Each year at this time the Charleston Visitor’s Bureau gears up to promote "Be a Tourist in Your Own Town." In the past, for $20 per person – $50 for a family pass – you could get admission to some of the Lowcountry’s most popular tourist attractions and local restaurants.
Unfortunately, this year there was not enough participation from local businesses, and the Charleston Visitor’s Bureau had to make the difficult decision of putting the program on hold for the 2011 – 2012 winter season.
"I was almost in tears when they told me," said one of the staff members at the new Mount Pleasant Visitor’s Center, "because it’s such a great program. We’re all really hoping that it will be back next year."
Already the outlook for next year sounds promising. Many of the area plantations and a number of downtown Historic Home curators are planning to meet with officials from the Visitor’s Bureau to discuss plans for the next season. They will be looking at ways to encourage more participation from the local attractions, as well as ways to redesign and market the program. Heeding the call, Middleton Place Plantation has already suggested significantly reducing their rates for locals, according to the staff at the Visitor’s Center.
In the meantime, families can visit kid-friendly sites and attractions through the Charleston Explorer’s Club. Introduced over the summer, this free program is designed to immerse children and families in the culture of Charleston, while having fun and learning a thing or two about the town that we are all so lucky to call home. Explorer Passports can be picked up at any of the four Visitor’s Centers (Downtown, Mount Pleasant, Kiawah Island and North Charleston). Be sure to register your passport – using a computer or your smart phone – at CharlestonExplorers.com, and as you visit the participating attractions, present your child’s passport to receive a unique stamp with a location identification number. Collect these stamps and log them into your registration profile online; the more stamp numbers your child enters, the higher up they move in the ranks of the Explorer’s club, and the closer they come to receiving Charleston Explorer mystery prizes!
To get started, check out the holiday events happening at these five Charleston Explorer locations:
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens: Santa’s Workshop and a Gingerbread House will be on display at the main house lawn, where parents can take a break from the many walking tours and read a Christmas story to their children. Kids can also pose with a gingerbread man cutout for a fun holiday photo.
Joseph Manigault House: The Garden Club of Charleston will deck the halls of this National Historic Landmark for the holidays, using only live plants and other organic materials that would have been available throughout the Lowcountry during the early 19th century. This year, the three-story brick townhome will be decorated in the theme of "Charleston’s Antebellum Charms".
South Carolina Aquarium: Visit this one-of-a-kind downtown attraction for a unique afternoon your kids won’t soon forget. Watch Scuba Claus feed the fish and other sea life in the Big Tank every day at 3 p.m., and be sure to stick around for a special showing of "The Polar Express" in the 4-D Immersion Theater!
Boone Hall Plantation Christmas: The world-famous Plantation Mansion and grounds will be decorated in true Charleston style. One of the many Christmas trees you will find throughout the house is decorated exclusively with ornaments made from local sweetgrass; another is decorated with wild berries and cotton grown on the Boone Hall grounds. Live fruit arrangements and magnolia leaf wreaths are just a few of the other details that make this exhibit of holiday splendor one not to miss.
Holiday Festival of Lights Winter Carnival: Not sure how to ring in the New Year? Visit the James Island County Park on Dec. 31 for a night filled with fun, nostalgia and memories in the making. An old-fashioned carousel and other amusement rides will be available for children to enjoy, along with jump castles and a climbing wall. Roast marshmallows or visit Santa’s Sweet Shoppe for a treat, and stick around for the fireworks show at 9 p.m.