If you are a regular visitor to Myrtle Beach and The Breakers Resort, you know we like to do things a little differently here on the South Carolina coast. Even something as standard as a Christmas parade receives a bit of a Grand Strand makeover and, voila, you get the Intracoastal Waterway Regatta — a holiday-themed boat parade where the floats literally float.
The 32nd annual event, this year scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 26, is a holiday tradition for the longtime locals and lucky visitors alike who line the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway to watch the procession of brightly decorated boats sail by every Thanksgiving weekend. The ever-growing flotilla features everything from small watercraft to extravagant yachts filled with costume-clad revelers spreading Christmas cheer, competing for prizes and raising donations for underprivileged children in the area.
On the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving, dozens of colorfully decorated and illuminated boats gather at Tilghman Point in Little River, where the Intracoastal Waterway begins its inland trek from the Atlantic Ocean near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Forming a single-file line with smaller boats in the front for dramatic effect, the parade begins right around sunset at 5 p.m. and continues down the Intracoastal Waterway past crowds gathered at marinas, bridges and boat ramps.
Perhaps the most popular places to see the boats come floating by are in the historic waterfront district of the tiny fishing village of Little River. Spectators find cozy spots along the Waterway, including the outdoor dining decks of waterfront restaurants and bars, and watch in awe as the bright lights reflect off the dark waters. Boats blow their horns and blast Christmas music while waving to the adoring onlookers, many of whom enjoy seafood and drinks before a night out on the town.
As the parade route winds its way toward North Myrtle Beach, there are several sweet spots to see the floating show. Captain Poo's at Anchor Marina, Harbourgate Resort and Marina, and Ian's Waterway Bar & Grill provide perfect vantage points, and the North Myrtle Beach Swing Bridge has nearby parking from which you can walk to the edge of the Waterway and get an up-close view. For a more isolated location, bring beach chairs or blankets and watch the procession from Waterway Drive off Old Highway 17.
The real party awaits the flotilla at The Marina at Dock Holidays, where the parade ends at about 7 p.m. and the fun and festivities move to dry land. The boats moor at the surrounding docks, and their captains and passengers come ashore for a holiday bash at Dynamite's restaurant and Boardwalk Billy's Bar & Grill. Awards for the winning boats in each class are awarded, and collections are taken to distribute Christmas gifts to the less-fortunate children of Horry County and to local animal shelters.
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the need is even greater for neighbors in the inland areas of Horry County, where floodwaters left many families dealing with the aftermath for the holidays. The Intracoastal Christmas Regatta hopes to make things just a little brighter for kids who might not have a Christmas otherwise, so parade attendees are asked to bring an unwrapped toy to the collection stations at the local marinas, or to dig deep into their wallets to share the holiday spirit with those dealing with difficult times.
After a magical night at the floating parade, head back to The Breakers Myrtle Beach Resort for a relaxing finish to a perfect night out. Celebrate the start of the holiday season in true Grand Strand fashion, and enjoy the best Myrtle Beach and The Breakers have to offer.