Caroline Smith took in the scene at the Pirates Voyage Village with a keen eye Friday.
Clad in a Dollywood shirt, she had traveled from Ash, N.C., with her parents for opening night of Pirates Voyage: Fun, Feast and Adventure, the latest Dolly Parton production to hit Myrtle Beach.
"I love pirates, and I think the show will be good," said Caroline, 10, who said before the show that she already was impressed with the ceiling maps and decor. "It'll be my first time seeing [Parton], and it's very exciting."
The Smith family was part of a sold-out crowd of all ages that awaited the scoundrels and scalawags of Pirates Voyage and to see Parton during her special visit for opening night. The interactive dinner show replaces Parton's Dixie Stampede, which had operated for 19 years. Theater officials sought a change for the show's many return visitors, deciding to tap into local pirate lore - Blackbeard pillaged the Atlantic coast from the Outer Banks to the Caribbean - and create a swashbuckling sea adventure of food, fun and original music by Parton.
Jennifer Smith, Caroline's mother, said they bought their tickets for the show in January. She said she had followed the show's transformation through Facebook and thinks the new theme will be a good change. She and husband Ernest were impressed with the cosmetic changes inside the theater, as well as the pirate jigs that were playing before the show.
"I'm a wait-and-see kind of guy," Ernest Smith said, "and I'll admit I'm still a fan of the other show. It was a landmark, if you will, and as popular as it has been, whatever replaces it needs to top it, but so far, so good."
Parton was in town to launch the new show and was greeted by screams as she climbed the Village stage for the pre-show.
"You know me. I'm kind of daring and adventurous, so I decided to change it up a bit," Parton told the crowd, clad in pink-sequined pirate's garb. "I'm very proud of the show."
Parton, who makes a recorded, big-screen appearance as a mermaid in the show, said that because mermaids are the going thing, "I get to shake my tail underwater." She joked about the Dixie Stampede menu, where she said patrons could eat with their hands, but Pirates Voyage has added mashed potatoes to the lineup, so she's thrown in some silverware to help with the meal. She also led the crowd in a pirate ditty, accompanied by her young nephew, outfitted in a pirate costume.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons presented Parton with a proclamation from the S.C. General Assembly that named Friday "Dolly Parton Day" throughout South Carolina.
"You might not know this, but South Carolina is very near and dear to my heart," said Parton, adding that her mother was born in Union and that the state was like a second home to her.
As for the new show, it pulled out all the stops, shivering the timbers of showgoers with the likes of smoke, fire and a whole lot of water. The theater's $11 million transformation, its first major overhaul, took the venue from a dirt arena of equine antics to maritime magic in a 15-foot-deep lagoon with 750,000 gallons of water. The aquatic stage features hydraulic bridges, aerial acts and a pirate duel between the Crimson and Sapphire crews, with 1,000 seats for spectators surrounding the water.
Acrobats and animals, including a sea lion, entertained the crowd, and a few horses were said to be waiting in the wings. Volunteers, who apparently were unafraid of getting wet, took part in a variety of games, including boat races, bucket brigades and a duck chase. Throughout the night, pirates sailed through the air, bounced on boats and, inevitably, found themselves in the drink.
Pirates Voyage is making a splash on the Grand Strand as three other theaters make new beginnings.
The Pat Boone Theater plans to open later this summer in the former NASCAR Cafe building at the corner of U.S. 17 Bypass and 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. Legends in Concert moved from Surfside Beach to 29th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach earlier this year, and Celebration Music Theatre moved into Legends' former spot in Surfside.
Karen Miller and Keir Williams, both of Myrtle Beach, were trying Pirates Voyage and said they had visited the Dixie Stampede many times. For Miller, the new show was more than just fun; it'll be good for business.
"It'll be a good show, but I run a hotel," Miller said. "Something new is always exciting to tell visitors about."
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.