My Discoveries: Coastal Carolina & Georgia Shores

Featured Travelogue by Bridget McMahon

waterfront park charleston.thumbJust eight weeks into my new position as the Administrative Coordinator with Country Travel DISCOVERIES, I was excited to go on my first discovery with the travel group visiting Coastal Carolina & the Georgia Shores (May 5-11, 2013). I took part as a regular traveler, and wrote about my experiences here every day of the trip. I really enjoyed meeting new people, learning more about the coastal Carolina and Georgia shores regions, and just having a relaxing and good time!

DAY 1 - Sunday, 5 May 2013

Tonight I met all the travelers at our Welcome Reception in the Holiday Inn Airport in Charleston. Including the Discovery Director (Kathy Shire) and the bus driver, there are 26 of us (and one service dog!) on this tour. I had to quickly introduce myself to many of the travelers because they could not help but notice I was quite young and traveling by myself. Our group is very friendly and I have already made quite a few friends, including our furry friend Cordell. The welcome meeting ended after an hour but a lot of us stayed afterwards just to chat. With our group are travelers from 11 different states; some have never traveled with us and some have traveled with us up to 15 times! I am very excited to start the tour tomorrow because this is my first time in South Carolina and I know our group is going to be a lot of fun!

DAY 2 - Monday, 6 May 2013 first day in Charleston started with a step-on guide named Joann who gave us a brief overview of the city as we drove around. Charleston has the most original colonial houses in America, and there is a rule in the city that any building over 75 years old cannot be torn down by man. Therefore, there is a wonderful historic feel to Charleston -- as if you step into a time capsule. We ended up in the Charleston City Market (established in 1805!), which is an expansive market selling goods like jewelery and collectibles that is several blocks long. In fact, I ended up there three times during the course of the day! We proceeded to eat at Sticky Fingers, a barbeque place with plenty of different sauces for us to sample.

Afterwards, we went to Patriot's Point, a stop mostly known for the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier built in WWII that saw action in Vietnam. Because I have been on aircraft carriers before, I went on the neighboring submarine and battleship to check those out. I had never been on a submarine before and had always wanted to explore one, so I'm so glad I finally got an opportunity to do so

For our last planned item, we had a choice between doing a carriage tour through historic Charleston or a harbor cruise. I chose the carriage tour and it was magnificent. We had a detailed explanation of the city, the houses, and some interesting history. Did you know that in order to be a tour guide in Charleston a person has to pass a very tough exam? It's exciting to know that Charleston puts so much effort into giving as much accurate information as possible. The carriage tour was a fun and relaxing way to see as much of Charleston as possible. Although I did not take the harbor cruise, those who did said it was interesting and wonderful as well. I suppose I'll just have to make a trip to Charleston to do that!

Our first day was full of adventures, and I felt like I knew Charleston by the time I left the city.

DAY 3 - Tuesday, 7 May 2013 we left Charleston and headed for the Magnolia Plantation just outside of the city. It's a gorgeous property that originally cultivated rice from the late 17th century until the end of the Civil War. Once the Civil War ended, the family that owned the plantation decided to turn it into a magnificent garden to keep afloat. Right now it is over 500 acres and full of wildlife and beautiful plants and flowers. We had a tram ride through the property and we saw egrets, blue herons, and several alligators. We had the option of touring the mansion on the property, and I chose to take it. The mansion had two parts: an original house and an addition that the family lived in until 1975. Now the family lives in one of the other five houses that are on the expansive property, and it is still owned by the descendants of the original owners of the house.

We then headed to Tomato Shed Cafe for lunch. It is a farmer's market/restaurant with cutesy items all over the shed. All the food was organic and locally grown, and the food was incredible. We could not stop talking about what we ate until we arrived at the Charleston Tea Plantation. I found the plantation to be extremely interesting, and it's already one of my favorite stops on the tour. It is the only place in North America where tea is grown! I hate to admit that I did not know that there was even an American tea company, and the tea is called American Classic Tea. We happened to arrive on their very first day of harvest and first day of processing the tea! We saw how the tea was made and learned the difference between how to make black and green tea (the only difference is the amount of time the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen). They had plenty of samples inside the gift shop and we all learned so much about the tea industry.

Afterwards, we headed to Hilton Head Island to our beach front hotel. Like I've said to folks, there is nowhere I'd rather be than on a beach, so this place is a slice of paradise for me.

DAY 4 - Wednesday, 8 May 2013 we spent all day on Hilton Head Island. The first place we went was the Coastal Discovery Museum. It was formerly a plantation household that has been converted into a museum dedicated to the history and environment of Hilton Head Island. The property had many gardens and a large nature preserve area. From there, a step on guide came on our bus and gave us a thorough history of the Gullah culture on the island. Gullah refers to the culture that arose when West African slaves were brought to America and preserved their culture due to the autonomy found in the Coastal Carolina way of life.

Since malaria and other mosquito diseases were rampant by the ocean in South Carolina, plantation owners would buy land and then set up their house further inland away from the swamps. This meant that the slaves were in control of the crops and the land, so their culture could survive and thrive without interference from the slave owners. In fact, the first experimental colony to educate and help former slaves become members of American society during the Civil War was set up on Hilton Head Island.

We then learned that Hilton Head Island was very inaccessible until the 1950's due to the lack of a bridge. Until the bridge was built, the island was used for hunting, lumbering, and farming. Now it is tourism, and the farmlands have been remade into forests. We then ate at a restaurant that is run by a Gullah head chef. After lunch we had time to relax in Harbor Town, a resort area on the island. I mostly caught some sun rays, but I climbed the famous lighthouse on the island and got a good overview of the surrounding area.

Afterwards we went on a dolphin cruise, and we saw a lot of dolphins! They were all over the place and making quite an appearance for us. It was a spectacular sight and we felt very lucky that we got such a show. The rest of the day was on our own, and to the shock and delight of our group, I immediately changed into my swimming suit and ran into the ocean! I love swimming and like I've said, there is nowhere I'd rather be than on a beach, and to add to that, there's nowhere I'd rather swim than in the ocean. It was a great way to end my stay at the lovely Hilton Head Island.

DAY 5 - Thursday, 9 May 2013 we said goodbye to South Carolina and hello to Georgia! This was my first time in Savannah, and our first adventure was a trolley tour of the city. We drove all over the historic district and learned a lot about Savannah's history, culture, and prevalence in movies. As a film buff, it was really neat to see where Forrest Gump sat on the bench waiting for the trolley and the location of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. So many of the houses were used for film locations, and our trolley driver knew where each movie scene was filmed in Savannah. Afterwards we went to The Lady & Sons, celebrity chef Paula Deen's southern restaurant. As a self proclaimed Food Network junkie, I was very excited to eat at her place. It was a buffet with all sorts of sinfully delicious southern food.

Then we had some free time in the City Market before we went to the Savannah Candy Kitchen. Because we had just had a smorgasbord of food at Paula Deen's restaurant, I thought I was going to explode from eating all the samples provided at the Candy Kitchen! We then headed back to the hotel for a few hours of rest (or in my case recovery considering all the sugar and butter we had just eaten). Some of us decided to go out on River Street and experience the local restaurants and shops. It was a very relaxing way to end the day, and I can definitely say I won't be hungry for quite a while.

DAY 6 - Friday, 10 May 2013

Today we left Savannah and headed to Jekyll Island. We took a tram ride around the island to see the famous cottages of some of the richest men in the Industrial Age of America. Jekyll Island was used as an exclusive club location for northerners who were looking to escape the cold winters. These club members included the DuBignon, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Morgan families, just to name a few. In fact, the first transcontinental phone call was made from Jekyll Island. We were able to explore the Rockefeller cottage which had fourteen rooms and ten bathrooms!

cca.turtle.wss.3981My favorite site of the historical part of Jekyll Island was Faith Chapel. There are two stained glass windows unlike anything I've ever seen before, and one was made by Tiffany. The other window had layers of painted glass and shone in such a way that it looked like there were artificial lights behind certain parts of the window. It was amazing and beautiful. Afterwards we had lunch in a part of the Jekyll Island Club's dining area. Needless to say, the food was absolutely amazing.

From there we went to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The Turtle Center rescues sick and injured turtles in the area and rehabilitates them back to health. We were able to see the area where the turtles were taken care of and we could see the procedure room where veterinarians took care of the turtles. Today we saw a juvenile sea turtle (aged about 5-7 years old) that was rescued two weeks earlier go through a check up. The center had a thorough educational center where we learned about the life of sea turtles and how to protect them. Then we had some free time on the island before we departed for our hotel in Kingsland, Georgia. I found the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to be extremely fascinating, and I am determined to go back soon with my family so they can see the center. Remember to recycle and don't litter, because you never if the garbage will end up in a sea turtle's belly.

DAY 7 - Saturday, 11 May 2013

Today is our final day together, and we started at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. We went on a swamp tour with flat-bottomed boats and it was beautiful. We saw alligators, turtles, and even spotted a hawk's nest with young hawks getting ready to leave the nest. My favorite part of the swamp tour was when we went into the "prairie" section of the swamp and it was full of water lilies in bloom. I've never been to a swamp before (the same applied for many of our travelers) but I want to go back soon! I cannot get over how beautiful and isolated it was! I felt very much in harmony with nature, and I heard several people comment that it was their favorite part of the tour. It was certainly amazing. then headed to the Folkston Funnel train museum. The tiny town of Folkston sees a lot of train traffic because all the trains that go to and from Florida head through there. We saw one train while we were visiting. Afterwards we got on the bus to head to Jacksonville airport and say our goodbyes.

I can't believe that the trip is over already! I feel like I just got here. We all got along really well and it was a great tour due to our wonderful travelers, tour director, and bus driver. We had our first service dog ever on the trip, and Cordell was a very good boy. With us, he got to experience riding on trollies, trams, boats, a carriage, and a coach bus!  As for me, I had a marvelous time, and I definitely want to go back to all the tour stops with my family!


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