Living near and working for the Mouse in Florida, I see families spend hard-earned dollars for the pleasure of standing in line over an hour for a sixty second thrill ride. I get it! Those sixty seconds become a Magical Moment and remembered for a lifetime.
But beyond the instant gratification of all the attractions in central Florida, or elsewhere in the country, I believe many Americans take for granted our nation’s natural beauty and often miss opportunities to explore what our Creator has given this great country. Plus, the United States is rooted in history with literally thousands of museums, monuments, buildings, communities and other historical points of interest to explore. Our recent Americana Road Trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina only reinforced my belief.
The journey actually began this past spring when my wife, Karin, and I joined Gov Vacation Rewards . As part of the package for paying our membership in full, we were offered a certificate for either a 3-4 day cruise or a seven day resort vacation. We opted to use our certificate for a stay at the Plantation Resort of Myrtle Beach in Surfside Beach.
Gov Vacation Rewards offered a variety of worldwide resort options but the appeal to Myrtle Beach was the weather, history and the beauty of South Carolina. Plus neither of us had been to Myrtle Beach. And, the opportunity to spend a day in Charleston, South Carolina on the way up and Savannah, Georgia on the way home to Clermont, Florida was a bonus!
We left on Friday morning and after driving almost 400 miles, arrived mid-day at Charleston AFB and checked in at the Inns of Charleston. Nothing out of the ordinary for a $56 per night Air Force lodging room, but it was clean and the staff was very cordial. After unpacking we drove to the BX where I got gas for the car and a military haircut while Karin went looking for bargains!
Since we are not “night people” we had no intentions of going into Charleston for the evening. Instead we went back to billeting and walked across the street to the Charleston Club for dinner. Their Friday night special was a prime rib buffet for $9.95. We try to avoid buffets but their thick, juicy, 16 oz, rare, slab of prime rib looked so good and was perfect for our appetite…or at least we thought so! It was a fantastic dinner but I was so uncomfortable the rest of the evening that around 2230 I ending up taking a two-mile walk around the base.
We got up early the next morning, still feeling the pain from the previous evening. When we checked out, the front desk clerk suggested we have breakfast at the base Wrenwoods Golf Course where they served “incredible omelets.” Couldn’t believe we had only been gone two days and I felt like I had put on five pounds! (Needless to say, that was the end of our binge eating on this trip!)
Our plan was to spend the morning just walking and meandering through the historic district of Charleston. The cobblestone streets, carriage lanterns and remarkable homes bring charm to the city and even the morning rain did not discourage my opportunity to photograph the picturesque beauty of Charleston, South Carolina.
We left Charleston shortly after noon on Saturday for the two-hour drive north to Myrtle Beach. We arrived around 2:00 for our check-in at the Plantation Resort in Surfside Beach, a couple miles south of Myrtle Beach. We unpacked, resolved a “few” room issues and headed towards Myrtle Beach to find a Catholic Church with a vigil Mass and a light dinner afterwards!
Sunday it rained so we decided to get in the car and drive around to familiarize ourselves with the area. We drove through downtown/ beachfront Myrtle Beach and continued north to North Myrtle Beach…Thought I had never left home! These two beachfront communities were like so many other tourist strips (traps) in our country. If you are familiar with Kissimmee, Florida and Highway 192, near the front entrance to the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll understand the similarities between the two; lots of buffet restaurants, sports bars and plenty of souvenir shops with “Made in China” gifts galore!
But aside from the commercialization of Myrtle Beach, Karin and I actually had a fantastic time perusing the historical and natural beauty of the area. Ironically, the best beach was the Huntington Beach State Park, just a few short miles south from downtown Myrtle Beach. Pristine with few tourists!
Probably the most dynamic part of our trip was to Brookgreen Gardens, which is part of an old plantation. So much history, nature, and art exhibits! It was a great “place to restore your soul and renew your spirit.” Took almost 1,500 photos during the week and most were taken at the beautiful Brookgreen Gardens.
Perhaps what inspired so many photographs was our visit to the Franklin G. Burroughs – Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach. On exhibit were 72 black-and-white images taken by the great American photographer Ansel Adams. Admission was free, but the experience of viewing Adams’ photography was priceless!
Before leaving we made one final stop to the Myrtle Beach AFB. Established in 1940 as a WWII training base, it was closed in 1993. It is currently being redeveloped for commercial and residential use and known as The Market Common. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with how many of the former base commanders and war heroes were depicted and featured throughout the development. We checked out Saturday morning and headed south to Savannah, Georgia.
Personally, I love Savannah and though very similar to Charleston it has its own unique, proud, and inspirational culture that has preserved the community for centuries. Plus the beauty of Savannah’s historical architectural designs is often shared by photographers who visit. We decided the best way to appreciate Savannah for a couple of hours was to venture out on a personal walking tour. After a couple hours we stopped for a late lunch and then headed to a nearby Catholic Church for a vigil Mass.
I had previously made reservations to stay at the Fort Stewart Army Hotel, but when I realized it was 30 miles from Savannah, I tried desperately to find other military billeting facilities but there were no rooms available so we proceeded to Fort Stewart, our final leg of this journey!
There are military billeting facilities and there are billeting facilities on military property operated by third parties (Lend Lease Public Partnership, LLC). The Army currently has 39 IHG Army Hotels (Intercontinental Hotels Group) across the country, which includes Holiday Inn. Fort Stewart is one of the IHG Army Hotel locations. During the past year I stayed in IHG Army Hotels at Fort Campbell, Fort Rucker, and most recently, Fort Stewart. All three of these properties were former military billeting facilities and recently renovated. Fort Stewart, by far, was the nicest of the three! Not to diminish the others, but our room was oversized, beautifully decorated and very comfortable. Slightly more expensive ($69.44) than normal military billeting but also included breakfast.
As tired and ready to go home as we were, this was a nice ending to our latest Americana Road Trip. Sunday after breakfast, we left Fort Stewart and headed southbound on I-95 to Dayton Beach then west on I-4 to Orlando, exiting on Hwy 192 in Kissimmee (wondering if I was still in Myrtle Beach).
As Hwy 192 ended I drove four miles north on Hwy 27 to Clermont where this trip began 10 days earlier! But in the end, this was another opportunity to take an Americana Road Trip to a destination that perked our interest and we hope you enjoyed the journey!
Reprint from July–August 2015 • Volume 45, No. 4