Desperately Seeking Stewart in Magnificent Myrtle Beach

Photos by Rachel Ammon, Joe Carr and Colleen Balzotti

Life and travel with a special-needs kid can take you on journeys you never imagined. Motivated by a visit to an alligator sanctuary, we hopped in the car and road tripped the 1,600 kilometres to Myrtle Beach to visit Stewart, an alligator who used to be at Little Ray’s Reptiles in Ottawa. It was an incredible adventure from beginning to end.

The Myrtle Beach area, called the “seaside golf capital of the world” is home to more than 100 golf courses and 35 miniature golf courses all themed (pirates, dinosaurs, Hawaiian, dragons). 

The weather is perfect with a mild annual average temperature of 74 F with an average of 215 sunny days each year.

However, there is a lot more to Myrtle Beach than golf and good weather. Referred to as the Grand Strand which stretches from Little River to Pawleys Island, comprising 12 distinct cities along the South Carolina coast, Myrtle Beach is home to 100 kilometres of sandy beaches, an assortment of entertainment and family attractions and southern hospitality.

The area is the quintessential vacation experience. First, the beach.

It’s a stunning, long, relaxing view filled with sunrises and sunsets that will instantly melt your stress away.

Parks and public gardens are everywhere.

Huntington State Park and Myrtle Beach State Park, in particular, make great locations for nature walks with paths and boardwalks. 

Myrtle Beach State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal Program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program was designed to provide employment during the Great Depression while addressing national needs in conservation and recreation.

The CCC was instrumental in the development of many of South Carolina’s state parks. A number of buildings built by the CCC in the 1930s are still in use at this park.

Brookgreen Gardens contains the most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture in the country.

Everything here is stunning and the gardens are astounding with 300-year old oak trees and flowers of every colour.

Brookgreen Gardens was created in the early 1930s on the site of four former rice plantations. More than 900 works (550 currently displayed) by 300 of the greatest names in American sculpture, past and present adorn the site. 

For a completely different outdoor experience, take a two- or four-hour birding and fishing tour on one of the many creeks and marshes waiting to be discovered.

Enjoy the Cypress Swamp Tour on Waccamaw River and gaze at beautifully haunting cypress trees with spanish moss.

Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade is a touristy place, full of shops, restaurants and even a small amusement park packed with trinket shops and souvenir shops if that type of experience grabs you.

About 20 minutes in North Myrtle Beach is Alligator Adventure.

Beyond the fact that Stewart and Chase  — two alligators from Ottawa’s Little Ray’s Reptiles — are there, Alligator Adventure is a fascinating visit.

There are live reptile shows with alligators and caiman everywhere.

Some of the reptiles are deformed from accidents and others are rescues.  There are snakes, hyenas, lemurs, squirrel monkeys, tortoises, turtles and even Utan — one of the largest crocodiles around.

The staff is phenomenal. Their love of the animals is palpable and my son was happy with Stewart’s new home and relieved to see it was more of a sanctuary.

As you tour the place, keep an eye out for alligators with a yellow rim around their faces. Those are the Canadian alligators that migrated south. The yellow is caused by the lack of sun up north and fades as they get used to their new environment.

A ticket to Alligator Adventures gets you entrance to Duplin Winery next door. It is the largest winery in the South, producing 1.4 million gallons of its award-winning sweet wines. 

As anyone travelling with kids knows, you are not going to have quiet relaxing dinners savouring the delightful tastes of a four-course gourmet meal. Wherever you grab a bite to eat, the seafood is incredibly fresh as it only can be in a coastal area.   

Historically, South Carolina was one of the original 13 states of the United States.

Georgetown, the third oldest city in South Carolina, was founded in the 16th century and it is a quaint town with loads of history. If you like good ghost story . . . ask the locals.

Nearby is the Hopsewee Plantation and it is definitely worth a visit.

Next to the beaches and parks, it was a highlight.

Hopsewee is the birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., who signed the Declaration of Independence. The house, built between 1735 and 1740, is the original plantation house and has not been added to or changed significantly . . .  although it is still lived in. 

It has an absolutely charming café with incredibly fresh food. 

There are countless opportunities to do things inside as well.

Wonderworks is an entertainment centre based on science experiments. It is a lot of fun for kids and grown-ups. 

Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center has three attractions: the Wax Museum, Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors and this incredibly creepy attraction Outbreak-Dread the Undead which is reminiscent of the Brad Pitt movie World War Z.  Visit all three.

Medieval Times is a family-friendly dinner attraction inspired by an 11th-century feast and tournament. While
I have driven past the Toronto location plenty, for some reason it took going to Myrtle Beach to try this amazing experience. 

Guests are served a four-course banquet and cheer for one of six knights competing in the joust as well as other fun tests of skill.

Expect almost two hours of jousting, swordsmanship, thrilling hand-to-hand combat, displays of extraordinary horsemanship and falconry as part of a story set in medieval Spain.

It is a fun night and the kids, well, they will love not eating with cutlery!

On the beach with views of the ocean and the sound of the surf to gently put you to sleep, you cannot go wrong with the Hampton Inn and Suites Myrtle Beach/Oceanfront. It has a fantastic, full hot breakfast and incredible pools (the ocean is pretty chilly).

There is no better place for families. It is also in a great location, on South Ocean Boulevard. 

Myrtle Beach is an intensely Canadian-friendly part of the U.S.  Every March, a Canada-Myrtle Beach Festival takes place with special celebrations and discounts for us northern folk.  

Wherever you go, you can’t help but be drawn in by the bounty of beauty that surrounds you, by the kindness of the people and of course by the Southern hospitality. 

Definitely add Myrtle Beach to your list of holiday destinations. 

When you are there, stop by Stewart and Chase at Alligator Adventure and say hi from their Ottawa friends.