MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Myrtle Beach is a popular destination any time of year, but the six to eight weeks leading up to Christmas are especially popular for many visitors who enjoy taking in the area’s shows, shopping, dining and coastal ambiance, among other attractions.
A nice bonus: The welcome mat is out for motorcoach operators and tour and charter groups.
“They’re group-friendly and they want us to come and you can tell,” said Donna Skinner, tour coordinator for Holiday Companies in Randleman, N.C., which operates retail and charter tours to the popular oceanside destination.
“Myrtle Beach is an iconic place,” Skinner said. “It’s an area that folks just love going to time and time again, even if they’ve been there five or six times … and we’re thankful for that because we’ll keep taking them as long as we have people wanting to go.”
Skinner said Holiday’s tour directors always enjoy taking groups to Myrtle Beach, especially during the holiday season.
One reason: the holiday shows and theaters there, including The Carolina Opry Theater headed by owner, producer and entertainer Calvin Gilmore, and the Alabama Theatre, opened by the country music group Alabama, whose members developed their sound playing for tips in a Myrtle Beach nightclub.
The holiday shows kick off Nov. 1 with The Carolina Opry Christmas Special, also known as “The Christmas Show of the South,” marking the theater’s 32nd season of holiday performances.
The Carolina Opry Theater is transformed into a winter wonderland for The Carolina Opry Christmas Special, “a dazzling, jolly, and sentimental musical celebration of America’s best loved holiday,” according to the theater’s website.
Shirley Garrett, president and owner of Sunshine Travel & Express in Lancaster, S.C., said The Carolina Opry Theater is popular and its programming and staff are outstanding. She called it “first class; it’s top of the chart.”
Adjacent to it is the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, a popular destination for children and adults, Garrett said of the Dolly Parton production.
“Both of them are clean, wholesome places to go,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about the language or what’s going to get said or done at either one of those.”
The holiday production at the Alabama Theatre is “The South’s Grandest Christmas Show,” also launching Nov. 1. The show is billed by its website as a “combination of traditional Christmas and contemporary holiday favorites.”
This year’s show combines talent, scenery and special effects and also includes laughter from comedian Ricky Mokel.
Pirates Voyage includes a Christmas show where the “Mystical Christmas Spirit takes Captain Scrooge on a journey through time and space to find the meaning of Christmas,” its website says. That show begins Nov. 9.
Legends in Concert is another popular venue, with its tribute artists looking and singing like the legends they represent, including Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, Skinner said.
Broadway at the Beach, a mix of shopping, dining and attractions, also is a good stop, she said.
Broadway at the Beach markets itself as a 700,000-square-foot “experiential, festival retail center that combines shopping, dining, and entertainment in a vibrant setting.”
It is set on 350 acres, surrounds a 23-acre lake and is organized in a series of interconnected villages that include The Avenue, New England Fishing Village (east and west), Mediterranean Village, Charleston Boardwalk and Heroes Harbor, according to marketing director Melissa Armstrong.
Attractions there include Ripley’s Aquarium and Legends in Concert, among others.
Broadway at the Beach has received numerous accolades over the years, including having been named the state’s “Entertainment Attraction of the Year,” “Top Tourist Attraction” at the South Carolina Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism and was recently named by Yahoo as one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the United States based on Google Maps data, Armstrong said.
It’s also equipped to handle bus groups, she said.
Each driver and one escort per group receives a $10 meal voucher to a Broadway at the Beach restaurant when they check into the Guest Services Center, the website says. All group guests receive a Broadway at the Beach goody bag that includes a property map, magnet and special offers from various shops, restaurants and attractions.
Brookgreen Gardens, featuring lush gardens, a large sculpture display and a nature preserve, is also among the area’s notable attractions, said Conovia Hemingway, sales coordinator for Brittain Resorts & Hotels in Myrtle Beach.
Located in Murrells Inlet, just south of Myrtle Beach, Brookgreen Gardens’ website says it’s “one of America’s premier gardens and one of a few select places in the United States to have earned accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as well as being designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
The Charlotte Observer last year listed it among its “7 Wonders of the Carolinas” for what it calls the largest sculpture garden in North America.
Hemingway cited Brookgreen’s “Nights of a Thousand Candles” as a Christmas highlight. It occurs over various nights from Nov. 30 to Dec. 17 and features the “soft glow of more than 5,500 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights,” its website says.
“Walk the paths with a warm cup of cider, hear the sounds of holiday music, carolers singing, and celebrate the season with family and friends.”
Garrett also likes Murrells Inlet MarshWalk, a half-mile-long stroll that includes dining, abundant marsh life and sightseeing tours; and Conway, which Discover South Carolina calls one of the state’s “most charming and historical cities,” urging visitors to drive its tree-lined streets, visit quaint shops and walk along the Waccamaw River Riverwalk.
Conway is about a half-hour northwest of Myrtle Beach.
There are also guided tours on the Intracoastal Waterway dinner cruises and more in the area, Garrett said.
Hemingway also recommended “Lighting of the Landing” at Barefoot Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment destination along the Intracoastal Waterway. This year’s lighting occurs Nov. 18.
Dining choices are ample in Myrtle Beach, too, and seafood is bountiful covering all varieties and price points, Garrett said.
A typical Myrtle Beach tour package includes the hotel, show package, a seafood dinner, shopping and time to stroll the beach, she said.
“We try to do oceanfront property when we stay during the Christmas season so that everybody has a view of the ocean,” Garrett said. “Some of them just find it calming to sit out on the balcony and just watch the waves rush in, that kind of thing, that kind of peaceful time.”
Skinner said Holiday’s packages also include shows, shopping and dining, often tying in a dinner at The Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood Buffet, “which is a landmark there at Myrtle Beach.”
Garrett also likes to build in time for motorcoaches to stop at a farmer’s market or roadside fruit and vegetable stands on their way home for customers to buy Red Jewel sweet potatoes for their holiday baking. Clients love the potatoes for sweet potato casseroles, soufflés, sweet potato fries and more, she said.
“That’s always a big thing,” Garrett said of the tasty potatoes grown in the low country’s sandy soil.
It caps a sweet trip, one could say.
Or, as Hemingway put it, “We try to be family orientated in Myrtle Beach year-round, not just during the Christmas season — and it’s a nice place to come visit.”