Tag Archives: Family travel

Southern Hospitality in the Lowcountry

Savannah River
Savannah River

My son’s and my Thanksgiving 2014 trip wasn’t the most extravagantly planned or executed trip I’ve ever taken, but the visit to the Lowcountry of South Carolina was indeed an enjoyable one on many levels. I was fortunate to be able to coordinate a business meeting in Ormond Beach, Florida, with my visit to the Hilton Head Island area to spend the Thanksgiving holiday to visit my grandma, uncle and his wife.  I headed north, passed through Orlando to meet up with my son and proceeded to my meeting in Ormond Beach amidst the early Thanksgiving ruckus on I-95. We were back on the road again early enough to make a quick little detour into Savannah , Georgia, with just enough time to take a walk through the charming streets and along the Riverfront, enjoy a short break for a cold beverage and then head to Forsyth Park to see the beautiful trees, neighboring historic  homes and the lovely fountain as dusk was settling.

Savannah City Hall
Savannah City Hall
Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia
Near Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia
Cotton Exchange, Savannah, Georgia
Cotton Exchange, Savannah, Georgia

We were surprised  upon our arrival by the friendliness and helpfulness by the attendant in welcome center we encountered just outside the parking garage into which we ambled. Yes, one would think that a welcome center should make visitors feel welcome, but so very often the labels for welcome centers seem to be misnomers; this attendant’s southern hospitality truly seemed genuine. We were offered an attraction map as well as suggestions for a quick route to maneuver during our abbreviated visit. I wish we would have had more than a tiny glimpse of the many sights and more opportunity to experience Savannah’s history.

Talmadge Memorial Bridge, Savannah, Georgia
Talmadge Memorial Bridge, Savannah, Georgia

While Savannah was enjoyable, we were excited to reach our destination of Bluffton, South Carolina, to see my grandma whom Devan and I had not seen in far too many years — since our 2006 visit to Southern California. We had a wonderful, informal Thanksgiving dinner and relaxing time catching up with family on our first full day in South Carolina. The next day, we headed out toward Hilton Head Island see some sights. Our first stop, however, was at one of restaurants owned by my uncle and his wife called 843 (which I originally found to be an unusual name for a cutting edge restaurant, but later figured out was the area code of Hilton Head Island). We savored some ridiculously delicious and innovative menu items and set off to see a bit of the island.

Lunch with the family at 843, Hilton Head Island
Lunch with the family at 843, Hilton Head Island
Chilequiles at 843, Hilton Head Island
MMMMMMM………Chilequiles at 843, Hilton Head Island

We were fortunate to have cool weather and beautiful clear skies as a backdrop to our little drive to see the island.

Hilton Heard Harbor Town Lighthouse
Hilton Heard Harbor Town Lighthouse
Harbor Town Christmas Tree
Harbor Town Christmas Tree
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

A quick stop at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge afforded us the opportunity to see the beautiful salt marshes and take a short stroll and relish the perfect, yet chilly weather. We didn’t have much time to visit the area, since we were fortunate enough to be invited to Vine, my uncle and his wife’s other restaurant on Hilton Head Island for dinner….as if we didn’t eat enough delicious cuisine during our extravagant lunch at 843…and just what we needed after the previous day’s Thanksgiving feast! The food at Vine was more than worth risking another excessive meal during our short visit to the Lowcountry as the menu offerings were once again exquisite.

Grandma and Devan at Vine Restaurant
Grandma and Devan at my uncle’s restaurant on Hilton Head Island, Vine
The Arsenal, Beaufort, South Carolina
The Arsenal, Beaufort, South Carolina

Saturday, our last full day in South Carolina, was not a food-centric day, as we instead headed toward Beaufort at my grandma’s suggestion to see some of the rich Civil War era history and spectacular antebellum architecture. After a very mediocre meal at Hemingway’s Bistro, which provided a nice view from the outdoor seating but was still sorely mundane after the fine cuisine we experienced the day previous, we hopped back in the car to drive the nearby Ladys Island, St. Helena Island and Hunting Island, where we walked the beautiful beach and experienced the sounds of the ocean tides.

Hunting Island Lighthouse
Hunting Island Lighthouse

With the short winter days, we had limited daylight hours to see much of the area’s historic and natural beauty, we took short breaks to visit the various monuments, cemeteries and nature trails during our drive back toward Bluffton. Even with the limited time and daylight, we had to make a short detour to see Parris Island on our way back home. We were disappointed to learn that we arrived after normal visitor hours; however, my grandma was quick enough to inquire as to any influence of my son’s presence since he is a soon to be commissioned Army officer. Surprisingly, the young Marines, upon inspection of Devan’s military ID, allowed my pompom-topped-knit-hat-wearing son and his family entourage access to the base. We took a short drive around before finding a spot to take in the brilliant orange sunset. Our visit to the Lowcountry was short, but particularly sweet on account of the special family time we shared. Devan and I have taken many a vacation full of action and sightseeing, but what this Thanksgiving trip lacked in sheer excitement was more than offset by southern hospitality and the value of quality family together time.

Parris Island after hours
Parris Island after hours
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Come Sail Away

Seems Dennis DeYoung and Styx’s 1977 hit “Come Sail Away”  may have had farther reaching implications in my life than I realized; not only is it one of my favorite classic rock songs to this day, but it may very well have affected my long term travel style. Well, my ship of choice, unlike that of the song, would be the cruise variety, rather than a starship, but I’ve found cruises to be a wonderful mode of travel on many levels.

My parents introduced my brother and me to cruising when we were still in grade school. Looking back as an adult, I realize that my parents wisely selected cruise travel for some of our family vacations due to the many virtues cruise ships possess. I ended up choosing to take my son on cruise vacations for likely many of the same reasons considered by my parents many years previous.

Pride of America Liberty Dining Room
NCL Pride of America’s Liberty Dining Room with the family (Hawaii 2007)
Pride of America, Hawaii
Family together time aboard NCL’s Pride of America (Hawaii 2007)
NCL Pride of America's Cadillac Diner
Cadillac Diner aboard NCL’s Pride of America (Hawaii 2007)

My son’s first cruise was back in 2007 on a Hawaiian Islands cruise when he was 14 years old aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America.  We met my mom, her husband, my brother and his wife in Hawaii and caught a 7 day sailing from Honolulu. As an extended family group vacation, a cruise is a wonderful option. The cruise allowed us a smattering of together time as a family at meals, activities and in port, but also afforded us the option to split up and do our own things if so inclined. There were times that Devan ditched us in favor of the teen program on board the ship. Other times, my brother and his wife opted to have us drop them off at the ship once we neared the port so that they could catch a nap while the rest of us hit another attraction in the port city before returning our rental car and getting back on the ship to join them. The week long cruise provided our group of six the flexibility to meet and separate as we were inclined and proved to be a great way to minimize the possibility of duress caused by family time overload.

Norwegian Jewel Baltic Cruise
Lounging around the Norwegian Jewel (Baltic Cruise 2008)
Norwegian Jewel Baltic Cruise
Devan’s made a lot of friends during his cruise experiences (Norwegian Jewel, Baltics 2008)

For subsequent vacations with my son, I selected cruises to the Baltics with Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Mediterranean with Royal Caribbean, the Caribbean again with RCCI and Alaska with Princess Cruise Line. While each of the itineraries was of interest to me (really, with exception of the short Caribbean route), I opted for cruise travel to allow my son some time independent from me. Since he was “stuck” with me all day in each of the ports, my one rule onboard (other than a reasonable curfew) was that we ate meals together. Other than mealtime, Devan was free to spend time with his new found friends in the teen club, partaking in other shipboard teen activities or just hanging out independently with the kids he met. Of course, we didn’t only spend the mandated mealtimes together on the ship, but since Devan was spending a good chunk of his summer vacation time away from his friends back home, I didn’t want him to feel that he was obligated to be chained to his ol’ mom 24/7 against his will.

RCCI Jewel of the Seas
Mom and son time aboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas (Mediterranean 2009)
RCCI Jewel of the Seas
Monkeying around (RCCI’s Jewel of the Seas 2009)
RCCI's Jewel of the Seas
Devan definitely enjoyed time away from his mom, too (RCCI’s Jewel of the Seas Mediterranean Cruise 2009)

I was also able to enjoy some reading, rest and relaxation time between ports while he was happily spending time with kids his own age. Some of what Devan and his new found friends did was far less than brilliant, as demonstrated by the below poor quality video showing him pretending he was a kite (using a bed sheet) on the top deck of the Jewel of the Seas. It’s apparently all fun and games until someone flies overboard. Sigh. (Proof positive that smart kids often do less than smart things!)

Another benefit I learned to appreciate about cruise travel is the fact that the cruise ship serves in essence as a floating hotel. Cruise passengers reap the benefit of going to sleep at night, typically whilst at sea, and waking up in the morning in a new city to explore, eliminating the need to pack and unpack repeatedly, coordinate intercity transportation and check in and out of hotels. Of course, cruise travel doesn’t allow one to immerse too deeply into any given port, since most cruise itineraries include just a short day stop in each port city; therefore, cruisers must pick and choose the highlights they want to take in during their brief stay in port. However, the short visit to each city allows cruise travelers enough time to conveniently sample the flavors and atmosphere of several cities in a short period of time and, from that preview, discern if they would like to visit the port area again in the future for a lengthier and more in depth visit.

Ocean Princess (Alaska 2010)
Shooting hoops on the Sports Deck aboard the Ocean Princess (Alaska 2010)
Majesty of the Seas (Caribbean 2012)
Free entertainment watching fellow cruisers do embarrassing things just to win a Royal Caribbean pen or T-shirt (Majesty of the Seas, Caribbean 2012)

Depending on your cruising style and preferences, cruise travel can be very economical. Obviously, if you prefer luxurious accommodations, high end cruise lines and ship-organized excursions, cruising can cost a pretty penny. However, if you choose a reasonable cabin and refrain from partaking in unnecessary expenses, such as upgraded shipboard restaurants beyond the standard dining options, various ship-offered services, such as spas, cruise line organized tours and the like, cruising can offer a great way to maneuver between points of interest without breaking the bank. With a wide variety of cruise lines, cruisers can certainly find a style that fits their preferred level of luxury. On cruise vacations, I’ve stayed in balcony, window and inside cabins, and in truth, my cruise experience was never affected by the lack of on exterior or more luxurious cabin since I typically utilize the cabin merely to sleep and shower. Other than that, I prefer to be out and about enjoying the shipboard atmosphere, if not always the activities and entertainment. That being said, cruise lines offer a plethora of things to do while on board and sailing to the next destination that are at no additional cost; while they may be kitschy or a bit campy at times, the shows and activities are widely varied and can be extremely entertaining, and can even be of quite high quality if you hit the right show.

I’ve found it quite unnecessary during my cruise vacations to upgrade to higher end dining venues since there are so many shipboard options for mealtime that I’ve always been able to find a dining room or buffet to suit my tastes and whims. Heck, if you don’t like what you order the first time, nothing stops you from asking for a second entrée in a dining room or even a third or fourth dessert (yes, I have often ordered multiple desserts when I couldn’t choose amongst the daily offerings). Most ships offer a variety of sit down dining options as well as self-serve offerings, some of which are accessible 24 hours a day. Of course, one has the option of eating in an upgraded location; personally, I prefer to spend my money on the local fare in the port stops, rather than on higher end shipboard dining. But that’s one of the many virtues of cruising: options.

Cruise line operated port excursions are another optional, and, to me, unnecessary expense. Ship offered excursions typically entail a bus filled with 49 other cruise passengers being herded on a stringent time line on and off the bus to a limited number of attractions. That just isn’t fun to me. I prefer to self touring utilizing local transport, or if necessary, arranging a shared semi-private tour with 8 – 10 other cruisers I’ve met on cruise site roll calls, such as CruiseCritic.com. This allows for much greater flexibility and frequently at a fraction of the cruise line’s excursion price tag.

Of course, there are limitations of travel flexibility, as mentioned, on account of having a finite amount of time in each port stop, and having to be back on board at a certain time, lest the ship sail without you, can cause a bit of stress if you encounter a traffic jam or public transportation back to the port running behind schedule. All of the limitations notwithstanding, cruise travel provides a wonderful option to allow much of the logistics and details involved in travel, particularly to unfamiliar destinations, to be handled by the cruise line, allowing the traveler to sit back, relax and enjoy the sailing. No single mode of travel can be all things to all people, which is why cruising is just one means of travel in which I choose to partake. But in that way, I’m different than many, since I’ve yet to meet a vacation that I haven’t enjoyed.