Wheelchair/Stroller Friendly Day Trips from Savannah

Posted: July 10th, 2011 under Day trips, Traveling with children.
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Car loaded - ready for adventure!

A dear friend asked for my insight on traveling with children.  Her oldest son requires a wheelchair, and she wanted to know if I could recommend “outdoorsy” trips that her family could enjoy, given the limitations of his wheelchair.  While I have never had a child in a wheelchair, I have pushed a child in a stroller almost daily for twenty years now!  There is a side of me that is always looking for a ramp!

I thought long and hard about outdoorsy day trips, and what would make such a trip a success. I came up with three major requirements.

1.  Destination reachable in less than 3 hours.

An ideal schedule might be to awaken at 7 a.m., be on the road by 8, and arrive at the destination before 11.  That would include time for a bathroom break.  Also the timing would increase the likelihood that babies would be lulled comfortably into a morning nap.

I do not feed my children fast food, so I would rather have a picnic lunch in the car upon arrival.  Not only is that economical, but it is comforting to the children to eat familiar foods.

After the adventure, we aim to be  back on the road by 3 or 4 p.m.  The car is filled with weary, ready-to-nap children,  and we arrive home for supper and a comfortable night in our own beds.

2. The Schlepping Factor

It is important that the effort required for the trip not overwhelm the joy of the experience.    Parking must be safe and readily available.  Few things will dampen your adventurous spirits like having to park in a seedy section of town, or discovering that parking requires a form of payment that you do not have, like quarters-only parking meters.

Wheelchair accessibility is required.  “Paved” does not necessarily mean wheelchair or stroller friendly.  Last spring my husband and I visited France with our 10-week-old daughter.  Our first day we hiked from a seaside town called Menton to the Principality of Monaco.  The five mile “stroll” was on a path that the guide book described as paved and easy.  Since my daughter was travel-weary, we chose to use a stroller.  Big mistake!  The guide book failed to mention the many times we would be required to carry the stroller up and down dozens of stairs.  Working together, we could do it, but it wasn’t pleasant for my baby girl.  Once we arrived at Monte Carlo the path was luxurious and the trip was worthwhile.  But we could not bear the idea of dragging her stroller up and down the path to Menton again, so we took a train.

Path to Monaco

Breath-taking Monte Carlo

 

How difficult will it be to navigate your family through the trip?  It can frustrating to try to compete with hordes of tourists (such as at the Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day Parade), or  constantly have to lift a child up so that he or she can see.  Everything worth doing requires effort, but not every outing is worth the effort.  There must be balance.

3.  Memory-making Potential

A good close view - Alligator Farm

Are the children able to interact in a way that makes the trip meaningful? A trip to a fine art museum may be comfortably climate-controlled and wheelchair accessible, but may fail to impress young children.  Similarly a trip to a historic site may engage older children but require a level of restraint for younger children that would make it unpleasant or inappropriate.  The goal is to have fun and make memories, right?  The places I recommend are not only child-friendly, but are perfectly suited to accommodate noise and wiggles.

Recommended Day Trips from Savannah, Georgia

1. The Alligator Farm in Saint Augustine, Florida

The Alligator Farm

Beautiful, historic Saint Augustine holds the possibility of adventure for people of all ages!  It is one of my favorite destinations to recommend for a romantic, weekend get-away for two.  It also offers many kid-pleasing possibilities.  And what could be more exciting that visiting the Alligator Farm!

The Alligator Farm is a zoological park that features every kind of known crocodilian.  There are familiar American Alligators as well as exotic crocodiles, garials, and caimans.  The park also houses other reptiles, exotic birds, and monkeys.  A nice path leads through a rookery, a large swampy area where wild birds come to nest.  These birds are protected from natural predators, such as raccoons, by the throngs of alligators that lounge about the tree roots.  It really is a sight to behold.

Gators guard the rookery

Educational and entertaining programs are offered at different times of the day, but the event not to be missed is Alligator Feeding Time!  Even if you leave the park to eat or visit somewhere else, it is worth getting your hands stamped so that you can return to see this spectacle.

Mesmerized at feeding time

It appears to me that the Alligator Farm was designed to accommodate the whole family.  The paths are concrete or wooden plank, the enclosures make viewing accessible to small children, and even the bathrooms have changing stations.  I think it is a hit.  What could be more thrilling and memorable than alligators of all shapes and sizes?

The St. Augustine lighthouse is a short distance from the Alligator Farm.  I have walked to it, but I would not recommend it.  The path lacks continuous sidewalks, and it can be a congested area for traffic.     I have climbed the lighthouse several times.  It is expensive and younger are not allowed to climb.  It is worth driving by the lighthouse, because it is really a beautiful sight.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

St. Augustine is rich in history and natural beauty.  An Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to visit the city without having to get in and out and in and out of the car.  You can get tickets at the newly-renovated Visitor’s Center and ride the guided tour to see Flagler College, the Castille de San Marcos, the Spanish Quarter,  the Fountain of Youth, and other points of interests.  My children thoroughly enjoyed the trolley tour, perhaps primarily because they got to see the whole city without having to pound the pavement on a hot summer day.

 

2.  The Jacksonville Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo

The Jacksonville Zoo is not huge;  its size will not overwhelm you.  Yet given its modest size, it possesses a fabulous and interesting collection of animals.  The enclosures are constructed for clear viewing and there is an observation area, the Giraffe Overlook, where you can even pet the head of a giraffe.

Giraffe Overlook

Up close and personal

 

 

 

 

 

 

An aviary excited  my children.  They were able to pet and feed exotic birds.

Aviary at Jax Zoo

Feeding the birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite specimen was an anteater.  In all the zoos I have visited, I have never before seen an anteater up close.  My husband, however, was charmed by the kudus, which explains why I have lots of photographs of kudus and none of the anteater.

Kudos to the kudus

When I last visited the zoo, they were constructing a play area with a splash ground.  I have every expectation that a splash ground would be a welcome delight on a hot Florida summer day.

Our younger, smaller family at Jax Zoo

3.  Charleston, South Carolina:  the Children’s Museum of the Low Country and South Carolina Aquarium

Children's Museum of the Low Country

My last  recommendation for child-delighting day trips is not actually “outdoorsy”.  However I think it is worth naming, because sometimes you feel like you have exhausted the offerings of Savannah and really need to experience something new.  Savannah lacks a children’s museum; Charleston has a wonderful children’s museum called “Children’s Museum of the Low Country”.  It is a short distance from the visitor’s center, but I have always had luck finding street parking nearby, even for my enormous passenger van.  Some of the exhibits rotate, making it worth visiting more than once.  My children of all ages have enjoyed exploring the museum, and I have appreciated the dedicated toddler room with accommodations for nursing mothers.  An additional bonus – the price is reasonable!

Hands-on fun

Baby-friendly

Savannah also lacks an aquarium (the fish tanks at Skidaway don’t count).  The South Carolina Aquarium is a wonderful resource, and only two hours away!  The exhibits are easy to see, and I have never experienced large crowds or rowdy school children there.  There is a touch-tank that adds a tactile component that many children will appreciate.

Charleston is a beautiful city and the downtown area lends itself to both casual strolls or self-guided, architectural walking tours.   The sidewalks seem to be always in tip-top condition.  While some routes are brick, I have not encountered any of that bone-jarring, wheel breaking ballast rock like they have along Savannah’s river front.   My boys are always delighted to look out at Fort Sumter and to visit the Battery.

Boys at the Battery

Sometimes you go on adventures with your children, introducing them to all sorts of wonders of the world, and you wonder how much they enjoyed it, and how much they will remember.  A couple of years ago we visited the aquarium and had a lunch at a  hole-in-the-wall pizza place called “Pizzeria di Giovanni”.  The pizza was enormous and oh so delicious!  Then a couple years later I announced to my children that we were going to Charleston for the day.  “Get ready!” I told them.  “Put on your walking shoes.  The sun is shining.  The flowers are in full bloom.  We are going to Charleston and take a walking tour of architectural highlights!”  I can not say that my boys were thrilled with the prospect, but then they chimed in, “Sure, we’ll go.  Are you going to buy us a giant pizza?”

The biggest pizza ever?

Of course we bought a giant pizza.  Isn’t that what makes childhood memories become treasures?  Not just remembering them, but reliving them together.

Biggest pizza ever - Part 2

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