If you want to get out on Christmas Day, we’ve got some ideas for you

12/20/2012 12:00 AM

12/19/2012 12:32 PM

Not every place is closed on Christmas Day.

Besides movie theaters, which will premiere “Les Miserables” on Tuesday, Grand Strand residents and vacationers have an assortment of things to do after the presents are opened and people are eager to get out after a family meal – or to take a break from family time.

Before sunrise, both area state parks – Myrtle Beach and Huntington Beach – will open their gates at 6 a.m., just like every other day of the year.

Mike Walker, an interpretive ranger at Huntington Beach State Park, said Christmas Day crowds in the park, on U.S. 17, between Murrells Inlet and Litchfield Beach, are “generally not huge, although the days following it will be quite busy.”

He said that pattern with Christmas week “has really grown over the years,” as many families go camping, with students being out of school and parents taking time off from work.

Two almost daily amenities that will continue on the holiday are the park’s nature center opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – something new for this Christmas Day, Walker said, and the historic Atalaya home 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

At the nature center, guests can observe the “Feeding Frenzy” program at 11 a.m., when its various animals – such as a stingray, horseshoe crab and turtles – will be fed, and visitors can “learn more about their life histories, and even get to touch a few of them,” Walker said.

At Atalaya, signs throughout the National Historic Landmark explain each room’s original use, Walker said, and an audio tour for $4 gives “a very in-depth tour of the building, along with actual recordings of Anna Huntington sharing her experiences at Atalaya.”

Talking by phone from the nature center this week, Walker thanked a crew of volunteers who help at the park on a holiday, who don’t have family in town or plans for the day.

He reminded everyone about the park providing a great spot in winter to view wildlife, particularly waterfowl “and plenty of wading birds,” and looking for sea shells in the surf.

He joked about how “the bugs are not bad” at this cooler time of season, and that a few folks still manage to brave the ocean temperatures in the 50s for a swim.

“It’s not my idea of ‘That water’s fine,’” Walker said, “but there’s always somebody for whom it’s just right.”

Cheer in the alleys

A handful of local bowling alleys will be open on the holiday.

Nikki McDaniel, the marketing coordinator at her family-owned Waccamaw Bowling Center, off U.S. 501 just west of Myrtle Beach, said many families turn out every Christmas night, then a younger crowd hits the lanes as the evening progresses.

“Around dinner time,” McDaniel said, “we get families looking for something to do.”

Then, high schoolers and college-age students start showing up later in the night, she said.

Even working on such a day, “We’re super festive,” McDaniel said.

“Everybody’s pretty extra cheery on the holiday,” she said, “even the customers.”

Lights on every night

Shadrack’s “Christmas Wonderland,” celebrating its second Christmas season at the stadium where the Myrtle Beach Pelicans play baseball April through September, doesn’t take a day off for Christmas. The drive-through, all-LED extravaganza and Christmas village will continue to open at 6 p.m. every day through Jan. 6.

Richie King, owner of Shadrack, based in Bristol, Tenn., said the holiday itself remains “one of the best times to see the show and that Dec. 24 and 25 remain “a couple of our busiest days.”

On Christmas, if people have dined and don’t want to sit around, the lights give “something for the family to get out and do together,” King said.

With extra songs for customers to hear on their car radios – nine in all for 35 minutes of music during the drive – a new tunnel of lights – 18 feet tall and 80 feet long – “has been a huge hit” this fall, King said.

Scanning other improved aspects the 2012 production, for which attendance has climbed about 20 percent since 2011, King said the Christmas movies playing on the video scoreboard have entertained guests and that a portion of proceeds again benefits local causes: the American Red Cross, Grand Strand Humane Society and Impact Ministries.

To enjoy the 11/2-mile-long, guided drive through the parking lot of lights, King said generally 30 to 40 minutes has been a popular pace, with lighter crowds on Sundays through Thursdays, vs. Fridays and Saturdays “being packed.”

Some parties in their vehicles bring feasts of doughnuts or pies in “pizza boxes,” King said, to munch on during the leisurely loops through the lot.

About 1 million lights make up the whole display, driven by 117 computers, King said, explaining how crews spend four weeks to set it all up with nine miles of wires, King said, then dissemble it in just a few days.

“It’s one strand of lights at a time going up,” he said, “and several strands at a time going down. ... We peel it like a banana.”

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