Deep South Traveling

June 6, 2013 at 11:40 pm

One of the most egregious mistakes people make about the South and Southerners is that residents of this corner of America are all the same. In fact, each Southern state has its own unique accent, cultures and traditions, with regions within each state sometimes vastly different from others. Historically the South consisted of mostly Protestants from the British Isles and African Americans brought in as slaves, with South Louisiana like an island with its Catholic French and Spanish ancestry and the New Orleans melting pot. But because of geographical differences and the influx of other immigrants, each region became unique.

The South as a whole can be divided into many sub-regions, the largest being the Deep South, once defined for the rich soil used for growing cotton. Today, Southerners consider the Deep South as that area hugging the Gulf of Mexico, a region filled with live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss that reaches over to the Atlantic and slightly up the East Coast. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and parts of Louisiana fit into this category.

Appalachian Mountains

Appalachian Mountains

The Deep South has much to offer the traveler. Lovers of both early American history and the Civil War will want to visit Georgia’s many historic sites, from its Civil War battlefields to the hip college town of Athens, home to the University of Georgia, the oldest state-chartered university in the United States. Heading towards the coast is the historic and charming city of Savannah with its delightful town squares and ancient cotton warehouses. Nearby are miles of Low Country marshlands, islands and rivers with Charlestown, South Carolina, to the north, another charming Southern city seeped in American history.

Quartz from the Appalachian Mountains makes its way to the Florida Panhandle through rivers and streams and that’s why the “Emerald Coast” offers dazzling beaches of quartz sand along the Gulf. The deep-water “Fathom Curve” that exists close to Destin, plus the unique beaches, gives this area its name, for the waters are indeed breathtakingly emerald. Much of the Panhandle beaches have been preserved, so natural beach settings are coupled with beachfront destinations.

Bust of Rosa Parks Photo credit: Chere Coen

Bust of Rosa Parks
Photo credit: Chere Coen

Alabama offers a wide range of diversity, from Gulf Shores beaches to the northeast mountains to the innovations of NASA in Huntsville. One of the South’s most inspiring experiences is the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail. Visitors may walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, learn about the Montgomery Bus Boycott at the Rosa Parks Museum and follow in the Rev. Martin Luther King’s footsteps, from his Montgomery parsonage to his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Next door in Mississippi visitors can learn the origins of America’s music, visiting the birthplace of Elvis and the Delta, land of the blues. For years the state of Mississippi has been erecting markers honoring its music and visitors can experience these historic spots with the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Country Music Trail. Naturally, Mississippi is home to numerous music festivals as well.

Bend in the Mississippi River

Bend in the Mississippi River

It’s also been said that something in the Mississippi water produces great writers, for the state is home to literary greats Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Tennessee Williams and John Grisham, among others. The Deep South as a whole has more than its share of outstanding writers and visitors can view where they created in the Southern Literary Trail.

And what’s a trip to the Deep South without visiting New Orleans, that eclectic, charismatic city where care forgot? New Orleans has something for everyone, a playground for those looking to escape inhibitions, a food-lovers heaven, a unique slice of American history and fun for the entire family with its parks, festivals and award-winning zoo and aquarium.

The big question may be when to visit. Most of the year, Deep South weather is a joy — colorful springs, warm falls for outdoor fun and football and mild winters attracting snow birds (the people kind).

If you are interested in visiting southern states, check out our Charleston Vacation Packages and start planning your next vacation!

Cheré Coen is a Lafayette, La., travel writer and author, but a native of New Orleans. Her latest book is “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana.” Follow her at


Mardi Gras and New Orleans

June 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

What you see concerning Mardi Gras on TV every year is the tip of the Carnival iceberg. And if you’re up for a wild party, mostly traveling through equally raucous crowds along Bourbon Street, there you are!

But Carnival and Mardi Gras in New Orleans is so much more, a slice of Americana steeped in Louisiana culture.

The season of Carnival begins on Jan. 6, otherwise known as the Epiphany or Twelfth Night of Christmas, the day the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ child. The “season” lasts until the day of Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In a nutshell, Carnival and Mardi Gras is living it up before giving it up.

New Orleans Street car on Canal Street

New Orleans Street car on Canal Street

“Carnival refers to the season of merriment which always begins on Jan. 6,” writes Arthur Hardy in his annual “Mardi Gras Guide,” a must for visitors. “Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the single culminating day of Carnival.”

During Carnival season, there are elaborate balls, parades, Mardi Gras Indians (as seen on the HBO series “Tremé”) and special events happening in New Orleans, ranging from the traditional to the absurd. The fun begins Jan. 6 with the Phunny Phorty Phellows traveling up St. Charles Avenue in a decorated streetcar proclaiming the start of Carnival and The Joan of Arc Project resembling something more medieval walking through the French Quarter.

King Cake with Baby and Champagne

King Cake with Baby and Champagne

Most of the fun revolves around the numerous parades that roll through city and suburb streets. Only a few walking parades happen in the French Quarter due to its narrow streets so most will follow established parade routes. Carnival is made up of dozens of “krewes,” organizations that either put on a ball or a parade — or both — and they are the ones who are standing in costumes on floats throwing beads, trinkets and doubloons (aluminum coins) to the crowds.

Mardi Gras Masks

Mardi Gras Masks

Parades routinely happen on weekends in Carnival, then offer a final 10 days of solid parades leading up to Mardi Gras. Because of the Super Bowl occurring in New Orleans this year, the parade schedule is slightly altered. Parades will be rolling the weekend of Jan. 25-27, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-2 and Wednesday, Feb. 6 through Mardi Gras Tuesday, Feb. 12. There are three “super parades” featuring double- and triple-decker floats and celebrity royalty: Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus.

On Mardi Gras day in New Orleans, visitors can enjoy the traditional Zulu and Rex parades, following by an endless stream of costumed trucks. Rex is considered the king of Carnival and his meeting with his queen later that night signals the end to the season. Zulu is a predominantly African American parade created during segregation to both allow blacks to parade and mock the once all-white festivities. Other special events happening on Mardi Gras day are the Mardi Gras Indians, another African American tradition; special walking clubs like Pete Fountain; and the Gay Mardi Gras with its elaborate costume contest on Bourbon Street.

Since Carnival is a winter holiday, it’s important to dress for any kind of weather. Winter in New Orleans ranges from freezing to sunburns, so dress in layers and be prepared for anything! If you costume on Mardi Gras day, the same rule applies.

Jackson Square in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Jackson Square in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Accommodations fill up fast for Carnival, and prices tend to be higher during this time. Restaurants also pack in the crowds so make reservations if possible. Since this is a time to be on the streets having fun, staying at the finest hotel is not necessary, but if you can find one on a parade route that’s a plus, for both the convenience of walking out your door to the parade and an available bathroom.

Many people assume New Orleans Carnival and Mardi Gras to be an adults-only holiday. Obviously, it’s not advisable to bring children to the French Quarter during this time — at least not the bawdy areas such as Bourbon Street. But Carnival, with its parades featuring bands, krewe members throwing trinkets and beads and the festival atmosphere surrounding it all, is perfect for children. The trick is to enjoy the parades in the more family-friendly areas. The best spots for families include the beginnings of the parade route in New Orleans or the parades that roll in the suburb of Metairie.

 If you are interested in visiting New Orleans or the surrounding area, check out our New Orleans Vacation Package and start planning your next vacation!

Cheré Coen is a Lafayette, La., travel writer and author, but a native of New Orleans. Her latest book is “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana.” Follow her at

Weekend Trips from Charleston

March 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm

While visitors to Charleston will find plenty to keep them busy, the city can also serves as a convenient base for trips to other popular destinations in the Southeast. Here are four popular destinations within a few hours’ drive of Charleston.

Least Terns, Alameda NAS CA

Horse cart in Savannah, Georgia

SAVANNAH, GA: Charleston and Savannah are only 100 miles apart, but each seaport is unique enough that visitors to either city find plenty of reasons to visit the other. They have much in common – centuries of history, fine restaurants, boutique shopping, low country cuisine, nearby beaches and ghost tours. But the “Hostess City of the South” was spared the destruction that engulfed much of the South during the Civil War, allowing more of its historical homes and estates to remain unharmed. Downtown Savannah has dozens of public squares featuring lush gardens framed by Spanish moss-draped live oaks. Paula Deen lives here, and visitors line up around the block to eat at her “The Lady & Sons” restaurant. The Savannah College of Art and Design adds a hip vibe, powering a youthful community that thrives on indie music venues and art film houses.

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World’s Largest Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia

ATLANTA, GA: The “hub of the New South” has added a thriving urban restaurant scene to its traditional attractions of upscale hotels, Six Flags amusement parks, professional sports teams, and non-stop nightlife at the renovated Underground Atlanta complex. Like Charleston 265 miles away, Atlanta was decimated by the Civil War. However, it has rebuilt itself as a truly international city, as confirmed when it hosted the 1996 Olympic Games. The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest, housing more than 120,000 animals — most notably the beluga whale. Tours are also available of such Atlanta icons as the CNN Studios, the World of Coca-Cola and the home where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.

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Biltmore Estate Front Lawn in Asheville, North Carolina

ASHEVILLE, NC: This funky art colony in the Blue Ridge Mountains lures visitors with locally-owned galleries, distinctive restaurants, luxurious accommodations and diverse performance venues. Located 260 miles from Charleston, Asheville sits inside the Pisgah National Forest, where nature lovers enjoy spectacular wilderness scenery while hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and zip lining. The best known attraction here is the elegant Biltmore Home, America’s largest house with 250 rooms. Originally the family home of George Vanderbilt, the Biltmore Estate’s 8,000 acres include acres of gardens, 22 miles of hiking trailers, the Winery at Antler Hill Village, and an outdoor adventure center featuring Segway tours and leisurely paddles  on the French Broad River.

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Smoky Mountains

SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TN/NC: Drive another hour west of Asheville and you are in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s visited park. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is known for its stunning mountain vistas, roaring streams, diverse ecosystems, and preservation of Southern Appalachian culture. The Appalachian Trail (the 2,000-mile pathway from Georgia to Maine) traverses the park. More than 800 miles of maintained trails allow visitors of all abilities to explore thundering waterfalls and quiet rustic forests. Native American culture is the focus in Cherokee, North Carolina, where the Eastern Band of the Cherokees offer museums, authentic crafts and Harrah’s Casino. Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, are home to the Dollywood amusement park and the area’s largest concentration of outlet shopping malls, while Gatlinburg (located inside the park’s borders) is a vibrant resort town that claims the invention of miniature golf.

Sprinkle in a few other nearby cities – like Augusta, Georgia, home of The Masters golf tournament, and Charlotte, North Carolina, which hosts the U.S. Whitewater Center – and you can find plenty of excursions  to expand on your Charleston experience.

If you are interested in visiting the Charleston, South Carolina area check out our Charleston Vacation Packages and start planning your next vacation!

Bobby L. Hickman is a freelance travel and business journalist based in Atlanta who specializes in the Southeast. His work has appeared in such publications as Southern Living, Georgia Trend, and You can contact him through

Charming Charleston

March 6, 2013 at 12:49 am

Charleston, South Carolina, must be pretty special to be voted the “top city destination in the world” by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler. And it is special. From its antebellum architecture and historic attractions to a thriving dining scene, cultural treasures, nearby beaches and world-class golf, Charleston is one of a kind.

History is the major draw here. Founded in 1670, Charleston was the wealthiest seaport south of Philadelphia during Colonial times.  It has survived earthquakes, hurricanes, and attacks from the Spanish, French, Native Americans, pirates, and the British during the Revolutionary War. The Civil War began here when Confederate troops fired the first shots at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. (Fort Sumter is only accessible through boat tours, but it can also been seen clearly from dramatic viewpoints around the harbor such as Battery Park, Patriots’ Park, the USS Yorktown, and the colorful townhouses known as Rainbow Road.) Charleston’s prosperity was wiped out during the years of war and reconstruction. But the city has rebuilt its economy while preserving and restoring its rich architectural heritage.

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Cobblestone Street in Charleston

The best time to visit Charleston is spring (April through June), when blooming azaleas, magnolias and wisteria accent cobblestone streets and lush gardens. The weather is mild – the average daily high is 75 degrees and the low is 54, with 52 inches of rain annually. Spring and summer are the busiest seasons, but most summertime visitors hit the nearby beaches to escape the sticky heat. Fall is the shoulder season, so the streets are less crowded. While the weather varies widely in October and November, you can easily enjoy the city’s beauty before grey winter days arrive.

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Morris Island Lighthouse in Charleston

Charleston lies where the Ashley and Cooper merge at Charleston Harbor. But within a few miles are the sand dunes, sea oats and calm ocean waves of barrier islands such as Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Seabrook Island. Kiawah Island is an upscale retreat with pristine beaches, internationally-known golf courses and sweeping views of the low country marshes. Charming Folly Beach on Folly Island is a popular resort boasting vacation rentals, live music and fresh seafood.

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Fresh seafood

Speaking of food: The dominant local style is low country cuisine, which originated in the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia. Low country cuisine combines ingredients commonly found in the area (native seafood such as shrimp, oysters, and crabs, and vegetables including rice, potatoes and okra) through such cultural influences Cajun, Caribbean, Southern and African). She-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and the stew-like low country boil are among the best-loved dishes. Some of the top low country restaurants in the area include 82 Queen and Poogan’s Porch and Slightly North of Broad.

However, Charleston is more than low country cuisine, with a slew of nationally-recognized restaurants and chefs (including three consecutive James Beard award winners). Husk – named best new restaurant in America for 2011 by Bon Appetit – serves bold dishes made only with ingredients grown in the South. FIG was an early farm-to-table restaurant that defines contemporary Charleston with its fresh fish and local vegetables. For dessert, you can’t beat Cupcake, where the name says it all.

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Lush vegetation in Charleston

A city with so much history is naturally filled with museums, gardens and well-preserved homes. The Museum Mile is a section of Meeting Street that is home to six museums, five historic houses, four scenic parks and numerous public buildings. Several estates surround the city, such as Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant, a former 17,000-acre cotton plantation with a formal garden nestled among moss-draped live oaks. Magnolia Plantation includes a guided tour of the home and a one-hour tram tour of the estate’s gardens, wetlands and marshes. Drayton Hall on the Ashley River is the only plantation to survive both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

Families will enjoy the South Carolina Aquarium on Charleston Harbor, the most visited attraction in Charleston. Nine major exhibit areas allow visitors of all ages to experience the natural environments and aquatic life found in estuaries, mountains and streams across the Palmetto State. At Charles Towne Landing, site of the first English settlement in the Carolinas, youngsters can visit “The Adventure”, a replica of a 17th century sailing vessel. The landing is also home to the Animal Forest, a natural habitat zoo that features animals such as alligators, black bears, wolves, puma, and bisons that are (or were) indigenous to the region.

The Charleston area offers a rare combination of history, outdoor recreation, Southern charm and cosmopolitan sophistication that will leave you agreeing with savvy travelers that Charleston should be on everyone’s “bucket list”.

Check out California Tours Charleston Vacations and start planning your vacation today!

Bobby L. Hickman is a freelance travel and business journalist based in Atlanta who specializes in the Southeast. His work has appeared in such publications as Southern Living, Georgia Trend, and You can contact him through