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OnSite in Savannah

Savannah’s port is the third busiest in the United States, but don’t let its hard-working harbor fool you; Savannah is also the belle of the Southeast.

That’s what 15 readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered on a four-day familiarization trip hosted by Visit Savannah. The group travel planners experienced the haunting historic charm imbued in the city’s cobblestone streets, cemeteries and scenic squares. They also saw what makes Savannah a breath of fresh air: River Street, with its bars, restaurants and massive cargo ships drifting by; leisure-friendly Tybee Island and its marine life; and lively downtown shopping districts full of local art and tasty treats. Along the way, seriously good eats, from soulful Southern classic buffets to upscale fine dining, fueled full days of touring.

Here’s the FAM itinerary, a good source of ideas for your next group adventure in Savannah.

Day 1

Arrive in Savannah

Tour Laurel Grove and Bonaventure cemeteries

Dinner at the Lady and Sons Restaurant

After settling in at various hotels in Savannah’s Historic Landmark District, travel planners gathered for a motorcoach and walking tour of three of Savannah’s famous cemeteries. The group visited Laurel Grove South, an African American cemetery, then headed to nearby Laurel Grove North, the final resting place of Savannahians including Florence Martus, the city’s “Waving Girl.” At Bonaventure Cemetery, made even more famous by the hit film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the group visited graves of important and legendary Savannah figures. The day ended at The Lady and Sons, a downtown restaurant owned and operated by chef Paula Deen and her two sons. Deen made a surprise appearance. She welcomed the group, talked for a few minutes and took selfies before the planners dug into a hearty and delicious family-style meal of fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, Deen’s famous cheddar biscuits and other Southern comfort foods. 

Day 2

Historic Savannah City Tour

Congregation Mickve Israel

Lunch at the Pirates’ House

Andrew Low House Museum

American Prohibition Museum

Gospel Dinner Cruise

Day 2 was equal parts leisure and education. After breakfast at their hotels, the planners took a historic tour of the city by trolley with Old Savannah Tours. At the historic synagogue Congregation Mickve Israel, they learned about Savannah’s Jewish heritage. At lunch, they enjoyed more hearty cuisine with a Southern buffet at the Pirates’ House, a historic restaurant a block from the Savannah River. Afterward, the tour stopped at the Andrew Low House Museum and explored the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Savannah’s impressive French Gothic Catholic church. Next, they took a guided tour of the American Prohibition Museum, the first and only museum focused on the Prohibition in America. Later, at Savannah’s newest hotel, the Cambria Hotel Savannah Downtown Historic District, travel planners got a taste of Savannah’s famous Leopold’s Ice Cream during an ice cream social. A gospel dinner cruise with Savannah Riverboat Cruises ended the day with a Southern buffet, a lively gospel choir and a sunset along the Savannah River.

Historic Savannah City Tour

Old Savannah Tours takes visitors around the city in open-air trolleys with by charismatic drivers who know all about Savannah’s 22 squares, streets and historic buildings. They tell stories about everything from Savannah’s founding in 1733 to its most famous ghosts. Historical re-enactors step on board from time to time, portraying famous Savannahians like Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.

The Pirates’ House

A Savannah staple since 1753, the Pirates’ House was once an inn. The shutters at this local treasure are painted the city’s signature shade of “haint blue” to ward off spirits. Inside, nautical items and placards with the pirate’s code decorate walls. The restaurant’s popularity can be attributed to offerings like its Southern lunch buffet stocked with mouth-watering favorites such as fried fish, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and mashed potatoes.

American Prohibition Museum

The American Prohibition Museum, located in the City Market in the downtown historic district, is the only museum in the country dedicated to exploring Prohibition. Mannequins, murals and historic artifacts help tell the multifaceted story of the temperance movement, Prohibition and its eventual repeal. Ironically, a group can top off its visit with options like a boozy cocktail or a cocktail-making class.

Gospel Dinner Cruise

Savannah Riverboat Cruises offers a variety of cruises aboard its massive, four-deck paddlewheeler. On the gospel dinner cruise, a lively gospel choir sings soulful tunes as passengers see the city at sunset and fill up on a Southern buffet stocked with favorites like shrimp and grits. There’s drinks and dancing on the upper deck as the riverboat glides along the Savannah River.

Day 3

Old Fort Jackson

Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures

Lunch at the Tybee Island Wedding Chapel

Pin Point Heritage Museum

Savannah History Museum and Siege of Savannah

Farewell Dinner at 45 Bistro

On Day 4, the group headed to Tybee Island. There, at Old Fort Jackson, a musket-wielding re-enactor in a full Confederate uniform gave a rundown of the fort’s history and showed the group how to fire a cannon. Then, it was out on the water for a dolphin tour with Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures. A catered Mediterranean lunch from Zunzibar was served at the Tybee Island Wedding Chapel and Grand Ballroom, which was created as the set for the 2010 film “The Last Song.” After lunch, it was back to Savannah to visit the Pin Point Heritage Museum, which preserves the region’s Gullah-Geechee culture. At the Savannah History Museum, a lively re-enactment of the Revolutionary War’s Siege of Savannah, included a musket-firing demonstration. The day ended with an elegant dinner at 45 Bistro.

Old Fort Jackson

This restored 19th-century fort protected Savannah during the War of 1812 and was also used during the Civil War. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and living history site. Re-enactors clad in period costumes teach visitors about the fort’s history, the daily lives of the soldiers who were stationed there, medicine in the 19th century and military strategy. They also demonstrate cannons, muskets and other 19th-century weapons.

Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures

Groups can see plenty of dolphins in their natural habitat on a dolphin tour with Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures. Each of this Tybee Island-based company’s tours starts slowly, as captain and crew humorously narrate the journey and point out dolphins as they surface in the bay. The boat then heads farther out to sea, giving passengers views of  Tybee Island beaches and the Cockspur Lighthouse. As a grand finale, the captain creates large waves for playful dolphins to jump over, creating an excellent photo-op.

Pin Point Heritage Museum

The center of the Gullah-Geechee community of Savannah is known as Pin Point; one of its most famous former residents is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The Pin Point Heritage Museum comprises four buildings that were once the A.S. Varn and Son Oyster and Crab Factory. The museum explores language, ways of life and culture of the Pin Point community through the lens of the factory where Atlantic blue crabs and oysters were processed,  as well as the people who worked there.

45 Bistro

This fine dining restaurant and bar is on Broughton Street inside the Marshall House, one of Savannah’s most famous historic inns. Its menu includes delicacies like locally caught seafood, filet mignon, brick-oven roasted chicken, refreshing salads and decadent desserts. Groups can dine in a private room and enjoy the restaurant’s exceptionally friendly service.

Day 4

Massie Heritage Center

Brunch at Henry’s in Pooler

Depart for home

The group’s final stop in Savannah was the historic Massie Heritage Center, which operated as a school from 1856-1864 and from 1865-1974. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital for Union soldiers. Highlights include a three-dimensional miniature model of the city of Savannah, complete with an interactive laser show. In a museum classroom, the group got a lesson in the history of education. The heritage center also has exhibits on architecture in Savannah, maritime history, and enslavement and emancipation. On the way to the airport, the group stopped in Pooler just outside the city for brunch at Henry’s, a diner with classic breakfast and lunch fare.

For more information on this itinerary or planning a trip to Savannah, please contact:

Visit Savannah

Anjuli King