Everyone can be a kid again in Myrtle Beach, where there are dozens of attractions geared toward the entire family. Best of all, local attractions know to compete with the free admission of the Atlantic Ocean, the price must be right for families on a budget. To get the maximum bang (or splash) for your buck, shop around for the best deals to the places that will interest everyone in your party. For instance, for those looking for aquatic fun, Myrtle Waves is wonderful water park for both the kids looking to ride some thrilling slides and rides and adults wanting to take a ride in the slow lane of the lazy river and wave pool. Make a day of it and rent a cabana where the family can take a break and gather for a picnic lunch. For families who prefer to take a break from the heat in an air-conditioned setting, Ripley's Aquarium is Myrtle Beach's most popular attraction, and for good reason. Visitors can tour the 85,000 square-foot facility for an up-close experience with various species of sharks, turtles, crabs, stingrays and all sorts of sea life. Located in the Broadway at the Beach complex, it's a great place for families to take a timeout from shopping and dining to get a good look at the mysteries that lie under the ocean. Regardless of what your family is looking for, you're sure to find it in Myrtle Beach.
This 500-acre family farm was transformed into a wildlife refuge and eventually a public zoo after bypassers nearly caused crashes at the site of camels and elephants feeding in the roadside fields. Waccatee Zoo is now home to more than 100 species of animals, including lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) and native creatures like alligators of birds of prey. Unlike many of the concrete jungles that keep animals caged in close quarters, Waccatee Zoo is a more natural, farm-like atmosphere where animals have room to roam. Nature trails connect different parts of the park to give the park a more rustic atmosphere, and the adjoining Waccamaw River and Socastee Creek (hence the name "Waccatee") provide a beautiful backdrop for picture-taking or bird-watching. (843-650-8500)
Pavilion Nostalgia Park
History never looked so fun as a trip to the Pavilion Nostalgia Park, a smaller but memory-provoking version of the old Pavilion that served as the centerpiece of downtown Myrtle Beach for decades. Located at the popular Broadway at the Beach complex, this miniature theme park features rides that generations of visitors used to ride at the Pavilion, such as the century-old Herschell Spillman carousel that stands as a testament to another era. Other rides include the Pirate Ship, the Wave Swinger and the Caterpillar. There are also plenty of rides for younger children, like the Tea Cups and Kiddie Boat Ride. (843-918-8725)
Cancun Lagoon Miniature Golf
Break par and beat the heat at the same time at Cancun Lagoon Miniature Golf, the only indoor/outdoor putt-putt course on the Grand Strand. Featuring a Mayan ruin structure that visitors enter through a cave entrance on the backside of the building, Cancun Lagoon offers two 18-hole courses that carry guests on a path through the jungle terrain, weaving indoors and outdoors for a welcome air-conditioned break from the summer heat. A large river and waterfall run through the courses and the scorecard features clues to the quest for hidden gold. A gift shop and snack bar are also located indoors. (843-444-1098)
Myrtle Beach State Park
Experience a day of wonder in Myrtle Beach State Park, an oasis of nature amid a sea of human development. Located on the south end of Myrtle Beach, the state park is a stark contrast to the high-rise hotels that are just a short walk away. Featuring old-growth maritime forests with hiking trails that lead to the high sand dunes of the beach, this 312-acre oceanfront park was developed by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s. In addition to about a mile of beach, the park encompasses a fishing pier, a nature center, a campground and cabins and plenty of oceanfront picnic shelters. (843-238-5325)
Wild Water – Water and Race Theme Park
Wild Water & Wheels is the place to cool off during those hot summer days on the south end of the Grand Strand. Located in Surfside Beach, just 7 miles south of downtown Myrtle Beach, Wild Water & Wheels is home to thousands of thrills for kids of all ages - even the grown-up ones. Featuring 16 acres of family fun, this attraction offers lots of water slides and other aquatic play areas, including a large wave pool, a lazy river, and a kiddie play station. Other features include an arcade, mini-golf, and go-cart racing. Wild Water is open from May through September, but daily hours vary. (843-238-9453)
Get ready to see one of the largest exhibits of gators and crocs in the world at Alligator Adventure, but this 15-acre park in North Myrtle Beach has much more. Serving as one of the biggest reptile parks in operation, Alligator Adventure also features a wide selection of snakes, turtle, lizards and other creatures that slither. In fact, this modern zoological facility, which is conveniently located next to Barefoot Landing entertainment, shopping and dining complex, also houses tigers, wolves and exotic birds, making it more like a complete zoo experience. Be sure to see Uton, a massive 20-foot croc that comes up on dry land for his daily chicken dinner. (843-361-0789)
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade
The downtown district has been revitalized by this new attraction, highlighted by the 190-foot SkyWheel that lights up the Myrtle Beach skyline. The largest ferris wheel on the East Coast offers scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the entire Grand Strand, but it's the area right around the SkyWheel that shines the most. A 1.2-mile wooden walkway spans the beachfront on one side and open-air cafes and shops on the other. Left abandoned when the Pavilion closed in 2006, the downtown area is back and better than ever thanks to the new Boardwalk. Check for special events held here throughout the year. (843-916-2000)
Ripley's Aquarium Myrtle Beach
Located within Broadway at the Beach, this aquarium houses thousands of unusual and colorful marine animals. The highlight of a visit here will be a ride on the moving sidewalk, which travels through a glass-enclosed tunnel inside the massive 750,000 gallon shark tank. Other fun exhibits include Rainbow Rock, which is home to thousands of beautiful fish from the Pacific, and the interactive Sea-For-Yourself Discovery Center. Guests aso can get up close and personal with aquatic animals by petting the stingrays and horseshoe crabs. If you plan on visiting any of Ripley's other nearby attractions, purchase a combo ticket and save 10 to 15 percent. (843-916-0888, 800-734-8888)
Myrtle Waves Water Park
Cool off from the summer heat at South Carolina's largest water park and have a splashing good time for the whole family. Featuring more than 30 rides and water slides, this 20-acre park features towering, twisting water slides, a massive wave pool and a children's aquatic playground that are sure to bring smiles to faces looking for some fun in the sun. For life in the slower lane, the lazy river gives the older set an opportunity to relax, or kick back in one of the private cabanas and watch the kids play from the comfort of a covered lounge chair. (843-913-9250, 877-699-9200)
Give your little ones double the fun with two attractions in one. The Family Kingdom amusement park features roller coasters, including the historic wooden classic The Swamp Fox, plus more than 30 other fun rides that cater to different age groups. Just across Ocean Boulevard, Splashes Water Park is the only one located directly on the beach. Featuring several flumes, slides and other aquatic attractions, the water park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. The amusement park is open from March to September, but hours vary so check ahead for daily times. (843-626-3447, 843-916-0400)
About Terry Massey
It's no surprise that journalist Terry Massey is credited with creating the word 'stay-cation.' He considers the past 18 years in Myrtle Beach a vacation.
He and his wife Stephanie were honeymooning in Myrtle Beach, when Terry was offered a job at the local newspaper. Without hesitation, they packed a U-Haul with their belongings - including unopened wedding gifts - and moved to the beach. They now have a daughter, Riley, a golden retriever, Duff, and their roots are deeply grounded in the sand.
After 13 years at the newspaper, Terry became a freelance writer to cover all the things that brought him to the beach.
Read more about Terry Massey here.
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