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Carolinas: Synergy at the seashore

Courtesy Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast CVB

On a gorgeous evening last October, about 300 guests descended on the Ocean Club at Grande Dunes in Myrtle Beach to enjoy a decidedly South Carolina experience. They ate shrimp, listened to music and learned the Carolina shag.

The visitors were members of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, who were in town for a conference. The evening was “a fellowship and networking type of event,” said Sandy Reigel, the professional development coordinator and conference organizer for the association. “It was beautiful.”

Surf, sand and ocean breezes sweeten the appeal of any meeting, and that is particularly true of the towns along the Carolinas’ coast. The cities, however, have their own offerings that lend distinction to their waterfront activities, whether they involve business or pleasure. Here is a look at four examples.

Wilmington, N.C.
With three island beaches — Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure — and a downtown riverfront, the Wilmington and Cape Fear area gives planners the opportunity to make a big splash.

For their meeting or event, planners can book the Wilmington Convention Center in downtown Wilmington, which opened last November. “We’ve been getting an even bigger response than anticipated,” said Kristin Kelly, who handles public relations for the center.

Training events have been frequent, and many regional companies are booking the center in lieu of traveling outside the area. “Now they have a beach destination with activities for guests or their families,” said Kelly.

The convention center, whose LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is pending, has a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom and 5,784 square feet of flexible space.

Being based downtown gives guests access to the Riverwalk and the 230-block National Register Historic District, and they’re just 15 to 30 minutes from one of the three beaches.

“The beaches are always appealing for leisure time activities,” said Connie Nelson, public relations director for the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast CVB.

At Kure Beach, the aquatic theme can go a step further during an event at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Venues include a 125-person auditorium and exhibits such as the Cape Fear Conservatory, which holds up to 200 guests. The entire facility can accommodate 2,000.

A deck and gardens take events outdoors, but the aquarium does not have beach access. Emily Bullock, assistant special events coordinator, recommends Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, home to the Civil War fort, for groups that seek the surf.

Meetings can take to the water with the help of Cape Fear Riverboats, which operates out of Wilmington. A three-deck boat can hold 600 passengers, but planners can also opt to book only a floor or two.

Special cruises include the comedy cruise “Redneck Wedding,” sightseeing tours and a murder mystery event. “We pride ourselves on being flexible and will do what they need,” said Carl Marshburn, the company’s president.

Island beaches are bordered on one side by the Atlantic and on the other by the Intracoastal Waterway, which makes for picturesque cruises. A 49-passenger catamaran operated by Wilmington Water Tours offers narrated tours up the river. “We talk about the history of the river, the economy, nature,” said Doug Springer, captain and owner.

In the evenings, groups often book a sunset tour complete with music and a bar. It’s a scenic way to unwind after a productive day.


Myrtle Beach, S.C.
This South Carolina town has a lot to offer meeting planners seeking seaside fun. The 60 miles of “wide, pristine beaches is certainly a major factor with meeting planners when choosing a destination,” said Danna Lilly, director of sales for the Myrtle Beach Area CVB.

Yet you can still get down to business. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center, which has 250,000 square feet of meeting and event space, is two blocks from the beach.

With a 100,800-square-foot, column-free exhibit hall and 17,000-square-foot ballroom, the center does not lack space. The center is joined to the 402-room Myrtle Beach Sheraton Convention Center Hotel, which offers 100,000 square feet of event space.

Sheraton guests often head to the 350-acre Broadway at the Beach for a beach theme without the sand and wind. “The groups have a fun time,” said Lisa Stringer, director of sales and marketing for the Sheraton. “It’s real interactive.”

Located about six big blocks inland, the entertainment complex sports such surf-inspired restaurants as the Key West Grill, Joe’s Crab Shack and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.

If you want to be “ocean” front and center, head to Jimmy Buffett’s Land Shark Bar and Grill and Land Shark Surfshack, which plans a May opening.

The venue is next door to the 200-foot-tall SkyWheel Myrtle Beach, which will give riders a bird’s-eye view of the boardwalk. Up to six people can fit in each of the 42 climate-controlled gondolas.

Myrtle Beach is entertainment central, but with more than 100 championship courses, it’s also a mecca for golfers. The American Association of School Personnel Administrators held a tournament at Pine Lakes Golf Course a day before its event officially started.

Combine the beach and the links at Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort, which has three golf courses. In 2010, owner Myrtle Beach National took over Pawleys Plantation, and shuttles move between the two, giving guests at Pawleys access to the beach. Litchfield is located about 20 minutes from Myrtle Beach.


More on the Carolinas:

Synergy at the seashore
College towns are smart
The race is always on