I grew up in the Northeast and during my college years, my friends and I would sometimes drive from our school in Rhode Island down interstate 95 to visit Disney World and other Spring Break locales. We would normally stop about halfway down at a town called South of the Border which presented itself as a mix of a Mexican border town blended with a simulacrum of International Drive in Orlando with all it’s tourist traps. Heralded by neverending billboards advertising cheap tourist shops and Mexican cafes with a neon glow. For us, it was just a place to stop, eat and take some pics decked out in our store-bought sombreros and accompanying panchos.
A little over an hour away from this Carolina cut-rate Tijuana lie the beach town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Having grown up frequenting the New Jersey Shore, I was somewhat inured to flashy neon signs, mini golf and tourist traps of Mid Atlantic states beach towns. However, the Shore had nothing on Myrtle Beach. Mini golf galore, huge tacky billboards, neon signs and cheesy stores and shops for miles and miles. In my mind and I am sure in the minds of many, Myrtle Beach and South of the Border were both examples of a burgeoning tourist economy that had began in the 50s and 60s with some clever promotional ideas which had festered and bloated with tacky consumerism coupled with the popularity of drive to destination and motel tourism.
It’s was with these images in mind that I drove up with my family from Florida having completed a circuit of timeshare stays during our spring break. We had traveled over 3000 miles from our beginning in Michigan and had spent a night or two at a number of vacation clubs in Florida. I was driving north again having stopped in Hilton Head for a whirlwind tour of the resorts I represent on the island. We were all exhausted from the trip and were ready to go home. I reminded everyone that we had booked a short stay at Marriott’s Oceanwatch Villas resort, our last stop on our vacation club pilgrimage.
As we entered the southern limits of Myrtle Beach, we were greeted by roadside shops scattered here and there that then progressed to larger strip malls, with giant pink dolphin billboards and mini golf courses on steroids. My wife, who had had enough of this station wagon-are-we-there-yet family trek blew an exasperated raspberry as she took in the sites.
It’s had been close to 25 years since I last visited the area and like many areas of commerce the economy had been good to Myrtle beach. Same mini golf, surf shops, and seafood restaurants albeit with much nicer veneers then I had remembered. This was Myrtle Beach 2.0 or 3.0. According to the locals I spoke with the real estate market was ascendant and acreage was being bought and sold at a dizzying pace.
We finally found our turn and began to wind our way through a thick copse of trees and vegetations into the serenely named, Grande Dunes Plantation. A green bubble surrounding Marriott’s Oceanwatch Villas and the adjacent Marriott hotel. I stepped out of the car into the porte-cochere and surveyed the scene. I began to laugh and asked my wife what the resort area reminded her of. She looked puzzled and after a moment smiled and responded that if felt like Hilton Head. I smiled and we took our family into the lobby and then up to our high floor ocean view accommodation.
After settling in and taking in some incredible views from our 14th story balcony we went back down and explored both the Marriott’s OceanWatch Villas and the adjacent Marriott Resort & Spa @ Grande Dunes.
We were informed by the front desk that guests at the Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas shared property privileges with the hotel so we tried out the different pool areas at both and finally settled on the Woodsy pool area, located behind the Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas horseshoe-shaped Oceanfront towers. The pool area was fronted by the Pine and Maple back buildings which also housed an indoor pool.
I won’t go into a great deal regarding the stay itself. It was a typical vacation club experience which means it was a great time had by all enjoying the assortment of pools, activities, beach and dining options at the resort and adjacent hotel.
I would sum up the experience as one of mild surprise. I had come with preconceptions regarding Myrtle Beach and found a green bubble of Hilton Head verdancy on the beach accessible to and insulated from the sounds and sights of Myrtle Beach.
Here’s my list of Pros and Cons:
- Located in a pool of relative tranquility (Grande Dunes Plantation) with easy access to all that Myrtle Beach has to offer
- The amenities offered by a dual hotel/Marriott vacation club combination. There are about thirteen such hotel/vacation club resorts in the entire Marriott Vacation Club system (by my count) and Marriott’s OceanWatch Villas packs more amenity punch than the typical standalone Vacation Club Resort
- Incredible views: even some of the back building garden views offered some ocean views and the views from Oceanfront and Oceanside were expansive.
- This is a matter of taste, however, I am not a golfer and I wasn’t in love with the town of Myrtle Beach. Too developed for my taste, but I am coming from having worked in Maui where there are no billboards and building restrictions.
- I would have like to have a second balcony off the master bedroom (typical floor plan for Marriott vacation club 2BR villas)
- The resort is located about 6 miles from the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, if you have teenagers, you might be driving them down to spend time on it. There were plenty of kids on the property when I went and my teenagers had a great time.