Driving north on U.S. 17 over the North Carolina state line, I forgot about snapping a photo of the welcome sign until it was too late. The hour was getting late after detouring off the main route to drive around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and along a slow moving Business 17 on a busy Thursday afternoon. I can’t imagine the crowded gridlock of Business 17 and Myrtle Beach in full summer tourist season.
Myrtle Beach was a seemingly endless strip of mini-golf, adventure parks and all-you-can-eat buffets. There were truly a lot of buffet places on the strip.
Mt. Atlanticus Minotaur Goff Myrtle Beach mini-golf resort is open 9am to midnight. The description of this park on their website: “Mount Atlanticus Minotaur Goff is the one of the TOP miniature golf courses in Myrtle Beach with 36 holes of the best Putt-Putt at the beach.” South Carolina’s northern coastal development of Myrtle Beach looked like mini-golf heaven.
My impression of South Carolina was an exclusive enclave of historic Charleston set amidst coastal development run amok in the south with Hilton Head Island golf resorts and gated villages and the Myrtle Beach miles-long strip mall of retail, dining and mini-golf amusement parks.
I crossed the state line into North Carolina through a pine forest and Atlantic Beach was still another 170 miles from Myrtle Beach. The hour was pushing 4pm. My sightseeing in North Carolina was from the car window since I wanted to be in Atlantic Beach before sunset for photos. There was one place north of Wilmington where I watched dozens of turkey vultures, or buzzards as they seemed to be called in North Carolina, soar the breezes above a pine forest.
Finally, in Jacksonville, North Carolina the road to Atlantic Beach took me off U.S. Route 17 to head east on Highway 24 bordering the military base of Camp Lejeune. I crossed a bridge over the Bogue Sound to Highway 58 which is geographically the ‘Crystal Coast’. In tourism marketing the area is sometimes called the ‘southern Outer Banks’.
Bogue Sound seen from Highway 58, southern route to Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach.
Google Maps with Atlantic Beach, North Carolina pin south of Morehead City across the Bogue Sound. Cape Lookout is southeast and Ocracoke Island is at top of map to northeast. Emerald Isle with Atlantic Beach is the last strip of outer beach land connected by bridge to the mainland until US 64 another 175 miles to the north where bridges cross the Croatan and Roanoke Sounds to Nags Head, North Carolina in the Outer Banks. Cedar Island Ferry terminus for the Ocracoke ferry is 60 miles northeast of Atlantic Beach.
Typical beach house construction on Emerald Isle. These grow to four story homes on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina
My room ratewas $103 for the DoubleTree Atlantic Beach on Thursday night, May 8. The rates were $50 more per night for Friday at this HHonors category 6 hotel. Rates for the first weekend in June 2014 are around $240+ per night.
Outdoor pool at DoubleTree Atlantic Beach.
I arrived about 30 minutes before sunset with shadows cast along the eastern sand beach shoreline. Quickly I snapped photos of the surroundings before the sunlight was gone.
Balcony view looking north from my room near the top of DoubleTree Atlantic Beach. Emerald Isle is only about 400 yards wide with the Atlantic Ocean on the right and Bogue Sound on the left.
View from DoubleTree Atlantic Beach of Bogue Sound and bridge to Morehead City in distance.
Atlantic Beach at sunset seen from balcony of DoubleTree Hotel.
The hotel room itself was nothing special. This place is all about the location. After five days of the anticyclone weather pattern of cloudless skies and temperatures in the 90s for nearly 12 hours a day, the ocean breeze coming into the room was unbelievably refreshing. The sound of waves were the first I had heard from my hotel rooms all week. I felt my journey to the Outer Banks of North Carolina had begun. I kept the patio door wide open all night to listen to the waves and feel the coolness of the ocean breeze.
DoubleTree Atlantic Beach balcony.
DoubleTree Atlantic Beach double beds, TV and dresser. The bathroom was a standard bathroom. nothing unique about the space.
The hotel has both indoor pool and hot tub and outdoor pool.
A small play area for children with slides is near the pool area.
Past the pool there is a wood pier behind the hotel.
Fishing from the pier and rough water from the stiff breeze.
After a long day of driving without much eating, I needed dinner. Yelp showed Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant and Bar as #1 for Atlantic Beach. I drove the couple miles north to find Amos insanely crowded. I walked in, looked around, had my ears assaulted by the noise of a hundred people talking and walked out. Island Grille was #2 on Yelp. Their restaurant was a small intimate place and quiet with two friendly women working the restaurant and bar who gave me my first taste of North Carolina friendly hospitality. I ordered crab cakes and salad. The meal was gourmet, miniscule, resort island expensive and the best tasting dinner I had my entire trip in the southeast USA.
Back at the DoubleTree after dark, I checked the ferry times at 7:00am and 10:30am. The ladies at Island Grille asked me if I had a reservation for the Cedar Island ferry to Ocracoke. I did not have a reservation. They recommended I try and catch the early ferry so I would not be sitting at the ferry terminal for three hours if the late morning ferry was full.
I left the DoubleTree at 5:30am to drive the 60 miles to Cedar Island Ferry Terminal. I gave myself plenty of time and even stopped for a coffee in Morehead City while I plugged directions into my iPhone. Unfortunately, I typed Cedar Point and not Cedar Island and found myself on a dead end road having driven 11 miles in the wrong direction. Getting myself back on the direct route using my iPhone maps gave me two more audible phone directions contradicting the road signs. I tossed the iPhone map for the Highway 12 road sign directions and sped my way through some of the most beautiful marshlands and estuaries I’ve seen to reach the Cedar Island ferry before 7:00am.
I arrived at 6:55am and I was the last car to board the North Carolina State Ferry for the 2.25 hour, 20-mile boat trip to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.
View of Cedar Island from ferry to Ocracoke.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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