There are two things I like to do when I visit a city, if they are available. First is a tour. This may be a walking tour, carriage tour, or bus tour. It helps me get my bearings before I set off on my own. The second activity I think is important is a cruise: river, harbor, or ocean. The cruise often offers insights into why a location was chosen for settlement, as well as into city commerce.
It was a rainy day when I visited Charleston, South Carolina recently. I wasn’t dodging raindrops, but rather downpours. After a short time trying to balance an umbrella, camera, and purse as I walked along tree lined streets with their grand centuries-old mansions, I decided the timing was perfect for a bus tour and cruise. I’d be out of the weather and be able to sit back and relax for a couple of hours.
I chose Gray Line City Tour, which offers a combination minibus tour followed by SpiritLine Cruises’ harbor cruise. The rain poured and the driver/guide pointed out different historic sites, houses, and churches as he wove in anecdotes and fun facts.
Just as we reached the Battery Seawall where we would disembark for the harbor cruise, the rain slowed to a drizzle and the sun started to peak out from between angry gray clouds.
I boarded the boat and settled in, hopeful the rain would hold off for a little while.
Charleston Harbor is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, formed by the junction of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The harbor was a major reason for the establishment and growth of Charleston. Part of the Intracoastal Waterway, our guide — a retired history teacher — told us that the magnificent Ravenel Bridge framing our view was America's longest cable-stayed bridge.
Past the bridge, we circled the retired aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown, that is now dedicated for tours and educational purposes.
Our guide also spoke at length about the Civil War and about Fort Sumter — the site where the first shots of the war were fired. We learned that the harbor was the site of the first successful submarine attack in history, on February 17, 1864.
It was a relaxing way to learn even more about the city and its fascinating history, and we had a fantastic view of the Battery and the grand mansions overlooking the harbor.
All too soon our cruise ended, and we were back on the minibus headed to the Visitors' Center where our tour began.
Charleston is a 300-year-old city with many stories to tell. Start the narrative on a tour and a cruise, and then set off to make your own vacation history.