Easter surprises usually come in colorful baskets with chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs, but for Myrtle Beach, it was a new boardwalk that on Friday opened unexpectedly and in time for the holiday weekend.
Three-quarters of the 1.2-mile boardwalk, from the 14th Avenue pier to Fourth Avenue North, opened to the public mid-afternoon Friday.
That stretch wasn't scheduled to open until May 15, in time for a new beach music festival, but construction was completed ahead of schedule, said Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach.
"The contractor has worked very hard, and the weather cooperated," Kruea said. "We're excited. We've been hoping for weeks now that we'd make Easter."
Kruea said the portion from the 14th Avenue pier to Plyler Park actually was open Thursday, and people were out "exploring it as much as possible.
"There may be one or two minor things to complete next week," Kruea said, "but the work was so very nearly complete that we accepted that part of the project and are happy to have it open to the public."
The opening couldn't have come on a better day, with bright, sunny skies that lured locals and visitors to the waterfront. At various points on the boardwalk, there are alcoves that offer partial shade, and benches are plentiful all along the walk.
"We closed early today, and I just decided to come down," said Mary Avant of Conway, as she sat on a bench looking out to sea. "It's a nice touch. I like to come down and look at the ocean. It's relaxing."
Many seemed pleased with the new attraction, and some people didn't realize the boardwalk had opened, although the scent of new wood and equipment on the beach were telltale signs that finishing touches were fresh.
"We got lucky," said Lance Bass of Myrtle Beach, who was on the boardwalk with Melissa Ramsey and their family. Ramsey said they were having a staycation and came down to the ocean to see the progress.
"We've been watching it, and sure enough, it was done," said Bass, who added that it is reminiscent of the walk in Conway.
Ramsey said she was born here and thinks the boardwalk will bring more locals to the downtown waterfront.
"I'll come and walk my baby, as long as I feel safe," she said.
Margie and Cisco Gordyk, who live in Carolina Forest, were enjoying the scenery from one of the benches and sang the boardwalk's praises for being peaceful and relaxing.
"It's awesome, and it's more classy," Margie said, adding that it gives them another great place to walk.
"My wife is from Bermuda, and anything near water is for her," Cisco said. "And I don't like the sand, so this is a good compromise."
Margaret and Jerry Williams of Syracuse, N.Y., were visiting with their daughter, Kathi Hindt of Ohio. Margaret Williams said, "It's beautiful - the best idea they've come up with," while her husband said it was a great way to catch the ocean breeze.
Hindt said it makes it easier for strollers and wheelchairs, and "it's nice for the older people. It gives them a way they can be at the beach."
Business owners along the oceanfront have been looking forward to the boardwalk since last summer and have had inquiries from tourists about the site's progress, said Abraham Nardali of Something Different, a Mediterranean eatery on the boardwalk.
"We're so happy. Hopefully, we'll get very, very good traffic," Nardali said. "It's just a very, very different thing for Myrtle Beach."
Kruea said the city has applications for sidewalk cafes, so now businesses can start moving ahead with their plans. The final leg of boardwalk construction, from Fourth to First avenues North, should be ready no later than early June, Kruea said.