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What to Do at Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park with a Preschooler

What to Do at Great Wolf Lodge with a Preschooler | CosmosMariners.com

Disclaimer: I worked with the Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte/ Concord, North Carolina, in order to produce this post. As always, all opinions are my own. 

Who wouldn't love to splash and play in a massive indoor water park for a few days? The answer, I decided, was probably no one (or, at least, no one I wanted to hang out with), so I knew that I had to head up to the Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte/Concord, North Carolina, for some watery fun.

6 Fun Kids' Activities in Durham, North Carolina

6 Fun Kids' Activities in Durham, North Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Summer time is the time for family vacations. As soon as the temperatures start to warm up, I get antsy for our next adventure. In between our 1 or 2 big trips each year, we like taking shorter trips within the Southeast: my husband and I are big believers in exploring the beautiful region we call home, so when I had the chance to visit Durham, North Carolina, with my two kids, I loaded up the car and headed up I-95.

Over 2 days, we hopped, ran, ate, and explored our way through as many of the kid-friendly spots in and around Durham that we could squeeze into our packed schedule. Here are our favorite kids' activities in Durham, North Carolina!

Charleston Recipes: Old Fashioned Bread Pudding

Charleston Recipes: Old Fashioned Bread Pudding | CosmosMariners.com

I started my Tasty Travels series a while back with the best of intentions. But, as with most best laid plans, life got in the way, and my travel-themed recipe series faded into the background.

After a long hiatus, I'm excited to see if I can focus on the series again; and, to kick it off for the second time, I'm going to share one of the best dishes I've tasted in a long time: a Charleston recipe for old fashioned bread pudding. YUM!

How to Make History Fun for Your Kids in St. Augustine, Florida

How to Make History Fun for Your Kids in St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

There are few places that I love to visit in Florida more than St. Augustine. Not only does the city have an incredibly deep history that spans multiple centuries, but it is also so easy to navigate on foot, it has an amazing food sceneand it's right on the Matanzas Bay for gorgeous pictures of the water.

To visit St. Augustine without doing your best to understand its more than 500 years of history is to do the city a disservice. From the earliest Spanish explorers to those who fought for freedom during the Civil Rights Movement, St. Augustine has been an integral part of American history.

5 Off the Beaten Path Places in New Orleans You Can't Miss

5 Off the Beaten Path Places in New Orleans You Can't Miss | CosmosMariners.com

Who doesn't love New Orleans? After all, the Big Easy is known for some of most famous haunts and watering holes in the world. However, the city is more than beads, cocktails, and Bourbon Street.

New Orleans is filled with fascinating museums, saturated with art and bursting with music. If you are looking to experience New Orleans without the hustle and bustle of the usual tourist attractions, there is a wide selection of off-the-beaten-path attractions to be found...if you know where to look.

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review}

Hungry in the Holy City: Charleston Culinary Tours {A Review} | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | wording added to original | creative commons}
Within the last decade or so, Charleston has exploded (not literally, thankfully). Not only has my lovely hometown been named the number one travel destination in the world by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine for four years running, the Holy City has also come into its own with new restaurants, multiple James Beard-award winning chefs, and cutting edge menus.

How to Spend a Weekend on Seabrook Island, South Carolina

How to Spend a Weekend on Seabrook Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

It's almost here.

The time when my baby sister decides to be all grown up and get married. I know that she's an adult--she's gainfully employed and has a dog and a house and all that--but there's something so finite about her leaving her bachelorette days behind to move in with my soon-to-be brother-in-law.

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary

Cruisin' down South Carolina's Highway 17: A Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
The open road (and the beach) awaits!
As you cross over the North Carolina-South Carolina border on Highway 17, there's not much to indicate why this stretch of highway is worth of a dedicated road trip: there are lots of pines as far as you can see and a few ponds here and there.

If you stick with the road for a bit longer, you'll soon be treated to an overview of everything that coastal South Carolina has to offer. Instead of bisecting the state on the much bigger and busier I-95 (which runs through the Midlands portion of South Carolina), you'll be able to see some of the most picturesque parts of my home state. With an average speed limit of 55, South Carolina's Highway 17 allows you to meander through North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, pass through the Hammock Coast, drive through Charleston, and linger along the marshlands near Beaufort.

Indulge Your Inner Astronaut: 9 Things To Do at Kennedy Space Center

Indulge Your Inner Astronaut: 9 Things To Do at Kennedy Space Center | CosmosMariners.com

When I was about 9, I had two dreams:
1) I would become an astronaut, and
2) I would became a paleontologist specializing in protoceratops (my favorite dinosaur at the time. The fact that I had a favorite dinosaur should tell you a lot about the type of kid I was.)

When I was about 12, I realized that
1) I was severely claustrophobic,
2) I doubted I could bring myself to eat space food, and
3) I enjoyed reading about space and dinosaurs (and, well, anything) more than I would enjoy studying astrophysics or digging for months in a hot desert.

A Quiet Retreat on Florida's Space Coast: Tuckaway Shores Resort

A Quiet Retreat on Florida's Space Coast: Tuckaway Shores Resort, Indiatlantic, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I love driving down Florida's A1A highway: the ocean is right there, and if you're not in a tropical state of mind before you get on the road, you will be within in the first quarter mile.

When my daughter and I head down to the Space Coast, we didn't arrive until after dark, but I could still feel those island vibes and hear the roar of the Atlantic as we hopped on AIA and headed towards our hotel: Tuckaway Shores in Indiatlantic, Florida.

A First-Timer's Guide to Georgia's Golden Isles: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

A First-Timer's Guide to Georgia's Golden Isles: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Escape to the coast and spend time on Georgia's Golden Isles. Even though I only live a few hours north of this gorgeous part of Georgia, I hadn't explored the area until just a few years ago. Once I went for the first time, I was hooked and have been back multiple times in consecutive years!

The Golden Isles stretch along Georgia's coast and include four islands: St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Island. Sometimes, Cumberland Island to the south is also included in mix, too--since it's nearby, I'll throw in some tips for it as well since it's such an interesting place.

Cool and Cultured: What to Do when You Visit Greenville, South Carolina

Cool and Cultured: What to Do when You Visit Greenville, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Of the cities in South Carolina, Greenville is one of my favorites (second only to Charleston, of course). For a smaller city, it packs in a little bit for everyone: nature trails, museums, great restaurants, and excellent theatre.

Basically, if you haven't been to this corner of Upstate South Carolina, you're missing out. Here are my favorite fun things to do when I visit Greenville, South Carolina.

Small Town America Restored: 24 Hours in Travelers Rest, South Carolina

Small Town America Restored: 24 Hours in Travelers Rest, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Too often, you read articles about the death of small town America, the influx of big city residents, and the decline of the traditional main street.

This is not one of those articles.

Travelers Rest, population 4500, is only a few miles from Greenville, South Carolina. Up until a few years ago, it was just a pass-through between the industry of Greenville and the idyllic retreats of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. The story of Travelers Rest is like many across the country: a town grew up around the railroad, but when the railroad business left, so did the residents.

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Confession: I am a bibliophile.

As a kid, I would hide for hours in closets, in bathrooms, and in trees to read my latest treasures from the library. As an adult, I don't get that luxury as much as I'd like to, but I still try to sneak in as much face-to-book time as my writing, blogging, and toddler will allow.

In college, I started out as in philosophy (since I was told that was a good major for future law students, as I was at the time), but lasted a semester before I switched to English. Thank you to the genius who created the English major, so that I could read and learn and nerd out on novels and short stories and essays for a living!

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com

On vacation, most kids collect postcards or sweatshirts. I collected (and still do!) books on local haunted spots. At seven, I visited my grandma in Myrtle Beach and found a copy of Nancy Rhyne's Coastal Ghosts--and an obsession was born.  My bookshelf now struggles under the weight of all of my ghost story books, but I'm still on the lookout for more!

Despite the fact that I may be the biggest chicken alive, I love the thrill of reading a ghost story or going on a ghost tour. There's so much history, intrigue, and underbelly-of-the-city activity wrapped up in all of them that keeps me going back for more.

Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to round up a few of my favorite haunted spots and share them alongside some other bloggers' favorites.

Location: St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, Florida

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com

As I was carrying my bags up to my room earlier this year, another guest greeted me in the hallway and said, "You know this place is haunted, right?" He then proceeded to tell me that during his last stay, he and his wife had listened to the sound of little girls laughing in the hallway outside their room all night.

Goodbye, good night's sleep!

I later found out that the St. Francis Inn is a hotbed of activity. One of the desk managers told us that she often sees things moving out of the corner of her eye, that televisions turn on without anyone being in the room, and something keeps opening and closing the doors of the washer and dryer.

Given that the inn has been in existence since 1791, it's no wonder that a few residents might have wanted to stick around the property. I may or may not have slept fitfully during my entire three night stay! It's tough to try and rest while you're simultaneously keeping an ear out for spirits.

Location: Old Sheldon Church, Yemassee, South Carolina

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com

This gorgeous shell of a church is hidden away off of Highway 17 between Charleston and Hilton Head, but it is well worth a quick detour. During the day, it's awe inspiring to walk between the large columns and imagine what the place looked like before it was burned.

At night, however, you might just run into one of the spirits that prowl this area. There's supposedly a woman who's looking for her baby: she's buried on the property in the small graveyard.

One of my sister's former co-workers, a normally unshakeable police officer, had a hobby of going out on paranormal investigations around Charleston. When he visited the Old Sheldon Church, he and his team distinctly heard a female voice wailing in the dark. The ruins aren't close to any other houses or buildings, so they weren't sure what they were hearing!

(For an easy day trip to this and two other spooky ruins in the South Carolina Lowcountry, check out this post.)

Location: Portland Underground, Oregon
Contributed by: Angie Golish, My So Called Chaos

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via}

In it's heyday, the Portland Underground was a hotbed of horrors and illegal activity.  It was home to prostitutes, the homeless, and criminals-both on the run and in current crime. These catacombs became known as the Shanghai Tunnels due to the amount of shanghaiing that occurred at that time, which the law tried to combat by hanging signs encouraging sailors and individuals to call home.  The vast majority of sailors, ranch hands, hard-workers-and even children-were kidnapped, dragged through the tunnels, and sold to sea-captains to work on boats or be sold along the voyage.

These days, the tunnels are shut down, but you can purchase a tour and learn the history for yourself as you're led through the various abandoned rooms and vaults hiding beneath a very active city.  The host will tell you about the various ghosts that are said to haunt the tombs, which are still partially furnished and still contain some items that were left behind by prostitutes, thieves, and children that passed through. They even offer a reward for anyone who is able to capture a spirit on camera.  

Unfortunately we didn't see one first hand, but this tour was definitely worth it because the history is rich and the atmosphere is very eerie!

Location: Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia
Contributed by: Shandos Cleaver, Travelnuity

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via Thomas Huxley on Flickr | Creative Commons License}

When I was in high school, I visited Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia with my parents. Port Arthur is an old convict prison, where the worst-of-the-worst prisoners in Australia were sent. Now, I’ve never believed in ghosts (and am these days happy to take my dog to the local park at night, situated in an old cemetery), but it was different that bright summer day at Port Arthur…

I entered a room in one of the old, still-intact buildings and started to read the information plaque on the wall. But then I sensed something… I felt chilled, and was certain there was someone else in the room. I looked around the room, but there was no one there. And then I started to read about the supposed hauntings that had taken place in that very room over the years. I quickly hurried away to find my family, and quickly head back out into the bright sunshine outside.

Is it worth visiting? Yes, it’s a fascinating place, with beautiful old buildings, many just ruined shells. But I would advise you to stay away from the nighttime ghost tours!

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Location: Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Contributed by: Kayla Miller, The Felicity Jar

Did You Feel a Chill?: Favorite Haunted Places around the World. | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via}

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is said to be the most haunted hotel in America. It got this way due to several deaths there over the course of its 100+ year existence, including the deaths of many cancer patients hoping to be healed when it served as Dr. Baker’s hoax hospital. 

The Crescent is nothing short of creepy, and the best part is that there are nightly tours of both the hotel and the extra disturbing morgue. We took the tour for the first time in 2014, and while it was full of interesting tales of the ghostly residents, it was also very history-heavy, which was great for my lovely companion, who is much less ghost story inclined than I am. 

Because the hotel is still in operation, you can do one better than the tour and stay in the hotel overnight. We were not brave enough to do this, but you can choose to stay in the rooms said to be most haunted if you’re up for it!  


And just for kicks and giggles, you can also check out the scariest destinations in the world, as suggested by Travel Observers blog. 

Are you ready to visit all of these places? What haunted spots have you visited? Do you have any ghost tour recommendations?

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of the above links, I will receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. 

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A Hauntingly Beautiful Spot at the Edge of the World: Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia

A Hauntingly Beautiful Spot at the Edge of the World: Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia | CosmosMariners.com

There are many reasons why you'd want to visit Jekyll Island, Georgia.

There's the Guilded Age-era hunting lodge that was once the winter lodging for the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, and other super wealthy people. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel now a completely restored luxury hotel, and one that I highly recommend. (Even if you can't stay on property, stop by for the afternoon tea!) [Take a virtual tour with this post here.]

A First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep

Hugging the western coast of Florida just outside of St. Petersburg is a 23-mile stretch of white sand and blue water. Welcome to the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area!

From Caladesi Island State Park at the northernmost point to Pass-a-Grille at the bottom, this beautiful collection of beaches and resorts has something for everyone. Whether you're visiting for the day from Tampa or downtown St. Petersburg, or you're here for a week long family vacation, you'll be dazzled by the wide, flat beaches, the stunning sunsets, and the wide variety of activities.

Plus, there's plenty of history along the way for people who want their beach vacation to have a side of culture!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Although the area is often referred to as St. Pete Beach or St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater, this stretch of Gulf Coast is actually composed of a series of communities, each with their own feel.

Pass-a-Grille, in the south, is eclectic with a bit of a hippy vibe while St. Pete Beach is filled with high rises, lots of gift shops and restaurants, and a lively, happening atmosphere. Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach are both laid back and homey feeling; Belleair Shore and Belleair Beach have some beautiful--and gigantic--houses! Clearwater, at the top of this stretch, always has something going on, and you'll find plenty of restaurants, dancing, and gift shops.

Where to Stay

As this area is a favorite vacation spot (Clearwater Beach alone draws around 4 million visitors a year), you'll find hundreds of apartments, condos, hotel rooms, and camping spots up and down the beach. I've had the pleasure of staying at several locations during my visits; while I have personal experience with these and can recommend them, this is in no way a comprehensive list!

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille, Florida

  • The Coconut Inn, Pass-a-Grille. This adorable inn dates back to the 1920s, but it has every modern amenity a visitor could need or want. Relax in the pool, flip burgers in the outdoor kitchen, or walk across Gulf Way to get to the beach. You might also want to check out the sister properties, Havana Inn and the Sabal Palms Inn, both of which are also in Pass-a-Grille.[Read my review here.] 

  • Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach. The Pink Palace defined the beach vacation for the rich and famous for a decade--during the 1920s, the Don CeSar was the place to see and be seen. It's been completely restored, so you can now stay where F. Scott Fitzgerald rested his head. 

  • The Plaza Beach Hotel, St. Pete Beach. For a kitschy experience with a throwback to the old mom and pop stops of the 1950s, the Plaza Beach Hotel is your spot. The hotel is aimed towards families and adventurous young travelers, so you'll find plenty of activities on-site, including water sports, a pool, a volleyball net, shuffleboards, a lifesized chess board, and a 9-hole miniature golf course. [Read my review here.]

  • Barefoot Beach Resort, Indian Shores. Since each of these units are personal apartments that are rented out by the management company, they feel more like home and less like a hotel room. Swim in the pool, go fishing off the docks in the Narrows, or step just across Gulf Boulevard to the gorgeous water. [Read my review here.]

  • Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach. These four apartment units are still run by the same family in quiet Indian Rocks Beach who built the property in the 1970s. You'll be well taken care of by the live-in property managers--so much so that you'll feel like you're part of the family by the time you leave! All of the units have huge porches that face the Gulf, and the beach is about ten steps from the back of the units. It's your own private paradise. [Read my review here.]

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
The view from our apartment at Cay Pointe Villas, Indian Rocks Beach.


What to Eat

One thing I love about this stretch of the Gulf Coast is that there are only a few national chains. Stop into one of the many locally owned restaurants for fresh seafood, a quick breakfast, or some evening cocktails.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Having fun at Hurricane Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille!
Hurricane Restaurant, Pass-a-Grille. I had some of the best blackened chicken alfredo I've ever tried here, and my husband loved the grouper. It's right on Gulf Way in Pass-a-Grille, so you can watch the sun go down in the evenings or do some people watching!

Shaner's Land and Sea Market, Pass-a-Grille. On our last trip to the area, my husband, my toddler, and I stopped by here at least three times. There's a delicious sandwich counter for quick lunches, and a huge selection of freshly caught seafood in the back. I loved the stuffed chicken breasts--we had those two nights in a row. The market also offers a small selection of grocery basics (fruit, veggies, beer, bread). 

Lighthouse Donuts, Indian Rocks Beach. On our first morning of our first visit to the St. Pete Beach area, Landon and I discovered this place, and it quickly became a favorite. The doughnuts are freshly made each morning, and they've got a nice selection of coffees, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches as well. 

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Toucan's Bar and Grill, Clearwater Beach. After we'd attempted Frenchy's one night and discovered a 2 hour wait, we began to wander in search of food and came across this place. It's nothing fancy--a sports bar, really--but it's a sports bar with a great view. Try to eat outside if the weather's nice: you'll be able to people watch, and you'll have a view of the Gulf.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Frenchy's Rockaway
Frenchy's Rockaway, Clearwater Beach. This place is a Clearwater institution, and the hours-long wait is a testament to that fact. To beat the crowds, we went right as they opened one morning. After eating there, we were glad we'd found a way to try it out. The conch fritters and spicy dipping sauce were worth the entire trip. 

I've also heard amazing things about Snappers Sea Grille (St. Pete Beach), Crabby Bill's (Clearwater), and Seared 1200 Chophouse (St. Pete Beach) from my readers, but I haven't had the chance to try them out myself. Next time!

What to See

The main attraction here is, of course, the beach! Most of what's offered here revolves around that. Try stand-up paddleboarding in Pass-a-Grille, or see how long you can stay on one of those huge water trikes in St. Pete Beach. Clearwater offers multiple parasailing outfitters from which to choose. Kayak rentals are a great way to see this stretch of island from the bay side. Many hotels also offer bike and fishing rod rentals.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Standup paddleboarder near St. Pete Beach

Don't forget to do that staple of beach vacations: go putt-putting! There are plenty of courses all along this area. We had a blast one night at Smuggler's Cove in Indian Shores, where you can pause halfway through your game to feed some alligators.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com

Spend the day at Caladesi Island State Park or Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island is only accessible by ferry, kayak or personal boat, so it's one of your last chances to see a Florida beach completely unspoiled! Honeymoon Island was Florida's most visited state park for the last six years.

Don't forget to go to Pier 60 in Clearwater at least once on your trip. There's a nightly festival held there (much like the one in Key West's Mallory Square) two hours before and two hours after the sunset. Check out the street performers and see what the local crafters have on offer.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Soaking in the arts history at the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Petersburg is only a quick car ride away, where you can experience the Dali Museum, and the Chihuly Collection, and see glassblowing at the Morean Arts Center. Historic Fort De Soto is just south of Pass-a-Grille and makes for an easy day trip: rent a bike, surrey, or kayak, and bring a picnic.

A First Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, Florida: Where to Visit, Eat, Shop, and Sleep | CosmosMariners.com
Our surrey at Fort De Soto!

What to Know

  • While the stretch of land from Pass-a-Grille to Clearwater is only 23 miles long, you won't go anywhere quickly. If you have dinner or activity reservations, make sure to allot plenty of transit time. Between the busy areas of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, stoplights, and everyone being on island time, traffic is often fairly slow. 

  • Make sure you clarify which side of the land your hotel is on. There's water on both sides of the St. Pete Beach/Clearwater area, but if you're interested in an Gulf view (and not just a "water" view), it's worth a call to your hotelier. 

  • Carefully choose where you'll stay. Because the ambiance of each area is so different, you'll want to make sure that your accommodations match your expectations. If you're looking for lots of nightlife and restaurants within walking distance, St. Pete Beach or Clearwater are safe bets. If you'd rather enjoy quiet evenings and uncrowded beaches, head to Pass-a-Grille or Indian Rocks Beach

  • There aren't many grocery stores directly on the Gulf coast. While there are a few scattered here and there, you might find that the closest grocery store is actually back towards St. Petersburg, Seminole, or Largo. Use that GPS!
Have you visited the St. Pete Beach/ Clearwater area? What did you like doing there?


If you liked this post, you'll love my other first-timer's guides! Check out the guide for each city by linking on the image below:

First-Timer Travel Guides First-Timer's Guide to St. Augustine, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Savannah, Georgia First-Timer's Guide to St. Pete Beach, Florida First-Timer's Guide to Charleston, South Carolina

This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.


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Edisto Island Serpentarium, South Carolina

Edisto Serpentarium, Edisto Island, South Carolina | CosmosMariners.com

Just after I'd gotten back from St. Augustine, Florida, I repacked my suitcase and headed to Edisto Island, South Carolina, for a week with my husband and his side of the family. It's a tradition to spend a week at the beach there, relaxing and catching up with everyone. While Edisto has a fairly quiet beach and beautiful sunsets, there are some hidden surprises tucked amongst the huge live oak trees--one of which is the Edisto Serpentarium.

Unlike other beach locales (I'm looking at you, Myrtle Beach), Edisto Island is completely devoid of Ripley's Believe or Not museums, Medieval Times restaurants, and neon lights. The fact that there's a reptile exhibit at all on this out-of-the-way stretch of Carolina coast is surprising on its own. But what's even more unexpected is how well done the Serpentarium is.

5 Unusual, Fun & Quirky Travel Books

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Since my goal in life is to either be on a trip or planning one, I love travel guides, travel books, and travel magazines. They're all over our house, which tends to drive my husband a little batty (he never complains about the actual travel, though, which balances everything out).

While I love a good Rick Steves, Lonely Planet, or Fodor's guide just as much as the next traveler, I also like to get different perspectives on the places I'm visiting (or just hoping to visit). I read other travel blogs, pour over magazines, and spend a few hours delving into novels that are set in the areas I'm visiting.

But every once in a while, I get lucky and I come across a tome that's part travel guide, part entertainment, and part awesomeness. For many people, Eat Pray Love was their first taste of this hybrid travel book, and Italy, India, and Bali were flooded with people trying to recreate their own journeys a la Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm sharing five of these non-traditional travel books with you today in the hopes that you'll add them to your collection of travel-related bedside reading as well.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer, The Clumsiest People in Europe

To everyone in the world, I apologize for this book. On its face, Mrs. Mortimer, a wildly popular British author in the Victorian period, is blunt, cruel, and completely snobbish. Still, if you can look past that (and you should!), you'll find a fascinating look at just how gigantic the British Empire's ego was in the late 1800s: it's an inadvertent commentary on elitism, colonialism, and racism packed into one outdated book.

Reading it now, the book seems so absurd as to be dry humor, but Mrs. Mortimer was basically the Rick Steves of her era (only with a much poofier hairstyle and stricter standards of dress). Take everything she says about each country's inhabitants with a grain of salt, but focus on the fact that people were just as interested in where to travel 150 years ago as they are today. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A few gems:

The United States: Washington is one of the most desolate cities in the world.

Sweden: There is no country in Europe where so many people are put in prison.

France: They like being smart, but they're not very clean.

Australia: The people are the children of convicts and have been brought up very ill by their parents.
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes
While RLS is most often associated with that glorious pirate dramas, Kidnapped and Treasure Island, and the spine-tingling science-thriller, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he was also an accomplished traveler. Because of his poor health, he often sought warmer climates than could be found in his native Scotland. Over his relatively short lifetime, he spent time in the French Riviera, California, New York, Tahiti, New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia, and Samoa (where he's now buried).

Stevenson wove his travels through many of his novels, journals, and poems, but my personal favorite recounts the walking trip that he took through the Cevennes mountains in France. Not only was his donkey his fellow travel companion (something that merits a peek on its own), but the entire travel guide is written in this bouncy and often hilarious tone.

Throughout the book, you wonder if Stevenson will actually finish his walking tour, as his donkey seems intent on thwarting his every move:
A little out of the village, Modestine, filled with the demon, set her heart upon a by-road, and positively refused to leave it... I came very near crying; but I did a wiser thing than that, and sat squarely down by the roadside to consider my situation under the cheerful influence of tobacco and a nip of brandy.  Modestine, in the meanwhile, munched some black bread with a contrite hypocritical air.  It was plain that I must make a sacrifice to the gods of shipwreck.  I threw away the empty bottle destined to carry milk; I threw away my own white bread, and, disdaining to act by general average, kept the black bread for Modestine; lastly, I threw away the cold leg of mutton and the egg-whisk, although this last was dear to my heart.  Thus I found room for everything in the basket, and even stowed the boating-coat on the top.  By means of an end of cord I slung it under one arm; and although the cord cut my shoulder, and the jacket hung almost to the ground, it was with a heart greatly lightened that I set forth again.
You'll want to find your own donkey (one that's perhaps a bit better behaved than Modestine in the journals!), walking stick, and passport and try to recreate the trip yourself after reading it--and you can, more or less, as the Cevennes are a protected national park in France.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress

Much like Stevenson, Mark Twain is known for his non-travel writing (such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Twain traveled a lot during his lifetime, and I think it's sad that so few people outside of English majors even know about his travelogues.

The Innocents Abroad follows Twain and a group of fellow travelers as they make their way through 1860s Europe and the Holy Land. And in true Twain fashion, he liberally peppers his observations with wry humor and satirical wit. Surprisingly to many these days, this book sold better than any of his other works, including his novels. While people didn't travel as much as they do now, there was certainly an interest in what other cultures were like.
This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were the record of a solemn scientific expedition, it would have about it that gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal, so attractive.

Yet, notwithstanding, it is only a record of a picnic; it has a purpose, which is to suggest to the reader how he would likely see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him. I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel-writing that may be charged against me--for I think that I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not. 
While Twain doesn't shy away from sharing his opinion, his views of the people he encounters seem almost soft compared to Mrs. Mortimer. Read Mrs. Mortimer for something to laugh at, and read Twain for something to study.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

When I was assigned this book in a graduate course on modern American identity, I was a little confused on what I had been given. Was it a memoir, a travel guide, a history book, or some sort of political statement? As it turns out, it's a little bit of all of those.

Since that original assignment, I've re-read this book more times than I can count, and each time, I come away with something different from it. It follows Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz as he explores those states below the Mason-Dixon line in an effort to see how and why the Civil War still affects people today (well, "today" meaning in 1999, when he wrote the book).

Having grown up in the South, I am well aware of the complicated feelings that people of all ages and races still have with the Civil War--yes, it's been over for over 140 years, but there's still so much to process.

Horwitz attempts to do just that and, in my opinion, he does a mighty good job at trying to do so. Through the course of the book, he visits 9 states, joins a Civil War re-enactment group (a hardcore one, not a farb one--a very particular distinction between the re-enactors in the book), attempts to understand the logistics of the minie ball pregnancy that supposedly occurred in Mississippi and looks for the location of Gone with the Wind's Tara and Twelve Oaks.

One of the highlights of the book is when Horwitz decides to accompany serious Civil War re-enactor Robert Lee Hodge on a condensed road trip of important Civil War sights, a trip that includes outdoor camping, period-appropriate rations, and marching. Lots and lots of marching.
At one point, crunching through chest-high thorns and listening for Rob's tramp in the dark ahead, I began to appreciate the utter misery of marching...I also felt the reckless urge that soldiers so often succumbed to, shedding their gear and staggering on unburdened. And we'd only been walking an hour; in the summer of 1862, many of Lee's men marched over 1,000 miles.

"At least we're losing some weight," Rob said, dripping with sweat. "I need to drop five pounds if I'm going to look good at Gettysburg next weekend." 
If you're interested in Civil War history, Southern travel, or contemporary American politics, you've got to find a copy of this book.

5 Unusual, Fun, and Quirky Travel Books | CosmosMariners.com

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story

You've probably heard of the movie--and most likely seen the film starring a very young Jude Law, John Cusack and Kevin Spacey that follows the murder trial of renowned restorationist Jim Williams, But did you know that Jim Williams was a real person from Savannah, Georgia, and that everything in the movie actually took place?

The movie's based on a non-fiction expose of the same name written by John Berendt, a journalist who's played by John Cusack in the film adaptation. I love this book because so much of the Savannah described in it is still there for anyone to find: Lady Chablis is alive and well (she played herself in the movie) and you can catch her burlesque show. Jim Williams is, of course, dead (spoiler alert!), but his home is open to visitors daily.
Mercer House was the envy of house-proud Savannah. Jim Williams lived in it alone.

Williams was smoking a King Edward cigarillo. "What I enjoy most," he said, "is living like an aristocrat without the burden of having to be one...I don't envy them. It's only the trappings of aristocracy that I find worthwhile--the fine furniture, paintings, silver--the very things they have to sell when the money runs out. And it always does. Then, all they're left with is their lovely manners."
You could use the book as a guide to explore historical Savannah and perhaps delve into more of the city than the usual history tour will show you.

Have you read any of these? What books can you always count on to kick start your travel bug?

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The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review

The Asbury, Charlotte, North Carolina: A Restaurant Review | CosmosMariners.com

While on my trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the things I was most looking forward to was a dinner at The Asbury, the restaurant that's attached to the Dunhill Hotel (read my review of the hotel here).

I'd originally heard about the Asbury back in November 2014 when I discovered a bag of spiced popcorn in my goody bag from a travel writers' luncheon: the popcorn was spicy, a little bit sweet, and completely different than anything I'd had. I ended up fighting for pieces of it when I introduced tastes of it to my family.

I figured that if the chef could make popcorn that exciting, then he must be capable of seriously amazing things when given control of an entire menu. All of the reviews that I read online about the restaurant emphasized Executive Chef Chris Coleman's unique and inventive approach to his dishes: the bar was set high for our dinner, and I was ready to dive in.