Some Southern hotels go way above and beyond daily lobby happy hours and free bikes. These hotels are home to fascinating traditions beloved by frequent visitors, lucky locals, and worldwide travelers looking for a glimpse of the local flavor. Check out these eight iconic hotel traditions across the South, from quirky entertainment to historic commemorations to culinary celebrations.
Bagpiper and Bingo
Sea Island Resort is a beacon of Southern traditions that delight guests year-round. Each night around 6 p.m., diners, guests, and golfers congregate — glasses in hand — on The Lodge terrace for a traditional Scottish sunset serenade. From your perch in an Adirondack chair or the scenic veranda, let the sweet tunes of a bagpiper top off another dreamy seaside day.
Clickity-click! Bingo is another classic, long-standing Sea Island tradition. Each night, hundreds of excited guests dress in the required cocktail attire and fill the elegant Cloister Ballroom, awaiting the first call from the famous caller. Thus begins a rowdy night of live performance, crowd interaction, and, hopefully, prize-winning. You’ll want to arrive 30 minutes early to ensure your group can sit together and purchase your $5 bingo cards (all proceeds go to charity) before the game begins at 5:30 or 9 p.m. Here’s a fabulous video about this fifty-year-strong tradition.
The Legendary Peabody Duck March
Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN
When you think Memphis, you think Peabody. And when you think Peabody, you think DUCKS! How did this quirky tradition come about? Back in the 1930s, the General Manager of The Peabody, Frank Schutt, and a friend, Chip Barwick, returned a little, well, overserved from a raucous hunting weekend in Arkansas. As they stumbled back into the lobby, they thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (back then, it was legal for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain. The reaction to these three small English ducks was nothing short of enthusiastic.
In 1940, bellman and former circus animal trainer Edward Pembroke offered to “deliver” the ducks from their rooftop palace to the fountain daily. Edward served as the first official Peabody Duckmaster until his retirement in 1991! He’s credited with teaching the hotel’s rotating North American mallards their now-famous Peabody Duck March.
Historic Cannon Fire
Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL
Lower Alabama’s Grand Hotel has a unique and war-torn history dating back to the hotel’s construction in 1847. Each day at 3:45 p.m., a grand tradition honors the invaluable contributions of military men and women, veterans, and their families. “Grandeur, Grit, and Glory Since 1847: A Tribute to the History of the Grand Hotel” starts at the main lobby fireplace and ends with a Civil War replica cannon firing over Mobile Bay.
Le Pavillon Hotel in New Orleans, LA
We’ve seen cookies and nuts in hotel lobbies, but PB&Js?! Each weekend from 4 to 6 p.m., Le Pavillon Hotel invites Big Easy sojourners to the lobby for freshly made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with ice-cold milk (or hot chocolate, depending on the season). This custom traces back to 1988 when a guest checked into the hotel, dropped his bags, and went straight to the bar for a nightcap. When the guest ordered a tall glass of milk from a confused bartender, he explained that his young daughter loved a bedtime PB&J and milk. He orders milk to feel close to home.
Until Le Pavillion, no hotel had produced the homemade treat, but once the bartender shared the story with the General Manager, he asked the late-night kitchen staff to whip up the nostalgic sandwich. The guest could finally have a snack with his daughter hundreds of miles away. Soon, everyone in the bar wanted a PB&J, and the PB&J tradition began.
Evening Champagne Sabrage
St. Regis in Atlanta, GA
Guests at St. Regis hotels worldwide are invited to “saber,” the tradition of a champagne sabrage. Every evening at approximately 6 p.m., the hotel’s wine butler, sommelier, or another skilled manager holds court and ceremoniously sabers a bottle to toast the evening’s arrival. The tradition dates back to the French Revolution when Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly returned from battle and decapitated a champagne bottle with his sword.
“Miss Lucy” Wooden Boat Lake Cruise
Greystone Inn Lake Toxaway, NC
At 5 p.m. daily, from May through October, guests and intrepid lake visitors hop aboard Greystone Inn’s famous Miss Lucy. The hundred-year-old legendary Hacker-Craft Company made the captained, handcrafted mahogany boat. Boat enthusiast or not, sit back and enjoy Miss Lucy’s quiet, leisurely pace while taking in the lavish lakeside homes and learning some history along the way. Hotel guests can reserve one free boat trip per stay, and non-hotel guests can pay $25 a cruise (based on availability).
Fantastic Fresh Flower Display
The Breakers in Palm Beach, FL
Everyone associates The Breakers with over-the-top elegance, but there is more to the story of the hotel’s decorum. Did you know the hotel has an in-house design studio and a team that creates a new floral lobby arrangement every Thursday? A group of talented artists crafts the weekly display stem-by-stem using hundreds of fresh flowers, whispy feathers, and other ornate greenery. The weekly result is a never-been-seen and completely delicious-smelling masterpiece you can’t help but photograph.
The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC
From late November to early January each year, The Omni Grove Park Inn hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition. Gingerbread enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds are invited to witness the magic or compete for more than $40,000 in cash and prizes at the in-person competition in November. Once the winner has been crowned, all entries remain displayed throughout the holiday season.
Cheers to making our own traditions while enjoying these beloved ones, too!
Give your inbox the Southern makeover it deserves. Subscribe to our daily emails.