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Coasting in the Carolinas

Ripley’s Aquarium, courtesy Myrtle Beach Area CVB

Myrtle Beach,
South Carolina
Along with a 60-mile stretch of powdery white sand and seemingly endless ocean vistas, Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand entice visitors with succulent seafood, six celebrity theaters and round-the-clock things to do.

“A fresh supply of ‘Wow!’ keeps groups coming back year after year,” said Danna Lilly, director of sales for the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And there’s always something new, even at established attractions.”

“Wow!” is a typical reaction upon first sight of WonderWorks, an amusement park for the mind housed in an enormous upside-down, columned building chock full of space, physics and math interactive exhibits. Visitors can maneuver the controls of a NASA spacecraft to land the shuttle and pilot a fighter jet.

More wows are guaranteed when penguins slip and slide into Ripley’s Aquarium in 2014. The aquarium also hosts special programs for groups, including casino nights, classes in seafood cooking and holiday crafts, Beach Creature Bingo, behind-the-scenes tours with biologists and Beach Boogie Nights, where folks can learn South Carolina’s state dance: the shag.

The 130-passenger Barefoot Princess river boat that glides along the Intracoastal Waterway serves narrated history, dinner and live music for dancing.

At night, the stars come out in Myrtle Beach’s six live theaters. And at the Palace Theatre at Broadway at the Beach, “Hot Jersey Nights” and “Illusions of Magic,” both new in 2013, light up the stage.

The Outer Banks,
North Carolina
“The Outer Banks stretch along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina from Corolla in the north to Cape Hatteras and Okracoke Island in the south,” said Aaron Tuell, public relations manager for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “Unbelievably, this whole 130-mile string of islands is less than a mile wide.”

From the 208-foot-high Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the country’s tallest, the panoramic views are breathtaking. Visitors get a similar perspective at Bodie Island Lighthouse, now open for climbing after extensive renovation for the first time since it was built in 1872.

A great way to experience this salty island string is on an Outer Banks Eco Adventure challenge, a two-day itinerary that begins at 426-acre Jockeys Ridge, where the adventurous can take a low-altitude hang gliding lesson.

“It’s a giant natural sand dune park in the middle of Nags Head, a resort town,” Tuell said.

Active groups could keep busy for days enjoying the area’s activities. Kayak on a creek through Kitty Hawk Woods Maritime Forest, cast a line to surf fish or pier fish, catch a few crabs to steam and eat, take a kite-boarding or paddle-boarding lesson, or hop on a horse for a two-hour guided tour through maritime woods and pop out onto the beach. If you still have some energy left, you can watch some of the 365 identified species of migrating birds in 6,000-acre Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and amble through Roanoke Island’s Elizabethan Gardens, a 12-acre tribute to Queen Elizabeth I.

“On a Red Wolf Howling Safari, guides lead visitors to the edge of a red wolf compound [and] howl at the wolves, which are shy and hidden, and the animals will call back,” Tuell said. “You can actually dialogue with the wolves.”