As winter stretches its icy grip across much of the country, there’s no better time to take a break from your daily routines and venture to other more exotic destinations. January through April is easily my favorite time of the year to travel – in January and February to escape the cold, and in March and April to take in spring from a new perspective. Over the past year we’ve searched out some of the top places in the world to visit, both here and abroad, and in the coming months we’re going to be sharing some of our favorites for those looking to get away and experience something new.
Kicking things off, we have a place that completely defies convention – not by breaking tradition, but rather by keeping it. A place that since its inception more than 80 years ago, has taken the idea of a hotel and resort, re-imagined it in a way that’s more grand and magnificent than what you may think is possible, and yet still manages to stay rooted in what made (and continues to make) it great. That place is Sea Island.
Sea Island Overview
Located in Georgia on the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, Sea Island was founded in 1928 under a simple premise: create a “friendly little inn” on the southern coast. Today, Sea Island’s core attribute of southern hospitality remains fully intact, but it has far superseded the attributes of being either little or an inn. Instead, Sea Island has been transformed into what may very well be the most opulent destination in the South – an expansive retreat that not only offers nearly every amenity and activity one could wish for, but one that does so with a precision that borders on perfection. There simply isn’t anyone who will visit Sea Island that will leave without realizing what a truly special place it is.
As a hotel, Sea Island is flawless. The Cloister – the centerpiece of Sea Island’s accommodations – is a stunning Mediterranean masterpiece crafted in classic Addison Mizner style. The rooms are exemplary, with each noting a classic, sophisticated and supremely comfortable design. Antique furnishings, handmade Turkish rugs and intricate millwork are just some of the things that give warmth and character to the rooms, complimented by a spaciousness larger than most NYC apartments. Adding to the beauty of the rooms, the Cloister as a whole is simply magnificent, feeling less like a hotel and more like an extraordinary private residence. Every room, every corridor and every space has something to offer or a unique story to tell. It may be the inviting, intricately paneled library stocked with thousands of books for your reading enjoyment. It may be the Spanish Lounge, which can trace its roots back to Addison Mizner’s original Cloister built in 1928. Or it may be a wall of photographs showing the numerous Presidents and world leaders that have resided on Sea Island. Everywhere you journey in the Cloister, in every space you enter, you’re reminded of what a truly remarkable place this is.
But the Cloister is only a small part of Sea Island. From there, the amount of amenities and activities at your disposal are truly staggering. For golfers, Sea Island boasts not only three championship courses, but also the nation’s top golf learning center, with four of Golf Digest’s top 50 golf teachers on staff. It’s also home to the Lodge, an intimate AAA Five-Diamond rated hotel that doubles as the clubhouse for Sea Island, complete with a sprawling 10,000 locker room with every amenity imaginable. For those wishing to relax and rejuvenate, Sea Island is home to a Forbes Five-Star 65,000 square-foot spa and fitness center. For those seeking a delicious Southern culinary experience, Sea Island is home to the Georgian Room – a Forbes Five-Star rated restaurant featuring a refined Southern cuisine – as well as four other main restaurants (and several other dining options as well). And for families, Sea Island is one of the most family friendly places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. There’s an incredible amount of activities and programs for both families and kids of all ages, including Camp Cloister (which teaches kids about Sea Island, science, nature, etc.), cookie making, movies at the Beach Club Movie Theater, shelling excursions, bingo and much more. There are so many activities at Sea Island, in fact, that there’s actually a daily menu of activities you’ll receive during your stay, to help you plan how to make the most of your time. And believe me, when you see the amount of activities available, you’ll understand why.
Describing everything offered by Sea Island in a few paragraphs is an impossible feat, but describing Sea Island as whole can be summarized quite simply: it doesn’t matter who you are or what your age is, Sea Island is truly remarkable in that it offers something for everyone, and it does so better than anyone else. I’ve never experienced another destination like it, and if you’re short on time and questioning whether or not I recommend it, my answer is simple: I truly can’t recommend it highly enough. As I’m about to detail, Sea Island will forever change the way you look at your travels. It’s one of those special places that sets the benchmark by which all future destinations will be judged, and as you’ll come to learn, it sets the bar very, very high.
Sea Island History
When a place has a past as illustrious as that of Sea Island, it’s only fitting to begin with a brief history lesson to best understand what makes Sea Island so special. The story of Sea Island begins in 1926, when automobile magnate Howard Coffin (co-founder of Hudson Motor Car Company), enamored with the beauty of the area, purchased what was then known as Long Island – a barrier island bordering St. Simons island. Initially, Long Island was renamed Glynn Isle by Coffin, which would eventually give way to the name Sea Island in the coming years. In addition to his purchase of Sea Island, Coffin also purchased multiple large tracts of land on neighboring St. Simons Island itself. Coffin, who was already the owner and resident of nearby Sapelo Island, recognized the potential the area held as a resort destination, and subsequently formed the Sea Island Company to begin development of the area.
Over the next two years, Sea Island would begin taking shape, first with the completion of a 9-hole golf course by golf professional Walter Travis at the Sea Island Company’s Retreat Plantation (on St. Simons Island), followed by the remodeling of an existing beach pavilion on Sea Island itself. Recognizing the need to accommodate visitors to both venues, Coffin along with his younger cousin Alfred W. Jones enlisted the help of renowned Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner to construct a small Spanish influenced hotel, and in the fall of 1928, Sea Island’s first inn – the 48-room Cloister – opened its doors to guests.
As a developer, Coffin went to exceptional lengths preserving the character of the area, including a painstaking preservation of many of the existing Plantation structures during the development of the Retreat Plantation golf course (several of which you can still see today when visiting the Plantation). He was also one of the nation’s first developers to fund a county survey, laying the foundation for zoning laws that would lead Sea Island on a path of gradual, environmentally sensitive development.
In 1928, Coffin turned over control of the Sea Island Company to his cousin Alfred W. Jones, the first of three Jones generations that would eventually help transform Sea Island into what it is today. Alfred W. Jones Sr. would serve to guide Sea Island through the financial difficulties of the Great Depression. In 1966, Alfred W. Jones Jr. succeeded his father as president of the company , and in 1997 Alfred “Bill” Jones III became chairman and chief executive officer, eventually undertaking a monumental renovation of Sea Island that included a new hotel, spa and numerous properties throughout Sea Island.
But as much as they’ve focused on making Sea Island such an incredible place for guests, both Coffin and the Jones family have played an integral role in preserving and improving the area, both from a resident and environmental standpoint. Land for numerous parks, two schools, six churches, the Methodist Conference Center, the private airport on St. Simons Island, an urgent health care facility and a fire department are just some of the ways the Sea Island Company has given back to the community in which they’re a part of. The Jones family and Sea Island Company have also donated hundreds of acres of land for numerous conservation groups, and have undertaken an expansive beach restoration and management project to preserve Sea Island’s expansive beaches.
Sea Island Accommodations
In visiting Sea Island, there’s an abundance of options to reside in during your stay, but it’s only fitting to start with the Cloister. True to its heritage, the Cloister continues to be the centerpiece of Sea Island – an absolutely stunning Mediterranean influenced masterpiece that to be honest, feels absolutely nothing like a hotel. The majority of hotels have a certain sterility to them – a planned design that leads you on a certain path. This path typically consists of your arrival, your short trip to the lobby, your path to the elevator, and the entrance into your room. Sure there’s a few public places scattered here and there, but they rank somewhere between a hospital waiting room and an airport lounge in terms of their appeal and usefulness.
The Cloister is the exact opposite. From the minute you arrive, the overwhelming impression is that you’ve arrived not at a hotel, but rather at an absolutely spectacular private residence. Enter the doors, and you’re welcomed by a sprawling open main lounge with soaring ceilings, numerous seating areas, stunning antique chandeliers and antique furnishings throughout. In truth, calling it a lounge is doing it a bit of a disservice – if anything, it’s more like an expansive, beautifully decorated living area that beckons you to take advantage of one of its many seating options. And as I would come to learn, it’s an area that is in many ways indicative of the Cloister as a whole.
For all its grandeur and for all its majesty, the Cloister is exceptional in that it’s designed to be enjoyed. And I don’t mean your room is meant to be enjoyed, I mean the Cloister as a whole is meant to be enjoyed. When you’re there, you truly feel at home. In the morning for example, coffee and pastries are served in the solarium, a cozy, light-infused room with hand painted murals on the walls, comfortable furnishings and newspapers to read. It’s exactly the room you’d want to enjoy a light breakfast in in your own home. There’s even two pairs of lovebirds that reside in the room, lending a musical note while you relax.
Another absolutely magnificent area of the Cloister is the Spanish Lounge, located just off the main entrance. In 2003, after serving guests for 75 years, the original Addison Mizner-designed Cloister was razed, and the current Cloister was constructed in it place. As part of the new part Cloister, it was vital to Bill Jones (then Sea Island CEO) to preserve the legacy of Addison Mizner, and the Spanish Lounge is a shining testament to that fact. The current Spanish Lounge is a stunning recreation of Mizner’s original Spanish Lounge, with beautiful leaded glass windows, chandeliers, a carved stone fireplace and many of the furnishing all carried over from the previous structure. To see the similarities between the two, the current Spanish Lounge contains original photos of the room, allowing you to witness firsthand the Spanish Lounge’s rich heritage. As with the rest of the Cloister, the Spanish Lounge is fully at your disposal, with multiple seating areas that welcome guests to use as they wish.
Those are just two of the stunning areas to enjoy in the Cloister; there are almost too many to list. There’s an absolutely gorgeous wood paneled library, full stocked with thousands of books, board games and puzzles – along with seating areas and tables to enjoy them. There’s the Georgian Room Lounge, another beautifully paneled room with numerous seating area and beautiful artwork – the perfect place to mingle or relax when enjoying dinner at the Georgian Room restaurant. There the Smoking Room, yet another fully paneled room that’s the perfect place to take a break and enjoy a fine cigar. Everywhere you turn in the Cloister is another area to enjoy, and all are exquisitely and uniquely finished. A variety of stunning millwork adorns each room, with pecky cyprus beamed and coffered ceilings, wood paneled walls, and a variety of moldings and details that give character to each space. Antique furnishings fill every room; interesting artwork lines the walls; even the rugs have a story. A total of 750 Turkish rugs reside in the Cloister, all of which were commissioned from numerous villages in Turkey and produced on the same looms that have been in operation for over 200 years. It’s the largest collection of Turkish rugs anywhere in the world, and just one of the numerous things that make the Cloister such a remarkable place.
Matching the exquisiteness of the Cloister as a whole, the rooms themselves are equally stunning. I resided in a Cloister view suite, a 950 square foot space that included a living area and secondary workspace, a separate bedroom with two queen beds, a spacious dressing area with vanity, and a beautiful bathroom with deep soaking tub and separate rainhead shower. To take in the views of the beautifully manicured Cloister gardens, there’s also a balcony off the main living area – the perfect spot to enjoy an early morning coffee and take in some fresh Souther air. In terms of design, the Mediterranean influence found throughout the Cloister carries over beautifully into the rooms, with exposed beam ceilings, hardwood floors, antique furnishings and the aforementioned Turkish rugs just some of the elements giving character to the spaces.
Traveling with my wife and two children, it was impossible to find fault with the room. Upon check-in, everything was perfect from the minute I arrived at the Cloister. A crib for my daughter was already set up in the room, and kids’ amenities were already waiting in the bathroom. That night during turn down service, my son was introduced to his first of what would become a nightly ritual of chocolatey treats magically appearing on his bed – a small touch that he was exceptionally grateful for. And as for the room itself, it was a perfect compliment to the rest of the Cloister – warm and inviting, but with the perfect amount of luxury and elegance mixed in. Whereas some hotels tend to focus on style and forget about livability, the Cloister pairs both beautifully, easily ranking among the most comfortable rooms I’ve resided in while still noting a beautifully distinct sense of character. It really is like being at home, and for most, I would surmise it’s even better.
Another element I love about the Cloister is the seamlessness between the different spaces. Most hotels tend to have a disconnect between the rooms and other areas – a lapse in style, if you will, where attention to detail is overlooked. Usually it’s a hallway. You’ll enter a beautiful lobby, and eventually you’ll enter your beautiful room, but in between there’s the dreaded, uninspired hallway you must first pass through. At the Cloister, everything is inspired… everything has been meticulously thought out and executed. Many of the rooms center around the main lounge of the Cloister, again emphasizing the feeling that this is less of a hotel and more of a residence. Secondly, when there are corridors to traverse, all note remarkably unique things to see along the way. It may be artwork, it may photographs of past world leaders that have resided on Sea Island or it may blueprints for the original Cloister. It’s an attention to detail that not only ties the rooms together with the rest of the main areas, it also plays an integral role in making the Cloister, despite its relatively massive size, feel like a home.
In addition to the my chosen Cloister view suite, a variety of other accommodation options are available, including:
- River view rooms (noting 700 sq. ft. of space),
- River view suites (noting the same features as my suite, but with views of the Black Banks River and golden marshland),
- The Black Banks Suite (1,730 sq. ft. features two bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a living room, and expansive wrap-around balcony), and
- The Sea Island Suite (2,220 sq. ft. with one king bedroom, 2.5 bathrooms, a living room with fireplace, library, and a private balcony)
As if that wasn’t enough to choose from, the Cloister also offers two additional accommodation options separate from the main building: the Cloister Beach Club Suites and the Cloister Ocean Villas. Because I didn’t reside in either I won’t go into details, but they both offer many of the design elements and features found in the main Cloister’s other rooms, with the key difference being they’re located just off Sea Island’s expansive stretch of beach. In terms of size, the Cloister Beach Club Suites include both standard rooms and several suite options, whereas the Cloister Ocean Villas are larger, ranging from 1,170 to 3,274 square feet in one, two and three bedroom options.
And lastly, for a truly remarkable stay on Sea Island, approximately one-third of the 600 homes and condominiums (known as Cottages) are available for rent, ranging in size from three to eight bedrooms, each of which are fully furnished, and all offering the same amenities found in the Cloister’s other accommodations.
Sea Island Dining
There are a total of five main dining options at the Sea Island properties – two in the Cloister, one in the Cloister Beach Club and two in the Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club – along with several smaller dining options. In the Cloister, the centerpiece of Sea Island’s culinary experience is the Forbes Five-Star bestowed Georgian Room, an exceptionally elegant venue led by Chef Daniel Zeal. The menu is described as an artful interpretation of refined Southern cuisine, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients that are organic when possible (many of which are locally grown). Sample dishes from Chef Zeal’s tasting menu include Laughing Bird Shrimp with hearts of palm, horseradish and caviar; foie gras with sweet potato pie, pecans and bacon-onion marmalade; and squab with red wine braised endive, chestnuts and toasted farro.
Matching the exquisite menu, the Georgian Room’s decor is simply stunning. A beautiful coffered ceiling with gold and crystal chandeliers resides above guests, while food is served on hand-painted Bernardaud china and Waterford crystal. For slightly larger parties, a private dining room in a domed alcove accommodates up to 10 guests, with design highlights including leaded-glass windows and hand-painted murals on the walls. Lastly, for a behind-the-scenes look at the genius of Chef Zeal, guests can reserve The Chef’s Table at the Georgian Room, which is limited to just four seats. In addition to watching each of your entrées prepared, Chef Zeal personally introduces each course from the tasting menu and offers tasting tips and reviews of the sommelier’s paired wine selections.
For more casual fare, the Cloister and Cloister Beach Club offer two additional dining options: the Black Banks River Bar and Big George’s. Both offer more casual, still Southern influenced cuisine, and both are perfect alternatives for a relaxed night out. At the Black Banks River Bar, a range of lagers, wine, bourbon, single-malt scotch and whiskey are all available, as are traditional Southern specialties: the Mint Julep, Plantation Punch and Front Porch Lemonade. Lunch and dinner menus feature a variety of classic fare, including fried green tomatoes, baby back ribs and shrimp nachos, along with a variety of sandwiches, salads and desert.
Big George’s notes a similar menu, but in a varied beachfront setting. A warm rustic decor, expansive outdoor seating and wrap around porch and bar make Big George’s a perfect place to relax and spend time with friends and family. Menu options include a variety of seafood (including the local catch of the day), baby back ribs, numerous deserts and other Southern specialities.
As for the Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club, your options include a classic steakhouse in the form of Colt & Alison as well as a tavern setting with a gourmet influence in the form of the Oak Room. At Colt & Alison, named for the architect’s of Sea Island’s original Seaside golf course, Executive Chef John Helfrich serves a variety of USDA wet and dry-aged beef along with local and imported seafood options. Befitting of the English-manor inspired Lodge in which it resides, Colt & Alison’s decor includes high back leather chairs, a wood-burning fireplace and cozy banquettes, along with original plans of Colt & Alison blueprints adorning the walls. Lastly, guests can choose from Colt & Alison’s extensive wine selection, or let one of the resident sommeliers make recommendations based on your entrées.
At the Oak Room, hand painted murals, leather ceilings, a wood-burning fireplace and an expansive outdoor terrace overlooking the Plantation golf course all serve to create a relaxing, tavern inspired setting. Menu options include blue crab jalapeno hushpuppies, ahi tuna tartar and an award-winning shrimp and grits, all of which pair beautifully with the beers on tap and extensive wine selection. Other indulgences include an array of single-malt scotch along with a large selection of cigars from the Oak Room’s temperature-controlled humidor.
Sea Island Golf
Since 1928, golf has served as a key focus of Sea Island, so it’s no surprise the Sea Island has established itself as one of the nation’s top destinations for golf enthusiasts. It’s been named the top golf community in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure,it’s home to numerous PGA players including Davis Love III, and it employs more teachers from Golf Digest’s list of top 50 instructors than any other facility. If you love golf, there’s simply nothing like Sea Island anywhere else in the country.
At the center of Sea Island golf is the Lodge, a AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Five-Star recipient that serves as both a luxurious resort as well as clubhouse. Styled after an elegant English Manor, the Lodge is situated directly on the fairways of the Plantation golf course, framed by the beaches of St. Simons Sound and the Atlantic. In addition to numerous dining options and accommodations, the Lodge boasts a remarkable 10,000 square foot locker room with virtually every amenity imaginable, creating the feeling of private club in a resort setting.
Next to the Lodge is Sea Island’s Golf Learning Center, a facility aimed at improving the skill of virtually every golfer imaginable, whether you’re a novice or PGA pro. As already noted, Sea Island employs more of Golf Digest’s top 50 teachers than other facility in the world: Jack Lumpkin, Todd Anderson, Gale Peterson and Mike Shannon. From there, a team of specialists are available to assist every aspect of your game. Psychology, golf fitness, club fitting, swing and short-game analysis are just some of the areas the Golf Learning Center can analyze, with the specialists then delivering a tailored instruction and practice plan to help you achieve your specific goals. In no simpler terms, if you’re wondering where the pros go to get better, this is the place.
As for the golf itself, Sea Island offers a total of 54 holes through three championship courses: Seaside, Plantation and Retreat. Located on the southern tip of St. Simons Island, Seaside is an incredibly magnificent Par 70 links-style course, with 15 holes flanked by marsh, water and ocean views. Originally designed in 1929 by famed architects Harry S. Colt and Charles Alison, Seaside was updated by Tom Fazio in 1999, and subsequently named one of Golf Digest’s “Top 100 Courses in the United States.” It’s also host of the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic as well as multiple USGA events.
Dating back even further, Sea Island’s Plantation course notes an even longer lineage, originally designed in 1926 by Walter Travis. In 1998, renowned golf architect Rees Jones undertook the renovation of Plantation, creating a challengingPar 72 “parkland by the sea”. Today, a forest of live oak and cedar give way to the stunning Plantation course, which notes expansive fairways, beautiful views of the ocean and a mixture of foliage. Adding a hint of danger to the course, numerous tidal creeks, lakes and ponds await during seven of the front-side holes, while the back nine note vistas of both the Atlantic and Sea Island’s Lodge.
The final course awaiting golf enthusiasts visiting Sea Island is the Retreat, renovated by Davis Love III and is brother Mark in 2000. A 6,490 yard Par 72 course, the Retreat was designed to be both dramatic and complex, noting green complexes that are a combination of slope, sand bunkers, and undulations. As a result, true mastery of the course requires hitting a variety of shots, exactly what the brothers intended when designing it.
Sea Island Cloister Spa
As part of Sea Island’s expansive rejuvenation in 2006, the Cloister Spa was re-imagined for the 21st century, the result of which is a 65,000 square foot spa and fitness center that is absolutely stunning. The recipient of the Forbes Five-Star spa award, the Cloister Spa offers an unparalleled rejuvenation experience, both from a relaxation and a fitness standpoint. Upon entering, you’re immediately greeted by the Cloister Spa’s central element of water – a theme carried throughout the facilities. As you journey throughout the spa, transparent lighted glass floor canals carry water to each of the distinct areas, including the hallways, reception area and fitness center, until eventually leading to the spa’s magnificent pool. Another area centered around water is the Garden Atrium, which boasts an expansive tree-filled plaza surrounding a gently flowing brooke with smooth boulders throughout. Guests of the spa can relax in one of the many chaise lounges, taking in the subtle sounds of the flowing water.
In total, the Cloister Spa notes a total of 23 treatment rooms, two of which are “Together Suites” where couples and/or friends can enjoy one of the various treatment options together. Spa services available include a variety of exfoliation options, facials, massages and body wraps, complimented by Spa Service Guides who consult with you to tailor a specific program of wellness based on your unique needs.
Once you’re relaxed and rejuvenated, you can then turn your attention to the fitness facility, which includes an indoor-pool, state-of-the-art strength and cardio equipment, one Power Plate and three squash courts. From there, you can also opt to take part in a variety of fitness programs in one of the Cloister Spa’s five studios, including Pilates, yoga, and/or one of strength or cardio programs. To help you make the most of your time in the fitness center, the Cloister Spa is staffed by numerous professional fitness trainers, including three Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) certified instructors. And serving as Sea Island director of fitness, Randy Myers, who also serves as an advisory board director for TPI, works with both guests and golfers to achieve specific fitness goals.
Sea Island Weddings and Special Events
One of the things that amazes me most about Sea Island is the incredible amount of flexibility it has in terms of accommodating guests. Whether for a wedding, corporate retreat or any other special occasion, there’s nothing Sea Island wouldn’t excel at hosting. I can’t tell you how many places my wife pointed out as perfect venues for a wedding. In the gardens of the Cloister, for example, there’s an intimate little chapel lined with stained glass windows and framed by old oak trees. For an outdoor wedding, the marshes behind the Cloister are simply spectacular, as is the Atlantic coastline. And for the quintessential southern experience, the avenue of oaks at Sea Island’s Golf Club is without question one of the most beautiful spots on all of the Sea Island properties.
But what may be Sea Island’s greatest appeal for special events – and for weddings in particular – is the flexibility you have in terms of wedding size. I spoke with several members of the Sea Island staff, and they take as much pride and care in planning an intimate wedding for 20 as they do for a larger wedding party of 300. Not only for the venue, but also for the culinary experience afterwords. Whether its selecting the absolutely mesmerizing Clubroom for a grand and formal reception; enjoying an intimate dinner in the Wine Cellar; or celebrating outside under the stars with the glow of candlelight illuminating the night, there simply isn’t any dream Sea Island can’t make a reality.
For corporate events, it’s this same flexibility and attention to detail that makes Sea Island an ideal meeting place for virtually any occasion. And there’s no clearer testament to the ability of Sea Island than when in 2004, it played host to the 30th annual G8 Summit, making it one of only six U.S. destinations to hold the title. During the event, leaders from eight countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy Japan and Russia) including President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were in attendance, as were leaders and dignitaries from several other Middle Eastern and African countries. Following the event, President Bush noted that “The Southern Hospitality was strong… We made the right choice to come down here for this Summit. The people were just spectacular.”
In keeping with the service that inspired the President to hold the G8 Summit, Sea Island continues to be a premier destination for corporate retreats, whether for a party of 10 or 300. A variety of conference rooms and boardrooms are available for parties of virtually any size, as are tailored packages that include golfing, dining and entertainment options built-in. Even the table and chairs used in the G8 Summit are in use at Sea Island for corporate events, complete with placards and country flags designating the original G8 Summit’s seating arrangement. As with weddings at Sea Island, chances are if you can plan it, the impeccable staff at Sea Island can make it a reality.
Sea Island Activities
After the world class golfing, the expansive spa and fitness center activities and extensive array of dining options, you may suspect I’ve come close to describing all that’s available to you during your time at Sea Island. I assure you – I haven’t even come close. For sports lovers, there’s a phenomenal Tennis Center, featuring eight Har-Tru clay courts along with a full range of clinics, lessons and round robin tournaments. Do you enjoy the water? Sailing, kayaking and body boarding are some of the more active things to enjoy around the island, or for a more leisurely day out, enjoy a cruise through local waters aboard Sea Island’s vintage yacht: the Cloister Belle.
Then there’s the Sea Island Shooting School, continuing Sea Island’s long history of sport shooting on the island. Since 1929, the Sea Island Shooting School has entertained both novices and skilled shooters alike, and today it holds ranks as one of the premier shooting facilities in America. In addition to taking lessons with NSCA-certified instructors, shooters can enjoy a fivestand sporting clay field, two skeet ranges and a trap field. Also, experienced shooters can also travel to nearby Rainbow Island to enjoy a 10-station sporting clay range.
During my time at Sea Island, my wife and I indulged in two other activities available to guests: a fishing and nature excursion in the magnificent tidal marshes or Sea Island, as well as horseback riding on the beach. For the fishermen (or fisherwomen) among you, Sea Island offers a huge variety of fishing options, with a total of four center console boats on hand – capable of traveling in as little as six inches of water or up to 30 miles offshore. Some of the varieties of fish native to the waters include king and Spanish mackerel, cobia, grouper, red snapper, tarpon, wahoo, tuna and sailfish.
Because neither my wife or I are experience fishers, we opted to stay in the tidal marshes that divide Sea Island from neighboring St Simons to do our fishing. Our boat was piloted the fantastic Captain Clay, and I kid you not: three seconds after casting out our first line, we were reeling in our first trout of the day. We thought it was luck, and then it just kept happening. Trout after trout after trout. After a couple hours, we literally had caught enough trout to feed a small African village for a month. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but we did catch so many fish we lost track of the count. As a fishing guide, Captain Clay couldn’t have been better. He was clearly adept at understanding our lack of fishing experience, and helped us not only catch the fish, but also taught us some of the intricacies of fishing the native waters. He was also an invaluable resource when it came to learning about the marshes and the area as a whole, and more importantly, he’s just a laid back, super friendly guy. Looking back on the trip, the fishing excursion was easily one of our favorite parts of the trip. Watching the sun come up over the golden marsh, seeing dolphins jumping 50 feet away from your boat, catching too many fish too count – you really can’t get any better than that.
Then there was the horseback riding. Sea Island is one of the few places that offers horseback riding on its beaches, and to everyone visiting Sea Island with their significant other, it’s a must. There simply isn’t anything more romantic than riding horses on a beach. Like the fishing (and really everything else available at Sea Island), the horseback riding is geared for any experience level, so if you’ve never ridden a horse, there’s nothing to fear. Your day starts out at Sea Island’s stable, where your guides (who were again fantastic) will go over the basics of how to control the horse. From there, you take a quick ride to the beach, where the expansive Atlantic coastline and stunning views await. The trip lasts about an hour and a half, and it delivers a trul;y unforgettable way to take in the spectacular view of Sea Island. For any visiting Sea Island – especially as a couple – I highly recommend it.
Sea Island for Families
Talk to the staff at Sea Island, and one of the things they take exceptional pride in is the fact many of the guests don’t just visit Sea Island, they make Sea Island part of their family tradition. Families bring their children to Sea Island, and these children grow up and bring their own children. Sea Island is like an heirloom for many families, passed down and enjoyed over the generations.
Since the 1960’s, Sea Island began a program specifically for kids, in the form of their Junior Staff program. Today, Sea Island boasts an absolutely incredible amount of children’s and families activities, easily ranking among the most family oriented destinations I’ve ever visited. For younger guests, Camp Cloister offers a variety of daily activities that focus on exploring Sea Island nature. There’s Cookie Cutters – a Sea Island tradition where children create, bake and decorate cookies and various other treats. There’s a Just for Teens program, that includes numerous sporting activities (kayaking, bowling, etc.), shopping at neighboring St. Simons boutiques and trips to the Cloister Spa for specially designed facials, massages and makeovers. And from an educational standpoint, Sea Island goes to extensive lengths to ensure it teaches everything it offers. Kids can gain instruction in all of Sea Island’s many activities, including extensive golf and shooting programs taught by the Sea Island’s impeccable staff.
For those traveling with young ones too little to take part in the kids activities, Sea Island works with several local babysitters as well, which my wife and I used on numerous occasions. As both my children will attest to, Ms. Terry did a fantastic job watching them while we were out exploring Sea Island, and I would leave them with her again in a heartbeat. If you have kids (whether infants or teens) and are considering a trip to Sea Island, it’s a place that anyone, of any age, will absolutely love.
Sea Island Conclusion
As the length of this article can attest to, Sea Island is anything but a typical hotel. It’s an expansive, stunningly amazing destination that truly offers something for everyone, irregardless of your age or background. There simply isn’t anyone who will visit Sea Island that won’t leave realizing what a special place it is. The accommodations are magnificent in every sense of the word. Every structure, every place you go, is a work of art. The staff exudes a hospitality that you’ll only find in the South – a genuine, truly welcoming hospitality that during your stay, makes you feel like you’re at home. And the amount of activities available to guests – both children and adults – is seemingly endless.
If you’re looking for one of the most extraordinary destinations not only in the South, but in the country (and world for that matter), Sea Island is a place that you absolutely have to visit. It is remarkable – a place that not only do I look forward to returning to, it’s a place that hopefully my kids, and their kids, and their kids will all have the joy of returning to as well. It’s forever changed my view of what’s possible in a hotel and destination, and I truly can’t recommend it highly enough.
To learn more about Sea Island and it’s numerous accommodation options, head over to the official Sea Island website for the complete details of everything offered. I’ve also included an extensive photo gallery below, highlighting just some of the many things that await guests visiting Sea Island for themselves.