Readers' Choice Awards
We asked; you responded. And responded. And responded. After tallying a landslide of more than 47,000 ballots, we can proclaim winners in 15 categories.
Southern Living readers told us where to eat, shop, and stay all across the region. And our editors weighed in with useful tips when taking these trips.
Congratulations to this year's top choices. And thanks to you, our readers, for your participation. Happy travels!
A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
"Readers' Choice Awards" is from the January 2008 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.
Walt Disney World: DisneyWorld.com
 363-5800, or 1-800-551-0181
I like to save the best for last when visiting Disney parks. Start at Epcot-picking up a FASTPASS ticket to hold your place for the aerial thriller Soarin'-then spend the afternoon and evening around the World Showcase. Its wonder-filled slow pace eases my family into days of "theme parking." Next, take on the creatures of Disney's Animal Kingdom (grab a FASTPASS for Expedition Everest early) before moving on to the thrill rides and shows of Disney's Hollywood Studios, formerly called Disney-MGM Studios (featuring the Stars and Motor Cars Parade, one of my favorites).
Crown the trip with the delights of the Magic Kingdom: Snag a fireworks-watching spot on the edge of Tomorrowland. Tinker Bell zips overhead, marking the perfect end to a Disney vacation dream. - -Annette Thompson
 521-6600, or 1-800-285-2682
Atlanta is the shopping mecca of the South. From upscale to funky and boutiques to mega malls, you'll find it all in this city. The key is to plan, plan, plan. Don't try to hit Alpharetta, Midtown, and Gwinnett County in one day. It won't happen, and you'll feel frazzled.
Get a detailed city map, and take your shopping suburb by suburb. Allow plenty of time to wander off the beaten path too. I've found some of my very favorite stores while lost on Peachtree. And heed this advice, even if it seems obvious: Forget about trying to zip along local interstates after 3:30 p.m.
Don't miss Westside Urban Market in West Midtown. In fact, stroll the entire strip of eclectic shops to find all sorts of treasures. Next head five minutes northeast of downtown to the Virginia Highland area where you can make a day of shopping; the offerings there won't disappoint.
Atlantic Station is one of the city's newest shopping destinations. Filled with anchor stores (such as Dillard's) as well as unique finds (for example, K-la), this place promises a workout of your shopping muscles. If you have enough time, make tracks to the Smyrna/Vinings area. See, I've already done some of the work for you! --Stephanie Gibson Mims2. Charleston, South Carolina
 853-8000, or 1-800-868-8118
Asheville, North Carolina
 252-2711, or 1-800-438-5800
If you're in the Asheville area, you must visit The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. Flames pirouette like skinny dancers in the wide, towering stacked rock fireplace in the Great Hall. They'll mesmerize you as you relax cradled in one of the nearby rocking chairs. Or grab a glass of the inn's own vinted Cabernet or Chardonnay, and slip outside to the Sunset Terrace. Your eye will carry you over the resort's manicured golf course (quite challenging, by the way) and surrounding neighborhood on to the mountains. It's still one of the best, most relaxing views in all of Asheville.
Escape to the 40,000-square-foot spa, wonderfully designed as an underground grotto, and indulge yourself in a treatment. You'll find water, water everywhere, so take a swim beneath the waterfall cascading into a glorious heated pool. --Tanner C. Latham
Beaufort, South Carolina
My favorite time to be in this pretty village is on a foggy morning in late winter. Wander through the Old Point to watch the marsh come into focus beyond stately old homes. Long-armed live oaks form a leafy frame made ghostly by dripping moss. Birds begin spring early here, singing sweetly and warming the day with cheer. Wind back down still-quiet Bay Street, where a few early risers amble toward the marina or to a big breakfast at Blackstone's Café on Scott Street. This eatery is a local favorite featuring home-style shrimp and grits, crab cakes, and salmon omelets. Before ending my sojourn, I make one last stop at The Parish Church of St. Helena, where the promise of the upcoming season of renewal sets a hopeful tone for my day. --Annette Thompson
 984-8166, or 1-800-557-8451
Even if you don't believe in fairy tales, a trip to Blackberry Farm proves storybook magical. Located in the foothills of the Smokies, this luxurious, tucked-away spot is undoubtedly a splurge. But they take pride in spoiling guests in almost countless ways. A kind staffer gladly builds a fire in your cottage's fireplace. And before you sink into your fabulous bed-covered in exquisite linens and cozy pillows-be sure to check out the refrigerator, where Dove bars await.
Speaking of food, you'll discover the meals (all inclusive) are elegant and romantic, featuring impeccable service and a stunning view of the mountains. Even the box lunches contain gourmet chicken, the freshest salads, and saucer-size cookies that Hansel and Gretel would surely love. Be spoiled at the spa, stroll along the mist-covered trails, take an Orvis fly-fishing class, or simply savor the beauty of this special, hidden gem, where your every wish is their command. This fairy tale always has a happy ending. --Wanda McKinney
2. The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa
Asheville, North Carolina
 252-2711, or 1-800-438-5800
3. The Inn at Little Washington
Spartanburg, South Carolina
My wife, Cheryl, says this is like eating at a Southern grandma's house, and I agree. Our top choices were Barbecue Beef Hash and Hamburger Steak with fresh sautéed mushrooms and onions. Some of their sides include creamed potatoes with gravy, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, green beans, creamed corn, and sweet potato soufflé. (I particularly liked the soufflé.) The peanut butter pie gets a perfect 10 hands down; it's to die for.
We'd heard about waiting in line, but when we arrived at 6 on a Saturday night, 12 people were ahead of us, and we were seated within five minutes. The server was attentive, and the food came out very quickly-and hot. Our bottom line: It's inexpensive ($7.25 for the Barbecue Beef Hash; $2.25 for the pie), good, and filling.
(left) Commander's Palace: You expect and receive great presentation at this New Orleans icon.
 651-7131 or 1-800-322-3319
Destin, along with neighboring Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, makes up the Emerald Coast. The area's 24-mile-long ribbon of sparkling, snow-white beaches; sea oats; and buffer dunes remind me of a lifetime of summer vacations. And I simply can't think of anywhere I'd rather be. Our family stayed on Miramar Beach at a little condominium complex called Huntington by the Sea ( 650-6978 or 1-866-573-7678). It was small, but it was ours.
We played Hearts when we had baked in the sun too much and chased sand crabs when evening fell. These days, I catch grouper, snapper, and amberjack on lucky excursions with my uncle, whose boat, Blue Water, docks alongside the charter guides in Destin Harbor. This coastal town is known as the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village," and the best catches end up on plates at such area mainstay restaurants as The Back Porch and Beach Walk Crystal Beach.
For weddings, reunions, holidays―pretty much any occasion―we pack our bags to smell the salt and hear the laughing gulls. Such a special strip of land, from the East Pass to Topsail Hill Preserve, warrants regular visits. I feel alive there―like I did as a kid―rolling down the car's windows on the Destin Bridge to let the air pour in. It's a rite of passage. Going from mainland to that wonderful coast, it's my land of summers, no matter what the time of year.
You'll discover that one of the very best things about Carnival is the number of its Southern ports of departure. You can enjoy Carnival cruises starting from Tampa, Florida; Galveston, Texas; Miami; and Mobile, Alabama. The convenience is a real winner and a great reason to keep going back again for more of what their ships have to offer. --Wanda McKinney
 853-8000 or 1-800-868-8118
Park the car, and walk when you visit Charleston. The narrow streets are pedestrian friendly. (You can park in a garage at the visitors center at 219 Meeting Street for $10 a day; metered parking is free on Sundays and after 6 p.m.) The Governor's House Inn in the historic district is my favorite place to stay for the comfortable rooms and wide porches that invite relaxation and for the off-street parking at no extra charge. I can walk almost anywhere, day or night, and feel safe.
Walking tips: Stroll to The Battery, to the shops on King Street, to The Market area, and to restaurants on East Bay and Meeting Streets. Along the way, peek into lovely gardens tucked behind wrought iron fences and catch glimpses of everyday life in this charming city. --Karen Lingo
The place has spent 60 years serving consistently mouthwatering pork ribs. Rendezvous has earned its spot in the pantheon of barbecue restaurants. You may have to wait a little while for a table on Friday and Saturday nights (the restaurant doesn't accept reservations on the weekends except for groups of 25 or more), but they do have a nice waiting area where you can enjoy beer, wine, and appetizers. If you just can't stand the delay, grab a seat at the downstairs bar. The service there is great, even on the busiest of nights.
For a delicious meal, I recommend two options. First, the juicy ribs, of course. Second, I'd select a true Memphis delight―a slaw-topped pork shoulder sandwich.
You may not be that hungry when you're heading to Rendezvous, but just wait. While walking down the alley to the restaurant's entrance, take a moment to experience the aroma pouring forth from the restaurant's smokers. The scent of slow-cooked barbecue will likely create a Pavlovian response, transforming the mildly peckish into the absolutely ravenous. --Richard Banks
2. Lexington Barbecue
Lexington, North Carolina
3. Shealy's Bar-B-Que House
Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina
I love driving the Blue Ridge Parkway because it makes you slow down and appreciate nature's beauty. The speed limit is only 45 mph (and sometimes lower), so obey it for the best experience. For safety reasons, pull over to enjoy the views.
I remember passing through a summer squall one afternoon and being greeted by a rainbow when the rain stopped. From the valley below, I'm sure it looked like a rainbow arching over the mountaintop. Up high, where I was, the colors were so close I knew I'd find the pot of gold.
You're in for a completely different look come fall, one worth studying as the trees turn. And if you want to see the wintry beauty of snow-covered mountains, be sure to call the info line first to check for any road closings.
To see wonderful arts and crafts in North Carolina, stop by the Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center at mile marker 382 near Asheville or Moses H. Cone Memorial Park at mile marker 294 near Blowing Rock. In Virginia, take home some wine from Châeau Morrisette, just off the parkway between mile markers 171 and 172 in Floyd. --Cassandra M. Vanhooser
Charleston, South Carolina
Our readers sure do love this place, and they're willing to stand in line for a good long time to eat here. (Plan judiciously to minimize your wait.) One reason: a super location. The casual seafood joint sits on Meeting Street, right in the heart of historic downtown Charleston. We love the whole crispy scored flounder, a Hyman's signature dish and a coastal tradition. It's fresh, simple, and delicious
--Cassandra M. Vanhooser
2. Capt. Anderson's Restaurant & Waterfront Market
Panama City Beach, Florida
 234-2225 or 1-888-878-6750
(Note: The restaurant closes for the season in the month of November and reopens in February; see its Web site for details.)
2. Hank's Seafood Restaurant
Charleston, South Carolina
Pine Mountain, Georgia
 663-2281 or 1-800-225-5292
You know, in one way, insects are just like people: We treat attractive ones a lot better. Beautiful creatures are the reason I like visiting the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens. Inside this glass conservatory, you can admire the spectacular colors and patterns of more than 50 different species of tropical butterflies, plus learn which flowers and plants attract them.
My best tip: Tropical butterflies need to warm up in the morning before they start flapping away. For the most activity, visit during midday when the sun is out. --Steve Bender
 258-6101 or 1-877-468-6285
Asheville epitomizes this category. The Blue Ridge Mountains serve as permanent backdrops―wizened, pointy humps on the horizon―to such an active city. I return often and love to feel the downtown buzzing, especially when exploring the blocks surrounding the Grove Arcade, a historic building full of shops and restaurants. Nearby, I sate my palate with decadent delicacies as I build a box of handmade, gourmet chocolates from The Chocolate Fetish. I dream of feathering my nest with amazing, contemporary Southern folk art pieces and pottery from American Folk Art & Framing, one of the best galleries of this kind I've found in the South.
As the evening wanes, I try lots of small plates at the hip tapas restaurant, Zambra. And if I'm lucky, I'll catch a folk band merrily playing at the Jack of the Wood pub while I'm sampling one of the seasonal, locally brewed Green Man Ales. --Tanner C. Latham
2. Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
 436-4178 or 1-800-568-4748
Pigeon Forge: MyPigeonForge.com
 453-8574 or 1-800-251-9100
3. Blowing Rock/Boone, North Carolina
Blowing Rock: BlowingRock.com
 295-7851, or 1-800-295-7851