Oct 14, 2018

Revel in the retro at the Thunderbird Inn, Savannah, Ga.

Whenever I plan to visit a destination for the first time, I always try to find a place to stay that is unique, out of the ordinary and every bit as interesting as the destination itself.  Cookie cutter chain hotels are fine, but they seldom enhance the experience. 

So, when Punky and I started researching our first trip to Savannah, Ga., my first inclination was to book at one of Savannah’s historic inns, boutique hotels or bed and breakfasts that dot the city’s historic district.   But many proved to be either cost prohibitive or not close enough to the riverfront and downtown for our liking.  Then I discovered a place that seemed to be a perfect fit with Punky’s love for all things mid-century modern, and it was relatively close to where all the action is downtown and on the edge of the historic part of Savannah – the Thunderbird Inn. 

The Thunderbird Inn’s welcome sign declares its location as the intersection of ‘Yes ma’am and dude,” but in reality it’s on Oglethorpe Avenue, just a couple of blocks east of the Atlantic Coast Highway.  If you’re driving in on Interstate 16, stay on it when it becomes U.S. Highway 17 and exit just before you cross the Savannah River.  Oglethorpe is one of the main thoroughfares through Savannah’s historic district, and when you see the “can’t miss” sign of the Thunderbird Inn, you’ll also begin to notice it’s an excellent jumping off point for checking out the area.

From the moment you pull in the parking lot, it’s obvious the Thunderbird takes you back to those classic motor hotels from the 1960s.  The color scheme is bright and retro. 

But by no means is the Thunderbird Inn your typical refurbished property.  They infuse several touches of today’s modern into its retro look.  For instance, this is the first motor hotel I can recall ever having an electric vehicle charging station on its premises.   

The check-in experience was very pleasant.  I couldn’t help but notice the little touches they put into the lobby.  Having wine and craft beer for sale is a sure-fire way to get you stay started off right.  They also offer complimentary dog biscuits upon check-in for their furry guests (their website declares the Thunderbird Inn is proudly pet-friendly).  But what really got our attention was the smell of popcorn from their self-serve machine filling the lobby.  We had to take a couple of bags back to our room.    

For future reference, we noted the lobby’s Krispy Kreme doughnut and beverage station. This effectively serves as the Thunderbird Inn’s “continental breakfast,” although anyone is welcome to a doughnut any time while they last.   

From the moment we walked into our room, Punky was delighted with the décor.  The bright colors of the chairs and side table matched the color scheme of the hotel’s exterior.  The walls were rather spartan, but it only helped the furniture stand out more.  The drapes provided a surprising amount of privacy, especially given that the walkway to the lobby and parking lot were right outside the window.   

On a bedside table, a relic from the past – a rotary phone – continued the room’s retro theme.  The comfy king-size bed featured a pillow-top mattress that put us right to sleep after a long day and night exploring the city. 

And, just as advertised, tucked into one of the bedside shelves were our two complimentary RC Colas and Moon Pies. 

Opposite the bed, a funky retro lamp provided adequate lighting for most of the room.  And the TV was one thing about the room that definitely wasn’t stuck in the 1960s – a modern 25-inch TV offered 70 channels to choose from. 

There was also nothing retro about the vanity area, which housed a nice little coffee station and a mini-fridge, which really came in handy for chilling our free RCs for quenching a late-night thirst.    

The bathroom, on the other hand, was very retro, as in relatively unchanged from the remodel.  I suppose there’s not much you can do about the size of the original facilities without completely changing the landscape of the entire motel, and what would be the point of that?  Having a tub was nice, and the shower worked just fine, for what it’s worth. 

One nice added touch was the wall dispensers for shampoo, conditioner and shower gel (much like you’ll often find the Drury Inn chain).  It sure beats the miniature bottles most hotels offer that turn out to be inadequate and a hassle to use.  Plus, I suspect this is a more economical option for the hotel in the long run.       

Seeing the Thunderbird Inn in all its retro delight is one thing, but perhaps the best part about the place is the retro price.  Rooms typically run between $89 and $129 per night.  That sure beats the $200+ per night you’ll pay for a different type of historic ambiance in historic Savannah.  I would advise to book as early as possible, as the place has developed somewhat of a cult following.  Still, when people ask me what’s the word on where to stay in Savannah, it’s an easy call – Thunderbird!

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