What to Do and Where to Meet on the Water in the Coastal Carolinas
Wilmington's Riverfront Park. Credit: Wilmington and Beaches CVB
When groups arrive in the coastal towns of North and South Carolina, they’ll find there’s endless activities to get them out on the water—as well as venues to get them as close to it as they can. With those warm Atlantic waters and Southern charm for days, planners are sure to find something memorable to plan for groups in these Coastal Carolina meeting hotspots. Below, we break down some of the most popular group water activities in these areas, as well as a few waterfront venues to keep the coastal vibes going.
When groups arrive in the Outer Banks, one of the water-based activities that is often requested is dolphin watch cruises, “where you can book pontoon boats and go out and see areas in the sound that are pristine, natural wetlands, and on the west side of the islands, where you can see migrating seabirds, pelicans, skimmers,” said Aaron Tuell, public relations manager for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, who added that the Outer Banks is also a big birding destination.
The Outer Bank is also known for its stellar deep-sea fishing, and if groups are looking for a more active water activity, Tuell recommends head boat fishing, where large boats can take your group out onto the water and everyone can fish at once. Popular outfitters include Crystal Dawn Head Boat Fishing and Miss Oregon Inlet Head Boat Fishing.
“Groups can come without any gear or prior knowledge and try fishing in the Roanoke Sound and catch small species of catch-and-release or catch-and-cook fish,” Tuell said. “Those usually run two or four hours, and you can see some of the same nature [as the cruises], but it’s more focused on the fishing experience and more hands-on.”
For smaller, retreat-style groups, planners can look to evening sailing on the sound, where a sailboat can take a group out at twilight with picnic refreshments and beverages to watch the sunset. Other popular water activities for groups include kayaking and paddling tours and jet ski rentals.
There’s no shortage of ways to appreciate the coastal beauty of Wilmington, North Carolina, from its River District and Riverwalk that winds around the Cape Fear River to three island beaches (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach). When groups have a meeting here in the books, the most frequently requested water-adjacent activities are cruises, waterfront dining and events on The Pier at Port City Marina.
Wilmington’s beaches and other waterways are also prime for such water activities as surfing, paddleboarding, boating, swimming, kayaking and fishing—many of which are often used as teambuilding exercises.
For wow-worthy water views, planners should look to the new Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park, which is a 6.6-acre urban green space and an ideal outdoor venue for receptions and other special events. It can accommodate more than 6,000 attendees, who can enjoy views of the Cape Fear River. The new pavilion is an open-air music venue managed by Live Nation, making it one of only a handful of Live Nation music venues located on the water.
Another waterfront venue new to Wilmington is the Aloft Wilmington at the Coastline Center, which features a unique pedestrian- and pet-friendly “Front Yard.” The outdoor space features a fire pit, music and seating and is connected to the hotel’s bar, WXYZ, for outdoor beverage service. The Front Yard can accommodate up to 50 guests. The new property also offers the aView Rooftop Bistro for private events of up to 100.
Getting out on the water is easy for groups in Myrtle Beach, which boasts 60 miles of beaches and an action-packed boardwalk. Groups are often in favor of dolphin cruises, fishing excursions and even helicopter tours.
“It really depends on the size of the group and how adventurous they want to be,” said Bob Harris, executive vice president of group sales for Visit Myrtle Beach. “A group last fall wanted to fly over the water, so we have two helicopter companies here, and we organized it—I think we had about 40 people—and we went up and did a helicopter tour down the coast, so they could see the coast from a different perspective.”
Attendees can also get a bird’s eye view of the water from Myrtle Beach’s SkyWheel, standing 200 feet above the ocean and featuring 42 climate-controlled, enclosed gondolas that seat up to six passengers. Other popular water activities in Myrtle Beach include parasailing, kayaking and ecotourism experiences—and planners can look to the DMO for any guidance.
“There are different experiences at different seasons, and we can help connect them to the right outfitters and share with them what is the best experience during that time,” Harris said, “whether it’s which restaurants are best at what time of year or whether it’s an ecotourism experience. We also have a casino boat that leaves from here as well. We can give them all kinds of options. And we encourage people, especially planners, to call us up and come down and do a site inspection so we can show them some of those things.”
In this coastal enclave off the coast of South Carolina, water activities meet abundant natural beauty and Southern charm. Groups can board a dolphin watch cruise from Harbour Town Marina to watch bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat. Sailing and fishing excursions are also popular, as well as horseback riding on the beach.
Groups can take a ferry across the sound to Daufuskie, the southernmost sea island in South Carolina and a 5,000-acre historic community, and work with Daufuskie Island Trail Rides to organize private rides along three miles of pristine white sand oceanfront. The outfitter offers a number of different packages, including an eco-tour led by a biologist with a wealth of knowledge of the island’s ecosystem and birds.
During the low season (mid-October to mid-March), groups can horseback right on the sand, while during the high season, rides take place off the sand (but still within yards of the ocean on grassy dunes) in an effort to protect sea turtle nesting.
Outer Banks Visitors Bureau | (877) 629-4386
Hilton Head Island VCB | (843) 785-3673
Visit Myrtle Beach | (843) 626-7444
Wilmington and Beaches CVB | (910) 341-4030