Hang your special ornament on the official Ocean Lakes Christmas tree

There are the traditional glass bells with hand-painted greetings, the handmade frames holding photos of families, a Santa playing baseball.

They’ve all graced a limb on the official Ocean Lakes Family Campground Christmas tree through the years – all carefully crafted or selected and hung on the tree by Ocean Lakes guests.

For decades, our guests have played a key role in decorating our official Christmas tree in the Recreation Center, a 12-foot live beauty.

Decorating a Christmas tree is all about family, after all, and our guests make up the Ocean Lakes family.

“It’s an Ocean Lakes family tradition,” Recreation Supervisor Rhonda Boatwright said. “The families look forward to it – it’s special.”

Our tree-trimming party is set for 6 p.m. Saturday in the Recreation Center.

Our tree-trimming party is set for 6 p.m. Saturday in the Recreation Center. This isn’t the usual tree lighting where you stand back and cheer as the lights are switched on. This is a fun, hands-on, tree-decorating party with live entertainment and snacks.

Bring your ornament to decorate the tree or just help us hang ornaments from our collection. 

The tradition of having guests bring a special ornament started in the '80s, in part to help fill up our massive tree. Our guests have embraced it through the years, crafting ornaments that still tell their stories years later: The series chronicling the engagement and first anniversary of a young couple; the matching mitten ornaments from 2006 - one bearing the name of each family member; the handmade frames, all alike, that proudly display the same family year after year for more than a decade.

“The guests are proud to put their ornaments up there,” Boatwright said. “They are always thankful for the opportunity.”

Recreation teammates sort through a box of ornaments from the early 2000s.

Pick out your special ornament and join us Saturday!


Three things to know about spending Thanksgiving at Ocean Lakes

For many families, celebrating Thanksgiving at Ocean Lakes Family Campground is a tradition.

The campground will be packed this week for the holiday, with the smell of fried turkey in the air and the feast on the tables.

Here are three things to make the most of your stay with us this week:

Things to do

Our activities calendar is jam-packed with holiday-themed events all Thanksgiving week. All activities will be in our Recreation Center. Some of the highlights:

Bingo | Prizes for bingo this week will help round out that Thanksgiving meal. Play at 7 p.m. Wednesday for side dishes and at 3 p.m. Thursday for pies for dessert.

Gingerbread House Contest | Bring all your ingredients to build the most impressive gingerbread house from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday. Voting takes place from 9 a.m. Friday to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Recreation Center.

Breakfast with Santa | Be sure to let the Big Guy know what you want this Christmas. You bring your wish list; we’ll provide the doughnuts, orange juice and coffee. 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Recreation Center.

Tree-trimming party | An Ocean Lakes family tradition! Bring your ornament or choose one from our collection to hang on the official Ocean Lakes Family Campground Christmas tree in our Recreation Center. Entertainment and snacks will be provided. 6 p.m. Saturday.

And those are just the highlights; there’s also Christmas trivia, a scavenger hunt and Christmas Karaoke. Get the full list of activities here

Cooking clean up

Can’t you just smell the aroma of fried turkeys drifting through the air in the campground? Yummy. But when it’s time for cleanup, be sure to dispose of that used cooking oil properly – don’t just dump it down the drain!

Drop it off in the special tanks behind the Meet n Eat – Sandy Mart building. Be sure to close the tank lid when finished.

Do NOT pour it down any drain – that can create major problems for our system. We won’t gross you out with the nasty details – trust us, it’s not good.

The oil left in the special containers will be recycled. And it’s easy, responsible clean up!


As you celebrate all that you are thankful for, remember those less fortunate. Here are three ways you can help while you’re staying at Ocean Lakes:

-- Have non-perishable food items that didn’t make it to the Thanksgiving table? Drop them off in our Recreation Center so we can get them to local food banks.

-- Donate a new, unwrapped toy for needy children through the U.S. Marines Corps Toys for Tots program, which helps ensure every kid gets a Christmas present. Collection boxes are in the Main Office and Recreation Center.

-- Drop off new or gently used coats, sweaters, blankets or other items that will help kids and adults in our area stay warm this winter. Collection boxes are in the Main Office and the Recreation Center for Coast Regional Transportation Authority’s 11th Annual Coats for Kids campaign.

Thanks for choosing to celebrate the holiday at Ocean Lakes. Happy Thanksgiving!


Harley-Davidson golf car raffle brings in five-figure donation for special cause

The final tally is in...

The raffle for the Harley-Davidson golf car once owned by our co-founder Nelson Jackson brought in $10,000 for a cause dear to our hearts, Marti’s Wish.

Greg Bender, (right) manager of Ocean Lakes Golf Cars, presents the $10,000 check to Harry Parnell, Marti's widower. 
Marti Parnell was a valued teammate at Ocean Lakes for 35 years who was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer and passed away last year. The money raised through this raffle goes to the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina to bring awareness and possible research of Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma of the stomach.  
Thank you for supporting this effort by buying a raffle ticket over the summer. And congrats to the winner Seymour Port of Little River who had known Marti for 20-plus years.

Seymour Port of Little River won this custom Harley-Davidson Golf Car in a raffle at Ocean Lakes to raise money for Marti's Wish.

Greg Bender, manager of Ocean Lakes Golf Cars who organized the raffle, presented a ceremonial check to Marti’s widower, Harry Parnell, on Friday.

Harry aims to keep Marti’s generous spirit going by raising awareness of this disease and funding research for a cure, early detection or advanced treatments.

“She was always thinking about everybody else,” he said. “Hopefully this is going to really help someone someday.”

Many of our longtime guests knew Marti, who worked in the Main Office for more than three decades welcoming visitors to Ocean Lakes Family Campground and to the Myrtle Beach area.

Marti Parnell was a valued teammate at Ocean Lakes for more than three decades. She was named Outstanding Teammate in 2007.

Want to help Marti's Wish? A barbecue fund-raiser is set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at Pavilion Beverage, U.S. 17 Business in Surfside Beach. The event will include barbecue plates for $10, live entertainment and raffles.

Learn more about Marti's Wish and other ways you can donate here.


Special playground in Myrtle Beach has special connection to Ocean Lakes

 A special playground in Myrtle Beach is giving children with special needs a place to play alongside everyone else – and has a special connection to Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

Savannah’s Playground, at Grand Park near The Market Common, is designed to accommodate children of all abilities, including those with special needs, so all children can play together. It also gives parents with disabilities the chance to play with their kids in a way that other playgrounds don’t accommodate.

The sprawling playground features swingsets, a harmony musical park, climbing areas, slides and a challenge ropes course with a zipline. Various sections cater to different ages.

The $1.2 million Americans with Disabilities Act-approved park opened in Myrtle Beach – about five miles away from Ocean Lakes – late in the summer and has quickly become a hit with families and a model for other cities that want to provide a similar playground, officials said.

The inspiration for the city-owned park came from Savannah Thompson, the 20-year-old daughter of Lance Thompson, General Manager and Vice President of Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

“Everybody knows Savannah,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “You can’t help but be affected by her willpower and genuine happiness, infectious smile. And her family are great representatives of Myrtle Beach.

She’s just an inspiration to all who know her.”

Savannah Thompson, center, during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Savannah's Playground.

Savannah has Williams Syndrome, a condition that presents developmental delays and left her with a heart defect. She had her first surgery when she was 4, but there were complications with the anesthesia that caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Savannah was oxygen deprived for 20 minutes, which caused significant brain trauma. She was in a coma for almost a month, but Savannah fought her way back.

She’s become a bit of a local celebrity: a fixture at Coastal Carolina University where she cheers for her Chanticleers and a regular performer of the national anthem at events such as the United Way Day of Caring breakfast and Miracle League games. She even graced the high-profile stage at the Carolina Country Music Fest in 2015 to accept a donation for the special park that would eventually bear her name, winning the hearts of the fans and famous performers.

“She just brightens your day,” said Ed Gruetzner, regional representative with Carolina Parks and Play, which worked on Savannah’s Playground.

Savannah Thompson cuts the ribbon on the playground bearing her name in September.
During the playground’s ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 3, Savannah – decked out in CCU teal – flashed that trademark smile as several hundred residents and visitors gathered to celebrate the opening of the park, which many experts say is the most impressive enabling park in South Carolina.

“I want to thank everybody for coming. This is a big honor for me and my whole family,” Savannah told the crowd before turning to give her big sis Chandler a big hug.

The playground has been popular with kids of all abilities since it opened – often a hub of activity during the recent nice, sunny fall days.

“We are ecstatic that individuals of all abilities, and of all ages, both residents and guests alike, will be able to enjoy the playground for many, many years to come,” Lance Thompson said. “We could not be happier that Savannah was the inspiration behind the concept, and that the playground has been named in her honor.

“At the risk of offending Disney, in our opinion Savannah’s Playground is the happiest place on Earth.”

The playground has caught the attention of cities and counties in the Southeast considering building similar parks, Gruetzner said. 

“This opened up a lot of eyes,” Gruetzner said. “It kind of sets the bar. It’s starting to trend now.”


Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes spearheaded the project for the city and helped raise the money to make it happen, including $300,000 from South Carolina; $300,000 from the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority; $100,000 from Horry County; $350,000 from the city and $50,000 from Wal-Mart.

“He had the idea, had the vision and put the plan into action,” Kruea said. “It is a good fit for the city.”

Savannah Thompson, center, and big sis Chandler with Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, left, and Rep. Alan Clemmons during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Savannah's Playground in September.

Lance Thompson thanked Rhodes and others for helping make the park happen.

“Our family is very grateful to Mayor Rhodes, the city of Myrtle Beach, the county of Horry, the state of South Carolina, the Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority and all the many other groups and individuals who have worked so tirelessly to make this wonderful facility a reality,” he said.

The new playground has quickly wowed residents and leaders, and more phases are in the works. The city already is planning to add restrooms and an entryway feature that will welcome guests to the park, Kruea said.

Fund-raising for future expansion is underway, though details of the next phases haven’t been locked down. Officials are considering a splash pad, more playground equipment and paddleboats.

“The playground is going to get a lot of use seven days a week,” Kruea said.

If you go

WHAT | Savannah’s Playground
WHERE | Grand Park at The Market Common, near Crabtree Memorial Gym
WHEN | Daily, dawn to dusk

Want to donate?

Get more info here.

Checks should be made out to Savannah’s Playground, LLC

Donations should be mailed to:
Savannah’s Playground
P.O. Box 3971
Myrtle Beach, SC 29578