18 Nov

RVFTA #115 Greetings from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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On this episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we have a complete guide to enjoying one of our favorite RV destinations–Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We first visited this area in spring of 2014, and since then we have found ourselves returning again and again.

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Make sure you also listen to Campground of the Week episode #55 to hear our review of the Myrtle Beach KOA, our favorite place to stay when visiting this area.

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Sure, Myrtle Beach has plenty of tourist attractions along the famous Grand Strand, but we have also discovered a world of outdoor adventure and natural beauty. We make time to enjoy both during our visits.

Another reason why Myrtle Beach is such a remarkable RV destination is that you can visit year round. We have been in spring, summer, and fall and though the summer was a bit warm for our taste, we still had a blast every time.

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We split the episode into three distinct segments: On the Strand, Off the Strand, and Good Eats in Myrtle Beach. We will talk about our favorite attractions in each category, and we picked our top places to eat when we visit.

Here are the links to all the attractions, activities, and restaurants mentioned in the episode..

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18 May

Road Food Gone Wrong: An Almost Perfect Day in Awendaw, South Carolina

Our last day in the Myrtle Beach area was perfectly planned. In fact, it was shaping up to be the quintessential RV Family Travel Atlas kind of day, including our favorite types of activities paired with the promise of amazing, local food.

We have a bit of a formula for travel. We start with the great outdoors because our family is always a heck of a lot happier when we have a little room to roam. Then we look for an activity that is truly engaging and interesting to both kids and adults. Finally, we shamelessly beg the locals to recommend the most amazing food joint they know of with outdoor seating. See? There’s the whole outside thing again.

So I had followed these steps precisely and ended up with a pretty exciting day trip itinerary. We were headed south of Myrtle Beach to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, South Carolina. This Avian Conservation Center does amazing work both in rehabilitating injured birds and in educating the public about native bird populations. They also use a vintage Airstream as an office.  Pretty cool, right?

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I was scheduled to get a private tour of the medical clinic (normally closed to the public) and then we were going to tour the grounds with the director of the facility. The icing on the cake? Our plans for an early dinner at SeeWee Restaurant. The staff at the Center for Birds of Prey told us this was their top pick for local eats. Then, to our delight, we also found it recommended in our travel bible, Jane and Michael Stern’s culinary classic Roadfood. Yup, pretty awesome itinerary.

But then, right after we parked the truck, we encountered the fire ants. More specifically, Max and Wes encountered the fire ants. We told the boys not to go near them then made the mistake of turning our backs for five seconds.  It was our first introduction to this southern phenomenon and there was a lot of screaming and wailing and water bottle dumping. There was outfit changing and a couple of more rounds of general freaking out. Suffice it to say that by the time it was over we had missed out on our window for off-book tour opportunities.

We joined in with the next available tour and it was still nothing short of amazing. Our tour guide, Stephen, had the ability to convince this girl that the vulture is the noblest animal on Earth. He also did a whole lot of owl hooting and gave us more information about Bald Eagles than I have ever heard before. The tour was long, at least an hour, and our six year olds were engaged the entire time.

Then came the real spectacle. The flight demonstration featured falcons, hawks, and vultures and demonstrated the birds’ unique hunting and flying techniques. The six year olds were still enraptured. It was stunning, educational, and inspiring. Wes, our two year old, was the only one not wildly excited.

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We left the Center for Birds of Prey impressed by their facility and praising our boys for their behavior during the two hour program. We had overcome the fire ant hiccup and still had an amazing experience.

Onward to food.

The SeeWee Restaurant should have been the perfect spot for our family to enjoy an early dinner before heading back to Myrtle Beach. The hush puppies arrived immediately, and shortly afterwards a parade of southern standards filled our table with smells and tastes almost too perfect to believe.

Jeremy and I started with oysters and fried green tomatoes, which were among the best we have ever tasted. Then we just had to sample the chicken fried steak for our main course. The macaroni and cheese, butter beans, sweet potatoes, and collard greens were everything you would want from the perfect southern roadside joint.

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Our children, however, were not so perfect. It was one of those meals. The toddler had to be taken outside. There were mid-meal bathroom breaks and under-the-table wrestling events. Food got cold and beer got warm. At a certain point, we cried uncle. Pack everything up, we said. Check please.

The Center for Birds of Prey was perfect. The SeeWee Restaurant was perfect. Our kids? Not so perfect. But that’s okay. They are just little kids, and we take them to a lot of new places to see a lot of new things. Sometimes you can follow all the rules and still lose the match.

Lucky for us, the food tasted just as good later on that night by the campfire. The collard greens were hot, the beer was cold, and the kids were in bed.

Campground heaven.

 

 

26 Apr

Choose Your Own Outdoor Adventure Near the Myrtle Beach KOA

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Our family has the most fun when we are exploring the great outdoors. Period.

The boardwalk rides, arcade games, and miniature golf courses of Myrtle Beach are truly fun and fabulous. But the real reason we decided to come back for a second year in a row? Stunning natural beauty.

Surprised? We were, too. We never expected to find such gorgeous State Parks, botanical gardens, and wild swamps just a short drive away from the Myrtle Beach KOA and the bustling boardwalk area.

So when your family visits this great American tourist destination, make sure you don’t miss out on what one local called the real wild side of Myrtle Beach. Here are our 5 top picks for outdoor adventures that your whole family can enjoy together.

1. Huntington Beach State Park

DSC_0142If you want to surround yourself with the natural beauty of coastal South Carolina, spend a day at Huntington Beach State Park. Start off by exploring the Marsh Walk where you are almost guaranteed to spot sunning alligators and stunning water fowl. Visit the nature center for a ranger led program or take your own hiking tour on one of the park’s interpretative trails. Do not miss a visit to Atalaya, the former summer home of Archer Huntington who built this Moorish castle on the beach for his sculptor wife. Then you can end your day on the pristine 3-mile stretch of uncrowded beach. If there is a more perfect state park out there, we haven’t yet found it.

2. Myrtle Beach State Park

DSC_0102Myrtle Beach State Park is a great family-friendly state park for two reasons: the Nature Center and the playground. The program schedule at the Nature Center includes story time, crafts, beach walks, and bird house discovery. The center is small and engaging with friendly rangers on staff, ready to get your kids excited about ecology. The playground was a hit with our crew, and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery while our boys played pirates for over an hour. And yes, once again you must end your visit by heading down to the beach. White sand, warm sun, and sparkling water. Need we say more?

3. Black River Outdoor Center

P1110738Perhaps our favorite discovery on our second trip to Myrtle Beach was the Black River Outdoor Center which runs guided kayak eco tours of the Salt Marsh and Cypress Swamp. We were lucky enough to experience both tours, and they were downright magical experiences for us and our 5 year old boys. The tour guides were phenomenal, blending humor and education while bringing the ecology of coastal South Carolina to life. Make sure you talk to Richard, the owner, who will enthusiastically recommend which tour you should take depending on the time of year and season. And if you score Paul as your tour guide, well then it is your lucky day.

4. Barefoot Princess

DSC_0188If your arms are sore from kayaking and your feet are tired from hiking, book a tour on the Barefoot Princess, where you can relax on the top deck with a delicious drink while learning all about the Intracoastal Waterway. This was just good, lazy vacation fun for the whole family. The food was quite good and very affordable…same with the drinks. Live music played and the crowd was fun enough to get up and dance to all the party classics. Our boys performed their very first YMCA. Best part? The captain lets every child on board have a turn steering the ship.

5. Brookgreen Gardens

DSC_0139We have written a couple of posts about why we love Brookgreen Gardens. It is the perfect example of what we look for when traveling with our kids, combining engaging activities for the young ones with beauty and educational interest for us adults. You could spend the whole day here without seeing everything, but check out our top 6 activities that are not to be missed.

What makes Myrtle Beach the perfect destination for a family like ours? A vacation in Myrtle Beach means we really can have it all: a beautiful campground in a peaceful, wooded setting; adrenaline pumping activities like zip lining and boardwalk rides; and amazing natural experiences that bring us up close and personal with God’s great creation.

Perfect family vacation: Check.

See you soon, Myrtle Beach.

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This trip was sponsored by Kampgrounds of America and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Our opinions are always our own. For more information about this campground and Myrtle Beach check out last week’s RVFTA podcast for free in the iTunes store or on our blog. We interview the general manager of the Myrtle Beach KOA, Jeremiah Drew, along with some very happy campers.

20 Apr

Wild and Crazy Boardwalk Fun, Minutes from the Myrtle Beach KOA

The word camping usual brings to mind quiet, natural settings far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But sometimes our family wants to be right in the middle of the action when we travel in our RV.

As we mentioned in our campground review, the best thing about the Myrtle Beach KOA is that you don’t have to choose. This campground is a wooded retreat just steps away from all the excitement of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.

There are enough miniature golf courses, amusement parks, and fun houses in Myrtle Beach to keep your family entertained way past the little ones’ bedtime for days on end. But with all the flashing lights and neon signs, it can be difficult to pick and choose between all the options.

Well, we did the hard work for you.

As you read through our recommendations, though, remember our number one family travel tip: always dip into crazy kid fun in small doses. We never did more than one of these activities in a given day.  Instead, we balanced every trip to the boardwalk with a walk at a nearby State Park and a relaxing swim in the campground pool. This ensured that both the kids and adults stayed in mellow camping mode and never hit vacation overload.

So here are our top picks for wild and crazy boardwalk fun, family style in Myrtle Beach.

1. Myrtle Beach Skywheel

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The Myrtle Beach Skywheel is located right in the middle of the Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade. The ride is high enough to give anyone a few jitters, but the views really are just phenomenal. Even though the tickets were not cheap ($13 for an adult and $9 for a child), the ride was quite long and gave us plenty of time at the top to gaze up and down the South Carolina coast. If you want to avoid long lines, arrive when the Skywheel first opens at 11 am. Or you might want to brave the crowds to enjoy the wheel when it is all lit up at night. Let us know how it goes. That’s when you find us around the campfire…

2. Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Splashes Water Park

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Family Kingdom Amusement Park is only blocks away from the Myrtle Beach KOA. If you and your kids need to get in your rides fix while on vacation, this is a great family option. There are rides for every age and height, although our boys were disappointed that the height requirement for the big roller coaster was 56 inches. Nevertheless we had a blast on all the great ride go tos: The Buckaneer, Swings, Tilt-a-Whirl, and the Hurricane. We really appreciate the different pricing options available. You can buy unlimited, all-day wristbands if your family is going to be going on tons of rides. Or you can just buy individual tickets if your family is the type to enjoy 3 rides each and then head back to the campfire. Cough, cough.

3. Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures

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We love zip lining. A lot. But it really can be an expensive and time consuming activity. Our favorite thing about the Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures is that your family can enjoy an introduction to the adrenaline inducing ride without having to go off into the mountains for half the day. Kids only have to be 40 pounds which means our 5 year olds were able to do their biggest zip yet. We are pretty sure they will never forget the experience.

This boardwalk activity also provides some attractive pricing options for a family. You can purchase a ticket for one zip and one free fall (or two zips) for about $32, or you can buy an all day pass for about $43.00. If our boys were teenagers, we would probably splurge on the all day pass for them and then go read books on the beach for a few hours.

4. Jungle Lagoon Miniature Golf

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There are so many miniature golf options in Myrtle Beach, you could play a different course every day of vacation if you were so inclined. The Jungle Lagoon happens to be about 100 feet away from the entrance of the Myrtle Beach KOA, which made it our favorite pick hands down. The course is clean and well-maintained, with plenty of obstacles to keep your family entertained through all 18 holes. There are two different courses, the Jungle course and the Lagoon course, and both were equally fun for our boys. Walking over to the Jungle Lagoon after a day playing at the beach and bouncing on the jump pillow was the cherry on our vacation sundae.

5. WonderWorks

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We always make sure to have at least one rainy day option on the list when we go on vacation. Wonderworks, located at Broadway on the Beach, is the perfect choice for an indoor family activity. You could definitely spend the entire day. A zany mix between an indoor amusement park and children’s museum, there are tons of hands on exhibits about space, sports, and natural disasters. Virtual air hockey, a bubble lab, a bed of nails…the list goes on. Just be warned: the top floor has an indoor ropes challenge course AND an arcade. If you don’t want to pay extra for your kids to play arcade games, avoid this floor at all costs. Consider yourself warned.

6. Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Minor League Baseball

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Right across the street from Broadway on the Beach is the home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, where we enjoyed one of our favorite evenings of our whole trip. Minor league baseball is a perfect family activity when traveling because the tickets are very affordable and every one, young and old, can enjoy the game. We love that our boys can get up close to the action and really see what is going on. They ask questions the whole time and learn so much about baseball whenever we visit a minor league stadium. The Pelicans had a lively crowd, and we all walked away with some great team apparel.

This trip was sponsored by Kampgrounds of America and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.  Our opinions are always our own. For more information about this campground and Myrtle Beach check out last week’s RVFTA podcast for free in the iTunes store or on our blog.  We interview the general manager of the Myrtle Beach KOA, Jeremiah Drew, along with some very happy campers.

 

13 Apr

Is Summer Calling Your Name? 8 Great Reasons to Camp at the Myrtle Beach KOA

Pull Through Campsite Myrtle Beach KOA

Are you looking for a beach getaway this summer?  Or would you prefer a wooded retreat where you can relax while the kids run free?  Why not have both at the Myrtle Beach KOA?

It took our family awhile to find this magical spot, but now that we have we will go back again and again.  We just returned from our second straight spring break at this unique camping destination and are already talking about heading back in July.  We suspect if you take your next family vacation here, it might be the beginning of a family tradition.  Here are eight reasons why.

1. A Wooded Retreat in the Heart of the City

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Myrtle Beach is big and bold and busy, but the Myrtle Beach KOA is quiet, and fun, and family friendly.  The campground is located right in the heart of the city, but it feels like it’s miles away.  It has all the perfect elements for a family vacation.  Your days can be filled with adventurous activities like zip lining and kayaking, and your nights can be filled with walks on the beach and quiet campfires.

2. Steps from the Beach and Boardwalk

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You can walk right from the campground to a huge miniature golf course less than a block away.  Stroll just one more block and you’ll find yourself at the beach.  Not up for walking?  Just hop on the campground’s beach shuttle and let the staff know when to pick you up.  They will be there waiting. The wild and zany boardwalk with rides, water parks, and go carts is just a few more blocks north.

3. A Jumping Pillow with a View

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As parents with three young children, we spend a lot of our campground time at playgrounds and jumping pillows. So we appreciate a nice view every now and then.  The setting of the jumping pillow at the Myrtle Beach KOA is like something out of a storybook.  Just an FYI–mom and dad did more than just watch the boys on the pillow. We hopped on too.  We don’t believe in the fountain of youth–but this comes pretty darn close.

4.  A Tale of Two Pools (and a Splash Pad)

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After working up a sweat at the jumping pillow, we recommend heading over to one of the two pools or the splash pad.  There is plenty of comfortable seating–so set up camp and jump right in like Max did! On second thought, you might want to use the ladder or stairs.  Not everyone has superpowers like he does, but how you enter the pool doesn’t really matter as long as you get wet!

5. Large Pull Through Sites

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We love the large, staggered,  and semi-private pull through sites.  There was plenty of room for the truck, our 33 foot travel trailer and a play area for the boys.  The sites allowed for socializing with neighbors, but we didn’t feel like we were invading their privacy. Myrtle Beach has many private campgrounds–but you would be hard pressed to find such large shaded sites at any of them.  You would have to head to one of South Carolina’s lovely state parks to find so much wiggle room.

6. Quiet Paved Roads for Scooting and Playing

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The roads at the Myrtle Beach KOA are long and paved.  They are also one way streets with little traffic and safe and conscientious drivers.  Our boys loved to ride their scooters and run up and down the rows–and we felt comfortable letting them.  The best campgrounds we find on our travels allow our children to spread their wings in a safe environment.  Here, Wesley gets ready to take flight.

7. Helpful and Friendly Yellow Shirts

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Let’s keep this simple:  Nicest. Campground. Staff. Ever.

8. Sharing Music, Food, and Fun with Friends

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Strong management, friendly staff, and a beautiful setting adds up to a welcoming and comfortable campground culture. This in turn adds up to a lot of happy campers.  Happy campers who want to meet new people and spend time with old friends.  Happy campers who want to share meals together around a picnic table and break out the corn hole. Happy campers who want to open up their banjo cases and start plucking some Doc Watson or Ralph Stanley as the sun comes down on another day.

Now if you camp at the Myrtle Beach KOA we can’t guarantee that Toby will still be there filling up the evening air with the summery sounds of live bluegrass. But we can guarantee that you’ll meet some great new people.  They’ll probably even ask you to pull up a chair and stay for a while. And you will be happy to oblige.

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We have been customers of the Myrtle Beach KOA before, and we will be again.  This trip, however, was sponsored by Kampgrounds of America.  Our opinions are always our own. For more information about this campground check out this week’s RVFTA podcast for free in the iTunes store or on our blog.  We interview the general manager, Jeremiah Drew, along with some very happy campers.

Stay tuned for two more great posts about outdoor activities and crazy boardwalk fun right near the campground!

10 Apr

RVFTA #30: “Live” From The Myrtle Beach KOA

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It’s camping season and that means RV Family Travel Atlas is podcasting from the road for the very first time ever!

This week we are “Live” from the Myrtle Beach KOA, and we are bringing you some sounds from the Grand Strand.

Live From the Myrtle Beach KOA

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is big and bold and busy, but on our first visit last year we discovered this amazing, wooded camping retreat right in the middle of all the action. Our podcast listeners know we have a special fondness for urban RV parks, and the Myrtle Beach KOA quickly became a family favorite.

This year we couldn’t help but return. Lucky for us, in addition to hanging out in a beautiful area with great weather, we got to spend time with some fabulous people too!

On this episode we are interviewing Jeremiah Drew, the campground manager here at the Myrtle Beach KOA. We pretty much feel they should make a clone of Jeremiah for campgrounds all across the country…he’s just that good. We will talk to him about what makes this city–and this campground–the perfect pick for a vacationing family.

Jeremiah also shares his picks for the best breakfast spot (Victoria’s) on the Grand Strand and his favorite seafood joint (The Noizy Oyster). If you get really lucky, he just might take you on a golf outing to Whispering Pines. We saved him the heartache of taking us out on the green, but if we keep coming back to Myrtle Beach, we just might have to give this golf thing a try.

On this episode, we will also interview a family that fled the chilly weather of the Northeast and just spent a week at the Myrtle Beach KOA. Hector and Laura are podcast listeners and now, after spending some time around the dinner table and campfire together, we are lucky to call them friends. Their kids are a bit older than ours, so we will get another perspective on family fun in Myrtle Beach.

Don’t worry…a full Adventure Guide to Myrtle Beach will be dropping on the podcast in a few short weeks. We will give you the skinny on the best outdoor activities, boardwalk fun, and a complete campground review.

But if you are anxious to read a little more about how our family rolls down here in Myrtle Beach, check out some of our posts from this past week and even our ones from last year, when we first fell in love with this fun and fascinating destination…

Shaking Off Winter: Black River Outdoors Cyprus Swamp Tour

6 Amazing Family Activities at Brookgreen Gardens

Alligators, Architecture, and the Atlantic Ocean: Huntington Beach State Park

Rainy Day? These Campers Still Play! SkyWheel, Myrtle Beach 

How We Roll When A Campground Rocks: Myrtle Beach KOA

Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as we travel with our rowdy crew and find amazing family fun in and around the campground. Post your best campground and RV photos on our Facebook page and hashtag #RVFTA on Instagram.

See you at the campground!

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07 Apr

6 Amazing Family Activities at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

Enchanted Storybook Forest Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens, located in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, is just 30 minutes south of Myrtle Beach. It is a fascinating and unusual combination of a botanical garden, history museum, zoo, and nature center. There are so many different activities to enjoy while visiting, but it would be virtually impossible to see and do it all.

Last year we wrote a philosophical post after visiting Brookgreen, focusing on how the garden hits the sweet spot of family travel and pleases both the young and old. This year we are getting a bit more practical.

A couple of notes that might be helpful if you are visiting with kids. There are many beautiful spots for a picnic so pack those PB&Js if you are so inclined. They have strollers for loan at no cost if you aren’t in the mood to cart around your own. And the place is HUGE…so don’t feel bad about taking the tram to your desired destination. It may save you from a huge helping of whine.

So here is our list of must do activities if you are visiting Brookgreen Gardens with kids. Pick and choose two or three if you are fixed for time. But whatever you do, the Enchanted Storybook Forest should NOT be missed.

1. Brookgreen Detectives Booklet

Brookgreen Gardens Detectives

Before you go anywhere else, stop in at the Welcome Center and get all of your children a Brookgreen Detectives Booklet. It is a simple little scavenger hunt/checklist for various sculptures throughout the park, and the kids are promised a ‘prize’ for completing it. My boys remembered getting that pencil and ruler last year and couldn’t wait to lay claim to a brand new bag of Brookgreen SWAG. The scavenger hunt keeps the young ones entertained while you actually, ahem, enjoy the art.

2. Children’s Discovery Room

Brookgreen Gardens Childrens Discovery Room

This is a small, charming room packed with hands on activities celebrating the history and ecology of Brookgreen Gardens. From mask making to block building there is something for everyone. The Children’s Discovery Room is definitely worth a visit, but it is only open from 12 pm-4:30 pm, so plan accordingly. An outdoor cafe is situated right nearby, so you could easily plan your visit around lunch.

3. Native Wildlife Zoo

Brookgreen Gardens Zoo

This peaceful loop walk takes you past many of the native species from this area, including herons, otters, alligators, foxes, owls, and hawks. The Night Herons get uncomfortably close and basically make you feel as if they are staring into your soul. The alligator is so enormous it will give you chills. The otters are just darn cute.

4. The Children’s Nature and Sensory Trail

Brookgreen Gardens Sensory Trail

I loved the Children’s Nature and Sensory Trail (maybe even more than my children). The short trail is right next to the Enchanted Storybook Forest and leads the kids through 12 interactive stations where they are encouraged to use their senses to explore nature. I can’t wait to see this idea replicated on longer hikes in state and national parks.

5. Whispering Wings Butterfly Experience

Butterfly Exhibit at Brookgreen Gardens

For an additional fee ($3 dollars for adults and $2 for children) you can enter the butterfly house and watch as hundreds of butterfly fly from flower to flower and feast on the plates of fruit set out around the tent. They only allow guests in on the half hour, and the time slots fill up in advance, so you may want to purchase the tickets before you check out the zoo or Sensory Trail.

6. Enchanted Storybook Forest

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My boys loved this playground so much that they declared they were staying there for the whole day. And they would have if we had let them. The eclectic area mixes a pirate ship with fairy tale houses and a Dr. Seuss theme. This formula somehow equals out to awesome. What’s even better are the Adirondack chairs where a parent might somehow manage to kick back and relax for a few minutes while the kids explore the Gingerbread House.

General admission tickets are good for 7 days, so you can return a few times during your visit and work your way through the gardens. Tickets are $15 dollars for adults, $7 for kids, and ages 3 and under are free (Score!).

There are so many things to do when visiting Myrtle Beach. We happen to think this is one of your very best options.

Our activities for this trip were sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Our accommodations were sponsored by Kampgrounds of America. All opinions expressed are ALWAYS our own.

05 Apr

Shaking off Winter on Paul’s Cypress Swamp Tour (Myrtle Beach, SC)

Our activities for this trip were sponsored by the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  Our accommodations were sponsored by Kampgrounds of America.  All opinions expressed are always our own.

It was another brutal winter in New Jersey.  So why not head to Myrtle Beach for another spring break?  Our trip last spring was beyond delicious. We swam in the pool at the Myrtle Beach KOA, we swam in the ocean, we visited gardens, and state parks, and we lapped up the sunshine and warm weather like we were eskimos on our first and last family vacation.

Saturday was all about the long drive.  The twins were good.  Wesley was okay.  Lots of crying and too many pit stops.  So today, Easter Sunday, was all about fun. I woke up in the mood for coffee and nothing else, but Stephanie had other plans for me.  I was scheduled for a morning “Cyprus Swamp” kayak tour of the Waccamaw River (a short drive from the KOA) with Maxwell onboard.  Stephanie will be taking her turn with Theo on Tuesday, weather permitting.  Wes doesn’t get a turn–but he’s barely two–so we read him a few extra Elmo books today and he didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious.

Stephanie had booked the tour with the Black River Outdoors Center, and as soon as we pulled into the launch area our guide, Paul Laurent, was friendly, funny, and sociable.  He was also patient and kind.  He immediately put all of his students at ease with a quick lesson and his own unique brand of kayak guide humor.

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But Paul wasn’t only about the jokes.  This guy was incredibly well informed about the history of the Waccamaw River and and the wildlife that inhabits its waters and forests.  During our adventure he pointed out dozens of Yellow Bellied Slider Turtles, Swamp Canaries, Ospreys, and Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies. His booming but pleasant voice made him easy to hear, even if you wanted to wander off to the sides a little bit and explore the banks of the river.

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P1110699Paul also spent a lot of time on the banks of the river looking for water snakes.  And when he found one, he dove into the water and grabbed it for an impromptu demonstration.  This was ridiculously cool to say the least.  It’s kind of hard for me to imagine a better kayak guide than this guy–he was nutty and adventurous, but he made all of us feel safe and relaxed.

P1110773He even offered to let us hold the snakes.  But only one of his students was brave enough to try it.  Max and I declined.

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It was fun watching Max watch the snakes.  He was clearly fascinated but didn’t want to get too close.  During the rest of our paddle he asked me to stay away from the banks of the river to avoid them.  But when we eventually made it back to meet Stephanie, Theo, and Wes, the snakes were all he could talk about. But he was also pretty pumped about getting to touch a lily pad.

He saw one in the water and asked me to paddle towards it.  Paul, of course, wanted him to get the full experience. So he dove under water for us and pulled it up so that Max could touch it and learn a little bit about it.  Have I mentioned yet that Paul was an awesome Kayak tour guide?

P1110795The Cypress Swamp Tour really inspired me this morning. It reminded me of why we love to travel as a family.  To spend time together, yes, of course. But it’s so much more than that.

As parents we want to spend time together doing things that we will always remember. Magical things that we will talk about around the campfire when the boys have their own children.  The snakes will be bigger in those future tellings–and the river will be warmer and deeper and wider.  But Paul will always be the same. The hero of our shared adventure.

Onward.

27 Sep

RV Family Travel Atlas: Pros and Cons of a Pop Up

In our second episode we explore the pros and the cons of a pop up camper, sharing the best and worst of our experiences.

We review one of our favorite campgrounds, the Myrtle Beach KOA, which pretty much knocked our socks off this past spring after a long, snowy winter.

Also up for discussion? Finding the perfect campground, technology in the camper, and our featured website of the week.

Don’t forget to answer our Camping Question every Friday on Facebook! We would love to feature your answer on an upcoming episode.

Hope you enjoy listening…

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01 May

8 Reasons To Pick Myrtle Beach for Your Next Family Vacation!

1. Touristy boardwalk fun, like the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, that will make you smile from ear to ear.

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2. Soulful boardwalk fun, at places like Myrtle Beach State Park, that will fill your lungs with fresh ocean air.

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3.  Room to splash and play and greet the waves at places like Huntington Beach State Park.

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4.  Quiet places for your kids to build and dream like the Children’s Discovery Room at Brookgreen Gardens.

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5. Many great places, like the Myrtle Beach KOA, to pitch a tent, rent a cabin, or park your RV. Skip the hotel room, save some money, and let them SCOOT FREE!

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6. Places to explore the past like Atalaya–a summer beach home designed by Archer Huntington for his wife Anna, the sculptor.  This national historic landmark is also incredibly kid friendly.  A rare combination in our experience.

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7.  Places with quality, yummy, family-friendly food.  Duffy Street Seafood Shack was our favorite. Sandwiches and sides were delicious, service was friendly, and the boys could throw their peanut shells on the floor!  Need I say more?

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8.  While many of us Northerners are still freezing our bottoms off in April, the good people of South Carolina are waiting for us with open arms and open pools.  The Lively Little Campers say, Jump in…the water feels great!

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Onward.

26 Apr

The Fiestas before the Siestas: 3 Great Lunch Joints in Myrtle Beach

After a couple of days in Myrtle Beach, we noticed our natural traveling schedule had shifted a bit. This happens every year because, of course, Max and Theo are one year older…and because sometimes we like to throw a new baby into the mix just to keep things interesting.

Something that has stayed the same over the last four years is our love of picnic lunches on day trips. Packing a lunch in the morning before we leave the campground means we will be able to enjoy whatever hike, activity, refuge, beach, or lake we are visiting without having to abandon everything when the nasty hunger monster strikes. It also means we won’t be stuck buying overpriced, underwhelming food at some soulless snack bar.

We do also like to experience the local food culture wherever we go, so that usually means a dinner or two out. This year with Wesley’s earlier bedtime thrown into the mix, we found it worked better to do dinners picnic style, with easy sandwiches and salads. It was too much to get back after a long day of activity, cook, eat, clean up dinner, and still get Wes to bed at a reasonable time. Tuna fish, watermelon slices, chips and salsa were the perfect solution to this problem. Another solution? Eating out at lunch instead of dinner.

We were lucky enough to eat at three different restaurants in the Myrtle Beach area and enjoy all of them…a minor traveling miracle. If you are in the area, each one of these places will satisfy the kids, the adults, and the budget.

1. The Grilled Cheese & Crab Cake Co., Garden City: This lunch spot is actually a bit south of Myrtle Beach, on the way to (or back from) Huntington Beach State Park in Murrels Inlet. It is in one of those unassuming strip centers along a stretch of highway, but you can find it easily enough with Yelp.

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You might wonder why anyone would try to mess with grilled cheese, but then you taste one with a crab cake on it and you think, oh–that’s why. You can get lobster, shrimp, or fried green tomatoes on your grilled cheese here and all the options pair just swell with the old bay french fries. The seafood chowder was perfect and eagerly devoured by our three boys. We must note that the service, while being some of the friendliest we have ever had, was also very slow. If you go, make sure you have time to relax and wait patiently for food. Order some soup to keep the troops in line. Request some crackers. No one should be stressed while eating grilled cheese.

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2. Green Grubbin’, Myrtle Beach: This wraps and salads joint is right on the main drag (Kings Hwy) and just around the corner from the Myrtle Beach KOA. Everything is made to order, and all of the food was fresh and delicious. The boys loved their bean and cheese wraps, Jeremy had the Chef Classic, and I put together a southwestern type of thing, probably because it was warm out and that felt right. Wesley sampled from everything and seemed pleased. Max and Theo asked to return to this place later in the week. Of course the fact that Green Grubbin’ also serves ice cream may have had something to do with that request.

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3. Duffy Street Seafood Shack, Myrtle Beach (north end). I’m sure this place hops at night, but it was uncrowded and laid back at lunchtime. This is the sort of seafood place where you can throw your peanuts on the floor and boy oh boy did Max and Theo get a kick out of that (Wesley didn’t see what the big deal was, since he does that at every meal). The fish and chips was delicious–meaty and crisp without being greasy. The hush puppies (of which I have never been a big fan) were a hit with everyone else.

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Jeremy and I split the Shrimp Po’ Boy and the Shrimp and Grits. Jeremy loved the sandwich, but I hardly tried it because I was on a date with the Shrimp and Grits dish. They say this recipe won an award, and I am not surprised.

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Yup…that’s shrimp, bacon, sausage, cheese, peppers, onions, you name it. The meal was so rich that we packed the leftovers to go, and I got four late night snacks out of that tin. Talk about a happy camper.

All three of these restaurants offered extremely friendly service, comfortable seating for our family of five, kid-friendly options (besides the ubiquitous chicken fingers), and reasonable prices for a touristed area. Most importantly they gave us great, belly-filling food that led, all three times, to long afternoons naps. That is enough for a 5-star review from this parent.

As always, let us know if you go!

 

 

21 Apr

Rainy Day? These Campers Still Play: The SkyWheel, Myrtle Beach

When I was a little kid growing up at the Jersey Shore, I loved rainy days at the beach.  I still do.  The crowds magically disappear, and the ocean and sky look moody, mellow, and dramatic.  So when Myrtle Beach presented us with a rainy day on our RV trip last week Stephanie and I did what we always do.  We packed up our raincoats– and our children– and headed up to the boardwalk for coffee and a stroll.  Lucky for us it only rained intermittently, and the boardwalk was quiet and beautiful.

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As we walked north, the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel seemed to pull us in magnetically.  Stephanie was particularly intrigued, and before I knew it she was investigating times and prices.

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Initially, I put a damper on Stephanie’s high flying enthusiasm and suggested we do it later in the week.  I was enjoying our completely free stroll on the boardwalk and the boys were visibly nervous to take the187 foot tall ride to the top. But Stephanie insisted that we would all love it and that it was the perfect time to buy tickets because there was no line.  So buy tickets we did.  When we boarded our gondola the boys became even more agitated. My mind flashed back to a memory of my grandfather holding me out over an observation deck on the Statue of Liberty when I was a little guy.  Suddenly, I felt shaky too.

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When we reached the top and Wesley decided to toddle over to the full-length glass windows, my stomach filled up with butterflies!

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But he was more than fine, and the views of the South Carolina coast were gorgeous.  My butterflies quickly disappeared. A sense of childlike joy and wonder took their place.

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After our first rotation the boys also lost their nervous looks and realized that they were doing something really cool. Something that they could tell their classmates and teacher about back in New Jersey!  They even posed for a picture together for only the second or third time in their lives.

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The SkyWheel promises its customers three rotations and an 8-10 minute ride.  However, because of the light crowds due to the aforementioned rainy day, we were given several extra rotations and our “flight” (as they call it) lasted for almost 20 minutes.  We had a blast and I was glad that we decided to head out despite the weather that kept so many people home.  As we walked further north up the boardwalk and looked back at the SkyWalk all memories of our anxiety were gone.  We felt like intrepid explorers, conquering heroes, and fearless RV adventurers.

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The moral of this story?  When it comes to planning family fun–Mommy is always right!

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The nitty-gritty: Riders ages 12 and up cost 13 dollars.  Children ages 3-11 cost 9 dollars.  Baby Wes and anyone else under 2 is free.  If the weather was warm and sunny, we could have walked there right from our campsite at the Myrtle Beach KOA.  But we recommend going on a cloudy day, missing the lines, and hopefully, getting a longer ride!

 

20 Apr

Finding the Sweet Spot: Something for Everyone at Brookgreen Gardens

One of our greatest goals as a traveling family is to find activities that everyone can enjoy. It is so easy for parents to get sucked into the world of the child, where every vacation is filled with arcades and amusement parks and large, furry characters. Then there is the flip side of that coin…the classic stories about children getting dragged from historical battlefields to prissy museums, rolling their eyes and burying themselves in some electronic device.

As parents, we believe our preferences and tastes matter. We don’t want to surrender the next decade of our lives to our little Napoleons. Jeremy and I like hiking, swimming, kayaking, and great food. We want to enjoy all of these things, but we also want our boys to be excited about our travels and to know that we respect their love of bounce pillows, playgrounds, pools and camp store ice cream. It is a constant dance of negotiation, and we think it is worth it to maintain harmony and joy on the road.

That is why we LOVE LOVE LOVE when we find places that please the adults and children at the same time. Brookgreen Gardens, in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina offers beautiful landscapes and art for the adults while providing crafts, play, and whimsy for the kids.

Whoever is running this place gets it. When we arrived, the lovely volunteer at the welcome center gave us scavenger hunt booklets for the boys and promised a ‘surprise’ upon completion. This meant that Max and Theo were as motivated to look at the sculptures as we were. They received a ruler and pencil at the end, and were as pleased as punch.

 

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The Discovery Room was small and cheerful, with diverse activities for all kinds of learners. We created a collage fox mask, dug for artifacts in sand, and looked at the turtles and snakes. The highlight for Max and Theo was this gorgeous set of tree trunk blocks. They could have played with them for hours, but we wanted to explore the rest of the gardens.

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The boys’ eyes lit up when we came across the Enchanted Forest Playground. No standard playground equipment here…just pirate ships, castles, trains, and a Dr. Seuss house with rope swing.

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I was impressed by the children’s sensory trail, where interactive stations encouraged kids to act out animal movements, describe the feel of bark, or listen to the sounds of the forest. I would love to see this idea in more state and national parks. It seems like a relatively low cost/ high reward way to engage young children in hiking.

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The zoo is really more of a preserve, featuring native plants and animals in comfortable, beautiful habitats. We got closer to waterfowl than I have ever been and enjoyed watching the otters play in the mud of their large swamp. The eagles, owls, and hawks are all rescue animals, so this is the perfect kind of ‘zoo’ for us.

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Here is the most important bit of information: there is more to do here than you could ever do in one day with young children. The entry price is good for 7 days, so if you are visiting on vacation it would be smart to go towards the beginning of your stay and then return later in the week. We were there for hours and we still didn’t get to go in the butterfly house or take a ride on the pontoon boat excursion. We also missed the Meet the Animals demonstration.

But we are not worried…there will be future visits.

The nitty-gritty: We paid $14 for each adult ticket and $7 each for Max and Theo. Wes was, blessedly, free. There are $2 off coupons available at the ranger station at Huntington Beach State Park, or you can get $1 off for purchasing tickets online. The butterfly exhibit and the boat excursion are extra, but reasonably priced. There is a cafe, but we brought a picnic lunch and had a lovely time eating on the grass, in the sun. A shuttle is available between the welcome center and the zoo, if your crew can’t make it even one more step. It accommodates strollers, another reason why we heart Brookgreen Gardens.

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18 Apr

Sleepy Cypress Trees and the Silvery Ocean: Myrtle Beach State Park

When we pulled into Myrtle Beach State Park, Wesley was fast asleep.  His twin brothers, however, were not.  So we found a parking spot between the playground and the beach so Wes could rest and the boys could play.  Max informed me that I was going to be “the bad pirate” and that he and Theo were going to be “the good pirates.”  Then he informed me that I had to go over to the kiddy playset because that was my pirate ship and they were both about to raid it.  Things were not looking good for dad.

Much to my relief, the boys soon become engrossed on the larger of the two play sets—which allowed me to become engrossed in the warm southern charm of this majestically wooded state park.  While the boys ran and screamed I soaked in the stunning contrast of the sleepy cypress trees and the cool silvery ocean just beyond the dunes.

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I was hoping to run up to the beach for my first ocean swim of the season, but Wesley was awake and we decided to go for a stroll and check out the campground and the nature center instead.  We are staying at the Myrtle Beach KOA, and we have really loved it, and plan on coming back again, but this state campground looked fantastic too.  The sites were spacious and there were dozens of families riding bikes and making the short walk up to the beach for sand, surf, and sun.  The campground had no vacancy and was filled with a nice mix of tents, pop-up campers, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes of all shapes and sizes.

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The Myrtle Beach State Park Nature Center is tucked away in a cozy little corner at the south end of the campground near the horseshoe and bocce ball courts.  Stephanie commented that all campgrounds should have bocce ball courts.  They are cheap, easy to build, take up little real estate, and can provide hours of family friendly fun.  We also decided that every campground should have a nature center.

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Our whole family loved this place.  It was charming on the outside and colorful on the inside.  The boys were particularly attracted to the chalk board wall and each one of them drew a masterpiece or two before we all decided to head up to the beach.

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It was a little windy, but warm, and we were all so thankful to be in South Carolina, instead of back home in New Jersey, where it was 20 degrees colder.

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While Max and Theo played with their sand toys, Wes showed off his sweet new Myrtle Beach hat.  But the fun really started when the boys saw a teenage girl dribbling a soccer ball on the wide open sand.  She inspired them.  They asked to play soccer and I was happy to oblige–I had left a ball in the bed of my pick-up trunk for just such an occasion.

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Stephanie and I kicked the ball around with them for half an hour and had a blast.  It had been a perfect day and I couldn’t imagine it getting any better.  But I still had something that I really wanted to do.  As mommy played with the boys I waded out into the sparkling ocean for a quick swim.  It was a little cooler than I had imagined.  When the waves started crashing around my knees I was shivering and contemplating heading back to the beach.  Why was I hesitating? After all, I have surfed all winter long in New Jersey in 30 to 40 degree water temps–and I have always loved a cold water swim.  Maybe because the day had been long and fun and I was tired?  Or maybe because I was in an unfamiliar place?

Just then I looked to my right and saw an eight or nine year old boy swimming further out than I was.  He was diving under the waves and laughing.  He inspired me.  I dove under the next wave and popped up feeling cold but invigorated.  Another wave rolled in and I swam over to it, turned towards the shore, and bodysurfed it all the way back onto the beach of my new favorite state park.

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Myrtle Beach State Park costs five dollars per person for a day pass, which can also be used at Huntington Beach State Park for free admission on the same day.  Ages five and under are free at both locations.  If you want to camp make sure you book early–the campground is very popular–and for good reason. Peak season rates run from 27 to 42 dollars.  They offer full hook up sites, water and electric sites, rustic tent sites, and cabin rentals. Don’t forget to visit the nature center and bring your bathing suits and bocce balls!

 

 

 

17 Apr

Alligators, Architecture, and the Atlantic Ocean: Huntington Beach State Park

I’m going to go ahead and admit something. I have never once in my life seen an alligator in the wild. I’m a little confused by this myself. I mean I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, and a lot of that travel has been in natural environments with tons of wildlife. But somehow…no alligators.

Well, check something off the bucket list that I didn’t even know was on there.

The alligators are the first thing you get to experience when driving into Huntington Beach State Park, so I couldn’t help but stop on the causeway and gawk…something that we were specifically instructed not to do. We did, however, refrain from feeding them.

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When I finally recovered from my childlike excitement, stopped blocking traffic, and parked in the appropriate parking lot, we walked the path along the causeway that cuts through the freshwater lagoon and the saltwater marsh. Wesley got his first ride in the hiking backpack (last year he was in the Ergobaby)…

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…and we discovered that the only way to push the mute button on Theo and Max is to place them in the presence of large reptiles. (These are not staged photos)

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After the walk–which allowed me to trot out some waterfowl knowledge gained from my recent birding craze–it was historical architecture time. We toured Atalaya, a home built in the 1930s by a sculptor, Archer Huntington. There is a self-guided tour (really numbers with room designations) that actually is quite useful in piecing together the house. If you have watched Downton Abbey (or any upstairs/downstairs drama) that might help considerably as well.

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Here’s the real skinny: if you have kids that need a lot of running around in life, Atalaya is for you. Our boys ran from room to room, up and down hallways and around in circles. They found themselves stuck at dead ends and then just turned around and raced somewhere else. It really is the perfect kind of historical landmark, where the adults can explore the beauty of the past and kids can scream. Win/Win.

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We hadn’t been planning on doing the whole beach thing, but it was gorgeously warm and the ocean called…by which I mean that Max and Theo ended up stripping off their shirts and diving into the waves in their shorts. Wes held his own, experiencing the whole walking on sand thing for the first time in his life.

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For these winter-embattled North Easterners, the sun, sand, and sea was intensely therapeutic. Our day at Huntington Beach State Park was the sort that left you saying, we will come back here…over and over and over again.

The nitty-gritty: We paid $5 per adult (all three kids were free). That entry price is also good for Myrtle Beach State Park, if you choose to do both in the same day. Make sure you pick up coupons for Brookgreen Gardens (good for $2 off each paid admission) at the ranger station. There is a great 2-mile hike, and lots of ranger-led activities, so look at an activity calendar before you go.

 

 

 

15 Apr

How We Roll When a Campground Rocks! (Myrtle Beach KOA)

When we pulled into the Myrtle Beach KOA and saw families lounging by the pool and kids romping through the spray ground my son Max asked, “can we always come back here?”  Both of the boys were still buckled up in their car seats but they knew that this campground was going to be special–and they were so right.

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We had just pulled in, but it was quickly becoming apparent that we had discovered one of our new favorite places on planet earth.  We had also finally put the long, cold New Jersey winter somewhere far, far behind us. The sweet smell of Wisteria was filling the air and the warm South Carolina sun felt luxurious on our bare arms.

I could pretty much just write a three word review of the Myrtle Beach KOA–THIS PLACE ROCKS!–and call it a day.  But I want to take a minute to tell you, and show you, why this campground has got these campers so excited.

Jeremiah, the manager, is warm and welcoming, and every single member of his team has been friendly and helpful.  When we reserved our site a few months ago I asked to be close to the playground, but not too close.  Viola–no problem!  He placed us on a perfectly positioned full hook-up pull through.  Just as requested.

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The site is also surprisingly spacious and private.  Our 33 foot White Hawk fit with extra room to spare for setting up a comfortable base camp.

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The playground, which is set along the banks of a shady lake, has been perfect for Max and Theo–and for Wes, who is becoming quite the ambitious little explorer.  He practically walked to the pool by himself yesterday!

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And who wouldn’t love the two wooden bears on a tree stump right in front of the playground–just one of the many small touches that make this entire campground feel cared for and visually appealing.

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Wesley was also pretty excited to feed the ducks–and the purchase price of the duck food goes directly to KOA’s awesome Care Camps charity for kids with cancer.  Definition of a win-win, right?

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Did I mention the bounce pillow with lake view?  If you’re camping with kids this place is simply over the top my friends!

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For the boys the best thing about the Myrtle Beach KOA may just be the sprayground, pool, and kiddie pool complex–and the fact that South Carolina is warm enough for swimming in April.  THIS is why Stephanie really wanted to drive here for our spring break.  Little did she know that Wes would take such great joy in splashing her during our first family swim of the season.

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In my opinion, the best thing about the Myrtle Beach KOA is its incredibly lovely and unique location.  The campground is one block from the main drag in town, and two blocks from one of the East Coast’s most popular beaches. But the location is secluded, deeply wooded, and filled with tall trees. The word “oasis” comes to mind.  The lake that cuts through the middle of the campground also gives this KOA a charming and rustic feel.

I can only think of one major problem with this campground.  They also have the same problem at the Cape Hatteras KOA.

It’s just crawling with pirates.

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Captain Max says “its time to walk the plank!”

But I say, welcome to spring! And welcome to Season 5 of Lively Little Campers!

Onward.

 

 

09 Mar

Season Opener: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

It’s pretty bad around here, folks. Our boys are so desperate for the road that they are building ‘campgrounds’ out of their Megablocks and Spinaroos. Jeremy took the camper down to the dealership for a bit of a freshening up this weekend, and something about the act of hitching up and pulling out gets Max and Theo all amped up for our first spring trip.

Lucky for them (and us!) we are just weeks away from our season opener. We have always headed south in the spring, but never quite far enough to really shake off the chill of winter. This year I told Jeremy that we had to go far enough to actually sit on a beach. Bonus points if I break a sweat. It has been a long, bitter winter and that is where my head is at.

So here we come MYRTLE BEACH! Neither of us has ever been, but we hear we will get all the sun, sand, and kitsch we can take.

We will be staying in the heart of it all at the Myrtle Beach KOA, and have already received some great recommendations from friends about things to do while we are there. I have my newfound Pinterest mojo working, and you can check out my Myrtle Beach board to see what we have planned so far.

Here is where you come in. What recommendations do you have for us? We want restaurants, activities, best beach spots, etc. On the beaten trail or off, we love to plan our trips by word of mouth. Must sees and must eats. You get the idea.

Here’s to spring. They say it is right around the corner. I hope they know what they’re talking about.