Sand Dollar Dreams
In Sea Island
By Kristen Mager
Equally spaced between Jacksonville and Savannah, Sea Island is one of four barrier islands that make up the Golden Isles of Georgia. Beautiful backdrop to about 600 private cottages and world-class resorts like The Cloister, the coastal paradise promises gems at every salty footprint along the way. For natives and jetsetters alike, this five-mile long, quarter-mile wide slice of heaven has been the picture-perfect canvas for memories and traditions since the late 1920s.
Rick and Marie Wackenhut of Palm Beach, Florida, have been seasonal residents since 2003, after falling in love with the island’s charm and rich amenities.
“Sea Island’s as elegant and opulent as they come,” said Marie. ”And you don’t have to leave for anything. Everywhere you turn, there are treasures — from the driftwood in the sand to the four-story tranquil grotto in the spa. It’s really quite charming.”
Rich with Nature
Like the picturesque island itself, the one-way ride in and out is simply breathtaking. A cruise over the causeway from St. Simons Island reveals spectacular green marshlands, which are unspoiled and pristine.
“The island has allowed for development over the years but let nature be the priority,” said Page Aiken, a seventh-generation native and associate broker of Sotheby’s International Realty.
Hotel Makes History
Before the 1920s, Sea Island was largely uninhabited until Ohio native Howard Coffin had the idea to turn it into a beach resort. Coffin recruited Addison Mizner, one of Palm Beach’s renowned architects, to design the Mediterranean-style Cloister hotel, which opened in October 1928.
That year, Coffin brought in his cousin Alfred W. Jones to run the resort. In 2010, Sea Island Acquisition, LLC, obtained all of the assets of Sea Island Company. For generations, The Cloister has been the heart of the island, bringing families and friends together for meals, activities, and special celebrations. It underwent an extensive renovation in 2006 and is the only hotel in the world to have received the Forbes Five-Star Award for eight years in a row. The resort’s Lodge, the Georgian Room restaurant, and the full-service spa have also received the prestigious Forbes award.
Before long, Sea Island evolved into a premier meeting destination for dignitaries and presidents. In fact, President Bush hosted the 30th G8 Summit at Sea Island in June 2004, and the leaders of the world’s major industrial democracies converged on the relaxed, exclusive Georgian island.
Activities for All Ages
From ocean kayaking to horse-riding on the beach to bagpiper harmonies at sunset, Sea Island offers endless activities to appeal to everyone from the casual sports enthusiast to the socialite.
The 65,000-square-foot Cloister Spa features 23 treatment rooms and a delicious menu of body treatments and fitness classes, including cycling classes and yoga. Palm trees and water features create a tranquil waiting area or grotto that puts you into the heart of nature.
“A walk through the indoor garden transitions you from the busyness of life to a world of mindfulness and meditation,”said Marie.
Those looking to soak in some vitamin D and relax can head over to the Beach Club, located near The Cloister. Private cabanas and poolside service make for a pampering retreat where you’ll find three pools and a splash pad for the little ones. A movie theater and ice cream parlor are sweet perks. And then there’s Camp
Cloister, which spoils with fun and educational activities for kids ages 3 to 14.
Golf and Gamin Galore
One of the biggest draws to Sea Island is the second-to-none golf experience. The isle’s golf club ranks fourth of the 75 best Golf Resorts in the U.S. and features three spectacular 18-hole championship courses.
“Professional golf has had a significant impact on the visibility of Sea Island,” says Page. “The island hosts a PGA event each year and developed a world-class teaching facility that’s attracted many young golf pros. One of the game’s top teachers, Davis Love Jr., started the Sea Island teaching program in the late 70s. His son, Davis Love III, Zach Johnson, and Jonathan Byrd all play here.”
The resort offers a full-service tennis program and is one of the only resorts in the U.S. to offer squash facilities with two international softball courts and one North American hardball doubles court. The Sea Island Shooting School also ranks among the nation’s best.
Glorious Cottage Life
Unlike most communities where the homes are sequential, Sea Island requires a treasure map of sorts to find your way. Every cottage is numbered by the order in which it was built—whether it’s along the main stretch or off a feeder path lined in live oaks and moss. It’s just one of many carefully thought out touches that truly make the island magical. It also shows the lineage of residents, which was important to founders.
After the Wackenhuts bought cottage #302 in 2003, they embarked on decorating it in a Marco Polo theme that carries throughout. The six-bedroom, nine-bathroom classic Mediterranean cottage features high volume ceilings, a barrel-style roof, and glorious poolside lanai with fireplace.
“We designated each room as a land Marco Polo would’ve explored and what artifacts he would’ve found,” said Marie. “Some are exotic, some are unique. We used our own experience and then we did a lot of research on the Silk Road, where ancient merchants like
Marco Polo embarked for good trade and fortune. It was very fun to do and we enjoy taking our friends on an adventure through our home.”
As you enter the home, an Imperial Chinese living room greets you. With banked glass and arched walls, the home’s hub is where ocean breezes drift in, creating an airy, heavenly space.
The dining room flows into the living room and represents India. An expansive gourmet kitchen houses a large island, where the couple enjoys hosting cooking demonstrations while friends gather around the bar. A British-Empire-style family room sits off of the kitchen, and Rick’s office is encased in beautiful cherry wood. The Wackenhuts also added a comfortable media room upstairs with reclining, lush chairs.
“Comfortable living areas and the way the house flows bring family and guests together and is a reflection of the heart and soul of Sea Island,” said Page.
To learn more about Sea Island, visit seaisland.com. See additional Wackenhut home photos at right (some exterior photos are general island images).