A few months before Christmas, I sat down with my husband and kids and made a proposition. Instead of spending a crazy amount of money on presents that would soon be forgotten, I suggested that we instead use the money to take a family trip to Myrtle Beach. Once the kids were sure they would still have a few gifts to open Christmas morning, they agreed to my plan.
So, Christmas morning, we opened presents, ate breakfast, finished packing and were on the road around Noon. By 4:00 we had arrived at our home for the next few days, the Dunes Village Resort, located on the north end of Myrtle Beach. With it's two indoor water parks, complete with lazy rivers and water slides, it seemed like the perfect spot for a trip to the beach during a season when the weather would not accommodate long days of enjoying the sand and surf.
From the moment we arrived, the excellence of the Dunes staff was evident. When a hotel clerk has to work on Christmas day and can still manage be over-the-top nice to each person in a line of guests that are checking in, it makes a strong first impression. Time after time we encountered front desk associates, waiters and waitresses, cashiers, housekeeping staff and other hotel employees going out of their way to be helpful and friendly.
Our room was in Palmetto Tower at the Dunes one of the two ocean-front buildings that house the hotel. Each tower has it's own pools and other water features, along with the indoor water parks that led us to choose this spot for our lodging. We stayed in the Oceanfront Queen Suite, with 2 queen beds in the bedroom plus two pull out beds in the living area...plenty of sleeping space for our family of 5. The room also had one shared bathroom with a lovely oversized jacuzzi tub and a full kitchen. Our room was clean, comfortable, fully stocked and had a wonderful ocean view.
The Dunes is in-and-of-itself a destination at Myrtle Beach, especially for families with younger children, and a perfect spot for a cold-weather beach retreat. The property boasts all kinds of indoor and outdoor water activities, several restaurants and cafés, a miniature-golf course and game rooms. While the in-season rates are beyond our family's budget, the winter rates are a real bargain, especially considering what this resort has to offer.
Usually when our family spends a week at the beach in the summer, we cook and eat most of our meals in the room to save money. But, since this was a short trip and a special occasion, we decided to eat out. This was a mistake. It costs a fortune to feed a family of 5 at Myrtle Beach! And, to be honest, the food was just not that great...certainly not worth the $80-$100 per meal we spent. I cringe when I think about the amount of money we spent on mediocre food in the few days we were there.
Our only memorable meal was at the Horst Gasthaus, an authentic German restaurant in North Myrtle Beach. I discovered it on one of my favorite money saving websites, Restaurant.com. To be honest, when we first pulled into the parking lot, I was afraid we had made a huge mistake. The building is pretty run-down looking outside and it's location is anything but inviting. But, with a $25 restaurant.com gift certificate in hand, we bravely entered. Once we stepped inside, we were transported to a cozy little slice of Bavaria. We dined on bratwurst, knackwurst, sauerkraut and red cabbage, along with a nice selection of German beer and wine...all while entertained by an accordion player dressed in, you guessed it, lederhosen. The kids found the experience somewhat annoying. Apparently, teens and pre-teens these days aren't into Polka. But, Alton and I thought it was festive and fun.
In the summer, the ocean and the pool are usually all the entertainment we need for a week at the beach. But, a December beach trip calls for a few extra diversions. So, we splurged and enjoyed a few of Myrtle Beach's inland family attractions at Broadway at the Beach.
Our first stop was at Ripley's Aquarium. This was our first trip here in several years and I wasn't sure if the kids would still enjoy it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when our whole family really did have a good time.
We were all fascinated by the new “Lethal Weapons” exhibit, where we saw some pretty frightening residents of the deep blue sea... things like a shrimp that lands a punch with the power of a bullet, an electric eel that packs a 500 volt jolt and tiny creatures that produce enough venom to kill armies of people. Hmmm...we may have to re-think our annual summer beach trip. I hear Arizona is lovely in July.
The Dangerous Reef is just plain cool. Being transported via a moving glidepath through this 350' tunnel while all kinds of exotic fish and sharks surround you is fantastic, no matter what your age. Laura and I also enjoyed trying to pet a sting ray and we were very thankful for the high powered hand dryer in the bathroom by the snack bar, especially since Laura was soaking wet after our visit to “Ray Bay.
Ripley's Aquarium is open 365 days a year and there are several coupons and packages available, so make sure you pay a visit to their website before your trip.
After the aquarium, Alton, Carley and Andrew went to MagiQuest while Laura and I did some shopping at Broadway at the Beach. This was their second MagiQuest experience and they had a blast. Yes, it is ridiculously expensive. But, when my 11-year old daughter and 13 year-old son actually have fun doing something together and can't wait to do it again, something truly magical has happened. And, as long as they don't loose their wands, it will be much cheaper the next time around.
With some advance planning and research you can have a great time at Myrtle Beach in the off-season and save a ton of money compared to a peak season vacation. Look for coupons and discount codes online and check tripadvisor.com for travelers reviews of hotels and restaurants to help you plan your itinerary.
Snow on the Beach!