By Myscha Theriault, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
10:53 AM EST, January 8, 2013
Travelers searching for a unique and affordable getaway will find lots to love on Georgia's Jekyll Island. Accessible for $6 per vehicle with entertainment options suited to literally every budget, it is one of the most cost-friendly destinations in the country. While it's certainly possible to spend big on sensational dinners and multiple spa treatments, truly affordable luxury is still available to those who know where to look.
History: Dating back to the late 1800s, the national historic landmark district on Jekyll Island is a sight to behold. It includes the former holiday cottages and recreation facilities of individuals such as J. P. Morgan, William Rockefeller and Joseph Pulitzer, as well as other notable families of the day, including the Vanderbilts, Goulds and Astors. While it had once fallen into disrepair, the entire area is now restored for public enjoyment. For fully-guided trolley tours which include entry into a number of the original cottages, the Jekyll Island Museum offers scheduled daily tours for $16 per person. Those on a budget however, can take a self-guided, multi-media electronic tour for $8 per unit, also available at the museum.
Nature: Kayaking and sand strolling on Jekyll Island's miles of low-traffic beaches are both free ways to enjoy your time there. The Saint Andrews picnic area in particular provides a penny - pinching way to enjoy nature for the day, and is accessible to those with adaptive travel needs. In addition to the wheelchair ramp access to the sand, the venue has picnic table access and a touching African-American historical exhibit. Young marine life conservation enthusiasts will want to take in the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which boasts a small interactive museum as well as access to a fully-functional rehabilitative center where visitors can see live sea turtles in the recovery tanks being treated for their injuries before returning to the wild. Adult tickets are $7, with discounts available for seniors, military members and children. To see more of the island's eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers $5 guided tours that last for 90 minutes, routing through beaches, maritime forests and salt marshes.
Sports: If you prefer a more active itinerary, Jekyll Island has a number of affordable options available to suit. For example, tennis enthusiasts can enjoy court time for $6 per session and training clinics for 10 bucks per hour. A number of golf courses are available on island as well. The larger courses offer twilight fees for 18 holes with a cart starting at $25, while the same price will snag you an all-day play and ride experience at the nine-hole course known as Great Dunes. For those who simply want to practice their swing, the driving range fee for 23 balls is only $3. Five separate course loops are available for free to joggers and bikers, each covering a different portion of the island.
Accommodations: Travelers on a tight budget will want to explore the Jekyll Island Campground, which offers 18 acres in which you may select your desired sleeping spot. Rates range from $21 for a primitive tent site to $35 for a fully-serviced RV lot. A handful of bargain chain hotels are also available for those who would like to enjoy a private room with heat and a shower. If you're up for a fun splurge, consider a night or two at the historic Jekyll Island Club. This venue is home to the original club house enjoyed on the island by the wealthy families who built the original homes there. Basic room rates start at roughly $200 per night, which isn't out of the question for a romantic weekend or honeymoon. However, it isn't uncommon to see weeknight bed and breakfast packages as low as $99, providing a 50 percent savings opportunity to those with flexible schedules.
If you're dying to see a bit of the hotel and can't quite swing the hundred bucks for a mid-week room, consider making a reservation in the grand dining room for afternoon tea. At $14.95 per person, it's a decadence that most vacationers will find doable. The hotel's luxurious Lobby Bar provides even greater savings with daily happy hour drink specials and live entertainment from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Theriault is the best-selling co-author of the book "10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget," and founder of TrekHound.com, a website for independent travelers. She also founded TheLessonMachine.com, a website for teachers.