After going nowhere for so long, it feels strange to be writing trip recap posts again – and honestly, felt strange to actually take the trip! I spent a week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at the end of June so I thought that I’d share a bit about my trip, and what it’s like to travel right now, in my post today.
My family has been to Myrtle Beach a handful of times before, but our last time visiting there was eight years ago now! It’s a long drive for us, and as my sister and I got older, long drives got more challenging. The last time we went, we actually split the drive up into two days to make it easier on us, since we can’t really eat or drink in the car while it’s moving. That was doable, but ended up adding on extra work for us – we had to unpack a lot of the car for just one night in the hotel, and then re-pack it the next day. It started to feel like more effort than it was worth, and took away from the relaxing aspect of the vacation.
So earlier this year, after we’d all been vaccinated for a while and it looked like numbers here in the US were trending in the right direction, I started to look at places we might be able to travel to. I looked at a few different places (mostly different cities in Florida), but then saw that Southwest had added a direct flight from Pittsburgh to Myrtle.
I’ve talked about this before I think, but when we fly, we stick with places that have a direct flight, and with places that Southwest services. The direct flight is a timing thing – because we gate check our wheelchairs and they’re then taken around to be loaded into the plane, we have to be the first to board, and we’re the last to de-plane when the process is repeated in reverse at the end of the flight. This is time consuming, and we’d need to factor in a super-extra-long layover to account for this if we had a non-direct flight – we’d be spending basically an entire day in the airport. And we insist on Southwest because ALL of their flights can fit power wheelchairs in the cargo space. After an unfortunate incident with another airline on a red eye home from LAX years ago where we got to the airport only to be told our chairs wouldn’t fit (after, of course, we had called ahead weeks in advance to confirm), this became non-negotiable. We’ve had really great experiences with Southwest, and I’m so grateful for that. Happily, our wheelchairs survived unscathed after both flights this trip, which I was really stressed about.
Even back in April when I started looking for places to stay, it became quickly clear to me that things were filling up quickly! Because we need a roll-in shower and no steps/an elevator, I tend to look at hotels/resorts rather than AirBnBs because it’s really, really challenging to find those features. We ended up staying at Marriott’s OceanWatch Villas at Grande Dunes, but booked through VRBO rather than the hotel directly because they were already fully booked. It was a big complex, with a hotel, buildings of villas, multiple pools, grills, and restaurants on site.
From an accessibility perspective, I’d say my review of the hotel was mixed. I loved that they had a good selection of room types with accessible rooms – often, you’ll find that hotels have only their “standard” rooms with accessibility features, not suites, which makes it hard for us because our family cannot comfortably fit in a standard room. They also had lifts on every pool, which was great, and it was easy to navigate around the resort – everything was nicely paved and ramped. They even had a beach wheelchair available at the resort, which is SO cool – typically we’ve had to rent one if we wanted to use one! Power wheelchairs can’t drive on the sand – they get stuck and sand can damage a motor easily – so beach wheelchairs are made of PVC and these big floaty wheels so they’re beach and (shallow) ocean safe.
The major downside, though, was the balcony. It was a sliding door balcony, which means that as a minimum, there’s always a small threshold/step that’s difficult for my wheelchair to smoothly get over. But this balcony had a 3-ish inch tall metal plate (for hurricanes and flooding, apparently) going across the entire bottom threshold of the balcony doors – definitely not possible for our wheelchairs to get over! We called the front desk right away and to their credit, they let us know that they had ramps, and they would send someone up with them. And they did, and they found a solution that worked, but it was far from smooth. We had to put a ramp on both sides of the door to get over the plate, and they had to try four different ramps to find the right fit. Even then, it juuuust barely fit. The outside, on the balcony ramp had to be shoved in HARD, and the door had to stay wide open while the ramps were in place. So we ended up keeping the doors open a lot, which made the room humid super quickly. Someone traveling alone in a wheelchair definitely couldn’t have done the ramps themselves. I’m glad they had a solution, but I would say there is definite room for improvement!
As for the trip itself, we split our time between relaxing in the hotel and going out to the two major shopping/dining areas in Myrtle Beach – Barefoot Landing and Broadway at the Beach. The pool nearest to our room at the resort ended up being my favorite – the Serenity Pool! The main pool near the hotel had to poolside bar and lots of activities, but was definitely louder. The Serenity Pool was the perfect place to lounge, read, and play my new favorite obsession Monopoly Deal! I am all about a chill, laid-back vibe, and that’s exactly what I found.
Here is my biggest piece of advice/words of caution to anyone traveling to Myrtle Beach right now – they are vastly understaffed. I know that it’s pandemic-related, and I am incredibly grateful that I’m vaccinated and able to travel at all, but it was still kind of a bummer. On our nights in, we had issues finding places for takeout – places just were so understaffed that they were doing dine in only (frustrating, especially because the pandemic isn’t actually over). And then on our nights out, we’d get there around 8 pm (it takes us a while to get out), and places that don’t do reservations had already closed their list for walk-ins because they wouldn’t be able to be seated before they had to close at 10 pm. For as much of a planner as I am, the thing I enjoy about vacationing at the beach is not having to make reservations, so the lack of availability definitely added on some stress. But the places we did eat (Flying Fish and The Grumpy Monk) were good, and the waitstaff was SO nice even though we were closing down the place! The outdoor space at The Grumpy Monk was really nice, too – it looked out over the little lake and was quiet and peaceful. My favorite meal was actually one of our takeout meals – The Library – which we happened upon after trying and failing to get takeout from three other places!
(A note: if you are immunocompromised or not comfortable going maskless yet, I wouldn’t really suggest Myrtle Beach. I saw very few masks anywhere. I felt ok, but know that everyone has their own comfort levels.)
A lot of the shopping at Broadway and Barefoot are the more kitschy, touristy shops, so I didn’t do too much shopping. Barefoot did have a really cute dog boutique that I couldn’t resist, and we got some pet-sitting thank you gifts from the Southern Living store. I also found a little coffeeshop, Social, at Broadway… and stopped there twice in one night. Highly recommend!
It was really, really great to be able to get away and relax somewhere different, and to see the ocean again! I was so, so grateful to be able to take a trip after this past year and a half. And this trip has made me excited to travel again… I’m already looking forward to booking my next trip!
Do you have any travel planned? Let me know where you’re going!