Vacationed at Carolina Beach and the surrounding area from Saturday, July 21 to Saturday 28. I extensively research online the places I will be visiting and some of you may find this review to be at least marginally useful. Day One: We arrived in Wilmington late morning on July 21 and our hotel check-in time in Carolina Beach was not until 3 pm so we stopped in downtown Wilmington at the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a spectacularly well-executed concept of what a small city can do with a waterfront. It is basically a one-mile boardwalk fronting the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington. It is lined with very good restaurants, unique shops, great natural scenery, and is flat so it is very easy to walk. Parking is pretty simple. There are numerous city parking decks in the downtown area and I would suggest the one on Market & Front Street one block from the Riverwalk. Our first foray was to the Cotton Exchange, which is a building on the north end of the Riverwalk that used to be the center of the Wilmington’s cotton industry over a century ago and is now three floors of stores and restaurants. The stores are a mix of a lot of different concepts and we found some of them to be very unique. Next up, we strolled south past the imposing Federal Courthouse, which may look familiar to you if ever watched much of the TV series “Matlock”. The courthouse scenes for the series were filmed in and outside of the building. Directly across the river from the courthouse is the battleship USS North Carolina. It is permanently moored and open to visitors for self-guided tours. We were getting hungry and ate at Elijah’s Restaurant located at the south end of the Riverwalk. Encore Magazine is an entertainment section of the Wilmington Star newspaper and they publish a “best of” every year. We ate in a number of the “best of” restaurants and generally found the recommendations to be well worth the visit. Elijah’s was rated as the “2007 best downtown outdoor dining experience” so we gave them a try and would definitely recommend this place. After that, we drove approximately 15 miles south to our hotel in Carolina Beach. Carolina Beach turned out be a convenient junction to go north or south during our visit. It is close enough to Wilmington to make a quick dash into the city and far enough away to definitely be “at the beach”. We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Carolina Beach. It is Trip Advisor’s number one rated hotel in Carolina Beach. Having not stayed at the other hotels in Carolina Beach, my review is subjective but I was very happy with my 7-night stay at this hotel. This is the only “chain hotel” in Carolina Beach and is the highest building in the town. It is 10 floors and I asked for and stayed on the 10th floor for reasons I’ll get into later. I stayed in a nice-sized room with a king bed. All rooms are oceanfront and the bed directly faced the ocean. Very cool to lay in bed and look at awesome ocean views. Bed was comfortable, never took too long to catch an elevator (a pet peeve of mine), housekeeping was good, bathroom was pretty big, had a little refrigerator for my cold drinks, the staff was efficient and nice. What was bad…my bathtub drained very slowly during showers and the outdoor pool looked nice but strangely enough was pretty cold during my entire stay. It’s a mystery to me how the ocean temperature was 83 degrees and the pool temperature had to be at least 15 degrees colder. Also, ¾ of the pool is 3 feet deep and rest was 5 feet deep. Nice for kids…not nice for me. Didn’t try the hotel restaurant because there are too many other better choices in Carolina Beach. FYI, you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas at the front desk and they will be set up for you down at the beach. Best deal is to bring your own beach chairs and rent the umbrella. The ocean was perfect. Memo to Mother Nature…don’t change a thing. Day Two: Breakfast at Jimbo’s on College Rd. in Wilmington. Encore Magazine “2007 Wilmington best breakfast”. Nothing fancy but this place is open 10 pm to 2 pm (sounds kind of strange doesn’t it) and makes the best omelets period, end of story. Went to the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. A 15-minute trip south from the hotel and well worth the visit. Was going to go to the Ocean Grille & Tiki Bar for the only oceanfront dining in Carolina Beach. Got my first taste of “there will be a one hour wait for seating”(an all too common refrain in Carolina Beach). Decided not to wait and went to the Deck House Restaurant in Carolina Beach for dinner. Wow! This is the best restaurant in Carolina Beach hands down. Yes, we still had to wait 30 minutes to be seated but the food was very good. The restaurant is in a converted church and we were lucky to be seated in what used to be the choir loft overlooking the main restaurant floor. Very intimate and romantic. Order anything from the daily special listings. You won’t be disappointed! Day Three: They say humans originally evolved from the ocean. I spent most of the day trying to reverse the process. Went to Wilmington for dinner and a movie. Ate at Heironymous Seafood on Market Street. Encore Magazine “2007 Wilmington best seafood restaurant”. Yep, they got that one right. The restaurant is pretty nondescript but the seafood…oh the seafood! If you can only eat at one restaurant in Wilmington…Eat There. Went to the movies right down the street at the Carmike 16. Stadium seating. Saw Ratatouille with three other people in the whole theater. Best animated movie we have seen in the last five years. Definitely better than all that Shrek junk. If you have kids…if you don’t have kids…Go See It! Day Four: The coolness factor went up a couple of notches. I chartered an all day sailing cruise on a 37’ sloop named Latitudes. Just my wife and I with our captain and his first mate. We sat on very comfortable seats directly on the deck at the front of the boat and enjoyed the trip up to Wrightsville Beach with the first mate bringing us plenty of liquid refreshments and plates of cheese, grapes, crackers…well you get the ideaJ We sailed into the Intra Coastal Waterway and docked at the Dockside Restaurant & Marina for lunch. Why did we pick this place? You guessed it. Encore Magazine “2007 best restaurant on the intra coastal waterway”. Nothing fancy about it but great food with great views. I won’t even get into how over the top it is to take a sailing sloop to lunch. My reward to myself for working my butt off this year. Just the wind and the ocean…no sound…7 hours…I zoned out…I don’t know how many ways there are to rejuvenate your soul but this is definitely one of them! You can find Captain Cal and his first mate Ginger at latitudescharters.com. They do half day and all day charters anywhere you want to go. Went to dinner at Freddie’s Restaurant in Kure Beach when we got back. My first dining disappointment. This restaurant is very highly regarded for something you would not expect to find at the beach. Pork chops…yes, you heard me correctly…this restaurant is renowned for their pork chops and have been for a long time. In fact, they have about 10 different pork chop recipes you can choose from on the menu. The sauces on the pork chops were very good. The pork chops themselves sucked. I don’t ask for a lot from a pork chop. Pretty much all I want is tender. Got tough instead. Very hard to cut and eat. Both my wife’s and mine. I was not impressed. You’ll find pork chops on the menus of a number of local restaurants. Not quite sure what the fascination is there but take a pass on Freddie’s. Day Five: Breakfast at Jimbo’s again on College Rd. in Wilmington. I have figured out by now why people (including me) are willing to stand in line to eat here. Went back to the Riverwalk. Rode the river taxi over to the battleship USS North Carolina. It is a very interesting experience although be forewarned an all-metal battleship gets pretty warm inside during the summer and requires a little bit of exercise getting around the ship. You can drive over the bridge to get there and park for free at the battleship but it’s more fun to take the river taxi like we did. The river taxi is $4 roundtrip per person and leaves from the center of the Riverwalk. It shows up every 15 minutes for the return trip. Returned to the Riverwalk for the narrated Wilmington Trolley Tour, which leaves from the Riverwalk and was very interesting. Tour lasted about 45 minutes and covered about 5 miles. Saw a Hollywood film crew shooting scenes for a movie in Wilmington’s oldest church. Over 400 movies and TV series have been filmed in Wilmington and the surrounding area. Screen Gems Studio is located in Wilmington and you can tour their lots. Dawsons Creek was filmed in Wilmington, as is One Tree Hill. Interestingly enough, Richard Gere and Diane Lane were filming in Carolina Beach the week before we went there. Next, we visited Chandler’s Wharf on the southern end of the Riverwalk. Chandler’s Wharf used to be naval stores and mercantile warehouses a 100 years ago. The cobblestone street is still there but now Chandler’s Wharf has been transformed into unique shops, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Ate at the Pilot House Restaurant, which is directly next to Elijah’s Restaurant. Food was just as good as Elijah’s (my wife said it was actually better). Back to Carolina Beach for floating in the ocean therapy. Back into Wilmington for dinner at Heironymus Seafood…again! Now the surreal part…I live in Richmond, VA. We have a very good (as in defending league champion and currently in first place) USL professional soccer team named the Richmond Kickers. I have never gone to seen them play. Turns out they were playing an away game versus the Wilmington Hammerheads and of course I went to see them play. The Hammerheads have a great stadium and a fun crowd. I enjoyed the game a lot, which ended in a 2-2 tie, which explains in a nutshell why I don’t generally go to soccer games. There is something downright un-American about a sporting event ending in a tie. Enough said! Day 6: Breakfast at McDonalds…hey, I had to take a break from being a culinary gourmet. Starting to slow way down now and vegetated on the beach all day after a quick trip to Divine Wines. Picked up a bottle of wine with some very nice aged Gouda cheese for “later”. Briefly considered swimming to Europe but eventually settled for floating 100 feet from the beach all day. Walked over to Trolley Stop Hotdogs for lunch. I suppose I could tell you Encore Magazine says Trolley Stop Hotdogs makes the best hot dogs ever (they do indeed say that) but let me give you a source of much more authority. Me! I am…to put it mildly…a hot dog connoisseur. I have eaten at a lot of the most celebrated hot dog places in this country. Hot dogs are a food group to me, and the perfect hot dog is my holy grail of food. I have finally found hot dog nirvana. It is Trolley Stop Hotdogs. My only vacation regret is that I waited until the end of my vacation to start eating there. My wife even asked me if we could get them to put a franchise in Richmond. Back to the ocean until the police start clearing the beach. Do not be alarmed. It was for a very good cause but back to that later. Went to Michael’s Seafood Restaurant in Carolina Beach for dinner. One of the most highly rated restaurants in Carolina Beach and deservedly so. Excellent food but be prepared to wait a while for a table. By the way most of the beach restaurants don’t accept reservations so get used to waiting for a table or go to Wilmington to eat. And now…the 10th floor room, the wine and cheese, and the police will all become infinitely clear. About 9 pm and the sun has finally left us. I take my wife out to the hotel balcony with the wine and cheese and we proceed to get an eye-level view of fireworks being shot off on the beach directly in front of the hotel. The town of Carolina Beach does this every Thursday evening all summer long. Way cool! Way romantic! Day 7: Blew off the ferry ride to explore the town of Southport. Blew off the trip to explore Fort Fisher Historic Area (we have more than enough Civil War stuff back in Richmond). Blew off exploring Carolina Beach State Park (yes, that really do have Venus Flytraps growing in the wild there…no, it’s not a good idea to go hiking on trails in 90 degree weather with 70% humidity). On the bright side, we had breakfast at Trolly Stop Hotdogs…yeah, that’s right…hot dogs for breakfast…you got a problem with that? I am getting brown…I think I am starting to turn native and have started complaining to my wife about the “tourists”. I give her dirty looks when she reminds me I am a tourist. Ah, but I have one more rabbit in my hat. After yet another wonderful day at the beach, we go back into Wilmington for one last hurrah. First dinner at the Water Street Restaurant on the Riverwalk (we were less than impressed with this place). Then the Henrietta III was awaiting us. The Henrietta III started life as a casino riverboat on Mississippi River and is now is used for cruises on the Cape Fear River. It departs directly from the Riverwalk for all types of cruises. We were there for the Cape Fear Blues Cruise, which is the signature event of the Cape Fear Blues Festival. Three decks, three blues bands, great food, and a whole lot of alcohol. The scenery at twilight on the Cape Fear River was spectacular. 2 hours of fun and back to the dock. We slept very well. Day 8: On the way out of town…breakfast at…surprise!…Jimbo’s. I hope this helps some of you planning a trip to the Cape Fear area. We really enjoyed the Cape Fear area and truly appreciated that it has not yet turned into the overcrowded "tourist hell" that most of the East Coast beach areas have become.