When I was younger, summer vacations were really special. My grandparents and uncle would fly down to my home in Atlanta from Philadelphia and we’d all cram into a large station wagon and drive places. Often it would be Florida, which is the source of most of my childhood vacation memories. But we also spent several summers visiting Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
My dad used to wake us up early to leave – around 4am – getting us on the road well before rush hour. We’d always be ready the night before and sleep for a few hours before departure. We’d bring books and activities for the road. I remember being squashed into the middle, being the youngest and smallest in the family. It wasn’t the most comfortable journey for me but I don’t think I ever minded.
My mom loved the ocean. She still does. We stayed in a hotel on the beach, with a huge swimming pool. The first thing we’d do when we arrived was run into the ocean and ride the waves. We’d spend hours on the beach. My dad rented a motorcycle and I sat behind him, riding up and down the beach. After we had enough of that, we’d spend the rest of the day by the pool, listening to a singer who sounded very much like Neil Diamond. I have vivid memory of him pushing my mom into the pool. His name was Steve Rayburn, I think. She may have had a crush on him.
There was a boardwalk that we took walk on every night. We rode roller coasters, played ski ball and ate cotton candy. Our days and nights were carefree and they were happy times in my childhood.
So, on on my recent vacation while passing through South Carolina, I made sure that we fit Myrtle Beach into our itinerary. I felt confident that my own kids would have just as much fun in this important placer from my youth as I did more than 25 years ago.
There is not a lot not to love for a kid in Myrtle Beach. It still has everything I remember and it hasn’t changed that much. The main drag is full of tattoo parlors, arcades, Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions, body piercers, hair wrappers, and T-shirt shops (with the tee-shirts you love to hate). Unlike Charleston, where we had just been, there is not much history. It’s pure amusement. I’m all about fun, but I didn’t remember this much kitsch. Perhaps I have selective memory.
North Myrtle Beach, actually a separate town, is slightly lower-key. It also has enormous outlet malls and innumerable mini-golf courses, water parks, daiquiri bars and T-shirt shops. It’s a smaller, calmer version of Myrtle Beach. North Myrtle Beach isn’t as busy and tacky as the main part of the beach resort town. It’s more quiet and you have about 15 minutes from the board walk by car.
Fortunately, we were staying there at the Kingston Plantation. I stil like kitsch but perhaps as I’ve aged, not nearly as much as I used to. I’m a Fire Island kind of beach girl – just the sea, the sand and me.
The hotel has 1,300 rooms, including the Embassy Suites and the Hilton, both on the oceanfront. It has a large pool complex, a private beach, a variety of dining options and tennis and golf facilities. I knew my kids would be crazy about the water park so they spent a large amount of time there. They have three Jacuzzis, two big pools and a lazy river. My son was very hacked off that he wasn’t tall enough to go in the lazy river on his own and it was hard to explain the rationale behind it as it’s a very shallow pool, but I don’t question authorities on safety. Oh, and they have a Steve Rayburn type. It actually could have been him – the singer was the age I’d expect my man to be.
The rooms need updating and the food is basic, expensive and not great quality, so if you stay here, I’d recommend dining out. There are many options nearby on the main room. Rooms range from $309-$459 a night and include a full hot breakfast buffet.
Here’s the skinny on the hotel:
9800 Queensway Blvd, Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
Web site: http://www.kingstonplantation.com
Family-friendly? Yes – suites are available; kid’s meals are offered and they have daily activities for kids.
Highlights: The water park and the pools.
Good to know: You can use Hilton points to book rooms.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary room at the hotel but all opinions expressed are my own.
I left Myrtle Beach with the knowledge that my kids had a good time and I had revisited an important part of my youth. So, all was good in the end.