One Sensational Resort

Come see why families love this luxe getaway on Georgia's coast.
Annette Thompson

The Cloister is back. After years of tearing down and rebuilding, this treasured favorite has again taken its place among the finest resorts in the world. While it's stunningly updated, The Cloister is still all about hospitality, embracing guests as only the South can.

Once you cross the marsh from bustling St. Simons Island, Georgia, you enter Sea Island's dreamy universe. Situated between silvery sands and a tea-colored river, terra-cotta roofs peek over the land's greenery. Welcoming bent arms of live oaks shade perfectly clipped emerald grass, and palm fronds whisper in the breezes.

While the facilities may look different, one thing hasn't changed--the attitude of genteel service combined with lively family traditions. Everyone is treated equally, whether you are a once-in-a-lifetime guest or you never think twice about the hefty price tag.

The Next Generation
The 1928 Addison Mizner-designed hotel has been generously reproportioned and re-created in the same Mediterranean style. It boasts 100 guest rooms in the main building, a spacious lobby, ballrooms, restaurants, and a library. Two areas harken back to the original: the Solarium and Spanish Lounge, which feature architectural pieces dismantled and lovingly replaced in these new rooms.

Fine antiques, hand-loomed Turkish rugs, historic photos, and paintings of the island adorn the public spaces. Around the exterior, gardens surround a small chapel that hosts Sunday services and weddings. The back terrace offers strategically placed lounge chairs and tables facing the river.

The guest rooms indulge with plush yet livable furnishings. Dark wooden beams cross the ceiling, while hardwood floors are cushioned with thick rugs. Private porches look west for a view of the marsh and sunset.

The bath alone is the size of the entire hotel room at many lesser resorts. It sports a separate sink area complete with deep soaking tub, plus a huge shower, flat-screen TV, heated towel bars, thick robes, and soft slippers. If you can think of anything else you might need, a butler awaits your call.

Other accommodations around Sea Island provide different types of rooms. All are well-appointed. The Ocean Houses tempt guests with oceanfront rooms and suites. You can also reserve a cottage on a nearby residential street--anywhere from a three-bedroom bungalow to a nine-bedroom manse. Each comes fully equipped with kitchen, living area, and optional housekeeping service.

The Outdoor Life
It's tempting to simply sit and take in the beauty here, but you'd miss so much fun. Every day, more than 30 activities invite you to explore the nature of this barrier island, including a children's program to fill your young one's hours.

Take the Jeep Train at low tide to the south end of the island to find cockleshells and whelks. Or arrange for an hour on horseback. At night, join a naturalist to hunt for signs of turtle nests. While The Cloister plans to open the new Beach Club this fall, this summer is an excellent time to enjoy the three pools and the beachfront covered arcade. It's still presided over by longtime employee "Big George" Drayton, who will remember your name every time.

Of course, the resort entertains with world-class sports, including tennis, golf, sea kayaking, onshore and offshore fishing, sporting clays, and sailing.

Bring Your Appetite
Dressing for dinner may be one of the most favored Cloister traditions. Men still wear coats and ties, and ladies don finery for an evening in the Georgian Room, which serves Southern dishes enriched with international flair. The space borders on fussy, with rich fabrics and ornate fireplaces. The impeccable service and deft menu make up for the overly feminine feel. The Main Dining Room is more welcoming to children and stays open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

When you want a more casual experience, opt for the River Bar. You can dine inside or out on burgers, grouper sandwiches, and fried oysters.

Fit To Be Happy
The most recent addition to The Cloister sits between the main building and the Beach Club. The U-shaped, 65,000-square-foot spa and fitness center may be the best in the country. One side offers all manner of fitness activities, from yoga and spinning classes to free weights and circuit machines. The center also includes squash as well as a stunning indoor pool.

In between the two sides, you'll find a salon, a gift shop, and a waterfall pool.

The Garden Atrium serves as the centerpiece of the spa. A burbling stream passes through the tranquil area with upstairs hallways leading to treatment rooms. Typical wellness services fill the menu as well as bathing traditions, such as the two-hour Turkish Hammam and Japanese Basu soaking bath and massage combinations.

When leaving the spa and fitness center after a few hours at spirited play and soothing care, you'll feel content--just like on any day at The Cloister.

FOR MORE INFO:
The Cloister: www.seaisland.com or 1-800-732-4752. Rates: Premium summer rates from $725 a night, from $595 in other seasons. Cottages rent from $5,000 a week and include temporary membership privileges at the Sea Island Club.

Social Hours
The Cloister evening events glow brighter than a sparkler on the Fourth of July. You can choose from casual get-togethers to formal soirees.

Families love the Friday-night Plantation Supper out on Rainbow Island. Reserve a spot on the Jeep Train to ride out to the scenic picnic area that includes a kitchen house and a large screened porch. Delight in barbecue shrimp, fried chicken, corn on the cob, and bluegrass music for dancing and sing-alongs, as well as a marshmallow roast. Kids like to hunt for the local rabbits that hide beneath the island's sea grass. (Plantation Supper starts at $45 adults and $22.50 ages 4-12).

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, guests spiff up in their best cocktail clothes to play bingo. The tradition is so popular that the 400 reservations fill quickly. They gather in the ballroom to hear "Billy Bingo." Meanwhile, children sip drinks named Big Bird and Batman and anticipate the last dance. Guests line up for a round of the Electric Slide before doing the bunny hop out the door.

"One Sensational Resort" is from the July 2007 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.