Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Family Affair at Family Kingdom

From the same crack reporting team that brought you the Freestyle Music Park brochure featured in SBS this week, I now bring you photos of a much more established Myrtle Beach landmark: Family Kingdom!

Fun Fact #1: Family Kingdom has the largest Ferris wheel in the state of South Carolina!

I had a hankering for a Myrtle Beach TR, and surrogate enthusiasts Bob and Dolly were hot on the trail. Since they prefer to forgo most of the actual "riding" these days, a gated park was out of the question. Luckily for them, Family Kingdom has never charged admission.

Our super sleuth reporting team tracked down their target on the 300 block of S. Ocean Boulevard. They've shared their high-tech GPS device with us so that we can have a frame of reference too. This is a nice touch. Well done, surrogate enthusiast Bob.

View from the spyglass

From the moment they stepped foot in the park, it became clear to our reporters that Family Kingdom has come a long way since its previous incarnation as Grand Strand Amusement Park. Back in the day when I was a kid, this park resembled a glorified carnival: Dingy with a collection of uninspired, semi-permanent rides whose operators didn't exactly dispel the feeling that their charges might collapse at any time.

Fun Fact #2: Family Kingdom's carousel (a.k.a. PTC #87) was built in 1923 and originally resided at New Jersey's now defunct Asbury Park. Read more here.

Not so anymore! Family Kingdom may be the only park on the planet that has a hurricane to thank for its revival. When Hurricane Hugo tore through Myrtle Beach in 1989, it destroyed much of Grand Strand Amusement Park, including the park's famed Swamp Fox roller coaster. Shortly thereafter, William and Cynthia Parker--the original owners--sold the park to the Ammons family, who own a nearby oceanfront resort. The new owners proceeded to rebuild and expand the park, which reopened in 1992 under its current name.

Family Kingdom's signature attraction has always been the Swamp Fox. Designed by John Allen of PTC fame, the Swamp Fox was built in 1966 and now stands as one of the few remaining seaside woodies in the country.

I haven't a clue who or what bestowed that advertised #8 ranking upon this coaster (or how long ago, for that matter). But our reporters know all too well that enthusiasts love stats and rankings of any kind, so they captured this one for posterity. It's all a matter of opinion anyway! And from what I can recall--though it has been an ungodly long time since I've ridden this thing--it is a good coaster. So give it a go before dismissing that claim!

Sling Shot provides 110 feet of freefalling fun. This is technically Family Kingdom's newest ride, although our reporters tell me that everything at this park looks brand new: Fresh paint, beautiful litter-free midway, even clean restroom facilities! If Family Kingdom is looking for a ringing endorsement, I know exactly where to direct them.

Among Family Kingdom's 30+ rides are quite a few treats for adults, including the aforementioned Swamp Fox and Sling Shot. But family and kiddie rides are where this park really shines. In addition to family favorites like a log flume and bumper cars, Family Kingdom boasts a wide selection of rides for the smaller set. Our reporters were impressed. "I would definitely bring a child here," reports surrogate enthusiast Dolly.

What's a seaside amusement park without an accompanying water park? Family Kingdom is home to Myrtle Beach's only oceanfront water park. No need to manufacture a beach ambiance here. Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby!

Fun Fact #3: The Hurricane, located in front of the Ferris wheel on the right, was featured in a 2005 music video by country singer Kenny Chesney.

As I reflected upon this trip to Family Kingdom that I never took, two thoughts crossed my mind. First and most importantly, I have my parents trained well. (Very well.) And secondly, great parks come in all shapes and sizes. Don't be too hasty to dismiss that smaller, traditional park in favor of the nearest concrete jungle. There is plenty of wonderment to be had at both!

Many thanks to our surrogate enthusiasts for sharing this trip report with us!