Tourists in Wonderland: The Cloister at Sea Island

“Just get through Orlando as fast as you can,” said Mark, as we left Sarasota to begin our road trip. We needed to travel from Florida’s Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast to be on course for our first stop at Georgia’s Sea Island.

Mark suggested St. Augustine as a place to stop to stretch our legs, have lunch and take a look around. I’d made a reservation at The Reef restaurant on the coast north of St. Augustine thinking we would enjoy the ocean view and then go into town to see the oldest settlement in the US. But the skies turned ominous north of Orlando and by the time we arrived at the Reef, the wind was up and rain had started. The weather has not been our friend on this trip.

No view for you!

No view for you!

We did drive along the narrow spit of land at Ponte Vedra where trusting souls have built beach homes that appear to be daring a hurricane to sweep them away. But the rain deterred us from going back into St. Augustine and we continued north.

What is your image of the state of Georgia? Mine was of red clay dirt and weathered rural houses viewed from the back seat as we wound down narrow “highways” back in the late 50’s during family driving trips to Florida. But as we crossed the border from Florida into Georgia last week, everything we saw was lush and green. Maybe because of all the rain we’ve encountered…

I initially booked us at The Cloister at Sea Island because it seemed like Savannah was too long a day drive from Sarasota. I wasn’t expecting all that much since I knew the resort dated back to the late 1920’s. So you can imagine my surprise when we stepped inside The Cloister’s main building and saw this:

The main hall at The Cloister

The main hall at The Cloister

It turns out that the Sea Island Company initiated an extensive renovation in 2003 and held so carefully to re-creating founder Harold Coffin’s vision of “restfulness” before hosting the G8 summit in 2004 that the resort actually went bankrupt when the economy went south in 2008.

Sea Island is not the easiest place to get to if you live on the West Coast or even from many places on the East Coast, but it is worth however many miles or plane changes you have to make to get there. We got the impression that (wealthy!) families return to The Cloister for summer vacations not just year after year but generation after generation.

Our room - the photo does not do it justice

Our room – the photo does not do it justice

We had a suite on the second floor of the main building.

We had a suite on the second floor of the main building.

Our room looked out on the Black Banks River

Our room looked out on the Black Banks River

As we wandered through the main building, we realized that our first stop might be the best of the trip. At every turn we noticed thoughtful attention to the guests’ comfort; from lemonade and cookies in the Conservatory to the chocolate “gold sovereigns” left on our bedside tables at turndown.

The lovely Conservatory

The lovely Conservatory

This little guy and a few friends get to live in the Conservatory at The Cloister

This little guy and a few friends get to live in the Conservatory at The Cloister

The library

The library

The Georgian dining room is closed for dinner on weekends but we did get to enjoy breakfast there.

The Georgian dining room is closed for dinner on weekends but we did get to enjoy breakfast there.

Buttermilk biscuits and gravy for breakfast!

Buttermilk biscuits and gravy for breakfast!

We felt like we had been transported to Wonderland, and indeed, as we explored the 1200+ acre resort, we discovered an old fashioned soda fountain at the beach club that is actually named Wonderland, and for good reason!

Wonderland at Sea Island

Wonderland at Sea Island

One entire wall is dedicated to every imaginable type of candy!

One entire wall is dedicated to every imaginable type of candy!

Outdoor pool at The Cloister

Outdoor pool at The Cloister

The beach

The beach

And it’s not just Wonderland for kids. The 65,000 square foot spa looks like an idyllic destination for adults.

Entrance to the Spa

Entrance to the Spa

Indoor pool at the spa

Indoor pool at the spa

The Mediterranean design of the resort hearkens back to the time when Spanish conquistadores established missions and settlements along the chain of more than one hundred barrier islands dotting the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

map of St. Simons Island and Sea Island (image from mattersofstyleblog.com)

map of St. Simons Island and Sea Island (image from mattersofstyleblog.com)

As we reluctantly left Sea Island to continue our travels, we stopped off at St. Simons Island to see Christ Church. Still hosting an active Episcopalian congregation, the lovely church dates back to 1808 and is the second oldest parish in the state of Georgia. It is especially notable for the fact that John Wesley preached there as an Episcopalian priest before returning to England and founding Methodism.

Christ Church on St. Simons Island

Christ Church on St. Simons Island

The cemetery at Christ Church

The cemetery at Christ Church

Many Confederate soldiers are buried in the Christ Church cemetery.

Many Confederate soldiers are buried in the Christ Church cemetery.

Spanish moss hanging in the trees reminds us that we are in the South

Spanish moss hanging in the trees reminds us that we are in the South

Next stop: the road to Savannah

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
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4 Responses to Tourists in Wonderland: The Cloister at Sea Island

  1. dizzyguy says:

    Sea Island and St. Simons were truly magical places, with fantastic accomodations, friendly people, interesting attractions and great food. Such a nice surprise to start the road trip, we really did hate to leave. Would love to leave a smart-alecky remark about this place but it is not possible. On to Savannnah!

  2. tdevir says:

    Wow! The Cloisters looks amazing. The pool.. The spa…The candy… I want to go!
    Also the Sarasota beach pic in the previous post… So serene!

  3. Mr. G says:

    So great to hear about the Cloisters, see the pictures, and know your trip got off to a great start!

  4. Angela Gutsche DiGaetano says:

    That pool is right out of “Cocoon!” LOVE!

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