Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Walk Along Bird Island

My husband and I decided to kill a few hours prior to our dinner reservations with walk along Sunset Beach. The pleasure of this beautiful place inspired us to head towards the South Carolina border and cover as much as we could of Bird Island before we got tired. The broad and flat expanse of sand and the interesting creatures we kept spotting in the dunes beckoned us on and on for miles. We passed one or two lone cyclists spinning easily along, presumably returning from a quick trip to the border. It was quite a while before we got tired enough to turn back.

Bird Island is a perfect illustration of the dynamic nature of North Carolina barrier islands, by virtue of the fact that it actually is no longer a separate island. Only as far back as the 1990's, Bird Island was separated from Sunset Beach by a tidal creek so you could only walk onto it at low tide. However, hurricanes and other factors pushed along the constantly-moving sands, filling in the creek and merging the islands of Sunset Beach and Bird Island into one.

Some ways further down the beach, we spotted the famed Kindred Spirits mailbox that we had read about online. It is indeed filled with a large collection of notebooks and journals, and a good supply of writing instruments, and so we paid our respects by reading a few entries left by those who had gone before us. An inquisitive crab kept popping out of his little hold in the dunes under a nearby bench to check on our progress. While there, we turned to look back and were able to view the town of Sunset Beach in the distance. Seeing it so compact and low-lying, tucked in behind the dune line, made it easy to imagine it again as a quaint little fishing village, blissfully isolated from the frenetic and often cynical modern world from which we all come. Hard not to develop an affection for the place, even for us newcomers.


As we started our return, the setting sun warmed our backs (This beach does run in a South SouthWest direction, after all.) and we followed our shadows back to the pier.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Grilling at Sunset Village, Sunset Beach, NC

Well, I now have an opinion to add to the following debate: Which is better, charcoal or gas grilling? I vote charcoal! During our last stay at our condo in Sunset Village, we grilled out quite a few times; and I really can't remember the last time my steak tasted so good!! We have a gas grill at home, and it's been years since we cooked over charcoal briquettes. I'm seriously considering switching back to them at home.

At Sunset Village, there are shared charcoal grills available for residents and their guests to use. Several are available near the picnic tables and around the lagoons, near the tennis courts and one of the pools, and two of them are right near our building. You probably can't tell so well from the photograph attached to this posting, but you are right by the water so you can watch the wildlife (turtles, wading birds, fish - and the occasional alligator) while you cook! We also enjoyed watching the rather exciting spectacle of my father-in-law and daughter catching a fish (see earlier post).

The grills are each supplied with a bucket in which to scoop the ashes when you're done, and we keep a set of grilling implements and a lighter in our outdoor storage closet for our guests (one less thing to have to remember to throw in the luggage), as well as folding chairs. So, close your eyes and imagine the fragrance of food cooking on the hibachi - a memory awakened back from your childhood, perhaps! One more great way to while away the hours of your Sunset Beach Vacation!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ingram Planetarium

Ah, rain! Friend to everything green and lovely, but what a bummer when it happens all over your Beach Vacation! Fortunately, right in Sunset Beach there is an excellent way to entertain the family while you wait for the rainclouds to clear: Ingram Planetarium!

We visited the Planetarium right when they were putting the final touches in place for their grand re-opening in May. Even though they were still officially closed for renovations the day we stopped by, the staff invited us in to take a look around. Off the main entryway we found the Science Room, filled with interactive exhibits of the planets and stars, lots of hands-on puzzles and experimental exercises, which neither the children (nor the adults, for that matter) can stop themselves from playing with. We played with the Bernoulli's Lift Off exhibit, which allows the kids to explore forces that enable planes to fly; drew fantastic designs with the aid of a pendulum; and raced each other at the water pressure exhibit, where we used high-pressure squirt guns to send our little astronauts to the top first (this kept us busy for a long time).

After spending a few minutes more admiring the contents of the gift shop and chatting with the very friendly staff, we meandered to the cute little cluster of boutiques, just around the corner for a nice alfresco lunch at the Fibber McGees Pub.

Of course, since we were visiting Ingram Planetarium when the facility was officially still closed, we weren't able to try out the newly-renovated 85-seat theater facility, during that trip. But we have heard since that the newly-installed SciDome HD makes this Planetarium one of only three in the world with a system capable of projecting more than 3 million pixels on its skydome. It's called ImmersaVision, and it is going to provide a fantastic show. We can't wait till our next trip to experience it. And when we do, you can bet I'll write all about it on this blog.

To find out more about the Ingram Planetarium's show times and ticket information, you can visit them at www.ingramplanetarium.org

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ripley's Aquarium & Broadway at the Beach

We've been back from our vacation at our condo in lovely, peaceful Sunset Beach only a few weeks, but I am just itching to go back. There were so many different things to do, I'm afraid we only scratched the surface.

One of the places we did visit was Ripley's Aquarium, a "$40 million, state-of-the-art, 87,000 square-foot aquarium experience," located at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Once my daughter heard about their special Babies exhibit, she was all excited. So we made the 40-minute trip down US-17.

The aquarium is truly packed with fascinating sea creatures, educational videos, and hands-on experiences, which made it a great place for a family group, since no-one's going to be bored. The design of Ripley's aquarium is on a truly grand scale, huge tanks and many special exhibits and themes all surrounding a clever interior playground, with the slides cleverly disguised as giant sea creatures. The kids were having a blast sliding through the deep-sea fish, no doubt well-energized by the "space aged ice cream" for sale there!

My favorite part of the visit was our trip "through" Dangerous Reef, a 750,000 gallon tank, during which we were able to see sharks and manta-rays from underneath, and wave "hello" to a very large sea turtle. The Octopi (or is it Octopuses?) were a little shy while we were there, but the Weedy Sea Dragons seemed curious. And of couse, there was also a very well-done touch tank, complete with Horseshoe crabs (very strange creatures); but we really enjoyed "Ray Bay," where we got the opportunity to touch many, many different kinds of Rays (Atlantic Rays, Southern Rays, Cow-Nose Rays, and Spotted Eagle Rays, to name a few.) When we were all satisfied we had managed to cover it all, we left . . . a little soggy perhaps, but happy.

As I mentioned earlier, Ripley's aquarium is located right on Broadway at the Beach, which is an extravaganza of shopping, dining, attractions - about 350 acres' worth, to be exact. (In fact, large as it was, the aquarium is only one of dozen different attractions there.) This was good, because we left the aquarium very hungry, and to say that we had our choice of many different restaurants would be an understatement. I won't try to list them all here, as their website below does that. The prevailing craving was for some old-time burgers and fries at Johnny Rocket's (flawless "shiney-diner" decor); but we were truly spoiled for choice. Afterwards, there was shopping, shopping, and more shopping - and, much to the relief of a great many toddlers, a lovely little gated playground by the water, which were dotted with several families of baby ducks.

Broadway at the Beach is close enough so that your visit doesn't have to be a day trip; but there is so much there, you really need a whole day - or more.

Ripley's Aquarium: http://www.ripleysaquarium.com/
Broadway at the Beach: http://www.broadwayatthebeach.com/