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How a tour to Savannah helps keep local news alive
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Tour participants with World’s Best Adventures stop for a picture in front of The Olde Pink House in historic Savannah. (For the Forsyth County News)

By Charlotte Atkins

For the Forsyth County News

There was laughter in the back of the bus. Someone whispered something and two of the three were soon giggling like schools girls. Then all three. But these were not school girls. They were sisters Donna Hastings and Susan Johnson and their 88-year-old mother Maxine Gilstrap, who was the funny instigator.

That was in the first 10 minutes of a three-day two-night adventure to discover the enchanting soul of Savannah.

The trio of ladies were among 42 travelers, mostly from North Georgia and ranging in age from 38 to 88, to climb aboard a luxury motor coach in Gainesville for a custom tour curated by Metro Market Media that owns The Times, Forsyth County News and Dawson County News.

The all-inclusive tour included a welcome wine reception, Savannah History Museum and Georgia State Railroad Museum tours, river dinner cruise with gospel entertainment, private walking tour of Bonaventure Cemetery, Old Town Ghost Tour, shopping on River Street plus two nights’ accommodation, two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners.

The “Gilstrap Girls” ended up on the trip because Maxine saw the ad in the newspaper and cut it out and then called her daughters to beckon them to join her for a girls’ getaway.

“It was an opportunity to be together with my sister and my mother and do something special,” said Donna. For Maxine of Cumming, Savannah has long been a favorite destination since she went there on her honeymoon. Plus the ladies were celebrating the birthday of their late father and husband Bill.

Couples, too, saw the Savannah sojourn as a chance to get away together or celebrate anniversaries. Myrna and Erik Bescher of Braselton jumped on the opportunity to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Georgia’s oldest city. Erik said the Monday to Wednesday timing was perfect and he knew his beloved would enjoy it. Myrna chimed in, “I just love taking tours. You learn so much you wouldn’t otherwise.”

Her favorite part of the trip was the tour of Savannah’s historic Bonaventure Cemetery.

“I could have been there all day,” said Myrna. “All the details were so fascinating.”

Bonaventure Cemetery is one of the most popular places to visit in Savannah, the fourth most popular according to Trip Advisor. It is a serene experience to stroll through this Victorian-era cemetery filled with patinated statues and majestic live oaks draped in Spanish moss and to learn about the history of those who built the city.

For Erik, the Coastal Heritage Society’s Savannah History Museum trip through time from the city’s founding in 1733 through the American Revolution and Civil War through today was memorable. There the tour group took up mock muskets and sabers and the flags of three countries and marched across Battlefield Memorial Park to re-enact the Siege of Savannah, the second bloodiest battle of the American Revolution that was a futile Franco-American attempt to retake Savannah from the British. Erik was the flagbearer for the colonial American flag.

Another highlight for most was the evening dinner cruise aboard the Georgia Queen riverboat. Fred and Linda Stinson, who traveled from Bartley, West Virginia, to join the tour, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. And it was a golden celebration for sure as they dined with fellow travelers enjoying Southern fried chicken, pulled pork, mac and cheese, Southern greens, garlic cheese biscuits and more. All the while being uplifted by a lively and soulful gospel choir in a grand ballroom as the riverboat slowly glided down the Savannah River under the moonlight.

Other dining high points included The Olde Pink House, an elegant colonial mansion with inventive Southern cuisine, Boar’s Head on River Street and the popular Pirates’ House that’s both historic and entertaining with its pirate and sailor lore. “All the delicious food” was what Sheila Oliver loved most in addition to the good company.

For Ted Johnson and his wife, Asden, an extra treat came in the form of a tour and discussion about Trustees’ Garden, a historic site that was preserved and renovated by Charles H. Morris into a special events, music and community venue that is now a gem in the heart of historic Savannah.

“I really enjoyed exploring the city and seeing how it has changed since I was last here,” said Ted. “Trustees’ Gardens is a great example of the progress that has been made over the years.”

And because Savannah is touted as “America’s Most Haunted City,” a ghost tour was in order for a few thrills and a slice of Savannah’s more ghoulish history and mythos. Of course, no trip to Savannah would be complete without shopping and roaming River Street.

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A tour guide talks about a historic cemetery in Savannah during a tour from World's Best Adventures. (For the Forsyth County News)

Curating news and travel

So why is your local newspaper offering special guided tours?

Well, community journalism has always been about engagement with our readers and our communities. For centuries that has been through ink on paper. Still is. But now it’s also through computers and cell phones, social media as well as community events.

We educate people. We entertain people. We are keepers of history and storytellers. So that’s why the Forsyth County News and Metro Media Marketing are adding another layer in curated experiences for our communities.

Charles Hill Morris Jr., owner of Metro Market Media, and his North Georgia team decided that we are in a unique position to create such offerings. “As a local media company, we have one of the largest reachable audiences in the markets we serve. We thought we could design a great travel experience and let our audiences know about these special opportunities to travel with us and see other great cities and markets,” Morris said.

Plus it’s a way to create connections, experiences and content that builds on the legacy of community journalism. “We wanted a way to deeper engage with our customers and readers and to deliver memorable travel experiences,” said Morris. “Traditional newspapering is increasingly more and more difficult to make profitable, so we were hoping to launch a business to help fund community journalism. Our first tour to Savannah will let us fund two journalist jobs for one month.”

World’s Best Adventures is the name for the new tour division of Metro Market Media.

The Savannah experience was organized by Lori Maxim, director of revenue for Morris Multimedia. “My goal was to give our guests a white-glove experience. Take all the hassle out of planning their vacation and have a seamless adventure full of great memories. It’s important to me that our guests have the opportunity to relax, laugh, learn and make new friends.”

Morris, Maxim and yours truly were the inaugural tour team and the experience created a camaraderie that is likely to continue as most of the participants were eagerly asking, “What’s next?”

Relationships were nurtured, new friendships were fostered and this fun-loving group of travelers will likely enjoy more adventures together in the future.

“Our first tour was a blast for me,” said Maxim. “I met a wonderful group of people who obviously enjoy new experiences as much as I do. I can’t wait for our next adventure to Charleston in March.”

More to come

This group of strangers-turned-friends seemed to enjoy socializing with one another as much they did the planned activities. Sheila Oliver of Gainesville was traveling with her friend Judy Haff. “I saw the trip in the paper and it looked like a lot of fun. I called Judy and said, ‘Put your going shoes on because we’re going to Savannah!’”

Marriam Vaughn used to enjoy Savannah with her late husband Bill and for his birthday she wanted to enjoy the city’s allure again and meet new people. “I do love Savannah and enjoyed this trip so. I also loved the laughter. Everyone was laughing and smiling the whole time and I’d loved to do this again. So count me in!”

The inaugural adventure was a hit and there are more on tap. The focus will be on the South and the communities we know because of our regional journalism roots.

Morris said in store are “other great destinations throughout the Southeast such as Charleston, Asheville Chattanooga and other such destinations. In addition, we want to hear from our readers and customers as to which places they might want to visit. If you have ideas, please reach out to Lori.”

Maxim says the next trip is Charleston and is slated for March 23-25, 2020. “We are reserving spots now.  We are also considering a tour to the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Biltmore in Asheville in late February or early March. Stay tuned!

So check your local newspaper for ads on upcoming trips and get your “going shoes” on.

For more information on World’s Best Adventures tours, look for advertisements in The Times, Forsyth County News and Dawson County News, on www.gainesvilletimes.com or contact Lori Maxim at lmaxim@worldsbestadventures.com.