For April vacation this year we needed something fun and kid friendly, and when it comes to the kids, especially our daughter, the thought of dolphins is never too far from the tip of the tongue. We were spending the week at a resort in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and there are a number of options available. We chose a ride on the Sea Thunder.
How to get to the Sea Thunder
Getting there wasn’t too difficult – it’s a short drive from the beach, less than ten minutes from our resort.
Be careful if you’re using Google Maps, though – it will send you to the wrong location.
Sea Thunder is at the Harbourgate Marina, directly behind the Harbourgate Resort, and the dock for the Sea Thunder is almost directly under the Rt. 17 bridge.
Google Maps will put you on a residential street on the other side of Rt. 17.
Instead, you should go down Little River Neck Road, and go past the entrance for the resort (even though the sign does say “Harbourgate Resort & Marina”). The turn for the Marina parking lot is just before you go under Rt. 17.
Do NOT turn down Sea Mountain Hwy, or you may end up stuck in traffic while an interesting drawbridge (which is actually a swivel bridge) lets the boating traffic pass in front of you.
Once you’re at Sea Thunder, if you’ve reserved your tickets online, you can go up to the ticket office and pick them up without waiting. There wasn’t much of a wait while we were there, since April is an off-season for them. If you go during their busy season, you may find it more necessary to reserve your tickets and get there early.
The tickets aren’t exactly cheap: Teens and Adults tickets are $25, Kids (3-12) tickets are $15. But again, if you have a dolphin-crazy child, that’s much more interesting than taking them to the movies or a water park.
As we lined up to get on the Sea Thunder, they stopped us on the dock to take a quick snapshot. This is for a souvenir photo they’ll do for you. It’s twenty bucks, and while it is a nicely done photo and they do put it on a nice plaque with their logo on it, it’s not really worth the twenty in my opinion, but the kids thought otherwise.
At the end of the ride you can safely skip the table where they sell the photos, if you don’t want to bring home a stereotypical souvenir.
The Sea Thunder (Boat)
The boat itself has three main areas for seating: up front, under the tent, and in the rear.
You’ll get the best views from up front, but you’ll get wet. We saw one poor guy get his pricey looking camera soaked because he was up front when a larger boat passed in the opposite direction and everyone sitting there got sprayed when we went through its wake.
The rear or the boat was noisier, as that’s where the engines are, but might offer better views than under the tent for those who want to avoid getting wet up front.
If you want to stay dry, find a seat under the tent.
The Dolphin Cruise
The first half-hour to forty-five minutes of the ride are along the Intracoastal Waterway. You’ll see some nice waterfront cottages, a few golf courses, a beach or two and various other points of interest that the captain will point out to you.
We also saw a bald eagle and two different pair of dolphins swimming in the Intracoastal along with various other boats and water craft.
By the time you get to the open ocean, you’re at the North Carolina border.
The captain of the Sea Thunder steered us directly toward a fishing boat as we got out into the open water. Seems it’s common knowledge among the dolphin tour boat captains that your best bet in finding dolphins is near the fishing boats.
The captain mentioned that some tour boat operators may even subsidize a fishing vessel to stay nearby so the dolphins will nearly always be there.
For the Sea Thunder, and many of the other dolphin tours, they do guarantee you to see dolphins. In the case of the Sea Thunder, that guarantee means that if there are no dolphin sightings on the tour, all the passengers will receive vouchers for another chance at any point in the future (ie, non-expiring tickets).
As soon as we got near the fishing boat, the captain of the Sea Thunder maneuvered us to be behind it, and we were soon surrounded by a pod of dolphins. It was hard not to see dolphins whatever direction you were looking in, but since most dolphins were between the Sea Thunder and the fishing boat, the passengers crowded toward whatever side of the boat faced toward the fishing vessel.
Luckily for us, the Sea Thunder was nowhere near capacity, so we had no problem going from spot to spot for the best viewing. There were maybe 25 to 30 people riding with us that day, while the total capacity of the boat is 149.
At full capacity, I imagine it being more difficult to get up close to the side as the Sea Thunder maneuvers around the fishing vessel and dolphin pod.
On the way back, the kids got a treat; the captain let them each take a turn at steering the Sea Thunder. The kids were a lot more excited about this than I expected, and it certainly made the return trip, which was another half-hour to forty-five minutes back through the Intracoastal Waterway, more exciting for them.
The crew of the Sea Thunder, which included the captain and his first mate, were very friendly, always open to answering questions and the first mate even made the rounds to all the passengers to offer to take group photos with their phone or camera.
All in all, the whole trip might be a bit pricey for a full family, but if your kid is as crazy about dolphins as our daughter is, you should do it at least once in your lifetime.
Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach
There are, of course, plenty of other hotels, motels, resorts, and villas in Myrtle Beach you can consider.
Flying to Myrtle Beach?
Check Momondo for the cheapest flights to Myrtle Beach from wherever you are.
Invitation to #WeekendWanderlust Link Up
#WeekendWanderlust, hosted by Chris & Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Jessi & Tara from Outbound Adventurer, Ashley from A Southern Gypsy, Justin and Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, and yours truly, is a collaborative effort to share travel blog posts, and to discuss all travel-related things.
The hosts organize each week a link up through which travel bloggers from around the world can promote their posts, in exchange for a promise to give some attention to other travel bloggers. (One of the rules for linking up is to comment on three linked up posts.)
If the link up is still open, feel free to add a link to one of your posts below, then comment on three linked up posts. And I welcome comments as well, of course!