Savannah is a town one has to experience in person. Words and pictures fail to capture the true essence of this amazing historic city, although I will give it my best. It is the oldest city in Georgia, established in 1733 on the banks of the Savannah River. In the main historic district, there are more than 20 huge squares, with massive oaks towering overhead, each tree festooned with Spanish moss. Walking through the historic district is like taking a step back in time. If you want a feel for it, read the exceptional nonfiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt or watch the serviceable movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Of course, the best way to fully experience Savannah is to visit it, something I highly recommend.

There are amazing buildings with impressive architecture, charming bed and breakfasts, and ominous (and very photogenic) cemeteries with graves dating back hundreds of years.

One of my favorite cathedrals in the U.S. is also in the historic district, the gorgeous cathedral of St John the Baptist.

The Savannah/Hilton Head airport is a small one, and easy to navigate. It is only about 20 minutes to downtown from the airport, at a flat cost via taxi of $28 ($35 to the Westin, across the river). Hilton Head is about 45 minutes away from the airport.

 

 

I had the chance to do site visits at several hotels in Savannah, which has four major properties. The Hyatt Regency has arguably the best location in Savannah, right in the heart of River Street, at the head of the historic district. The Hyatt has 350 rooms and its largest ballroom is 11,000 square feet. All of the rooms will be renovated by early 2015. The meeting space is on a couple of levels, but escalators make for a pretty easy flow. A good size group for them would be 300-400 people, which would take over the hotel. They have a great fourth-floor rooftop terrace with river views that would be an ideal reception location.

At the end of River Street is the 391-room Savannah Marriott Riverfront. Its largest ballroom is about 15,000 square feet, and there is an excellent atrium that is perfect for large meals or receptions. The wall of the atrium facing the river has massive six-story windows, giving exceptional river views to almost all atrium rooms. The Marriott also owns a large riverside terrace outside the hotel that is available for events and receptions.

In the heart of the Historic District, is the 246-room Hilton Savannah DeSoto. I have used this hotel successfully for groups of up to 150 people, but any more than that becomes too large for the hotel, as its largest space is just over 5,000 square feet. This hotel is an upscale property, but in a historic building.

On the other side of the Savannah River is the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa. This is a nice property, but one must go over a huge bridge to get to it, or take a water taxi over to the main area of Savannah. The Westin has 403 rooms, an 11,500-square-foot ballroom, and is attached to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, which has an additional 13,225 square feet of meeting space.

If Savannah were a cocktail, it would be comprised of two parts New Orleans, one part Key West, and three parts sweet tea, shaken and garnished with some Spanish moss. I really enjoyed seeing the hotels and experiencing this unique and historic city.

Timothy Arnold, CMP, CMM, is Regional Vice President with HPN Global, the Hospitality Performance Network. Watch for his destination reports from around the world, a regular MeetingsNet feature and part of our ideaXchange series.