The Traveling Steve's

Christmas Twilight-Tram tour on Jekyll Island

We had a busy but fun-filled second day on Jekyll Island, as part of our annual pre-Christmas weekend with my brother Andy and partner Art, Steve (DOS) and myself, and our island friends Larson and Michelle. Warning – this is a long, but fun post!

The Jekyll Island Club, circa 1888. Reopened as a Hotel in 1986.

The four of us (minus Michelle and Larson whom we would meet later in the evening on the tram tour) started the day with the scrumptious buffet breakfast in the Grand Dining Room at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel where we were staying.  We would also have dinner here tonight, in the same elegant room that the millionaires of yesteryear dined in when they spent their winter months here on the island.

After breakfast, we took a quick walk around the Historic Area, which is always a pleasure and unlike most of other historic places, is without the crowds.  The weather was a bit cool today, and the evening called for a possible rainy forecast, so we wanted to see some of the cottages ‘on foot’, before the evening tram tour, and also tour the Island a bit by car.  Below are a few photos of the Historic Village and ‘cottages’, taken over our weekend visit to Jekyll.  Additional photos are shown further down in the post from the Twilight Tram Tour.

Fortunately on our Saturday walk thru the Historic District, we noticed that the Jekyll Island Museum (where the tram tour leaves from) had been temporarily closed while they are renovating the century plus old building.  The museum was a large stable, housing the horses of the elite guests, circa late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  

The tram tour now (at least temporarily) leaves from the site of the old infirmary, which in recent years was a book store, and now a gift shop.  

The infirmary is a short walk from the former stable site, but we were glad we went early so we didn’t waste time later looking for the new tram location when it was time for the tour.   We went in the building, (formerly the home of Pulitizer) and picked up our tickets for the 4pm tram Twilight Tram tour, which we had ordered and prepaid. The twighlight tour always sells out as there is only one on Friday and one on Saturday evening, and it is limited to a small group of 30 or so which fills the tram, shown below:

We then walked back to the hotel parking lot to get the car and tour around the island a bit.   We even noticed this Mercedes in the hotel parking lot that was cheerfully and subtly decorated for Christmas with a tiny wreath over the iconic hood emblem.  Oh, ’tis the season!

Classy wreath on somebody’s Mercedes triangle emblem!

The new Convention Center/shopping area and nearby hotels (Westin, Jekyll Suites -sister property to the Jekyll Club Hotel) are fairly new and a short drive from the Historic District, and unlike the Jekyll Club Hotel are situated in an oceanfront location.  We parked in front of the Westin Hotel, and walked around the nearby area.  We would later have dinner at the Westin on Sunday night.

The new development by the Convention Center is quite nice and upscale; quite a change from the old convention center and shopping plaza of many years gone by.  My grandparents formerly lived in South Georgia, and I fondly remember coming to Jekyll Island every year on summer vacation as a kid when visiting my grandparents.  Back then the Club House was not open, but we would take a day trip from their house to the island for a visit.  Somewhere I have photos of the old convention center and shopping plaza, which if I can locate I’ll post for comparison in the future.  This whole area has been redone in the last few years, and is quite a nice place without being pretentious or tacky-tourist like; instead a quiet and peaceful beachside location.

Ironically, the Jekyll Island Club Hotel is not located on the ocean like these newer hotels.  From what I’ve been told or maybe read somewhere, apparently back in their day (the Clubhouse, now Hotel opened in 1888), the millionaire guests considered oceanfront living to be for the lower working class such as fisherman, although the millionaire guests would certainly visit the beaches for the day to swim, play and even ride their red bug vehicles along the sand.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel is located on the river-side of the Island, a short drive away, without the ocean views, but offers a serene retreat from the world on the grounds of the Historic Millionaire’s Village.  For us, the historical part of Jekyll Island tops the beach location, and this is where we always stay when we visit.

While not oceanfront, the Jekyll Club hotel offers some of the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine on a clear evening, overlooking the Jekyll River.   On this visit the weather wasn’t the sunny best as on other visits, but here are a couple sunset photos taken from the turret on our trip to Jekyll last year.

Anyway, I digress; it’s hard writing about Jekyll Island without mentioning the island’s history, location and beauty, if only briefly.  It’s the amazing history and tranquil island atmosphere that draws us back again every year.  This weekend wasn’t the best for visiting the scenic beaches due to the weather, but here are a few photos from a couple years ago taken in his same area down by the oceanfront Convention Center, overlooking the beach-walk, dunes, and ocean.

Back to the present day; after browsing a bit in the new shopping village, Andy, Art, DOS, and I had a nice lunch at the Wee Pub where we had lunch last year.

After lunch we headed back to our hotel in the Historic District, noting the new construction of a Home2Suites (by Hilton) being built adjacent to the Westin and new Jekyll Suites Hotel.  Here’s a photo of the Home2Suites for reference; will repost the finished product of the hotel next year!

In the afternoon DOS and I set up for the evening post-tram festivities, which included our annual Jekyll Island stocking night of small gifts.  We had all monogrammed and decorated our stockings with glitter glue last night, and now had to play Santa and fill those stockings, as well as wrap some small gifts for the others.

Larson on ‘Stocking Decorating Night’ 
Steve (UNO’s) creation on Stocking Decorating Night

DOS and I started this tradition a few years ago, and at first it was kind of a joke as we have collected so many souvenirs over the years from all over the world,  yet never seem to give them all out when we get home, either because of another trip or more likely they get lost in all of the other travel clutter.  The ‘Stocking’ tradition carries on as well this year, with the disclaimer if we’ve already given you a Singapore, China, Hawaii,  etc bottle opener, Cruise ship ornament,  Mendoza cork screw, London magnet, Key West snow globe etc. and so on, feel free to trade it with the others!  We also brought a few nicer gifts, and set these out along with the glasses and munchies for later after the tram tour.

As the special twilight Christmas Tram Tour started at 4pm, we got dressed for dinner early, and walked over to the tram location around 3:45pm. While the hour and a half tram tour operates two to three times daily year-round, during December Jekyll Island offers a special Christmas-themed twilight tram tour at 4pm (vs the morning and early afternoon regular tours.)  The twilight tour was specially designed by Phyllis (an avid and passionate Jekyll Island tour guide with a sometimes dry and funny sense of humor!) a few years back and is Jekyll Island festive and fun!  (We try to make it even more fun with our hats and light-up gear we bring each year!  I think Phyllis actually looks forward to us coming, even though last year she looked at me when calling ‘roll’ on the tram, and shook her head saying ‘Heaven help us’!  We love you Phyllis, as she will soon find out!

The one and only Phyllis – our Christmas Twilight Tour guide.

 On the twilight tour, like the day regular tours, you go in a couple of the cottages and tour the Historic Village via tram, however Phyllis offers a beautiful Christmas rendition of Christmas stories and trivia from the Club-era time, and we also go in beautiful Faith Chapel. The ‘Cottages’ are beautiful decorated for Christmas, and while most of the millionaire guests did not come until after the first of the year (when the Club House officially opened for the winter season), several of the families who had cottages on the Island would come for the Christmas season as they loved being there with their families.  The Maurice Family, who owned Hollybourne Cottage, kept this tradition of returning every season for over the 50 years of the Jekyll Island Club’s existence.

As we met the tour group at the former infirmary for the Twilight Tour, we were all ‘decked out’ with our lights and “We Love Phyllis” signs Andy had made.  (The ‘We Love Phyllis’ sign is shown immediately below from last night when we were decorating our stockings in the room, complete with a logo of the red hat she usually wears!)

Andy and Michelle showing off the We Love Phyllis signs Andy had made for the Christmas Twilight Tram Tour.

As we had a short wait for the tram to start, we were ready for a fun night!  Michelle and Larson met us at the tram, and we passed out the hats, lights and signs to them as well.  Andy had made some 50 of those “We Love Phyllis” signs which we would later pass out to the other guests on the tram tour and surprise Phyllis. 

When we got to Faith Chapel, we toured this beautiful Church, dating back to 1904 which has two exquisite stained glass windows, one of which is signed by Tiffany himself. 

As DOS and I walked out of Faith Chapel, Michelle and Andy were already busy handing out the Phyllis signs to the other tram guests, while Phyllis locked up the Chapel.

 Once back at the tram, as Phyllis was walking out, we all held up the “We Love Phyllis” signs, and she was genuinely surprised and hopefully touched.  Phyllis has been doing these tours for years, and we so much appreciate her tours, sense of humor and wealth of knowledge about Jekyll Island.  

Here are a few more photos of the tour, including Phyllis’s favorite Jekyll Island Christmas-decorated Cottage, the DuBignon Cottage, circa 1896 which predated the Club House opening.   and is beautifully decorated inside.

Driving a long a bit more drove by several other cottages shown below . . .

 . . . before arriving at our final stop, Indian Mound, former home of John Rockefeller and family.  

We have toured this ‘cottage’ many times over the years, but it never ceases to amaze me of the simple, but grandeur of the house, not to mention the family warmth and atmosphere of the Rockefeller’s winter home, which would have been filled with the whole family, grandchildren, nannies and servants in its day. Indian Mound ‘Cottage’, like the other ‘Cottages’ on Jekyll Island were only lived in during the winter club season, which spanned from just after New Year’s until around Easter each year, at which point the millionaire guests would return to their respective mansions up north; most from the New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia areas.

 It always makes me chuckle when I see the size of Mr. Rockefeller’s bedroom compared to his wife’s bedroom, which is several times as large!   But Mr. Rockefeller and a balcony overlooking the Club House, so he could view who was coming and going, not to mention owning of the six apartments next door at San Souci, which means ‘without care’. What a life!

After touring the Rockefeller’s bedrooms, we descended down the main staircase, (as opposed to the smaller servants staircase) which like the main level was decorated in luxurious red carpeting.

We then gathered outside with the rest of the tour, where Phyllis served everyone refreshments she had made, including delicious cookies and cakes, as well as some adult beverages of beer and wine, or soda and juice for the younger ones.  Phyllis also shared some Christmas traditions with the group, such as the ‘crackers’, a British custom where you pull the foot-long cardboard tube until it breaks, and inside is a small prize, paper crown, and riddle you have to share with the group.  We love the ‘crackers’ tradition, and indeed brought our own 8 pack to share with our group later in the evening. Phyllis gladly posed for a group photo of the six of us.

After the refreshments and drinks on the Rockefeller’s former front porch, we thanked Phyllis and walked the short distance back to our hotel, but not before getting a photo of the six of us with Phyllis.

Group photo at Indian Mound Cottage; former winter home of the John D. Rockefeller’s.  Thanks again for an awesome tour!  We love you Phyllis!

As we walked across the lawn back to the Jekyll Club Hotel, we  passed the huge outdoor Christmas tree, and the Sans Souci Apartments (formerly a six unit property owned by the likes of J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller and others and now a hotel), as well as the other hanging moss trees brilliantly lit in white. 


As we approached the Jekyll Club Hotel, we could easily spot our room in the darkness, as we had turned on the disco-light laser light shining high above on the turret.  We later heard from the bellman Rone when he set up our fire that night, that several people though there was a dance going up there, and they wanted to come! LOL!

Back at the hotel, the six of us, (Andy, Art, DOS, Michelle, Larson, and myself) then continued the night of pre-Christmas festivities.  We had a ‘progressive’ Christmas party of light refreshments and some adult beverages of bubbly, beer, and wine, as we each opened some presents and our stockings we had decorated the night before. We started in Andy and Art’s, Junior Presidential Suite, which was conveniently located across the hall from our Presidential Suite.  The location for both was perfect, as there were no other guests rooms on this side of the fourth floor hallway, so our noise, i.e. Christmas music and laughter was not an issue.  Andy and Art passed out presents to everyone, while offering us some assorted cheeses they had bought earlier in the day at the Jekyll shops by the Convention Center. 

The progressive party next continued across the hall in our room, where we opened up our stockings and a few more gifts. We played some Christmas music via the blue-tooth operated mini Christmas tree and speaker which illuminated the main level, while the upstairs turret flashed with disco like colors thanks to the  laser show DOS had put in the turret!

By the time our mini progressive party was over, we each had plenty of light up gadgets and gismos, plus the special 3D paper Christmas goggles Michele gave us, which lets you see all kinds of Christmas scenes – snowman, Christmas trees, Santa and more!  

We then headed down to the Grand Dining room on the first floor. We took a few photos, while Michele had staff and guests alike ‘tripping out’ in the lobby bar area and later the dining staff with her 3D goggles she shared with others!

 The six of us had a leisurely dinner of food and wine, enjoying the piano music, decorations and fireplace as we dined. 

So thanks for staying up with us on this fun-filled pre-Christmas celebration (and long post!) 

And to all a good night! 

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