Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of....South Carolina

Deep in Dixie, South Carolina is squarely in the middle of the pack for population size nationally. It's known for being in the south, having southern people, and, uhhh, having coastline. I have family that relocated there in the last few years and they tried to convince my dad to go there too, and he lasted two days before determining it was too close to real life Deliverance to be able to stick around for the rest of his natural life. There's cities in the interior: Greenville, Columbia, Florence - and pretty much nothing of note ever happens there. Along the coast, it's a different story. Charleston is renowned as one of the most charming and architecturally interesting cities in the United States. And then there's Myrtle Beach.

Maybe it's hard to call Myrtle Beach a "hidden" attraction - it is however filled with rides, parks, and attractions that aren't independently advertised, and easily missed if you don't know to look for them. It wasn't until the post-war period that the city truly took off as a tourist magnet, and the amusement side of things can be drawn back to the construction of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion in 1948. In the subsequent years, the city saw a multitude of park projects appear: Sun Fun, Gay Dolphin, Family Kingdom, and more. Hurricanes, insurance, and ultimately real estate speculation left only one permanent park: Family Kingdom. Not incredibly well known is that this is the location of the first Sally shooting dark ride: The Great Pistolero Roundup. There's also an outstanding and well maintained wood coaster here with the Swamp Fox. It's a classic out and back layout with tons of airtime.

But even with the traditional parks mostly historical footnotes, there's still a lot of rides, slides, and wacky stuff here. Pavillion has been reborn in two separate, unrelated, and non-ocean fronting amusement zones. OD Pavillion on Ocean Drive is a collection of portable attractions that gets set up for the summer season, and promptly disappears, not unlike the Summer Funfairs of Europe. Smaller permanent rides are located at Pavilion Park at Broadway At The Beach. For water parks, there's Myrtle Waves, Wild Water and Wheels, and Splashes (located in Family Kingdom). Like Orlando, Branson, and Gatlinburg; there's dinner theaters galore - Pirate's Voyage, Medieval Times, Polynesian Fire Luau, Legends in Concert, they're all here and accounted for. So are Ripley's branded attractions (Odditorium, Laser Haunted Adventure, Moving Theater, Mirror Maze, and Aquarium - the latter has a a glass bottom boat ride over the shark tank), Hollywood Wax Museum (along with its own shooting theater attraction and a mirror maze), and Wonderworks.

But wait: there's more! Myrtle Beach, like any good seaside resort has arcades. Two of them in particular deserve special mention given their unique games. Myrtle Beach Pinball Museum opens in 2018 with a collection of pins from the 70s through the 90s, something the market desperately needed. In addition, there's the Fun Plaza, which has an outstanding collection of classic quarter Skeeball machines plus a wall of Williams Baseball games. These date to 1962 and are the only existing publicly available versions of the games I know of, much less with the sheer volume of them. 28 runs gets you a choice even today. On the outskirts of the city, there's also Brookgreen Gardens. This huge public park space features a sculpture park, history museum, and the Low Country Zoo. Speaking of greenery; mini golf. Myrtle Beach, even more so than Ocean City, MD, is probably the capital of insane mini golf. Mt. Atlanticus, Cancun Lagoon, Shipwreck Island, Rainbow Falls, Jungle Safari, and many many many more.

There are two other locations of permanent coasters outside of the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand in recent memory: One is within city limits at the very, very short lived Hard Rock Park/Freestyle Music Park. The other was a wild mouse coaster located at Pedro Land, a mildly racist amusement zone inside of the sprawling fireworks and crap gift mall known as South of The Border. Everyone here is named "Pedro", there's the Sombrero Tower to ascend, and there's some worn looking rides left. The coaster here rarely operated, and is now in the possession of Reithoffer Shows, one of the largest carnival operators in the US. Don't forget the mini golf!

The options away from Myrtle Beach's orbit are nowhere near as plentiful in terms of big things: a chain of FECs called Frankie's has three locations, many of which with small flat rides, bumper boats, go karts, and the like. Splash Island in Mount Pleasant is "kid friendy" - that's how water parks with no large slide complexes brand themselves in the modern day. The Riverbanks Zoo has a carousel to ride in Columbia, and Simpsonville's Heritage Park has train rides. 

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