If there’s one thing this bizarre time has taught us, it’s that time with family should not be taken for granted. The good people at coastal Georgia’s Sea Island — the only resort in the world to receive four Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star honors for 12 consecutive years — certainly won’t.
Like most everywhere else, when things turned bleak back in the spring, Sea Island was humbled by the bad news. The property closed its two luxury hotels, bevy of restaurants and spa, and staff members didn’t know when they would see guests’ faces again.
Thankfully, the situation improved enough in June that doors could reopen. But with so many questions about safety in the air, the 1928 resort wondered if patrons would come back. The answer was a resounding yes. Guests had made themselves loud and clear — they missed their family.
“A lot of people consider this to be their home,” says Michael Vaughn, a butler at Five-Star The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club. Almost immediately after he makes the statement, a mother and three children jovially come down the stairs in the Lodge’s reception area.
But even without the serendipitous moment, you fully understand what he’s saying. You’re greeted with a “Welcome home” upon check-in, even if it’s your first visit; you’re bombarded with waves on your morning stroll; you’re presented a high chair for your toddler before the request even comes out your mouth.
“We have the masks on, but we still have the smile under them,” Vaughn says.
But just as face coverings have become a new part of life at the sprawling resort, exciting changes also have come that you and your family will love. Read on to find out why Sea Island is an inviting destination any time of the year, but especially over the next few months.
Even if Five-Star The Cloister didn’t have such an esteemed history (Hudson Motor Company’s Howard Coffin is a cofounder; George and Barbara Bush honeymooned here), it would still wow with its Spanish-Revival architecture, beamed ceilings and majestic courtyards. Experience it all over the next few seasons with the Cool Rates deal, a promotion offering room discounts on select nights of up to 25 percent.
The sale is also valid at The Lodge, a sister property that’s about a 15-minute drive from The Cloister. Located in the shadow of the stunning Plantation Golf Course, The Lodge offers dark cherry woods, glorious archways and breathtaking views of the greens.
The Lodge opened an oceanfront pool, a pool house and seven cottages (including the 4,200-square-foot King Cottage) not long ago, thus creating a sort of sportsman’s village just off from the practice putting greens. The airy sleeping quarters, with their marble-dripped bathrooms and full living spaces, make a perfect escape for golfing buddies, couples or families. In fact, during our recent stay, we counted nearly as many baby strollers on front porches as golf carts in parking spots.
One of Sea Island’s newest attractions is Sea Strike & Pub. Part bowling alley (six lanes) and part sports bar (16 TVs, autographed jerseys on the wall), this is a fun, safe detour for all. And with a host of pub bites, such as sweet chili chicken wings and steak burgers, on the menu, it proves quite the filling detour, too.
When you’re hungry for some relaxation, make your way to the Five-Star Spa at Sea Island. Though you’re greeted with prosecco behind plexiglass and asked to wear a mask for the entirety of your service (save for when you’re facing down on a massage table for a treatment), the team has done everything in its power to ensure your time is still tranquil. Trust us, when Cori begins your 60-minute Southern Comfort massage, not even a face covering will be able to mask your excitement.
Sea Island’s Plantation, Retreat and Seaside golf courses are routinely considered some of the South’s finest places for a round. Anyone who’s been on either since their June reopening will tell you that new safety guidelines — one-person carts; no touching flags or rakes — haven’t negatively affected play. If anything, The Plantation course has only gotten better since its October 2019 makeover. Grounds have been reconfigured. Greens have been redone. And when the spectator-less RSM Classic comes to Sea Island on November 21 through 24, many of the PGA’s top golfers will finally get to see it all for themselves.
Still, the highlight of the makeover is the sparkling Golf Performance Center, a 17,000-square-foot haven where you’ll find the state-of-the-art Zen Putting Green to help with those pesky 10-footers, six teaching-equipment-filled bays for honing those long drives and 10 full-time instructors (including Golf Magazine hall of famer Jack Lumpkin) to assist with any other frustrations you have on the fairway.
Of course, not everyone in your group will want to swing clubs. Sea Island not only understands that fact but also welcomes it. Biking the miles of oak-draped paths is advised. If you’d prefer to get around on four legs, there’s a horse stable, too. And right next to that is an area where falconer Paige Hansen conducts her Hawk Walk, an up-close and very personal encounter where birds of prey take flight and you reward them with snacks.
Falconry demonstrations also occur at Broadfield, a 5,800-acre facility roughly 45 minutes from the resort. But if you’re visiting the hunting compound any time between now and March, you may want to sign up for a half-day quail hunt. We’ve been told that watching the graceful goshawks search for quail is a sight to behold.
If that doesn’t pluck your feathers, you also can take a center console boat out for a two- or four-hour fishing charter back at the resort. In the fall, the trout and redfish are generally plentiful. But if you feel more like reclining your chair than re-casting your line, hop on the 71-foot Sea Island Explorer for a pre-dinner cruise or a family-friendly birdwatching excursion. Before the pandemic, roughly 50 people could ride on the yacht at once. Now, only 30 are allowed, making a trip along the marsh-lined waterway even more comfortable.
Cuisine has always been one of Sea Island’s brightest areas. That has not changed in 2020. Though The Cloister’s Five-Star Georgian Room is still temporarily closed, The Lodge’s Four-Star Colt & Alison still amazes with its dark-hued walls, delightful service and dry-aged Kansas City cuts. Tavola is a notch less formal, but it still takes pride in its Italian dishes. While servers don masks and advise you to read the menu from your phone, they deliver the same sublime chicken parmigiana and campanelle (an exquisite seafood pasta tossed in a saffron broth) to your table.
While The Lodge’s rustic Oak Room (modeled after The Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room in New York) might feel like it was built for scotch drinking and cigar puffing, families are more than welcome. The versatile menu here ranges from nachos and fried chicken to St. Louis ribs. And the attentive service — as the already-animated toddler at our table reaches for his apple juice, the server says, “Don’t worry, I put a splash of water in there” — could not be more spot on.
Had Sea Island elected to have a subdued winter this year, most would have understood. But rather than cancel Christmas and the rest of the holidays, the resort decided to proceed with a full calendar of events — all done with safety being paramount, of course.
For Thanksgiving, the smell of roasted turkey and glazed carrots will waft about the properties at brunch (The Lodge), lunch (Cloister Ballroom) and dinner (Colt & Alison, Tavola). But even before guilt has a chance to kick in from that third serving of sweet potato soufflé, you’ll lace up your sneakers for the Burn Off That Turkey 5K or participate in the fitness center’s health workshop (both on November 27).
When Christmas comes around, there will be even more socially distanced festivities to look forward to. Whether you’re in the mood for gluing glitter (ornament-decorating class, December 22), sipping with Santa (Christmas wine dinner, December 23) or running with Rudolph (Reindeer Dash Family Fun Run, December 24), you’ll find plenty to do on the island. And, of course, on the big day, restaurants all across the resort will cook up traditional treats.
Even though New Year’s Eve details were still being finalized at press time, we’re all but certain that Sea Island will come up with exciting ways for everyone to ring in 2021. After all, “We want to keep you here as long as possible,” Vaughn says.
What else would you expect family to say?