“Christmas at Pirates Voyage Dinner Attraction” in Myrtle Beach makes a splash in multiple ways even before the formal show sets sail to “I Saw Three Ships.”
Based at the theater’s lagoon, known as Buccaneer Bay, Pirates Voyage will soon finish its second season of Christmas shows since Dolly Parton had her Dixie Stampede theater transformed in 2011 into a new sea-faring era for entertainment after 18 years of riding high in an equestrian theme.
For November and December, the show still walks the plank with its raider theme from the rest of the year, but the lead character becomes “Captain Scrooge.” Weaving yuletide songs into the plot in many clever ways, the show builds up to the theme of the season through its adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and the audience sits on either crimson or emerald sides, with respective pirates for whom to root later in games.
Before entering the arena, all guests, or scallywags, are encouraged to arrive about an hour beforehand for a “carriage show” where jugglers show their flair in flexibility, and in friendly exchanges with folks, such as to see how many U.S. states are represented in the room. Everyone also is asked to practice and polish a collective “Arrrrrrr.”
A pair apiece of macaws – one blue and another scarlet with a rainbow of colors – will take turns flying laps around the arena’s rafters then land gently on their respective handlers’ shoulders.
Juggling candy canes
During the show, as the crowd munches on a meal of creamy vegetable soup, chicken and barbecued pork – or a vegetarian plate – along with corn on the cob, a baked potato and apple pie, tumbling, acrobats, diving and sword fighting consume the pirates. Some will juggle seasonal wares such as large candy canes, and a sea lion will display the deft range of a baseball center fielder by catching flung “salty wreaths” around its head.
Gymnastics fans will lose count of the myriad moves by tumblers down “the beach” lining two front rows of dining tables, such as a back tuck, front and back handsprings, back flips and a “teddy bear” flip routine.
A crew rotating on double trampolines, a larger-than-life “Spirit of Christmas” sporting antlers and beckoning the captain to open your heart for the true meaning of Christmas,” and dancing toys to music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet under black lights add to many memorable sights and sounds leading to a live nativity with the song “Breath of Heaven,” with a burro and three camels.
Everyone, including the always-on-the-go food servers, gets to play cheerleader for a “Christmas competition,” covering such challenges as a diving contest off a board, plank or platform, as well as a relay of swinging and diving with the winner jingling the bell. Some diners also will join the show games, mainly to ride in a boat pull and help in a bucket water relay.
Parton’s Imagination Library, a literacy program that mails free books to Horry County residents from birth until age 5, also merits a moment in the spotlight, encouraging parents to sign up recipients. More than 600,000 books have been circulated locally, among 50 million around the globe.
Larry McCoy, longtime director of sales and marketing from Dixie Stampede in Myrtle Beach continuing with Pirates Voyage, said each show “flows very smoothly,” not only from the view in the seats, but for the people on the boat-deck stage and underwater making the big pieces move.
Animals happy to shine
He said besides the human performers, the animals such as the three sea lions taking turns and the macaws, show they’re having fun and so easily “energetic.”
“I don’t know gets entertained more,” McCoy said. “The audience or the birds. ... Sometimes it seems like they make more than one flight around. ... They’re so beautifully colored. You don’t get to see them every day in that kind of setting.”
McCoy said the sea lions, for instance, split free time between indoor and outdoor pools, the latter of which is visible trough a fence from the west parking lot side of the building, specially made in the former Dixie Stampede stables, where the camels and donkey have made home for November and December.
Speaking of sea lions – distinguished from seals because they have external ear flaps, and large flippers, including rear ones they rotate, so they can walk on land – McCoy said the Pirates Voyage trio have their own menu and dietician, with a caretaker “there day and night with them.”
McCoy said Pirates Voyage overall has grown into its own identity, just like Dixie Stampede – which continues in Branson, Mo., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. – and that “you see these kids’ faces” react to this buccaneer brand, with customers’ feedback expressing how “they’ve never seen anything like this.”
“You might think,” he said, “pirates and Christmas: How does that work?”
“Our own version” of Dickens’ classic story about Scrooge, McCoy said, gives “a perfect story” to incorporate in to this show, “and what a way to include a nativity scene. It actually fits into the story line.”
The captain comes around, too, realizing, “I understand now the reason for the season.”
Even Santa Claus isn’t left out of the mix, bringing some buccaneer lingo into his trademark greeting: “Yo-ho!”