This post was written by our Callaway Gardens weekend getaway winner Lori Brown.
If you grew up in Atlanta, Callaway Gardens is synonymous with the iconic family getaway. Some of my favorite memories are visiting as a child and riding bikes with my family until the fireflies lead us back to our room, or renting a boat and fishing all day. My family loved to come fishing on their lakes and we would enjoy the tranquil atmosphere (or in my case, nap until the fish were biting) until we caught our limit or lost too many lures. But no memory is complete without the whimsy experienced, as a child, in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center.
As amazing as my childhood experiences were, experiencing things with MY child and through his eyes are even more memorable than I could imagine. So needless to say, I was absolutely tickled to win a weekend getaway contest through Atlanta Mom on the Move and courtesy of Callaway Gardens.
Like most Atlanta-area families, our schedules were jam-packed, but we found some space, and squeezed in a night away. True to form, life happened and we did not leave as early as I would have liked. My hubby repeatedly told me to relax, so that invariably made me even more agitated. The nice fact was that it was just UNDER a 2 hour drive for us, which came and went before I realized. I wondered if I would be able to enjoy and relax adequately once we got there. Boy, was I worried for nothing!
We arrived at our accommodations before check-in, at Southern Pine Cottages, and let them know that we were there when a room was ready. Although it was not, they took my phone number to call us should it be ready before 4pm. FYI-It was ready before 4pm, and we promptly received a courtesy call to let us know.
Off we took to explore. We were given a printout showing that we were property guests, so that we could gain entrance into the gardens without incurring any additional cost. Well, there was really no need for that, as we never even made it to the gardens until the next day. Mommy immediately found the Lodge and Spa (by accident of course), and as luck would have it they had a 4pm opening to correspond with our check-in time. This allowed Mommy some R&R, while my boys had an in room siesta.
That’s right ladies…they have a phenomenal Spa. The Spa Prunifolia is located in The Lodge at Callaway Gardens, which is actually part of Marriott’s Autograph collection. The spa itself has been named a “Top 100 Spa” in North America by Conde´ Nast Traveler. It did not disappoint in the least! I was completely blown away by the fact that I felt like I was the only one in the Spa. They do an amazing job of mixing appointments and dividing treatment areas. Massage and facial guests are on the locker room side, while nail and beauty treatments are near the entrance. The staff was courteous, the Aromatherapy Pedicure was a dream, and their massage chairs are better than any I have experienced.
Remember how I said I was worried if I could relax once we got there? NO PROBLEM!! One of the neat features was that our cottage was located towards the end of the road, away from the pool/check-in and closer to the Lodge. I literally walked out of my Cottage (read that as well-appointed small house) and down a beautiful paved path that led to the Lodge in under 2 minutes. The location of our Cottage also made it easy to follow a partly paved and partly gravel path down to Robin Lake, the hub of Summer time excitement and activities.
I am always worried when we have reservations at a “cottage”. That word can be so misleading, and translate into anything such as “measly shack”, “studio cabin”, or “might as well be camping.” This was not the case at all! Our two bedroom cottage was a small house. It came complete with dinning area for at least 6, well stocked full kitchen, living room, spacious bedroom each with dressing area and bathroom, fireplace, porches off each bedroom, grill, and screened-in back porch with a patio set. We could have easily shared the accommodations with another small family and not felt like we were on top of each other. I was so pleasantly surprised and will choose to stay here in the future. Perfect if you have kids. Gives you space to spread out, and the kids can even play outside around the cottages.
After Mommy’s sanity check at the Spa and the boys attitude adjusting nap, we headed over to Rockin’ Robin’s for some dinner. Rockin’ Robin’s is located by the Cottage Check-in and pool. The night we were there we had a choice of pizza, pizza, or pizza. This was just fine by us as it was so uber kid friendly. We then treated my Munchkin to his first ever banana split.
Without waiting the proverbial 30 minutes, we headed right over to the pool at the Southern Pine Cottages. It’s pool area is divided among a larger outdoor pool and a smaller indoor pool, as well as hot-tub. Unlike other pools on the Callaway property, this one is heated starting in October. The resort style environment of the pool was extremely comfortable to share with the other Cottage guests (most of which were families). Should you have a wee one and desire for them to be able to play independently in a pool area, consider staying at the Mountain Creek Inn to enjoy it’s 1ft. deep children’s pool.
After an enjoyable night’s sleep, a full pot of coffee (not those dinky hotel pots), and homemade breakfast; we headed out for a day of fun in the Gardens.
Since our cottage was within walking distance to Robin Lake, we started off with a leisurely stroll down to that area. When we got there, into our vision opened this whole other world; beaches and swimming areas, putt-putt, Aqua Island, laser tag, blaster boats, basketball, shuffle board, water skiing, and so much more. As we reached the giant covered pavilion area, where you can survey it all, the Big Top loomed just behind it.
Every summer, since 1961, the FSU Flying High Circus has taken up residence next to Robin Lake Beach and entertained families with high flying acrobatics. When we arrived, we had just missed them by a week. That will definitely be on our list for next year.
Nonetheless, the amount of activities centrally located at Robin Beach is mind boggling. Should you prefer to watch and take it more low key, there are many relaxing areas to kick back and soak it all up. Lay on the beach for some rays, enjoy a swing under the canopy of trees, or rock in relaxation under the covered pavilion. Patrons in the covered pavilion can enjoy a game of checkers or chess, via giant size boards and pieces.
We literally could have stayed at the cottages, parked our car for the weekend, and just enjoyed this area for days. But, there was so much more to enjoy!
It’s hard to believe that with all the things we already had done, we hadn’t even touched the core of what Callaway is known for – the Gardens. With over 13,000 acres of horticultural heaven, one can’t help but soak up the beauty that is Callaway Gardens.
Highlights of the garden area include the Virginia Callaway Discovery Center, John A. Sibley Horticultural Center, Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel, Pioneer Log Cabin, Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden, the Azalea Garden, and more hiking and biking trails then you can imagine.
My Munchkin was over the moon about going to see the butterflies. So the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center was where we took off in the car to first. You can choose to park close to the building, but we opted to park next to one of the trails that meanders up to it.
Once you reach the building and immediate grounds, you are greeted by a menagerie of ponds, gardens, and winding paths. Our first stop was the outdoor koi pond, which seemed to be a magnet for every child in the immediate vicinity. Be sure to walk up slowly and be on the lookout for the frogs that also make the little pond home.
Once inside, it was hard to get our pre-schooler to stand still long enough to take in the magnitude and variety of butterflies present. Winding paths beckon you to see what is around the next corner. Once we bribed him (swore I would never do that, but check, I do) to sit on one of the many benches, he was awestruck at butterflies coming right up to us. I could have taken up residence on a bench, with a book, all day.
Towards the end of the path within the center, is yet another koi pond. This one features a cascading waterfall. Be sure to bring quarters for fish food to buy here. When we were there, the koi had apparently had their fill, but the koi outside appreciated the food as we passed them on our way back to the car.
We ended up spending more time there than we had anticipated. We had so much fun, but indoor and outdoors, at this location. The time just really escaped us and we needed to wrap it up to head back home.
Planning for Next Time
We learned so much on this first trip and these are the things I will either do differently, the same, or not miss next time.
-Bring your bike. Park the car and get around on two wheels all weekend. If you can’t bring your own, they do have rentals
-Bird of Prey Show: Check the schedule and build in time so you are not late. They do not allow late admittance.
-Plan around one of the seasonal highlights: Next up is the Labor Day Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival. This one we are going to make happen next year, but there are still reservations available for this year. Grab some friends, rent a cabin, and have a phenomenal Labor Day!
-Food: If you stay in a cabin, take advantage of the full kitchen and stock up on groceries. Grill out and take it easy. Want to splurge one night? Be sure not to miss one of their fabulous buffets: Friday nights from 5-9pm is the Seafood Buffet at the Plant Room Restaurant at the Mountain Creek Inn. Kids 5 and under are FREE. Saturday they also have a Classic Southern Buffet. We also had seen that the Lodge had a Friday night Seafood Buffet as well.
-Should you choose to stay at the Southern Pine Cottages, request a cottage towards the Lake path and Lodge for an experience similar to ours; or stay closer to the check-in to enjoy the pool and Rockin’ Robin’s without as much of a walk.
-Golf carts are available for rental to use around the property. Reserve them ahead of time and they will deliver them and have them set for you at your cabin.
-While it is feasible to enjoy just one night, be sure to carve out at least 2 nights to be able to even scrape the surface of all they have to offer.