There's more to Myrtle Beach than just sun, sand and sea.
Disclaimer: The following opinions reflect the author’s status as the Myrtle Beach Canadian-American Days Greased Pig Catching Contest champion of 1976 and bronze medallist in the Greased Pole Climbing Contest.
Having spent considerable time there over the years, I’m partial to Myrtle Beach. It’s a place where I experienced many milestones: first greased pig caught, first kiss (I think), first road trip with buddies; first return visit to a place from my youth with my own progeny…
It started back in the day when Myrtle Beach was the go-to school break destination from Ontario by virtue of its status as the closest destination within driving distance of eastern Canada that one could reasonably expect to get hot weather in mid March. It wasn’t always hot, but Canucks would break out shorts and swim trunks anyway, even if the locals thought we were nuts. Besides, there was the amazing car-less beach just to walk on if an occasionally wicked wind made it too cool for the pool; hush puppies and a different all-you-can-eat buffet every night; the downtown amusement park; and the best mini golf on the planet!
Every year like clockwork we hopped in my dad’s Chrysler, which was about as big as a minivan today, and made the trek out of the snow and cold. The journey was part of the experience – two days (each way) of Interstate motels, Denny’s diners, (painful) country music radio, and the infamous faux Mexican attraction, South of the Border, in South Carolina, which teased us with billboard advertisements for hundreds of miles along the I95, but where we never ever stopped.
One time, we did a 360 on the bridge over the Welland Canal, my short life passing before my eyes, but continued undeterred.
By Washington it always started to warm up and Pennsylvania’s patches of snow were gone. When we finally arrived at the old Anchor Inn in North Myrtle Beach, other friends’ families were already there, having arrived on the same annual chartered coach tour, or were soon to join.
As the teen years progressed, a couple of the guys managed to get their own room at a motel down the road from the Anchor Inn. ‘Nuff said.
Then, in my 20s, the first road trip; where else would we go? I still have the video, which includes a personal salutation from a bemused cop outside the legendary Bowery bar to our friend who couldn’t join the trip: “Andy, greetings from the Myrtle Beach Police Department!”
As career and the rest of the world beckoned, Myrtle Beach fell off the radar a little, though when my parents joined the ranks of the retired they returned every year, sometimes more than once, having discovered Dayton House hotel in the city proper.
When my kids arrived, it didn’t take long to organize a family trip with their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins, which just happened to fall during the city’s colourful annual Bike Week. As a still relatively newbie parent, I remember being mortified as biker chicks knowingly displayed their thong-framed butt cheeks on the back of their boyfriend’s Harleys, the wind lifting their skirts as they whipped past. But all the kids
recall is the amazing, white sandy beach, playing in the surf, lazy river pools, boardwalk and pier, and, of course, the mini golf mecca.
As much as the grown-ups revelled in the memories of our pilgrimages of the ‘70s and ‘80s, there was no denying that the South Carolina city had changed. As it continues to do today. Shopping – both designer and outlet – is pervasive, and the growing food culture has taken the city by storm as restaurants continue to pop up and local chefs update regional cuisines with delicacies like Grilled Crab Cakes Benedict. The area’s 100-plus golf courses (not just the mini-putts), annual country music festival and seven live entertainment theatres are helping attract more and more overseas visitors.
Yet, for all its growing acclaim, Myrtle Beach continues to be devoted to it’s top international market – Canada, which provides around a million visitors a year. Tourism officials visit regularly, most recently to Toronto this spring where more than 100 trade types turned out for an event at the Island Yacht Club organized by energetic long-time in-country CVB representative Kimberly Hartley.
And such is the city’s current popularity that Canadians no longer have to drive there if they don’t want to as both WestJet and Porter Airlines (seasonally) can whisk travellers down to the updated Myrtle Beach airport in only a couple of hours.
The coastal community also continues to solidify its status as a year-round destination with events like the “60 More Days of Summer and Wellness” campaign in September and October, which capitalizes on the growing trend towards health and wellness travel. And, of course, the aforementioned Can-Am Days, which returns for its 57th year in 2018 (March 10-18).
I’ll admit, I don’t know if my greased pig contest is still going, but, perhaps in a few years, I’ll have some grandkids to take down to find out.
This and That
• TravelBrands is encouraging agents to donate their Loyalty Rewards points to the SickKids Foundation, a charity near and dear to the tour company’s heart. For those who do so by Aug. 31, TravelBrands will match the donation (minimum $5). TB has raised nearly $450,000 for SickKids in the past three years.
• Royal Caribbean has revamped its online learning program for agents. The mobile-friendly Royal Caribbean University (RCU) features simplified navigation, quick tips and highlights, and continuous knowledge opportunities based on three tracks – the Campus Tour, Bachelor of Adventure and Master of Adventure. After graduating the bachelor and master levels, agents are eligible to receive a variety of rewards such as CLIA credits, a Passport to Savings booklet, onboard credit, complimentary VOOM WiFi, and opportunities to attend Seminars at Sea and even the Symphony of the Seas inaugural sailing in 2018. To join, log in at onto CruisingPower.com.
• The launch of WestJet’s new low-cost airline, which was to take place late this year, has been delayed until mid 2018 to give the airline more time to prepare.
• Sunwing has announced a new flight service, Saskatoon to Mazatlán, Mexico, this winter, departing Thursdays between Dec. 21, and March 29, 2018; also, Charlottetown-Puerto Plata, D.R., service returns for a ninth consecutive year from Feb. 12 to May 14, 2018; the same for Sept-Îles, Que., service to Cancun from Dec. 13 to April 11, 2018.
• Sandals and Beaches’ ultimate insiders – their general managers – have been tabbed to provide information to the trade in a series of one-hour webinars. A different property will be featured each week. Send an e-mail to email@example.com to receive a schedule and log-in instructions. In other news, the resort company has purchased the St. Lucia Golf Club, with plans to expand and renovate the site, adding to its substantial plans in the destination, which includes building a fourth resort there.
• For that perfect Australia-Thailand package you’ve always dreamed of putting together: Thai Airways has announced Vienna-Bangkok service starting Nov. 16, operating four times per week. Thai is part of the Star Alliance.
Words of the Week!
“Cayo Largo is one of the most relaxing areas of Cuba of I’ve ever been to. If you plan to go there and forget it all, you can even go there and forget your bathing suit.”
- Brenda Bradley of Melia Hotels’ Cuba division in Canada, on some of the lesser known benefits of visiting the Cuban destination