by Lissa Poirot
What originally opened as a “friendly little inn” made to look like a Mediterranean-style getaway amidst the palm trees of the Georgia coast in 1928 evolved in 2006 into a five-star, family-dedicated resort. The result of its renovation and expansion? A place on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of “World’s Best Places to Stay” in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Just before it’s renovation, Sea Island appeared on the global map when President George W. Bush hosted the 30th annual G8 Summit on the island in 2004. Today, the 175-rooms and suites, some of which are in villas, as well as the resort’s handling of the island’s private rental homes, create a home-away-from-home environment for families visiting to enjoy the resort’s five miles of beaches, and more than 80 years of traditions. Sea Island is the kind of place where adults have visited since they were children and now watch their children make lifelong friends and return annually to see those families they’ve met in previous years. Just ask the longtime resort staff and they’ll tell stories of weddings taking place 20 years after men and women had met as children on the island, as well as 50-year wedding anniversaries. It’s a resort where time stands still and families enjoy lazy days together.
As an expansive resort, the setting is quiet… that is until families hit the Beach Club. Here, there is action, children laughing and music everywhere. Nestled amongst the palm trees and along the beach dunes, the Beach Club features three pools, playgrounds, a game room, bicycle rentals, a candy shop, an ice cream parlor, a casual indoor/outdoor restaurant, a 100-seat movie theater, and the children’s clubs for kids 3 to 12.
As a five-star resort, every space screams luxury, yet also is inviting and comfortable. One-hundred-year-old oak trees, draped in hanging moss, provide shady retreats and add to the romantic ambience of Sea Island, truly a gem in Georgia’s Golden Isles.
Our Editor Loves
- Kids programs, kids programs and more kids programs
- Rooms sleeping up to six, as well as vacation home rentals up to eight bedrooms
- Ability to confirm adjoining rooms
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The Cloister's main building, wings and spa opened in 2006, and the resort's Beach Club was opened in 2007. The resort features 175 guest rooms and suites overlooking the Black Banks River, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Cloister grounds. There are also 600 privately owned cottages on the island, 150 of which are available through the Cloister for rent. Homes range from three to eight bedrooms.
As a five-star resort, expect luxury to abound in every room in the resort. Rooms are decorated in rich woods, four-poster beds, Turkish rugs, plush couches and chairs and are meant to have an English manor-style feel. Stone bathrooms with separate tubs and showers, double -- even triple -- vanities, exposed beams ceilings and hardwood floors.
The resort's smallest rooms, at 700 square feet, are still enormous. The king bedrooms, however, are not equipped with sofa beds and can only accommodate a crib for smaller families. Rooms with two queens and suites with two queens and sofa beds are most popular with families, sleeping four to six people. While rooms do not connect, two adjoining rooms may share a common entrance, for families wanting to expand into two rooms. The hotel will confirm adjoining rooms, as well as reserve favorite room locations for returning families.
Ocean Villas, which debuted in 2009, offer one- to three-bedroom/bathroom villas with kitchens -- a great option for families, with guaranteed ocean views.
The property's Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club is a 40-room hotel situated along the resort's two championship golf courses. The properties share all Sea Island amenities, but rooms in the lodge are better suited for adults.
Our company had the yearly business meeting this year at The Cloister and it did not disappoint. So many awesome activities-I played golf and worked on my game at the golf training center. The staff was very courteous and friendly. The food and beverages were excellent as well. We all had a wonderful stay and would enjoy a returning trip soon!
by Joie S
As a New Englander, I love Colonial charm but this English manor is gorgeous. Visit the website but it has to be seen to be appreciated. Every member of the staff greets you, complimentary coffee and pastries in the morning overlooking one of many county gardens, and our balconied river view room was about 1000 square feet with a great view. We went as part of a golf package but the hotel was outstanding.
Sea Island's family activities are so vast that upon arrival at the resort, guests are presented with a weeklong list of daily activities -- 10 pages upon our own arrival. Special events include cooking demos, painting classes, manners programs for children 7 to 11, holiday events, lectures, and the resort's summer treat: a 50-foot banana split, where families can join in the eating of this enormous treat and receive a t-shirt that says they "conquered the 50-foot banana split." Other family activities include:
The Beach Club
Situated along five miles of beach, this is the heart of the resort for families. Beach chairs and umbrellas are plentiful, and two pools for families are nestled beside the beachfront playground. Private pool cabanas, sea kayaks and Hobie Cats are available for rent. This is also where the resort's kids' club, movie theater, game room, candy store and ice cream parlor are situated.
For younger children, 3 to 14, Camp Cloister provides supervised activities to keep kids active and having fun. Although the building housing the kids' club has TVs, the staff keeps them off, instead planning events and activities to keep the kids playing games and getting outside. Rooms and activities are also divided into three age groups, so toddlers are not playing with older kids, and vice versa. Children must be potty-trained to attend. The camp is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3p.m., and costs $95 for those 3 to 6 and $130 for those 7 to 14 years old. Be sure to have the kids visit on Saturdays, when Cookie Cutters is offered at 1:30 p.m. and kids are given a pound of cookie dough and become cookie bakers for the afternoon.
The Cloister Spa
Spas that welcome children are rare to come by at resorts, which is why we love the Cloister even more. Kids 8 to 15 are welcome with "Youth and Beauty Facials" and "Head, Hands and Feet" treatments. Children over 15 are welcome to all services, including body treatments and massages, skin care treatments, and facials. The 65,000-square-foot spa features a steam room, sauna, heated indoor pool, indoor and outdoor whirlpools, and a number of relaxation rooms, treatment rooms, and private showers with vanities. The spa is connected to the resort's fitness center, where classes and programs are also available for children, such as children's yoga.
Rent a bicycle to explore the island, or just have handy for treks across the resort. The bike shop provides child carriers, child-size bikes, attached child seats, helmets and everything a family needs to ride together. The shop is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Located at the Beach Club.
Evening Programs for Children
After the day programs for children end, the resort offers more entertainment throughout the late afternoon into the evening. A full movie theater complete with popcorn and snack bar shows a G-rated movie at 4 p.m., and a PG-rated movie at 7:30. Parents must accompany children 8 and under to the movies unless they are enrolled in the evening program. (Reservations must be made and if no reservations are received two hours before show times, movies will be canceled, so be sure to reserve a space!) From 6 to 10 p.m., the Meeting Place accommodates children 3 to 12 for games, crafts, dinner and movies.
Visit the Stables at Frederica on Rainbow Island to meet an accommodating staff that will guide your family on beach horseback rides. The hour-and-a-half tour follows light trails, through mud marshes and onto a private, quiet stretch of beach, where the staff will pause to take photos before you return to the stables. The stable's main location on St. Simons Island (the resort provides transportation) also offers Tiny Tykes Stable Tour, ring rides, wooden trail rides, private lessons and horsemanship clinics.
The Meeting Place
The island's pre-teen club for children 9 to 12 is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program includes scavenger hunts, beach bike rides and more, all supervised and in an effort to foster lasting friendships among the kids who join in the fun.
Families can rent, ride or receive lessons in sailing, as well as try kayaking, stand up paddle boarding or more. The center is open daily from 9:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. and is located on the beach.
Sea Island Shooting School
Guests have been enjoying the island's shooting school since 1929, and even children can enjoy shooting air rifles and learn skeet and trap shooting skills.
Sea Turtle Encounters and Night Walks
Sea Island welcomes sea turtles during their annual nesting phases, with a team monitoring nests, watching for hatchlings, and keeping the sea turtles safe. The Sea Island Yacht Club offers a night walk, where families can join in the patrolling and received a guided beach walk in search of nesting females, hatchlings and tracks. Or, join a private dawn patrol of the beach and take inventory of eggs and hatchlings.
The resort's casual beach bar and restaurant, Big George's offers breakfast buffets, sandwiches and salads for poolside lunch, and dinners enjoyed in flip flops. With its oceanfront setting, the restaurant is decorated in a nautical theme and features dining on a wooden floor porch. Live, beach-inspired music is performed daily near the restaurant and the pools.
Colt & Alison at the Lodge
The resort's sister property, The Lodge, is a small, adult-focused lodge situated along the resort's golf club. It's also home to Colt & Alison, with views of the Plantation Course's 18th hole, leather-backed chairs, and the finest steaks and seafood selection. Coat and collared shirts are required for men at dinner. Tableside presentations from the Caesar salad to flaming bananas foster will entertain well-behaved children who will not received crayons or entertainment in this formal setting.
With an appearance like an estate dining room complete with ornate chandeliers and a stone-carved fireplace, the Georgia Room is a great place to enjoy dinner, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Located in the main building, dishes are traditional Southern cuisine favorites, and the restaurant is one of only 21 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada to have received a Forbes Five-Star status. A private dining room for up to 10 guests is also located here, for group and large family dinners. For a more unique experience, the Chef's Table allows four guests a spot near the chef, who personally introduces each course during the meal.
Rainbow Island's Plantation Supper
Ride the Jeep Train over to Rainbow Island for the resort's traditional Southern feast for families, including fried chicken, hushpuppies, low country shrimp, sweet potato souffle and all the works served plantation style. A bonfire is perfect for after-dinner S'mores.
Offering indoor and patio views of the Black Banks River, this pub-like environment does welcome children with an all-day men featuring light snacks and appetizers, salads and sandwiches. While mom and dad may enjoy blackened shrimp nachos, they may also be stealing bites of the children's grilled cheese sandwiches, which are worthy of ordering even when the kids aren't in tow.
The main building's Solarium offers a continental breakfast daily, starting at 6 a.m. throughout the day, beverages and cookies are available.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Does the Cloister have extras? It seems all the resort offers are extras! Upon arrival, children receive plush sea turtles and a backpack to fill with all of their collections during their stay. There are kids programs, even for teens (although there isn't a designated teen space), babysitting services, spa services for kids as young as 8, special holiday events and treats -- if you can imagine it, the Cloister probably does it!
The Art of Smart Timing
As an island setting, the resort welcomes guests year-round. Summers can be hot and humid, but with kids out of school the daily activities and programs are in high gear, as they also are during the spring break season and holiday weeks. While it may be quieter on the island in the fall and winter, the temperate climate makes the Cloister a great setting for families looking to steal away.
The Cloister is on the private Sea Island, halfway between Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla. An hour and a half from either airport, the resort will arrange transportation to make getting there even easier. There is also the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, serviced by Delta, which is only 14 miles away, as well as a private airport located on the property.
For Mom and Dad
With a nightly kids' program, mom and dad can escape for private dinners, and if dining with friends, consider the Cloister Wine Cellar, which seats 14 for a private dinner in an Olde English setting, or the Lodge Wine Cellar, which seats 20. Exposed brick staircases, dim candle lighting, wrought iron wall scones, exposed ceiling beams, and a handmade table of English oak set the mood during these private dining events. More than 1,000 wine labels are available and dinners will be paired with the resort's well-trained sommeliers.