In high school I had a geography class where I was given a test with a blank map of the USA and had to fill in the states with their capitals. My teacher believed this was such an important nugget of knowledge that all students who failed had to retest after school every day until they passed. After school the next day there were a few of us retesting and each day after the herd thinned until I stood alone. I’m so geographically challenged (stay tuned for my Go Fund Me campaign), that after a week of retests my teacher begrudgingly told me not to bother coming back. So when my sister suggested that her and I take a bus tour from Connecticut to Georgia, I didn’t realize that we’d be spending almost two solid days driving over a thousand miles stopping over-night in Virginia each way. In my gay opinion, never spend that much time sardined on a Peter Pan bus with forty-plus ninety year old’s, unless you want to feel like the Zac Efron of the senior circuit…which I totally did.
The perks of traveling with a tour company (we went with Friendship Tours) was they handled all the driving and the itinerary, which was perfect since we hate to make decisions. No need to figure out hotels or the two meals a day that were included. I told the tour company beforehand that I was vegan and they said it wouldn’t be a problem, but it was. A few of the restaurants made an effort but a few didn’t have a clue I was coming and couldn’t accommodate my diet. I spent the last night of our trip running around a mall that was closing trying to find food. Thankfully I found a cafe that had an amazing vegan cinnamon crunch smoothie. The other meals were like family Thanksgiving dinners. I didn’t want to be there and was on my best behavior as some crotchety old bitch ranted like a drunk racist aunt about why African American football players should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem and preferring NASCAR because it’s about God, family and guns while the bus driver and tour escort bickered like an old gay married couple who were staying together for the sake of the kids. So being alone and starving, while rushing around an outdoor mall in the rain, was alright by me.
Once we reached our first destination, that’s when the fun began. We got to Jekyll Island, Georgia just in time to have dinner at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel (371 Riverview Dr) where we were staying. Our room was on the third floor (we offered to take an upstairs room since there were no elevators and most of the bus folks had canes) with a balcony and gorgeous view. After dinner my sister and I went for a walk to the beach with our cell phone flashlights lighting the way. My sister had been there before so she was comfortable walking around the deserted streets in the pitch black but it was a little too desolate for me. If I’m going to get mugged or attacked by a wild boar, I want someone to hear my shrieks for help. I survived and in the morning we got a tour of the resort grounds in a tractor pulled trolley. After our history lesson (spoiler alert: the resort was built by some of the wealthiest people back in the day) we rented bikes so my sister could show me around the island. We biked 25 miles of trails and the highlight was a stop at a uncrowded beach littered with upended, sand-beaten trees known as Driftwood Beach. It was quiet, beautiful and creepy.
The next day along the way to Savannah we stopped at St. Simons Island, Georgia which was more commercial than Jekyll Island. A tour guide came on board to give us the history of the island stopping at a few churches and a fort. We had a short stop at Fort Frederica National Monument so my sister and I ran around the grounds to take in as much as we could. Unfortunately we took the paths less traveled where football sized bees and mini bat-like insects were hiding in wait and attacked. I came home with welt sized bites covering my arms and legs. I’m afraid people at my gym are going to think I have leprosy. We had the afternoon on our own so we went to lunch and then to the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum. My sister wanted to go to the top but I’d only join her if I knew my fear of heights wouldn’t get triggered climbing the 129 steps. The Museum staff were super nice, letting me check out the stairs before we paid our admission. I put on my big boy pants but even they weren’t enough to get me to go out on the platform around the rim of the lighthouse. I stayed in the doorway enjoying the sea view with the wind on my face as I white-knuckled the stair railing.
Finally we reached Savannah. Our hotel, the DoubleTree Hotel Savannah Historic District (411 West Bay St), was in the perfect location downtown. We asked the concierge for entertainment in the area and she suggested the show Savannah Live at The Historic Savannah Theater (222 Bull St) which has been in operation since 1818. We were so thankful to be free of those unforgiving bus seats that we stretched our legs by explored the neighborhood, grabbed dinner and went to the show. Savannah Live is a variety show with the humor and musical talents of a fine cruise ship production. The performers took the production very seriously but if they kept it lighter, it would have been more fun. In the morning we had a trolley tour of historic Savannah and were able to use the ticket to hop on and off any of the stops throughout the day. Preferring to walk, we scoured the whole downtown area hitting all twenty-two parks known as “squares” and strolled the river walk. Before leaving the trolley, my sister had the great idea to ask the young gay tour guide where we could find some fun that night. He hit it out of the park when he suggested that we go across the street from our hotel to Savannah Smiles for their Dueling Pianos show.
Savannah Smiles (314 Williamson St) doesn’t look like much from the outside and the tatted up bouncers did give us pause. One bouncer said it was ladies night so ladies get in free, I was disappointed that didn’t also mean me, so I had to pay $5.00. It was Wednesday night so it wasn’t packed but had a decent size crowd who were buzzed and fun-loving. On stage were two pianos with a drum set between and a mirrored wall behind. Three pianist took turns dueling requests scribbled on napkins brought on stage with a tip by audience members. The music ranged from Elton John to The Goo Goo Dolls to Quiet Riot. If a pianist didn’t know the song, they wadded up the napkin, and threw it to the other pianist to play. The audience could also request to have a message written in marker on the mirrors. There were happy birthday messages, a 20th wedding anniversary well wish, and people’s cell phone numbers suggesting blowing up their phones with pics. It was all improv as they bantered with the audience and encouraged singing along. We left after an hour or so because we had to be up early for the bus, otherwise we’d of spent a couple more hours there. It’s definitely a must do in Savannah and was the highlight of my trip.
When I travel I always learn stuff. What did I learn on this trip? Bus tours aren’t my jam. I like traveling by public transportation (bus or train) but not for days on end while interacting with strangers. Don’t let people who don’t know what a vegan is be in charge of what I eat. Savannah is a great long weekend destination but Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island are cute places to visit for a day trip. I’ve been to Georgia twice (this time and Atlanta a few years ago) and Georgia has the nicest people, even if their laws suck.