“We are the Magic”

Young love. There’s nothing like it.

I met Mark when I was 18 years old, and we got married when I was 22.

Yes, 22!   I had just graduated from Ball State University with a degree in departmental English. Twenty-two years old with an English degree – the recipe for young marriage and grad school.  I had no idea what I wanted in life, but I knew who I loved–and it was him. He had graduated the year before, and he spent that year saving money for my engagement ring and for law school. I spent my last semester of college studying Victorian Literature and Church History at Oxford University, and when I got back at the end of spring semester from studying abroad, we tied the knot that summer.

Mark and I decided on Charleston for our honeymoon because we started dating while living for a summer in South Carolina.  Back then, with little money and big dreams, we went on several dates to Charleston and fell in love with its laid-back sophistication. We found the city to be the epitome of southern charm. For our honeymoon, we stayed at the Planters Inn, a family-owned upscale bed and breakfast at the corner of Market and Meeting Streets. Adjacent to the hotel was an award-winning restaurant, the Planters Inn, where we dined on one of the finest meal of our young lives. It was the kind of meal where they use that little metal scraper to clear off crumbs between courses– the first time we ever experienced that type of dining.

I planned our honeymoon, well before I committed my life to the travel profession. At that time, I felt proud for selecting the Planters Inn as our destination. After all, travel planning back in the 90s meant grabbing piles of travel guidebooks at the local AAA and writing to the bureau of tourism. Descriptions in these bound guidebooks were in small print, two or three lines each, with scant photos.  To get a better idea of what each place offered, I called each bed and breakfast boasting a cool-sounding southern name, and I grilled the receptionist with questions like it was a job interview:

What kind of rooms do you have?

Are there any special packages?

What can we expect for breakfast?

When we arrived at the Planters Inn, fresh-faced and newly married, we were thrilled. The Planter’s Inn was more upscale than any hotel we’d ever seen.  Situated next to the city market and just a few blocks from the battery waterfront, it offered convenience with an ambiance of romance. A four-poster bed with a canopy, a rooftop where you could drink complimentary sherry, and an award-winning restaurant attached to the hotel… I felt like a queen.

So 23 years later, on the anniversary of our honeymoon, we decided to do a Charleston Honeymoon 2.0 and re-live the memories. Our goal was simple: stay at the Planter’s Inn, eat at the Peninsula Grill, and amble the same streets we strolled as newlyweds.

I called the Planter’s Inn and we got one of the last rooms available for the late-July weekend. With our itinerary pre-set, all we had to do was pack.

Let’s start with the good.  Because there is some not-so-good.  But we’ll start with the positives.

The Peninsula Grill restaurant was everything we remembered. I was worried that my 22-year-old self had different food standards than my 45-year-old present self.  But I was not disappointed. Corey, the bartender, made the best gimlet I’ve ever tasted.  Delia, our waitress, was attentive and quirky and she shooed away kids who wanted to run through the patio where we were sitting. She reminded me of my librarian from elementary school, Mrs. Bokrus, who terrified children but was probably delightful around adults.

We ordered lobster three ways, New York strip, an additional lobster tail, with black-eyed peas and mushrooms and shallots. I still have dreams about this meal.  Still one of the finest meals of our not-so-young lives.

But I was disappointed in the Planters Inn. We remembered it as a family-owned bed and breakfast.  The Planters Inn, circa 1998, had a formal sitting room with servettes filled with decanters of sherry and port, crystal pitchers of iced tea, and homemade treats for afternoon snacks.  It was “help yourself”, and “make yourself at home.”  So we did.  In 1998, we poured glasses of iced tea, topped with sherry, and walked up to the rooftop views of this historic city, where we could see carriage rides, follow the bustling tourists below, and view the seagulls diving in from the water.  Our honeymoon was a picture out of a Pat Conroy novel.

We knew from booking the room that it was no longer a bed and breakfast.  It was now just a hotel.  We found there is a big difference.  We were told at reservations that we could eat breakfast at the Peninsula Grill, for a hefty cost.  But the rooms did not offer warm croissants, muffins, fruit, and a variety of hot teas all nestled in a cozy basket, lovingly positioned outside each room at dawn, as the B&B did for us in 1998.  But breakfast being off the amenity list was not the biggest disappointment.

As soon as we got out of our Uber and walked in the door of the hotel, the entire atmosphere was different. Staff attitude did not suggest “help yourself” and “make yourself at home”.  Upon check-in, we learned the hotel had been sold to a corporation in Colorado. Despite being a member of Relais and Chateaux, the property seemed to have lost its identity. It wasn’t just the absence of breakfast. Gone were decanters of sherry and port.  Gone were the homemade afternoon snacks.  The afternoon offering of lemonade and iced tea were served in paper to-go cups. The rooftop where we enjoyed sherry while overlooking the city was now part of the penthouse suite and closed off to guests.

What we found is that we can’t recreate the past. But Mark reminded me of something. As we sat over our first lunch back in Charleston, reminiscing and comparing unfavorably our opinions today against our memories of the past, he said, “Our memories of Charleston were so magical. But WE are the magic. Not Charleston.” I tear up as I type this.

“We are the magic.”

Our memories of our honeymoon can’t be diminished by changes in hotel management or fewer amenities.  Because the magic was—and still is– US. We were two kids in love who barely had two cents to rub together, and this historical hotel in Charleston marked the beginning of our lives together.

After I accepted the fact that the Planters Inn wouldn’t be what I remembered and couldn’t possibly live up to my expectations, I was ready to resume our weekend.

Our room was a King Suite that faced Meeting Street. It was charming, but it smelled a little of mildew, and the street noise was loud enough to disturb us at night. The four-poster bed and Victorian furnishings of the bedroom and sitting area looked like it needed a refresh, yet the bathroom was fully updated with sparkling white marble and a large walk-in shower. This historic-modern combo was odd, but overall the room was nice.  Not necessarily worth the steep cost, but nice.

Even after all the comparisons, favorable and unfavorable, we realized that it is super-romantic to recreate your honeymoon.

The day of our check-out, I decided to be bold and ask if we could see the same room where we stayed on our honeymoon. It was on the second floor overlooking the courtyard, which looked just as I remembered. To my surprise, the answer was “yes.” The room was being cleaned, and we could step in and view it.  A pleasant staff member took us upstairs, unlocked the door, and we hoped for a flood of memories.  Yet, none of the old charm remained. The suite looked completely different, and the room as well as the bathroom were completely renovated.   And the renovations were not necessarily in betterment of the overall atmosphere.

Even still, Mark and I were like kids on a playground as we ran around the suite, pointing out where the bed, closet, Jacuzzi tub and sink used to be. We reminisced about the botte of Pierre Jouet champagne we received as a honeymoon amenity. Neither of us drank alcohol (the nips of sherry in the iced tea notwithstanding), but we felt like we had to try it, right? It was a gift after all!  So we popped the cork, tasted the champagne, and made the sour apple faces people make when they try champagne for the first time.  This makes me laugh because it’s ridiculous, but we concluded that the most romantic thing we could think of, now that we had an open bottle of champagne, was to run a hot bubble bath in the massive Jacuzzi and drink it there.

We ran the bath, hopped in the tub and poured our champagne. We both made faces and gagged because we weren’t used to the brut dryness. So after just a few sips, we poured our bottle of Pierre Jouet champagne into the tub and swam in the water! What sweet little babies we were.

I love those 22 and 23-year old kids.

And I love my husband.

I love us.

Our stay at the Planter’s Inn wasn’t what I thought it would be, but then again, it was so much more.

It reminded me that we are the magic.