BY KELLI J. WHITE || PHOTO SAVANNAH.COM
If you are looking for a family vacation spot that will entertain, educate, and be enjoyed by the entire family, then it’s time to come see Savannah! Approximately four hours by car from Atlanta, Savannah will ever so subtly captivate you, your spouse, and your children with her charm, Southern Hospitality, and downright adventurous fun. Known as the “Belle” of the Georgia coast, I can think of no better way to escape these “dog days of summer” than a trip to this enchanting port city.
I must admit I am completely smitten by her; however, I’m only one of millions who annually discovers her charms. She is quite the cosmopolite with a worldwide reputation, miles above reproach. Conde Nest Traveler distinguishes Savannah as one of the “Top 10 U.S. cities to visit;” the New York Times calls her one of the “Top 12 trendy hot spots in the world;” LeMonde Newspaper, Paris, states she is “the most beautiful city in North America;” and Disney’s Family Fun esteems her as one of the “Top 10 Southeast cities for family vacations.”
My family recently succumbed to the allure of Savannah and snuck away for a long weekend at The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort (800/WESTIN-1, www.westinsavannah.com). Actually located on Hutchinson Island, this 16-story, 403-room resort overlooks the Savannah River and the famed Historic District. I was awestruck by its beauty. Built in 1999, the lobby’s deep wood floorings, magnificent chandeliers, elegant furniture, and ornate rugs and window treatments are reminiscent of the old Southern splendor. And the freshly brewed sweet tea and lemonade in the lobby was our first intimation that we were about to experience true Southern Hospitality.
Attention to detail is evident throughout this world-class resort. The rooms all have breathtaking views and are luxuriously appointed. If you have never experienced the Westin’s signature “Heavenly Bed,” you are in for a real treat!
Countless amenities, services, and activities are available for the entire family. The Greenbrier Spa, patterned after its world-renowned namesake in West Virginia, offers a complete exercise facility, hydrotherapy baths, Scotch spray and Swiss showers for both men and women. Their esthetician will even assist you in selecting the most beneficial treatment according to your individual needs. I left pampered, rejuvenated, and radiant after receiving a European Facial.
The Club at Savannah Harbor, the Westin’s official golf course, is also most impressive. Designed by Robert E. Cupp and Sam Snead and listed as an “Official PGA Course,” this course has earned the distinction of being one of Golf and Travel’s “Top 10” facilities to play in the new millennium and an Honorable Mention in Golf magazine’s “Top 10” places to play in the United States. Savannah Harbor can challenge the very skilled player, yet be eased to accommodate golfers of all levels. Four Har Tru tennis courts are also available for the tennis enthusiast, along with two fabulous outdoor pools for hours of family fun.
Be sure and investigate the Westin Kids’ Club, which provides everything from an age-appropriate welcome bag for your child to infant and toddler necessities such as bottle warmers, potty seats, cribs, high chairs, even jogging strollers and pool toys. In addition to traditional childcare services, children, teen, and family activities are scheduled daily during the summer months.
While my family could have easily remained on the property of this extraordinary resort for the duration of our stay, Savannah repeatedly beckoned us to cross her river on the complimentary water taxi and explore her many treasures. But where does one begin in a city that literally overflows with historical, cultural, and entertaining attractions for all ages?
If you are a first time visitor to the area, I recommend you make one of your first stops the Savannah Visitor Information Center, a restored 1860’s Central of Georgia Railroad Station. Here you can peruse brochure racks for a variety of information about Savannah, such as accommodations, restaurants, shopping, and sightseeing. Opened daily, the building is also the site of the Savannah History Museum. This attraction is a great introduction to the city, displaying artifacts depicting Savannah’s history, a film about her founding, and an awesome film diorama depicting the 1779 Siege of Savannah, a Revolutionary War battle.
Next, I definitely suggest you take a guided tour of the Historic District. This 2.5 square mile area contains more than 1,600 architecturally and historically significant buildings and 21 lush green squares. Use the ages of your children and your desired activity level to help you select a walking, pedicab, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or bus tour. I encourage you to first take a general overview tour; however, more focused tours on the Civil War, African-American heritage, the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and ghostly legends are also quite interesting. Your family can later revisit particular areas of interest using the free Chatham Area Transit (CAT) shuttles.
Savannah provides these free CAT shuttles, a most gracious and generous dose of Southern Hospitality, to pick you up at 32 various stops throughout the district. The CAT shuttle circulates daily with stops convenient to downtown hotels and inns, the Savannah Visitor Center, historic sites, squares, River Street, City Market, houses of worship, and many other attractions . Girl Scouts will jump at the chance to see the birthplace of their founder Juliette Gordon Low and the Andrew Low House, where the Girl Scout’s original founding charter was signed in 1912. Dolphin tours (one of my sons’ favorites) and riverboat cruises can also be boarded right on River Street. These tours are an especially fun way for both children and adults to learn about the city, nearby Tybee Island, and watch the bottle-nosed dolphins frolic or dine on some of Savannah’s famous “Low Country” cuisine.
While you could actually leave your car parked and focus your entire trip on the Historic District and Riverfront, there are numerous attractions and activities within short driving distances that you will not want your family to miss.
Foster your children’s interest in history by taking them to Old Fort Jackson, Fort Pulaski, and Fort Screven, where they will track battles from the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Future pilots will want to spend hours exploring the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. There they will get to “fly” a bombing mission with a B-17 crew, see powerful Air Force artifacts and historic aircraft, and hear inspiring stories that will remind you of the price that must be paid to maintain our freedom.
If a day trip to the beach is part of your family’s agenda, Tybee Island and Hilton Head Island are both great choices. Let the kids run off some of their boundless energy splashing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, building sandcastles, and combing the beach for shells. Tybee Island visitors must stop at the Tybee Lighthouse, Georgia’s oldest and tallest. Your family can climb the one hundred and seventy-eight steps to the observation deck, where you can view this spectacular island and its marshes. If you stay at The Westin Savannah Harbor you are extended complimentary beach access at the prestigious Westin Hilton Head Island Resort. But let me forewarn you, budget a few extra hours in your day if there are shoppers in your family, for they will not be able to resist Hilton Head Factory Stores one & two (www.shophiltonhead.com).
Savannah parks also offer lots of opportunity for family fun, along with the chance to just kick back and relax. Baseball fans will want to go to Daffin Park, host to Grayson Stadium and home of the Savannah Sand Gnats Baseball team. Pick up tickets for an upcoming game while your family enjoys the basketball and tennis courts and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Forsyth Park is a wonderful place to picnic and play. Widely recognized by its beautiful fountain, this shady park has two playgrounds, tennis courts, and lots of room to run and play. Volleyball, Frisbee, and croquet games are frequently played and locals often bring their dogs here so they too can enjoy the outdoors.
And the exciting news is, there’s still time left to schedule a trip before summer ends and the kids are back in school!
Come see Savannah. I feel confident your family will fall in love with her. Mine certainly has. #
Kelli J. White is a freelance writer, high school English teacher, wife, and mother of two sons.