Just off the southernmost tip of Florida’s mainland, the Florida Keys is a chain of islands formed by coral and connected by the Overseas Highway. Just driving along the highway from island to island affords great scenic views; once groups arrive, they can experience the beauty of a living reef.
“We have a living coral reef that protects us from the waves,” said Jack Meier, group travel sales manager for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. “You can see it at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.
“The coral reef is at its closest place to the Keys and is accessible by boat. Glass-bottom-boat tours are very popular with groups there.”
On Islamorada, a local marina has a number of large party boats that groups can charter for cruises into the backcountry. Travel and Leisure readers have voted the beaches of Bahia Honda State Park on Bahia Honda Key among the top 10 beaches in the country.
Once the bus reaches Key West, groups have plenty of options, from museums and historical tours to more adventurous activities on the water.
“You can go out on a catamaran and do snorkeling on the reef,” Meier said. “You’re going to see an unbelievable vista of nature at its best. This is one of the few living coral reefs in the Northern Hemisphere.
“There are vibrant colors and different migratory fish from up and down the Gulf Stream.”
For some variety, groups can visit houses that belonged to Ernest Hemingway and John James Audubon, as well as Harry Truman’s Little White House on Key West.
South Carolina’s Grand Strand
Comprising the area between Murrells Inlet, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina’s Grand Strand is one of the country’s most popular coastal destinations. Groups visit for the scenery and weather, as well as the wealth of shopping, shows and entertainment available in these towns.
North Myrtle Beach is home to several popular theaters. Guests can spend their days on the water, then visit the Carolina Opry, Legends in Concert or the Alabama Theater for professional performances of classic country, pop and rock ’n’ roll music.
The Alabama Theater is located at Barefoot Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex built on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway. Other attractions at the landing include the House of Blues and an Intracoastal sightseeing cruise.
In Myrtle Beach, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a longtime group favorite, has been overhauled to create a nautical-themed show.
“They did a new show called ‘Pirates Voyage,’” said Kimberly Miles, public relations manager for the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s still a dinner show, but with a whole new concept.
“They spent $11 million redoing the show and putting in a huge water tank. There are all these live stunts and pyrotechnics, and Dolly was involved in every aspect of the production.”
This fall, Myrtle Beach welcomes the Pat Boone Family Theater, which will feature a resident illusionist, as well as regularly scheduled concerts and some special appearances by Pat Boone.
In May, the Myrtle Beach Sky Wheel opened at the Oceanfront Boardwalk with 42 glass gondolas that climb to 196 feet. The ride gives passengers a 360-degree view of the coastline and inland areas.
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