**Those who’ve read my previous road trip blogs know they are long, and this one is no different! If you read until the end: Thank you!!!**
Most road trips I take with my friend are jam-packed and hectic, with stop after stop after stop. We decided to do this one a bit differently, spending more time at fewer locations rather than trying to fit in 100 things at too many different places, every day.
Alas, not all goes smoothly, particularly when I am involved (I have the worst luck). We had a completely different trip planned than the one we ended up with, in a completely different area of the country. We had planned to go to the Deep South, starting in Memphis, Tennessee, traveling north to south through Mississippi, down into New Orleans for a couple of days, and then heading to the Gulf Shore in Alabama for about 4 days, with multiple day trips planned to Florida. I had never been to Mississippi, Alabama, or Florida, and I love New Orleans. I was so pumped.
Then came Hurricane Barry.
Once it became abundantly clear that Hurricane Barry was coming, we had around 3 days to re-plan, cancel everything, and rebook. We had to go somewhere within driving distance, and everything west of Missouri would take far too long to complete in a week. We had already done the East Coast thing, and since the South was a no-go, it left us with the small pocket of the Southeast that was not being rammed by a hurricane.
Thus, our re-envisioned 2019 road trip was born, and it included Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for 2 days, followed by a drive through North Carolina down into Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for 4 days, then on to Savannah, Georgia for a day/night, and finally, back up into Nashville, Tennessee for a day/night. I’ve been to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge twice, but Kristi had never been, and neither of us had ever been to the Carolinas or Georgia. We’ve both been to Trashville a bunch, but going there enabled two good friends to drive down from Illinois and meet us there for the night.
P.s. In case you haven’t read my 2018 East coast road trip blog (Epic East Coast Road Trip.), I have 5 Rules of Road Trips that were birthed from that trip. Here is a condensed version:
1. Don’t be cheap on the hotels
2. Half a day (most of the time, even a full day) is not enough time to see any
major U.S. city
3. Never drive more than 8 hours a day
4. Don’t try to cram a bunch of things into one day, no matter how minor or un-time
consuming they may appear
5. Don’t pre-book your hotel (this one is sticky and highly depends on the
situation, city, and time of year).
So, let’s go!
Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge
No matter how many times I come to this tourist trap, I never tire of it. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are nothing more than endless money pits, but dammit, they’re fun. I’ve blogged about my love for Gatlinburg, in my Tennessee blog (Tennessee: Buckle Up Y’all, it’s the Law.), and since Kristi had never been, I was more than eager to show her the place.
We found a cabin with a company called Blue Mist Cabins, booking a 1-bed, 1-bath cabin (says it sleeps 3; I assume the 3rd is the couch) called the Alpine Belle. It was on the smaller side, but it had a king bed and hot tub, so we were good with it. Truthfully, we were relieved to find a suitable cabin, for a reasonable price, in the middle of July, 3 days before our departure date. The cabin was in Pigeon Forge and priced around $120 per night, which is decent for cabins in this area.
**Important Note: For those unaware, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are two separate towns, about 7.5 miles apart. They are generally interchangeable and mixed up by many. People tend to utilize both, as they offer different but equally fun and interesting things to do. However, they’re not that much different from one another, as both contain countless attractions, restaurants, family-oriented shops and live shows. Basically, whichever one you chose to stay in is up to personal preference or cost.**
Getting to our cabin was relatively easy, and we only got lost once! I will never advise coming into the mountains at night, but due to our late start and long, 7-hour drive, that’s exactly what happened. Trying to find a cabin in the pitch black, hilly mountainside is not fun. I strongly suggest getting there in daylight, if possible.
Trillium Gap Trail & Rainbow Falls Trail
The next morning, we headed to The Great Smokey Mountain National Park to hike. I didn’t get to hike either time I previously visited, and I wasn’t passing up the opportunity a third time. We researched various trails ahead of time, and landed on Trillium Gap Trail, which is near Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls Trail, and Bull Head Trail. The address is Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 (not an exact address, just a general area of the park). There are multiple parking areas, so it can be a bit confusing. We ended up choosing the first spot we found, as parking appeared to be scarce, and taking the first trail we could find. It happened to be a small trail leading to Trillium Gap Trail, which is an easy trail connecting Grotto Falls to the left and Rainbow Falls to the right. We headed towards Rainbow Falls because it looked beautiful online.
Rainbow Falls Trail is picturesque, but it’s also noticeably more difficult than Trillium Gap. Trillium Gap was mostly flat and wide the whole way, while Rainbow Falls starts out flat and easy, but becomes far more rockier and uphill. We hiked for about 3 miles before asking some passersby’s how much further the waterfall was. They replied with, “about another 2 or so miles”, which Kristi was NOT happy to hear. After begrudgingly giving into her requests to turn around and hike back, we stopped to snap pictures next to a lovely, cascading river over huge rocks, which was the result of Rainbow Falls far above. I absolutely love hikes like this.
This is such a beautiful hike and location. I strongly recommend everyone visiting the area to give it a whirl. The hike is easy (Kristi may disagree) and it’s completely doable as a morning or afternoon hike, leaving plenty of time in your day for other activities. Seriously, how can you come to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and NOT hike?! As always, I strongly advise carrying protection with you; either a knife, pepper spray, taser, or gun (only if you are trained in gun safety and are knowledgeable about using one).
After our hike we headed back to our cabin (which was roughly 20 minutes away from the parking lot near the trail head), showered, and rested up. We planned on heading back out for dinner in Pigeon Forge and then on to Gatlinburg for the night’s adventures.
Old Mill Restaurant
**These are NOT my photos. I thought I took photos of the restaurant and the food,
but I can’t find them, so who knows 🤷🏻♀️. I thinks it’s important to show
what the location (and the food) looks like,
so I got these photos from Google.**
We chose The Old Mill Restaurant for dinner, located at 164 Old Mill Ave, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, open daily from 8am to 9pm, because it is consistently rated as the #1 restaurant in Pigeon Forge. I’m not sure why because I thought it was… mediocre. It’s good, but it’s not somewhere I’m dying to return to. It’s family-style, meaning that everyone gets the same sides (you can choose different main entrées), and you portion out to yourself from shared dishes. It’s “down home country food”, like fried chicken, cornbread, chicken & dumplings, mashed taters, mac n’ cheese, corn, green beans, etc. It’s not bad, it’s just not worth the hype. Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Myrtle Beach is the exact same, and it makes Old Mill Restaurant look like a Ponderosa or Sizzlers.
It’s clearly a favorite amongst the tourists, as it was packed. As we approached the front, we noticed the front door was up high, so we had to walk up a winding ramp. There were people hanging all over the ramp, I assume waiting for a table to become available. It was a bit discouraging, but as we came to find out throughout our entire trip, there are major advantages to having only 2 people in your party. We had no issue getting a table right away, when the wait times for parties of 4 or more was an hour plus.
**An important note: Old Mill Restaurant does NOT do reservations, so take that into consideration when planning your evening. If you have a large party, it’s either get there during the early bird special, or be prepared to wait awhile.**
Gatlinburg Sky Bridge
After dinner we made the 15ish-minute drive to Gatlinburg, with our destination being the Gatlinburg Sky Bridge. It’s a huge suspension bridge with a glass bottom section in the middle that doesn’t take you anywhere in particular; it’s just fun to walk across. Located at 765 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, it’s open daily from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday and from 9am – 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are sold at the bottom, as you must take a ski lift to the top, because the bridge sits atop a large hill.
The ticket booth is located right on the Parkway, which is the main street through Gatlinburg. It’s right across from Ripley’s Believe It or Not (more on that later) and difficult to miss. The closest parking lot is right behind ticket booth; however, it does cost money to park there.
Tickets are $27.95 for adults (12-64), $17.95 for juniors (4-11), $22.95 for seniors (65+), and children under 3 are free. You can purchase them online or at the booth.
We didn’t wait in line long for the tickets or for the chairlift and getting on it was easy. The chairlifts don’t stop, however, so you gotta be quick on your feet. While there are no seatbelts, there is a bar that comes down to help you stay in place. I’m terrified of heights, but I was able to handle it. It’s high, but it’s not that high. That’s not to say if you fell off it wouldn’t hurt, just that if you’re expecting a huge mountain and are terrified, rest easy. Once you near the top, get ready, because they’re going to take your picture to sell back at you for $50 (not really, but of course it’s tourist-trap priced; and of course, we bought ours).
The suspension bridge is fun, and the glass bottom is trippy to stand over, but all you do is walk across and back. It swings, but not as bad as other suspension bridges I’ve been on (hello, Kootenai Falls Suspension Bridge). However, the bridge isn’t the only thing up there. There are also rocking chairs (which were prime real estate), other areas to sit and view the mountains, a food concession area, souvenir shop (where you purchase your overpriced photo), a fountain that changes colors at night, and a bar upstairs with an outside drinking/viewing patio area. The bathrooms are also located upstairs. It’s a nice evening outing and worth the price.
After we walked from one end of the suspension bridge to the other (with me basically dragging Kristi across – and I’m the one supposedly terrified of heights), we headed to the bar. We stayed there as the sun went down and watched as Gatlinburg and the surrounding Great Smokey Mountains were washed in the most magnificent blue. It was gorgeous and surreal. In the pictures it looks like a fake, edited backdrop, but I promise that it’s not.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium
We hung out up there until around 9:45pm, leaving only because the last chair down was at 10pm. We were not ready to call it a night, so we crossed the street to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Since it was later in the evening, most families had gone back to their room/cabins or were at dinner, so it wasn’t crowded (hallelujah). I’ve never been to a Ripley’s, but I’ve seen the show and I’ve read the books, so I knew what it was about.
Located at 800 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, the hours are 9am to 9pm Monday through Friday (except on Tuesday, they close at 8pm), and 9am to 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. I assume children under 2 are free since there is no mention of them on the website. Also, if you want to purchase a museum guidebook, it costs extra $2.
There are a TON of ticket combos for Ripley’s, so it’s best to check their website for your preferred ticket choice. We did only Ripley’s Odditorium; a massive 3-story building, with over 500 exhibits and artifacts (according to them). It’s a giant collection of super cool, weird, gross, and unbelievable things, like shrunken heads (replicas), Tallest Man exhibit, life size replicas of the Lizard Man and Vampire Lady, giant things made out of Legos or tires, world’s smallest sculptures on a pinhead.
There are also interactive exhibits, like an optical illusion room that makes someone look tiny on one end and giant on the other, two small, clear plastic boxes that are used by a contortionist and you can try your skills out, “How Many Eggs Can You Hold?” (the record is 7), a super cool, psychedelic mirror exhibit, a space area, a Smokey Mountains exhibit, and much, much more.
What sticks out the most to me about Ripley’s is the DISGUSTING larvae that we ate. Ripley’s has a bug vending machine that has every flavor of bug your heart can desire. You can get them whole, loose, and eat them like potato chips, or you can get a nice scorpion sucker. Whatever floats your boat.
Kristi insisted on trying one of these lovely snacks, which I was down to try, but was not wasting my money on. She chose the cheddar cheese “Larvets”, aka the “original worm snax”. Neither of us knew what to expect, but it wasn’t anything near the horror that we actually experienced. I’ve eaten snails, alligator, deer, and duck, none of which is that far out, but also not exactly staples of most American diets. Nothing compared to the nastiness of these bugs. We both ate only one and spat it out. Maybe we’re pansies or maybe we’re normal, but it was pretty appalling and a waste of money. Kristi ended up throwing the rest away (after spilling about half on the floor).
We stayed for around 2 hours, leaving at midnight when it closed. On the Ripley’s website, their current hours say they close at 10pm on the weekends. I’m not sure if they changed their hours or if they extend hours during summertime (probably the latter, as there are far more tourists during summer). At the very end there is an arcade with many games, which they let us play until a little bit after midnight. Once we left, it was back to the hot tub for an hour and then to bed, as we had a long drive to South Carolina the next day.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The drive from Gatlinburg to Myrtle Beach is relatively short, as far as long drives go, at approximately 6 hours. You start off driving through the countryside of southeast Tennessee, past mountains and beautiful green fields. Eventually you leave the small, two-lane highway for the interstate, which takes you through North Carolina. The area of North Carolina that borders southern Tennessee is gorgeous and mountainous; however, as soon as we neared the South Carolina border, the mountains disappeared and the monotony of what most of The South looks like began (much like the east coast or Midwest). South Carolina doesn’t look much different than say, New York state or Indiana.
If you’ve watched the first few seasons of Teen Mom 2 (“WELL JENELLE, I seen you wiff Keefah!”), or Trailer Park: Welcome to Myrtle Manor, or are a fan of the reality TV show Party Down South, you’ve seen and heard about the Dirty Myrtle. I’ve long heard it called this from these TV shows, and it more than lived up to its nickname.
No offense to anyone from Myrtle Beach, but I’m not a fan. If I’m forced to stay on the beach again, I would much rather go to Beach Haven, New Jersey or any other of the handful of beaches in Florida. Myrtle Beach is just one large tourist toilet, entirely due to the people who treat it as such. The beach was gross, and the water was brown. I figured it would look more like Beach Haven since both sit on the Atlantic Ocean; I was wrong.
Since we booked at such short notice, we had very slim choices regarding hotels, particularly if we wanted to stay on the beach. Remember, we were going in July of 2019, so it was pre-pandemic and still normal, peak travel times. Due to budget constraints, we couldn’t book the majority of what was left, as all the decently priced rooms and hotels had been snatched up a long time ago. We settled on a “resort” called the Landmark Resort. I say “resort” because this is no resort. They just desperately pretend they are. Landmark claims to have a guest/souvenir shop. They do not. They claim to have a waterpark. They do not. They claim to have multiple, nice restaurants. They do not. They claim the rooms are like apartments or condos, and less like hotel rooms. They are definitely not.
The guest/souvenir shop simply did not exist, and 3 of the 4 days we were there, most of the “waterpark” and inside pools/spas were closed due to children pooping or vomiting in them (I wish I was joking). The only restaurant we ever saw open was the one with the bar, and our room was a joke. As soon as you walk in, you’re in a small room with two beds that looks EXACTLY like a Super 8 motel room. There is a narrow kitchen with a bathroom attached, so your loved one can take a pooh 3 feet away as you cook dinner. The kitchen was the nicest part of the whole room. Past the kitchen/bathroom combo was a living room with a small table, a terribly hard couch, and an extra Murphy bed. Then the balcony, which we got lucky with because it faced the ocean. Our room could have been worse, if we got one that faces inward, where all you get to stare at is other people’s balconies.
All the above is not the only reason my opinion of the hotel is so poor. The floors around the upper levels of the hotel are carpeted for some odd reason, and soaking wet people are constantly traipsing through, either coming from the ocean or the pools (whenever they are poop and vomit free). This, of course, drenches the carpeted hallways, making it feel soggy and gross. Imagine having to constantly walk over wet, smelly carpet. People who were apparently raised in a barn would also dump their entire ice bucket outside their hotel door, right on the carpet. There was always a thin, wet layer of sand on the floors – literally always – including on every, single elevator. In fact, sand got EVERYWHERE. Even on days we didn’t go to the beach, we’d somehow find sand in our hair, mouths, and beds. This is likely due to every Tom, Dick, and Harry dragging it through every crevice of the hotel.
But wait, there’s more! On our last night there, as we lay in our beds trying to fall asleep, Kristi turns on the light and insists she just heard a mouse. I tell her she’s crazy and hearing things. After unsuccessfully trying to convince me of what she heard, she turns off the light and we lie in silence. Not even 25 seconds later, “squeakkkk”. We both shoot straight up and she turns on the light, but we can’t see anything. I get out of bed to search, and after picking up a bag, there is a COCKROACH under it. I stomp on it, but if you know anything about cockroaches, where there is one, there are more. They also can attach themselves to your luggage and go home with you. So, not only did we have Ratatouille somewhere in the room with us, there were also cockroaches crawling around. Kristi told me she had seen a roach earlier but didn’t want to “alarm me”… 😑
After contemplating our options (we had almost none, as it was about 1:30am), we begrudgingly accepted that we’d have to stay until at least 6am, and just told ourselves that we were leaving anyway. Not surprisingly, neither of us could sleep well that night, getting the heck out of there by 7am, fueled by about 4 hours of sleep.
Ok, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, on to what we actually did at the Dirty Myrtle!
As aquariums go, Ripley’s in Myrtle Beach is cool. It’s HUGE, with so many things to do that even adults have a grand time (and kids go gaga). It’s two levels, with many huge fish tanks with various fish including sea horses, clown fish, angle fish, and sohal tang. There are glass tanks full of sting rays that swim right over the top of you as you walk through the hallways surrounded by brightly colored fish on either side. There are the classic touch pools where you can touch Horseshoe crabs, which is equally scary and unique to experience. Apparently even though they have stingray-like tails, that are long, pointed, and scary looking, they are not poisonous or deadly. They simply use those long tails to flip themselves over if they happen to be pushed on their backs.
Then there is the Dangerous Reef, which is billed as “a spectacular underwater view!” This is essentially a “ride” through a large tank filled with sharks. As you enter, you step onto a 340-foot long “gliding glidepath”, like the kind you typically see in large airports. You stand in your spot as you’re gently floated through the tank, surrounded on the left, right, and from above by glass, water, and sharks. There are nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, green moray eels, green sea turtles, and tarpon fish inside the tank, and they all continuously swim around you from all angles. This is a popular attraction but due to the way it’s set up, you won’t have an impeded view. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.
Aside from the Dangerous Reef, there are many other exhibits, including Rio Amazon, Planet Jellies, Discovery Center, and Rainbow Rocks, as well as “encounters”, like Penguin Encounters, Stingray Experience, and Dive with Sharks. They also typically allow sleepovers, where families can stay the night in the aquarium, as well as groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Due to Covid-19, the sleepovers are temporarily on hold.
After fully exploring the aquarium, we had only Ripley’s Glass Bottom Boat Adventure left to do. Located on the second floor, the glass bottom boat is in the same tank as the sharks and turtles of the Dangerous Reef. You can even see people gliding along on the little “glidepath” as you look down to catch the sharks swimming beneath you. You can pay at guest services or at the glass bottom boat area itself. They send a maximum of 8 people per tour, so you may have to wait a go-around or two. We had to wait for the next boat, which was about 30 minutes.
It is a bit costly, priced at $29.99 per person, but we paid for “the experience”. I’m not sure it’s worth it, but if you have children, they will love it. Also, the boat only operates Friday through Sunday, from 10am to 4:30pm.
**There are many ticket combos (including with Ripley’s other attractions in Myrtle Beach), so better to check the website for your best option. We chose the Aquarium Day Pass.**
Broadway at the Beach
As far as tourist attractions go, Broadway at the Beach is impressive. A humongous entertainment and shopping center, it has more than 150 stores, attractions, and carnival rides, with 5000 parking spaces (so don’t worry about that). Some of the attractions include Ripley’s Aquarium, AMC Theatre, Legends in Concert, WonderWorks, and the Hollywood Wax Museum. There are also 3 hotels (however, these are not by the beach): a Hampton Inn located inside the complex, and a Fairfield Inn and Holiday Inn Express located across the street, in an area called Lakeshore at Broadway. It’s built around a large lake and meant to resemble a beach pier.
After leaving Ripley’s Aquarium, we walked around the pier for a while, taking in all the stores and sights. As I mentioned above, there is a ton of stores, which all offer a huge variety of goods. There are stores solely based on things like wine, magic supplies, sunglasses, clothing, moonshine, hats, flip flops, candy, leggings, kites, candles, knives, and toys, along with well-known chain stores like Victoria’s Secret, Harley Davidson, Earthbound Trading Company, Crocs, Build-a-Bear and Claire’s. There are also small booths littered about, selling specialized items.
We meandered in and out of a handful of stores, as well as a T-shirt airbrush booth so Kristi could get a shirt. After that it was dinner time, and we chose Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. It’s “down home” cooking, but if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other restaurants, including the Hard Rock Café, Dave & Busters, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Joes Crab Shack, King Kong Sushi, Senor Frog’s, Wahlburgers, and Yamato Steakhouse Japan, and many more.
As we approached the hostess stand outside Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, we heard the hostess tell a woman that it would be up to a 2-hour wait to seat her entire party (she had a large party), or they could seat them at different tables earlier than that. It wasn’t a good sign; however, as had happened at the Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, the benefit of having only 2 people was readily apparent. Since many of these places are family vacation hotspots, who tend to need bigger tables, it leaves the smaller tables and booths available. We were seated immediately.
Located in a giant building, upstairs, atop the gift shop, you get a magnificent view of the pier. It’s a very nice restaurant, with multi-levels of seating, and a wall of glass windows so you get a clear shot of the pier and surrounding carnival rides and attractions.
As mentioned earlier in the blog, Paula Deen’s is family-style, which again means you order shared sides but your own entrée. We could choose up to 4 sides each, going with the baked mac n’ cheese, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes, and creamed corn. Our main entrees were chicken & dumplings and Georgia fried catfish. We also got “Grandmama Paul’s Fried Green Tomatoes” for an appetizer. All the food was excellent, but it was sooo much. We could not finish it and the biggest bummer – they don’t do to-go boxes. I’m not sure why, but they tell you on the menu and in person, so you’re very aware. Also, you only have two options for meals, either: 2 entrées and 4 sides (for $22.99 per person) or 3 entrées and 4 sides (for $24.99 per person). Both come with a dessert per person.
So, you better come hungry!
We fully planned to have a jam-packed stay at Myrtle Beach, but 2 out of our 4 days were spent lounging by the pool and eating (it’s vacation, right?). Although the indoor pools were off-limits much of our stay, the 2 outside pools were open. And weirdly enough, even with the ocean being about 60 feet away, the pools were always overcrowded and suffocating. We mainly laid out next to them, because there were always so many bodies. There were so. many. people. that swimming certainly wasn’t an option. There was just enough room to sit there and soak. I also couldn’t help but imagine how nasty the water probably was, being consistently filled with nasty humans. Tourists aren’t typically known for being sanitary gurus.
We did use the outside “lazy river” once, at night, since it was only slightly overcrowded. It’s nice, albeit shallow and constantly moving, so you can’t do much other than float and try to avoid hitting people. We did get to experience the indoor lazy river on the last night, after they excavated all the bodily fluids. There were also numerous Jacuzzis littered about. They were the best part.
Regardless of our subpar experience with the city, there are many things to do in Myrtle Beach. Many are family oriented, requiring decent sums of money. Some of these include parasailing, dolphin cruises, snorkeling, jet skis, Skywheel (Ferris wheel), miniature golf, planation tours, fishing (including deep sea), live shows, casinos, helicopter rides, water parks, kayaks, car museums, riverboat cruises, Naval & Maritime museum, mirror mazes, zip lining, baseball games, wineries, and a Medieval Times.
**Last important note: I’m not sure if it was because we went during mid-July, but people lit off fireworks on the beach every single night. It would usually begin around 9pm – 10pm and continue for about an hour. It was no issue to us, as we were two childless adults who were up that late anyway and enjoy watching fireworks. However, I am a mom, and I know those with young children may strongly beg to differ. The fact is though, you are not going to stop people from lighting them off, and neither will the hotels or police. So, if it’s a major issue, you may want to find lodging off the beach.**
I’ve dreamed for years of visiting the historic city of Savannah. It’s considered by the paranormal community to be a mecca for ghosts and one of the most haunted cities in the U.S., if not the most haunted city. It’s older than the United States itself (records start in 1733), after Georgia was named the final 13th Colony in 1732 (named after King George II), with Savannah becoming its first city. It has existed for 287 years, being created 44 years before the U.S. gained independence.
Not only did Savannah go through the American Revolutionary War, it was part of the Confederacy and suffered through the brutal Civil War. Slavery was made legal by Georgia in 1750 and ran rampant until 1865. The city played an important role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, with slaves eventually being openly sold in Savannah in the 1740s. Not only that, but in 1796 and 1820 two fires leveled different sides of the city, with both being rebuilt afterwards. Also in 1820, Savannah experienced an outbreak of yellow fever that killed a 10th of the population.
Savannah has seen a lot of death and devastation; hence why it is routinely crowned The Most Haunted City in America. There are numerous haunted locations sprinkled throughout the city, as well as multiple, centuries old cemeteries, either inside city limits or on the outskirts. The most famous of these cemeteries is Bonaventure Cemetery.
Some may think that visiting a cemetery is “strange”, “weird”, or “odd”, and that’s fine. But I believe there’s a difference between visiting a century(s) old cemetery seeped in history vs. visiting one that’s only been around for 50 or so years. There are many famous cemeteries, mainly the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, Forest Lawn, Cimetière du Père Lachaise, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, Cementerio de la Recoleta, Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery, and of course, Bonaventure.
Bonaventure Cemetery routinely makes most lists of “World’s Most Famous Cemeteries” and is usually in the Top 10 of famous cemeteries to visit by weirdos like me. Established in 1846, it is your stereotypical Georgian cemetery, complete with the area’s famous Spanish moss-covered oak trees with a gothic feel that transports you to any number of medieval European cemeteries. Many of the tombstones date back to the 1800’s and 1900’s, with at least one dating back to 1775.
Open 7 days a week, from 8am to 5pm, it’s located at 330 Bonaventure Rd, Thunderbolt, GA 31404, sitting on the outskirts of Savannah, in a more “rural” location. I say “rural” because to me, Stonehenge is rural, literally sitting in a field in the middle of nowhere. This is more like a 20-minute drive to the edge of Savannah. It’s not in the city center but is certainly not an “all day trip” type of deal. It became famous when it was featured in the 1994 novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, and reached an even higher pinnacle of notoriety when the movie based on the book (filmed by Clint Eastwood) was released in 1997.
Quick history rundown – The cemetery was originally built on the sight of the old Bonaventure Plantation, which no longer exists, as the family’s private cemetery. The 600-acre plantation and private cemetery were then sold in 1846 to Peter Wiltberager. Two years later, the son of Peter, Major William H. Wiltberger, formed the Evergreen Cemetery Company, which took over control. 61 years after that, in 1907, the city of Savannah purchased the land and cemetery from the Evergreen Cemetery Company, turning it into the public Bonaventure Cemetery we’ve come to know today.
There are some notable burials in the cemetery, but none that are very well-known or infamous. A few of them include: Samuel B. Adams (interim Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia), Hugh W. Mercer (Civil War Army officer and Confederate general), Conrad Aiken (poet and novelist), Edythe Chapman (actress), Josiah Tattnall, Jr. (Senator and Georgia Governor back in the late 1700’s), Edward Telfair (another late 1700’s Georgia governor), Claudius Charles Wilson (Civil War Confederate general), Gracie Watson (it’s more of her gravestone that is infamous; not her), and the Spanish-American War Veterans from Worth Bagley Camp #10, which is the nation’s 2nd largest burial area dedicated to soldiers killed in the Spanish-American War. There is also a section dedicated to veterans of the World Wars.
Mainly, this cemetery is infamous for how eerily beautiful it is. It is the quintessential deep-south, Georgian cemetery, complete with gothic architecture and headstones, all draped in the gorgeously enchanting Spanish moss-covered oak trees. As the website Thrillist puts it, “Best reason to visit: It looks like a set out of True Blood” (for those unaware, True Blood was a super popular vampire tv show set in the deep-south, with a cult-like following, that aired on HBO).
After visiting Bonaventure Cemetery, we were able to check into our hotel, so we headed that way. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Savannah Historic District, which as the name suggests, is located right in historic downtown at 520 W Bryan St, Savannah, GA 31401. It was nice, decently priced, clean, and most importantly, quiet, so I’d certainly recommend it. We both learned our lesson with cheap hotels during our 2018 east coast roundtrip, and that is a mistake we would not be making again!
After freshening up, we headed out to grab dinner at a nearby Asian restaurant and then took a lovely evening stroll around historic downtown. I loved this area because it reminded me so much of the French Quarter in New Orleans, which is my favorite city in the U.S. In between all the old, historic buildings (which have long been converted into private homes, bars, restaurants, shops, and small businesses) are small squares, complete with monuments and history (did I mention it was historic?).
Johnson, Franklin, and Wright Squares
There are 22 squares in downtown Savannah, each named after someone or something. They include Calhoun Square, named after John C. Calhoun, Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; Chippewa Square (made famous by Forest Gump and his bench), named after the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812; Telfair Square, named after Edward Telfair, a Scottish immigrant, who contributed greatly to Savannahs cultural and economic growth in the later 1800’s; Warren Square, named after the Revolutionary War hero General Joseph Warren; Washington Square, named after, you guessed it, the U.S.’s 1st President; Franklin Square, named after the Benjamin Franklin, who was an agent for Georgia in London (as this was during a time when England was still trying to helicopter parent the U.S.); Wright Square, named after Sir James Wright, Georgia’s 3rd and last Royal Governor; and Johnson Square, named after South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson, who befriended the first Georgians after the state was settled.
We visited 3: Johnson, Franklin, and Wright.
Franklin Square was the first one we happened to stumble upon (I was unaware about Savannah’s downtown squares until we arrived. SUCH a rookie mistake to make – research places before you go). While this square is right in the middle of the some of the liveliest night scenes in the city, it holds an important monument dedicated to the black Haitian soldiers who fought, and died, for America’s independence during the Siege of Savannah in 1779.
Also known as the Second Battle of Savannah, it was one of the many battles during the American Revolutionary War, and unfortunately, a victory for the British. Savannah had already been captured by the British a year prior, and it was an attempt to take back the city. Even though the Americans had French allies fighting alongside them (hence how the Haitians became involved), as well as 1,850 more ground troops and 34 more naval ships, the British still managed to kill 244 U.S./French men (only losing 40 British), wounded 584 more (63 wounded British), and captured 120 of them (losing track of 52 of their own).
The monument was erected to honor the Haitians who fought and died for a country they weren’t even citizens of, a death brought on by simply being a country in the Caribbean colonized by a European country called France (although participation was voluntary). As the monument itself states, “The largest unit of soldiers of African descent who fought in the American Revolution was the brave “Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue” from Haiti [The Volunteer Hunters of Santo Domingo]. This regiment consisted of free men who volunteered for a campaign to capture Savannah from the British in 1779. Their sacrifice reminds us that men of African descent were also present on many other battlefields during the Revolution”.
Shaped like a hexagon, there is text inscribed on multiple locations all the way around the monument. Another important text highlights young Henri Christophe, who is also depicted as the Drummer Boy on top of the monument. As a young boy, he went into the Siege of Savannah as one of the drummer boys (as they did stupid stuff like that back then) and luckily survived. He later became a leader in Haiti fighting for the country’s independence from colonial French rule. He then became a commander in the Haitian army, however, his biggest claim to fame is eventually becoming King of Haiti, becoming one of the first Heads of State of African descent in the newly settled western hemisphere.
Located at the Western End of City Market, near Bryan Street.
By far my favorite out of the 3, Wright Square was the most beautiful. It is the burial spot of Tomochichi (also sometimes written as Tomo-chi-chi), the leader of the Yamacraws. An ally to the British, he was also a dear friend of General Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia (who, naturally, has his own square too). Some historians accredit Tomochichi as being a co-founder of Georgia, but it is not universally accepted. He is buried beneath the Gordon Monument, in the middle of the square, named after William Washington Gordon I. He was the first president of the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company and has one of the few monuments in Savannah not dedicated to a war general or politician.
As to why Tomochichi is buried beneath a monument honoring some president of some railroad company – it’s because the Central of Georgia Railroad and Banking Company did not care that his grave was there when they decided to erect the monument to Gordon in 1882. Originally, his body was buried at that spot in 1737 with only a pile of rock commemorating him. Apparently, this was easy for the 17th century elitists to ignore, as they totally destroyed it over a century later while erecting the Gordon Monument. However, in 1899, Gordon’s granddaughter, Nellie Kinzie Gordon, apparently the only one with a brain and heart, made it a priority to get a new monument erected in Tomochichi’s honor. While they did not destroy the Gordon Monument to exhume Tomochichi’s remains or erect a monument dedicated to him in its place (as they should have), they erected a smaller, granite monument in the square for him.
Location on Bull Street between State Street and York Street.
The oldest and largest square in downtown Savannah, Johnson Square was the last square we visited before heading back to the hotel. Laid out in 1773, and named after a South Carolina governor, it holds a monument honoring Nathanael Greene, a New England-born general, as well as his gravesite. Even though he was from the North, and a decorated general of the American Revolutionary War, he managed to get himself into significant debt and fled to the South as a result. He had been awarded several plantations during the war and made his new home at the Mulberry Grove Plantation outside Savannah. Proving that flip-flopping on important political and human rights issues is not a 20th and 21st century problem, Greene used to be an outspoken critic against slavery (coming from the North and all), but then decided to purchase slaves for his shiny new toys aka plantations. After falling ill and dying at the ripe age of 43 in 1786, he was originally buried at the Graham Vault in Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, next to his arch-rival, John Maitland. However, in 1902 he was moved to his own little monument in Johnson Square.
I am unsure why Greene was awarded his own monument in a square because he was a slave owner as well as having an insane amount of debt when he died, screwing over a lot of people and causing countless headaches for others. Its likely due to people overlooking these small tidbits and focusing solely on him being a decorated war hero. As analyst Robert Killebrew writes, Greene was “regarded by peers and historians as the second-best American general in the Revolutionary War, after Washington”. Killebrew also considers Greene to be the “most underrated general” in American history. Or perhaps because another historian, Russell Weigley, believes that “[He] remains alone as an American master developing a strategy of unconventional war”. So, as history proves, be good at war and we’ll forgive you for owning humans.
As for his monument, it was completed by architect William Strickland in 1830, and is in the shape of an obelisk, modeled after the Egyptian style of Cleopatra’s Needle. Why? I do not know.
Located at Bull and Saint Julian streets.
After visiting the three squares, we walked around for a bit longer, entering some stores and bars (Savannah allows you to open carry alcohol around the downtown district – like Vegas and Nashville), eventually passing the birthplace of Juliette Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. My short time experiencing the amount of history in downtown Savannah is equivalent to just dipping your toe into a pool, and I am more than anxious to return for much longer than one day!
I won’t spend time going over the different attractions of Nashville, as I’ve already covered it in my Tennessee blog (Tennessee: Buckle Up Y’all, it’s the Law.). We weren’t going to stay in Nashville at all, instead planning to drive the 10 hours straight home. However, anyone who’s driven for long periods of time knows that driving for 10 hours straight is pure hell. Hence, it wasn’t something we were very keen on doing. Plus, as I mentioned in the introduction, we wanted to meet up with our two friends and Nashville was only 3 hours south for them. They were up for the drive, so off we went.
We stayed at the Radisson Hotel Nashville Airport, because we liked it when we stayed in 2017 when it was the Millennium Maxwell. It was cheaper than staying at a downtown hotel, and they offered a free shuttle service to and from downtown, so it made sense. However, when it was the Millennium Maxwell, it was much… better.
I don’t know about now, but when we were there in July 2019, it was going through the switch in ownership, bringing on a remodel that severely impeded our stay. Not only did the rooms look more like a Motel 6, the main elevators didn’t work, forcing guests to use the service elevators, which were considerably further away and much smaller. When we were leaving, we had to wait at least 20 minutes for an elevator car that was empty enough to fit us and our luggage. I get it’s a remodel, but we weren’t offered any kind of discount or complimentary offer (we didn’t ask, as we’re not Karen’s, but still). It left a sour taste in my mouth, so I will stay somewhere different and closer to downtown if/when I go back.
Anyway, after arriving and freshening up, we met up with our friends and caught a shuttle bus to downtown. First stop was dinner at Dicks Last Resort, located at 154 2nd Ave N. It’s kitschy and vulgar, but it’s decent food for a decent price. If you’ve never eaten at a Dicks, please do not go if you are easily offended. Dicks whole premise is just that, to be dicks to you. The waitresses are instructed to be rude, so if you’re expecting the standard sickly nice waitress who will take customers’ rudeness because they’re desperate for a tip (raise the minimum wage *raise fist emoji*), you will not get that here. They’re not going to attack your looks or anything, they’re just… rude (kind of like my favorite Russian waitress in St. Petersburg; except she said literally nothing to us and just stared coldly). They also give you nice little hats with personally crafted insults on them.
Afterwards we walked around downtown, filtering in and out of various bars as one does when walking around downtown Nashville. We eventually found ourselves at Buffalos Nashville, located 154 2nd Ave N #2, which is marketed as a pool hall and sports bar. I really enjoyed this bar. It sits above a store, as do many bars in downtown Nashville, and it wasn’t packed to the gills like many of the bigger bars. Some places charge covers, but most don’t and just check your I.D. to make sure you’re 21. We stayed at Buffalos for about an hour, playing a few rounds of pool, and then moved on to a much bigger, far more crowded bar called Wildhorse Saloon, located at 120 2nd Ave N. This bar is street level and is a massive 2-story building, with a giant dancefloor, huge stage for live entertainment, tons of tables downstairs and upstairs, and multiple bars. This bar is Coronavirus’s worst nightmare (or dream?) and is not somewhere I’d recommend if you’re claustrophobic or hate loud music.
We danced at Wildhorse Saloon for a bit before moving on, back out onto the streets, to meander in and out of some more stores. After visiting a few shops, including one of the multiple candy stores sprinkled throughout downtown, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. All of us had been to Nashville multiple times, so staying out all night and soaking up the experience wasn’t imperative.
Overall, I’d call this a successful road trip, although it did reinforce my dislike for the beach and beach vacation spots. I’m biased when it comes to the beach; however, I am confident in saying that if you want a beach vacation, choose anywhere but Myrtle Beach (if you have options). I’m sure there is a plethora of far more adequate beaches in Florida, New Jersey, California, Alabama, South Carolina, or Hawaii. As for the Great Smokey Mountains, it’s always a pleasure and somewhere I greatly recommend on going. Savannah is spectacular if you’re a history nut, although I’ve heard they have a pretty poppin’ nightlife too. Lastly, Nashville, always a decent weekend getaway but not somewhere you’d ever catch me staying a week.
Next up – Another new road trip blog! I’ll hopefully have it completed sometime at the end of March (I’m not going to take 1.5 years this time, promise). Kristi and I are embarking on our 4th long-distance roadie at the beginning of March, a trip I’ve made twice before (her once), but we’re staying in new spots. We’ll start in Indiana and head to Phoenix, our new home. We are staying in Springfield, Missouri, Amarillo, Texas, and near the Petrified Forest in Arizona. I’m not sure what we’re doing yet, so stay tuned!
If you’ve enjoyed this long road trip saga, you may enjoy my other long road trip sagas.