A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Callaway Gardens, a sprawling resort complex located about an hour Southwest of Atlanta. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive from Chattanooga, and to be honest with you, I had never even heard of it before the opportunity for a visit came my way! It was totally not on my radar as a vacation destination within reasonable driving distance.
I’m so glad I went, and I’m excited to tell you about what I think makes Callaway Gardens such a great vacation option.
First, there are COUNTLESS things to do. They have everything from hiking and biking trails to a “beach” to laser tag to an impeccable golf course. I’ve barely scratched the surface of activities, by the way! If you and your family value getting to spend time together outside, then this place is not-to-miss.
Second, Callaway Gardens is reasonably priced. If you are going for the day, just pay $18/adult and $9/child, and you have access to everything at Callaway Gardens that doesn’t require extra equipment. If equipment is needed (such as a golf cart, a bike, a beach umbrella, etc.) then extra fees do apply. I really like that if you don’t need or want to use those things, then you don’t have to pay for them. This can make for a VERY affordable day out!
AND, if you want to stay the night in one of their lodging options, the admissions fee is included with your room stay for the day you check in, and however many days you stay, including the day you check out. That’s an incredible value!
We spent a full day at Callway Gardens, and here’s what we did:
I went on the TreeTop Adventure. I’m so sorry that I don’t have any pictures…I was too busy walking across obstacle courses 40 feet above the ground! 🙂 It’s definitely an activity to do with other people, as you bond together and cheer each other on to get past each stage.
While I was swinging from the trees, Tim and Darah went on a bike ride. If you have your own bike and want to bring it, you are welcome to do so and there is no extra charge for using their trails. We don’t have a bike rack, so it was really nice to be able to easily get a bike. Plus, this one had a special seat for Darah! Look how serious she is about it. She makes that face when she is beyond excited, believe it or not!
After we both finished our respective adventures, we met up and had a yummy lunch at the Discovery Center, an area that is sort of a home base for several different activities at Callaway Gardens.
Then we loaded up in the car and headed over to Robin Lake Beach. This is a man-made lake complete with plenty of sand for building sandcastles. This is also the area where you can sign up to play on the blaster boats (which we did and loved!), and to have some fun on Aqua Island, which is a floating obstacle course. Believe it or not, we did that, too! It was so much fun, but I can’t say it made me feel like a kid again. On the contrary…it showed me just how old I really am! 😉 You’ll also find laser tag in this same general area, though we did not play during our visit.
Robin Lake Beach was our very favorite. You see, Darah has never really spent time in a body of water bigger than a bathtub! When we waded out with her into the water and she started floating (she had on a life vest) she was completely overcome with joy. Seriously, you guys. That’s a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life. She was absolutely beside herself, and just kept screaming, “I SWIMMING!” What we also learned is that this kid is FEARLESS of the water. That’s a good thing, except for the fact that she doesn’t yet know how to swim. Even though we stayed right next to her the entire time, I probably pulled her up from under the water no less than 5 times. She’d just throw herself under the water and the look up at me like, “This is ok, right?” So I had 5 miniature heart attacks that afternoon, but they were offset by how much fun Darah had. It really blew my mind.
After we wore ourselves out at the beach, we headed back to the Mountain Creek Inn for a nap. Or so we thought. Darah wasn’t having that AT ALL. But she was totally into bouncing on the bed. Oh well! We had an early dinner at the hotel and turned in early. Darah crashed around 7pm and we followed right behind her! Don’t judge!
Once we had our bodies fueled, we headed out to Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden to have a look around. It was HUGE and also very lovely! We saw so many bees pollinating various plants. It was a busy day for them, so it seemed! While much of what is to admire in this garden was lost on me (I have a black thumb), it was a very pretty place to take a stroll and to let little ones run around in for a while.
Before heading back home, we went to the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. We took our time in this gorgeous indoor setting, mostly because Darah is scared of butterflies (I know, right?!). She did warm up to them after a while, and that was part of the reason we wanted to go. We were there to talk with her about what she was seeing, and to introduce the butterflies who were fluttering over to meet her. By the end of the visit there, she seemed at least tolerant of them. That’s progress!
All in all, we had an excellent weekend at Callaway Gardens and will most definitely be keeping it in mind when we think about vacation options next year. It is good to know that there’s a place like this within driving distance that offers a ton of things to do for a reasonable price.
So what’s not to love? Well, there are a few things that need to be improved, although none of them have to do with the fun attractions, themselves. As a newbie to Callaway Gardens, I found myself to be easily overwhelmed at the number of options. What I found to be even more overwhelming, though, was trying to keep track of which activities cost what. Even though I liked knowing that a guest wouldn’t have to pay for more than s/he wanted to enjoy (that saves money!) I also found it confusing to try to keep up with what fees were associated with what, and how you get signed up. From a customer’s perspective, navigating this is very cumbersome! Unfortunately, the Callaway Gardens website is just as difficult to navigate as the grounds would be without a map. It is very difficult, no doubt, to have to fit so much information into one site, but again, from the perspective of a potential customer, it is also easy to get discouraged when trying to see if the resort is a good fit for your family and just look for something else. So yeah, my one big piece of advice is to streamline the attraction pricing and overhaul the website so that someone who has never heard of Callaway Gardens can understand what it is and the basics of how it works in about 5 minutes.
Disclosure: Callaway Gardens provided complimentary admission to their attractions, an overnight stay and meals for my family in exchange for my honest review, which I have provided.