In today’s tangle of interstate travel it is difficult to anything unique in the rows of homogeneous chain hotels. Hilton, Hampton, Holiday Inn. While building standards and amenities have mostly improved, there is a lack of personality. The person at the counter rarely has any stake in the property other than a weekly paycheck. This is why I love to seek out the interesting motels that can still be found off the beaten path or even, to my surprise, in downtown Savannah, Georgia! The Thunderbird Inn Savannah has been in operation since 1964 and has embraced it’s classic quirks to remain a viable option to travelers visiting this Southern city. Overall my experience was a mixed bag, so let’s dive into the details.
The first thing you’ll notice about hotels in downtown Savannah are the prices. Even in the off season it’s difficult to score a deal and on top of that many charge $20-$25 for self-parking. Thunderbird Inn was by far the most inexpensive in the downtown area and since I was only in town for one night by myself, it fit the budget and my road trip style. Price fluctuate wildly in Savannah depending on day of the week, events, seasons, and SCAD college events. If you’re flexible on your days you can find a much better deal and Thunderbird also offers last minute deals on their website. If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of chain hotels a short drive out of town.
Lobby, Check-in, and Amenities
The lobby is on the small side, but about what you’d expect to find in a 1960s motel. Decor is decidedly retro with bright colors and kitschy elements. There is a popcorn machine and lemonade next to the post card racks. In the morning they offer good selection of Krispy Kreme donuts along with coffee and juice in keeping with their classic theme. The staff was very friendly and quickly took care of the one room issue I had with a smile. Parking is a steal by going downtown rates at $7.50/night, but most of the spots are very tight, even my Mustang barely fit. There are only 2 levels and 42 rooms, so not much of an issue for accessibility. WiFi was free with a moderate speed. That’s it for amenities; no pool just a basic motel. Good enough for a night or two when you’ll be busy seeing everything in and around Savannah.
The rooms are a decent size though a bit sparse. A pair of comfy reading chairs and brightly colored panels under the window, but that was about it. Nothing on the walls and no real furniture to unpack your things into except a bare coat rack on the wall. There is a large counter with a nice fridge and coffeemaker by the sink. Plenty of room there to unload toiletries or if you needed a spot to prep some food. Lighting was another issue. There was only one lamp in the corner by the bed and a single floor lamp which I had to move over to the seating area in the evening. I understand they are currently doing some renovations, so it would be worth looking into if they have added any additional items to the rooms.
The bathroom is on the small side, but functional. Housekeeping was a bit lax on sweeping the giant hairball spider from the corner and forgot to supply toilet paper, but the rest of the room was spotless. A quick look at hotel website reviews confirms this inconsistency. There are two things I expect in a hotel and that is a good shower and a good bed. The shower head and low water pressure were a disappointment. Hopefully new shower heads are on their renovation priorities. The bed, however, was the saving grace. It was clean, comfortable, with nice sheets and fluffy pillows.
Location, Location, Location
Location and price is what it was all about for this stay in Savannah and the Thunderbird Inn hit a few high notes here. It is on the edge of downtown, but an easy walk to the marketplace, park, and several restaurants. It’s also very convenient for parents/friends visiting SCAD college students. For tourists, there is a trolley tour office right next door, which I used partially for a quick tour and also for getting around town for my short stay. The location wasn’t all positive though. It’s on a busy main road with plenty of trucks and also there is a large bus depot across the street. At night the traffic and depot announcements for the background noise and I was awakened by no less than three fire truck runs! If I had paid double the price to stay at the chain hotel next door I would have been sorely disappointed.
The takeaway from my first stay at the Thunderbird was mixed. I really loved the retro vibe and the price was much better than other downtown hotels. Being within easy walking distance of many Savannah attractions was extremely convenient. The room was fine for what I paid, though I wouldn’t book there for more than $100/night. The big downside for me was the traffic noise and losing sleep at night. I’d recommend the Thunderbird Inn for diehard retro road trip fans and for quick overnight stays where you’re likely to be walking around town all day.