor amusement park that easily engages patrons of all ages, much in the same way a good science museum (such as the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia) would. Interactive exhibits include a tornado chamber, pulley power, and memory games. For more sports-oriented guests, there were snowboarding and virtual sports, Xtreme 360 bikes and lazer tag. One favorite activity was the three-story ropes challenge course. As with all activities, however, you should gauge your child’s ability to handle stimulation. The first experience walking in was a short ‘inversion tunnel’ which so disoriented our 6 year old that she was upset for the rest of the visit. Tickets generally are $22.99 for adults and $14.99 for children age 4 to 12 – however there are packages and coupons available.
- MagiQuest was easily the favorite activity of our two boys, ages 8 and 12. A huge, indoor, multi-story live-action game, involving quests, magic wands and spells, our boys would have spent every waking moment there, had they had the choice. Wand in hand, the guests experience their own ‘journey’ battling dragons, meeting princesses and learning from wizards. Good luck limiting your child to a base wand and a 75 minute game experience (which costs $25.99 per person), however there are packages and wand upgrades available. Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA also offers MagiQuest, and you can use the same wand and spells there, as well as the other locations nation-wide.
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Restaurant. As with Jimmy Buffett’s other chain of restaurants, Cheeseburger in Paradise, the food at Margaritaville is well-portioned and tasty ‘beach fare’ – burgers, seafood and family-friendly American standards. We liked Myrtle Beach Margaritaville for its location overlooking the water (a man-made pond), its great people watching, and its casual and friendly atmosphere. Every half hour, the infamous Jimmy Buffett song “Margaritaville’ is played as a tornado-like margarita starts up in a giant blender in the center of the restaurant. Parents of weather-focused children may need to explain that the weather reports of impending storms are imaginary. The stilt-walkers amused our children to no end with their balloon sculptures.
- Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. Yes, it is hokey, yes, it is expensive, but yes, it is a lot of fun. Medieval Times offers a 2 hour banquet and show, complete with jousting tournament and falconry demonstration. The Medieval Times experience is designed to have guests to feel as if they are lords and ladies at a Medieval castle. Guests are assigned to a cheering section for a particular knight – in our case, the Black and White knight – in a dinner stadium surrounding a large field. While we dined on roasted chicken and spare rib (not ribs), we cheered our knight as he competed in friendly jousting games with his compatriot knights. In the end, the ‘good’ knights squared off against the enemies of the king in an excellent display of horsemanship. Our kids loved every minute of it – from the good natured smack talking with the other cheering sections, to eating with their hands (no utensils) to being selected from the audience to receive a good luck flower from our knight. We parents loved having our children really get into it and afterwards being able to meet the knights and take pictures.
A few notes to parents: for sensory-sensitive children, the dark room and occasional strobe lights, the smell of the horses, and the feel of messy chicken on their hands may be overwhelming. There is some inherent danger because live animals are involved. There was a protective net between the competition field and the first few rows of diners in case there was breakage of the wooden lances and swords. There were also several tense moments when it seemed that the knights were hurt.
The basic tickets cost $30.95 for children 12 and under and $50.95 for adults; however, we chose to upgrade to the “Royalty Package” ($10 additional dollars per person) which gave us VIP seating, a DVD, flags to wave and a commemorative program. We felt that the better seating made this worth the value since we felt more a part of the action (with the added bonus that the children were definitely in our knight’s sight when he passed out his flowers) – and the DVD was very interesting since it gave information about the training of the horsemen. We also got lucky in that we were moved to front row seats because the premium seating for that evening was not sold out.
In our opinion, the entertainment value at Medieval Times was far greater than the cost. Our whole family is looking forward to going again – which may be sooner than our next trip to Myrtle Beach since there is a Medieval Times location in Arundel Mills, Hanover, Maryland.
A Myrtle Beach vacation is a very family-friendly option which is less than a days’ drive away. For our family, it was by far the best family-memory per dollar spent vacation we’ve had. Although Myrtle Beach is very commercial and sensory-stimulating in some areas, a vacation there can be planned to maximize rest and relaxation. We enjoyed that we could balance ocean beach time with both indoor and outdoor kids activities at all price-points.
Photos by Sarah Weingast.