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There’s a lot to be said for Southern hospitality. There’s much more to be said experiencing it for yourself. I was very fortunate to do just that in a five-day trip to St. Simons Island, Georgia. For a traveling wine aficionado and foodie like me, this has got to be one of my top three trips this year. It’s quite clear that Southern hospitality focuses heavily on food and the role it plays in daily life and social interaction. Add some great wines, amazing beaches and fun activities… and Voila! I found Southern nirvana.
For a Southern California girl it’s a bit unnerving to be addressed as “Ma’am “all the time. I am more used to hearing “Babe, ”Dude,” and “Hey”. But there’s a whole lot of emphasis in the South on the etiquette of being addressed as “Ma'am" and "Sir" to demonstrate respect. After about 20 minutes I actually rolled quite easily into the greeting. How nice to find that manners still exist and flourish in today’s casual world.
My St. Simon’s experience began with a 5-hour plane ride to Jacksonville Airport. Arriving a bit late, I decided to rest up and regroup at the newly refurbished and award winning Crowne Plaza Hotel. This is one of the few hotels that still offer a free shuttle to/from the airport. I was treated to an amazing executive level room overlooking a beautiful courtyard. I loved, loved loved the beautiful business center located just feet from my room. It offered a computer and printer to conduct business at and luxe furnishings (including a huge flat screen TV) to stretch out and relax in. I was delighted to also find a great coffee maker featuring lattes, cappuccinos, teas, and hot chocolate; and a refrigerator stocked with ice cream, fruit and other delights. These people understand the business traveler.
While touring the hotel’s impressive restaurant, conference/event areas, lobby bar, Internet Café, and fitness center, I noticed a solid mix of business and family guests. I headed back to my room where I was met by Executive Chef Arthur White carrying a yummy welcome fruit platter. He was kind enough to sit with me awhile while we talked about his background, his philosophy and the foods he loves to prepare. This 31-year veteran started his career at the property as a dishwasher. His hard work ethic and culinary mastery eventually earned him the top chef spot. He describes his cooking style and offerings as a mixture of Southern, Caribbean, Italian, Cajun and American cuisine. He shared with me that his favorite ingredient is cream as he loves creating cream soups, sauces and Seafood Newburg. Eating at the restaurant is a treat. I highly recommend this hotel for its upscale amenities, friendly business traveler atmosphere, and its family-friendly facilities. How they can blend all that into one fabulous hotel experience I am not sure, but they do, and you should take advantage of it whether flying in for a cruise, a sports game, or a trip to the dazzling St Simon’s Island.
The next morning I was picked up by Max Transport for the one-hour ride to St. Simons and my lodging The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. I began to first understand the extraordinary St. Simons Island aura as I crossed the five-mile causeway experiencing stunning river views, immense salt marshes, and my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. Once on the Island, tunnels of Live Oaks, picturesque ocean-side streets and homes, and all the natural beauty, beaches, intriguing shopping opportunities and an array of restaurant choices all called out to me to stop, relax and renew.
The historic King and Prince Resort has been welcoming guests since 1935. I could go on and on about the historic resort. The room choices are endless and appropriate for every need and budget. Think beach front rooms, villas, suites, and guest homes. Add in 10, 000 sq. ft. of ocean front meeting, conference and function space, wedding facilities and several excellent dining options and you have the ultimate experience. My beach front room was just steps from the beach, was beautifully appointed and featured a lovely patio to chill out on. Wine in one hand, computer in the other… I was soon relaxing on comfortable wicker furniture listening to the soothing sounds of crashing Atlantic waves.
Having met up with several friends, I was soon hopping on the St. Simons Lighthouse Trolley to begin my exploration of St. Simons’ history and the Southern fun and hospitality experience. First stop was the Coast Guard Maritime Museum. This was to be my introduction to the intriguing history of the Georgia Coast. A 20-minute video and a 30 minute tour of the museum explained the ecological nuances of the Georgia's barrier islands of which St. Simons is the second largest of Georgia's 18 barrier islands, encompassing 31 square miles. Open seven days a week with an admission price of $6.00, be sure to stop by.
With the day waning, the trolley made a final sunset stop at Gould’s Inlet. Gould's Inlet is the opening between St. Simons East Beach and the south tip of Sea Island providing inspiring views of coastal birds. Picturesque wooden observation platforms are part of the experience for wildlife viewing. Migrants and resident species of birds can be seen every day. High or incoming tides are best for birding at this site, but something will be there all the time, as was the case with my time there.
Dinner that night was at the hotel in the lovely Solarium. We were treated to appetizers and White Sangria, with a main course of Wild Georgia Shrimp & Grits, seafood salad, and Peach Cobbler…all via a culinary demo featuring Chef Robyn Gomez. Have to confess, up until that night I had never had grits or White Shrimp. Both were exquisite and made an immediate convert out of me. The food, the service, and the culinary talents of Chef Gomez defines gracious Southern hospitality and is definitely what culinary memories are made of. And oh yes, you have to love that the perfect wine – a 2007 MontGras Reserva Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, Chile was chosen to pair with the dinner.
Next morning my friends and I popped into the King & Prince King’s Tavern for their world-famous Breakfast Buffet and to listen to a short talk on 75 years of St. Simons History with Curt Smith, the Lighthouse Events Coordinator and Historian. Let me just say that “Wow” defines the buffet and the Mimosa’s. I loved the eclectic mix of Southern focused dishes and all- American favorites.
Back on the trolley, the group headed out for an afternoon of golf and lunch at the King and Prince Golf Course. Paired up in two’s in golf carts we toured the award-winning course well-known for its challenging layout amongst ancient forests, vast salt marshes and dramatic island holes. Had to love the two alligators sunning themselves on the 15th hole (see on the left)! After the tour we were treated to a golf lesson including a swing lesson and a putting lesson. I sucked big time at learning how to swing a club, but was dynamite in the putting class. Lunch came next in the comfortable clubhouse overlooking the huge lake that adds to the challenge of the course’s 9th hole. If it’s golf you like, this is the place for you. Also a great place for a wedding.
Back at the hotel I opted for a walk on the beach at low tide. The soothing coastal air and wet sand beneath my toes reinforced that this untouched island haven is a luxury of time well spent. Dinner was a short stroll away at the Saltwater Cowboy. Owner George Stewart‘s vision for this casual eatery centers around steak, seafood, low country boil, burgers and a nice selection of cocktails, beer and wine. I had a lovely Cabernet with my generous tasty 16-oz Rib Eye. Open seven days a week for dinner, enjoy the frequent live music and really cool bar.
Up early the next morning, our group was back on The Lighthouse trolley to the Sandcastle Café. Tim and Melissa Welford have a gold mine in this village, “hole in the wall.” The place was crowded, and for good reason. The food is good, plentiful, affordable and easily lives up to its “family legend” status of 20 years. Order off the menu or enjoy the breakfast buffet. Afterwards stroll the shops and sights that make up this scenic waterfront village. I certainly scored in several of the boutique shops, but in a few hours I was back on the trolley heading out for lunch at Southern Soul BBQ.
This is what I had been waiting for …Southern BBQ, and I was not disappointed. Another crazy-busy spot this Southern smoke joint slow hardwood smokes their ribs, chicken, sausages and beef. Featured on Food Network’s, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” this is a local landmark and deservedly so. Eat inside or outdoors, expect a short wait, and delicious melt-in-your mouth BBQ. Geese I really really loved the variety of squirt bottles of spicy, mild, smoky, and Carolina- style sauces available at each seating area. Get yourself some spicy ribs, sweet tea or cool beer, and be ready for the experience of a lifetime.
Filled to the gills, we were off to an authentic shrimp boat experience aboard the “Lady Jane.” For me, this particular experience was my “Wow” moment of the trip because it brought together all the St Simons Island puzzle pieces together. it was the culmination of the beauty, the brawn and the ecological magic that makes this place so special. The Lady Jane is a United States Coast Guard certified 49 passenger steel shrimping vessel painstakingly refurbished for an enjoyable seafaring cruise. Lady Jane is the only shrimp vessel on the entire east coast that has been certified by the USCG to carry 49 passengers. Our crew and guides, Paul Christian (Marine Biologist), Phillip Flournoy (Marine Biologist)and a very mature and focused teenager Clifford Credle (aspiring Marine Biologist) dredged the inland coastal waterway for shrimp. We were invited to help sort through the catch of shrimp, Bonnethead , Blacktip, Sand shark, Horseshoe Crab,Puffer Fish, Amberjack, Crocker, Spot, Whiting, Bluecrab, and Skate while learning about the waterway ecology and each portion of the catch from Cilfford. As a extra bonus we were offered fresh shrimp to eat, boiled and prepared by First Mate John Tyre. Weather is never a concern, as the Lady Jane performs quite nicely in the protected waters of St. Simon Sound, has an air conditioned cabin, restroom, and large open decks with ample room to walk around and enjoy the views. About $40 per person, this is a deal …and a memory for a lifetime.
The “Southern” experience is something I highly endorse. If you’ve never been a part of this engaging phenomena, I suggest you start the discovery process at the King and Prince resort on St. Simons Island.
If you already know what I am talking about, then you know how right I am … so what’s keeping you from booking a room at The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, and falling in love all over again?