A Fairytale Weekend: My Girls Trip to The Greenbrier (Part Two)
We arrived in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia at around 4:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, rumpled and exhausted from our long car ride, but still delighted at the sight of the small, sleepy, charming town that is home to The Greenbrier. We were even more delighted when we pulled into the long drive of the resort and saw the expansive and majestic white columned building stretching before us like a cross between the White House and Twelve Oaks from Gone with the Wind. In case I’ve never mentioned it, Gone with the Wind is possibly my favorite movie in the history of movies, and Scarlett O’Hara my favorite heroine (so ornery and sassy…bold and stubborn…my kind o’lady!) And though we were checking in at an ungodly hour in which not a single creature was stirring, the front desk attendant greeted us as warmly as though it was the middle of the day. This was a trait we would find evident in everyone from the cleaning staff to the spa attendants to the management to the head chef over the next three days. I can honestly say I’ve never been anywhere in which every single employee is so joyful to come to work each day. It soon became a game with us to try and discover who had actually worked at The Greenbrier the longest, as everyone we asked would inevitably respond with “25 years,” “40 years,” and one little lady in her 80’s has been working there since she was in her TEENS (I think she wins)! One particularly sweet man who delivered a coffee pot to our room for us told us he had been working there for 45 years…and then with a faraway look in his eyes, he said something that nearly moved me to tears: “I remember when I arrived at The Greenbrier on my first day of work,” he reflected. “I felt like I had arrived in Heaven.”
In today’s world of job hopping and unstable economic times and short attention spans, the longevity, love, and loyalty the esteemed staff has for The Greenbrier is no small feat. It felt like we had traveled back in time to a simpler, more honest era. And that wasn’t the only thing that had us feeling like time travelers! As the girls and I made our way through the quiet lobby of the historic hotel in the wee hours of that Friday morning, we gazed around in awe. Everywhere we looked were brilliant colors, ornate chandeliers, and gleaming marble floors. I felt a bit like Dorothy waking up in Oz. Suddenly everything before we walked through the front doors of The Greenbrier felt as gray and colorless as the Kansas farm Dorothy Gale called home. Everywhere you look at The Greenbrier, there’s something breathtaking to see. But while Oz had Dorothy GALE, The Greenbrier has the brilliantly hued and often whimsical touch of the late designer Dorothy Draper; so evident, you almost expect her to come sashaying across the room to greet you as you take in her impeccable and one-of-a-kind designs.
Our luxurious room was a sight for sore eyes after our long car ride, but we found our second wind when we discovered robes, slippers, and mouth-watering chocolates waiting for us. Our beds were turned down, soothing music was playing, there were even mints on our pillows! As weary as my friends and I were at the particular juncture that each of us were at in our lives, the feeling of being pampered was enough to make a girl jump up and down on the bed a few times (not confirming or denying we actually did so).
After a few hours of sleep, we awoke ready to tackle the day and explore our storybook surroundings. One of the first things we learned about The Greenbrier was that my initial Gone With the Wind impression was completely on track, in more ways than one. Not only had Margaret Mitchell spent time at The Greenbrier as a youth, later citing its gentility and hospitality and grace as a source of inspiration for Gone With the Wind…The Greenbrier actually features a chandelier that appeared in the movie GWTW! It was as though my childhood daydreams of experiencing a day in the life of Miss Scarlett O’Hara had been brought to life right in front of me. Needless to say, we spent many long moments staring up at the chandelier in awe and posing for pictures underneath it. And after a delicious breakfast in the main dining room and a walk around the hotel to take in some of the sights, we were whisked off to the spa for massages. Nothing at The Greenbrier is done halfway – it’s five-star all the way. From the spa to the casino to the world class restaurants to the golf courses to the outdoor activities to the shops…everywhere you look is something fun and exciting and tailored directly to your tastes to do.
Feeling energized and relaxed from our spa day, we were ready to change for the evening, the first item on the agenda being “afternoon tea.” Afternoon tea is exactly what it sounds like, tea and beautiful little cookies served in the main dining room. And it’s a nod to everything that southern culture once was…an era when people actually set aside time in their day for tea and cookies and conversation and basking in the late afternoon sun on the veranda with the smell of honeysuckle and juniper in the air. It felt wonderfully old-fashioned and ladylike and quaint. As a little girl who loved to host “tea parties” growing up, to attend a grown-up version of that at age 34 was simply magical. And it’s another perfect example of how The Greenbrier pays such special attention to detail and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. They go out of their way to make their guests feel special and appreciated. It’s not even a luxury thing so much as it’s a respect thing, a hospitality thing, a courtesy thing. So many hotels and resorts and vacation spots have transitioned to an “assembly line” way of doing business, where every customer is treated exactly the same – but not The Greenbrier. It kind of made me want to break out into the Cheers theme song: “You wanna go…where everybody knows your name…” because at The Greenbrier, everybody really does know your name. From the employees to the managers to fellow guests, everyone knows one another. It’s quite remarkable. You remember how the resort in Dirty Dancing, where everyone who vacationed there knew one another and it felt more like a family reunion than a vacation? That’s a day in the life at The Greenbrier.
After afternoon tea, we were off to a wine tasting, followed by an insanely decadent dinner at The Greenbrier’s resident steakhouse, Prime 44 West, which honors NBA legend and West Virginia native Jerry West. Danielle and Alli and I felt like we needed to pinch ourselves as mouth-watering dishes were delivered to our table, one right after the other, including a special blue ribbon cornbread by Cathy Justice, the wife of The Greenbrier’s owner, Jim Justice. But nothing could prepare us for the array of desserts that arrived at our table at the end of dinner, including the Sticky Toffee Pudding, the Italian Crème Cake, and Bananas Foster made tableside. Though we practically needed to grease the doorways to get OUT of Prime 44 West after consuming all that deliciousness, we paused on our way out the door to chat with the table of ladies beside us. We had been “shadowing” one another all day, us and them, showing up to all the same places…so we didn’t want to leave without introducing ourselves to our table of Doppelgangers. As it turned out, they were first time visitors to The Greenbrier, too, there to celebrate the birthday of the 85-year-old mother of one of the ladies, a feisty broad who swims laps every morning and still has the physique of a 40-year-old. She even stood up to twirl and model for us. It was astonishing, and such a wonderful moment of joy and celebration of life. We all laughed and giggled and took a few group pictures, these two generations of women, and left the restaurant feeling both like we had made new friends and had caught a glimpse of ourselves a few decades in the future (at least I PRAY I still look that amazing at age 85!)
After dinner we found a massive fireplace to lounge in front of (just one of many that The Greenbrier has) and chat and digest our food and our magnificent day. As the ladies and I were talking about everything and reliving our favorite moments of the day, an idea that had been working its way to the forefront of my mind all day suddenly hit me in full force. The way that The Greenbrier treats its guests is how we should expect to be treated in romantic relationships! No, really…follow along with me here.) Top notch. First class. With 110% respect. Utmost attention to detail. Putting the guest’s needs and preferences first. Constantly looking out for ways to make people smile. Rolling out the red carpet. Not unlike how Scarlett O’Hara is fussed over and tended to by her many admirers in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind. Am I saying that as ladies, we should expect to constantly be fawned over and babied? No. But I also think that as a culture, women have forgotten how special we are. We have forgotten that we DESERVE to be treated like a diamond, so we’ve been settling for men who treat us like a cubic zirconia from a gumball machine. We’re such givers of time, of respect, of energy, of love, of service…that we have forgotten how to allow ourselves to receive these things. We’ve been settling for scraps when we are worthy of a Prime 44 feast. We’ve been responding to the honk of a horn when we should have been holding out for the man who takes the time to walk to our door to pick us up, carrying in his arms a dozen red roses. Basically, we’ve been settling for the Motel 6 when this whole time…we deserved The Greenbrier.