SEA ISLAND, Ga. - America's top resort, that's how many travelers describe Sea Island, along the Georgia coast.
And it's got the credentials to back it up.
Forbes has awarded The Cloister and Lodge hotels, the Georgian Room and the Sea Island Spa five stars the last eight years, the only destination in the world to receive that honor. US News and World report ranked the Lodge as the No. 1 hotel in the United States. Readers of Travel and Leisure ranked both the Cloister and the Lodge among the top 10 resorts in the continental United States for the third year in a row.
And for the more budget-minded consumer, Sea Island has a new hotel. The company opened the 85-room Sea Island Inn in 2014.
"We have five-star, five diamond luxury hotels, the Lodge and the Cloister at Sea Island, and we wanted to open something else to give people access to the Sea Island amenities at a slightly better price point," VP of operations James Gibson said.
Guests at the Inn have access to the island's golf courses, the golf performance center, the spa, tennis, shooting school, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, hunting and falconry. Access to the Sea Island Beach Club and fitness center is normally available with an additional fee.
"(We wanted to) introduce people to Sea Island and give them the opportunity to still enjoy the resort amenities and begin a long-term relationship with Sea Island that they can transition to a five-star, full-service experience later if they preferred," Gibson said.
Thousands of people each year visit Sea Island for the golf, there's three 18-hole golf courses. Others visit to enjoy the spa. Both are world-renowned.
But a day on the links or an afternoon at the spa aren't the only things that the southeast Georgia beach town offers visitors.
Captain Ron Hanft is an expert on the local wildlife guests will encounter throughout the estuary around Sea Island.
"I do probably 500 trips a year with different families, adults and individuals and they're blown away by the nature that surrounds Sea Island," Hanft said. "There's so much going on here and I think that's the ultimate main draw, the natural beauty."
Whether it's pulling a commercial crab pot to showcase some of the blue and stone crabs found around the island on a two-hour kid fishing trip, catching sharks, stingrays and fish on an inshore expedition or spotting dolphin on a cruise around Sea Island, there are plenty of activities for those that enjoy the water and want to do more than just sit on the beach.
"The water is so prevalent here," Hanft said. "So, we're focused mainly on the water sports; fishing, kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding. And throughout the estuary, there's all types of nature."
And the wildlife extends beyond the ocean, into the marsh and onto the land that encompasses the island.
Guests can test their survival skills after dark in one tour, take part in dock fishing and a fish dissection with a naturalist in another.
Another popular outing is the Eco tour. Explore the flora and fauna that the island's maritime forest offers before stopping at the marsh and beach. Visitors may see some of the birds of prey in their natural habitat before searching for sand dollars.
From there, it's time for some fun!
"The freedom of being pulled across the water with a kite is pretty exhilarating," Sea Island water sports manager Gavin Earl told wsbtv.com's Nelson Hicks.
Kite Boarding is a new offering on the island. Earl noted with the area's onshore breezes and shallow waters, Sea Island is the perfect place to learn how to kite board.
"The experience of kite boarding is pretty intense sometimes with winds that range 15 to 25 miles per hour," Earl noted.
After learning a new sport, learn something new about an old one. Sea Island offers soccer clinics. Those are lead by three-time All-America and a former member of the US National Team, Danielle Sunderhaus.
There's tennis, too. Luke Jensen won the French Open doubles title with his brother Murphy back in 1993. Today, you'll find him providing instruction at Sea Island.
"Throughout the entire course of the year, we have people from Venus Williams, Martina Hingis here, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graff, all the way to people who are playing tennis for the very first time," Jensen said. "Sea Island is really a place for family. Families come here and its the generations that really dictate every activity, but especially tennis because the families bring their kids and grandkids to play tennis, to watch and it's just so much fun."
There's plenty more to see and do on the island. Venture out to the shooting school and enjoy archery or shooting clay targets, take a horseback ride or head back to the water and steer a Hobie Cat around the island.
And when the activities afternoon ends, it's not time to call it a day just yet. After all, there's always time to eat!
"We take traditions for which Georgia is known for which this area is known for and definitely what Sea Island is known for, we take traditions and really add a modern touch to it, a modern flair," executive sous chef Jason Russell said.
Sea Island offers 12 dining outlets. Coastal southern cuisine is the specialty. There's everything from a quick stop at the snack shack to a three hour dining experience at the five-star Georgian Room, the only five-star restaurant in Georgia according to Forbes.
What makes a visit to the Georgian Room a five-star experience?
"I would say the southern hospitality," Russell said. "It's the people. You can get a good shrimp and grits somewhere else, but we're going to give you an experience with the shrimp and grits."
And before calling it a night, there's one more Sea Island tradition to take part in, it's Bingo! The family outing includes kids and adults alike dressed to the nines. Ringo Bingo puts his entertaining flair on calling the numbers. Bingo nights, like most things and visits to Sea Island are tradition.
"Sea Island was developed in 1928, so we have a long, long history of providing great hospitality and service to guests here for over 87 years and our team members are really what make Sea Island so special," Gibson said. "They're very warm and engaging and want to look after you and give you a memory, something to cherish for a long time."
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