Escape everything on Little St. Simons Island
The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island offers a very specific type of vacation that may very well be your family’s Garden of Eden.
If you love empty beaches loaded with seashells, observing animals in their natural surroundings, and hanging out with naturalists who can answer every one of your children’s questions that stump you, start planning.
Little St. Simons Island isn’t that little, first of all. It is the last undisturbed, undeveloped barrier island in the picturesque Golden Isles of Georgia. Like many of these outposts, the Lodge started as a recreational haven for the outdoorsy and well-heeled in the early twentieth century. Check your dates for all inclusive rates at the Lodge.
Phillip Berolzheimer purchased the island for its trees for his Eagle Pencil Company but found they weren’t suitable, and, instead, he used the island for recreation. Henry Paulson, former Secretary-Treasurer, and his wife Wendy, a passionate birder and well-known conservationist purchased the island from the Berolzheimer heirs. He’s a former Eagle Scout concerned for the environment and a former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs, and the couple donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy on the entire island.
The island will remain protected and undeveloped.
The experience as a guest begins when approaching the island by boat— its only means— from a marina hidden away in a residential area on the northern tip of Saint Simons Island.
The Lodge staff has luggage tags waiting for you with the names of every family member to affix to baggage. My 4-year-old had just received a blue shovel, and it, too, got its own yellow tag.
We approached the Lodge’s marina while observing the island’s living shoreline with clusters of oyster shells embedded in the banks. The island oyster beds have been feeding people for over 1400 years since the indigenous Guale tribe settled in the area.
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Luggage is taken to rooms for guests while they check into the main building for a tour and an orientation to the house rules. This is the main consideration about vacationing at the Lodge with your family. The experience is more like visiting friends in their incredible vacation home with rules you’d better follow.
I will say that I would not recommend the Lodge until your children are ready to adapt to a dictated schedule (maybe aged eight and older). There were numerous times where it was stressful to get my four-year-old to adapt to the rhythm established for everyone else.
In fact, children under age eight are only invited May through September, while those over eight are welcome year round. My nine-year-old dove into the way of things instantly, and it would have felt like a summer camp fantasy had it been only the two of us on a special mother-daughter trip.
Also, for parents who crave a break from schedules and the stress and energy required to keep children on them, this isn’t the place for you. That being said, once your children are of age and you are ready to experience the outdoors without roughing it and surrender your schedule to someone else, I would encourage you to stay at least three nights to absorb the full experience the island offers.
Rooms and cabins at Little St. Simons Island
Our accommodations were perfect for a family of four. They are what those who camp would call luxurious while a five-star traveling family might call them charmingly rustic. We had the Michael Cottage, a queen bedroom and a twin bedded room with living room, washer and dryer, two bathrooms and a fabulous outside shower.
My daughter found a cabinet stacked with games and puzzles and declared we had to play bird bingo immediately. We experienced the property in the heat of August, but the cottages and main building were all air-conditioned. Despite their comfort, the rooms are only for couples seeking privacy. The island calls.
Meal times are a big deal, and punctuality is important. Breakfast and dinner are served family style in the main building while lunches are usually served as a buffet outside by the beach, weather permitting.
Guests gather prior to dinner to enjoy wine and appetizers like grilled squab legs. I don’t know if the bowl of goldfish crackers was specifically for the children in residence at the time or if it was an evening staple.
While the adults mingled and shared polite conversation, all the children ran into the living room of the main house and played games together. It was a very comfortable, mellow arrangement.
The food was consistently excellent throughout our stay, which made being punctual for meals easy. The island boasts its own organic garden not far from the kitchen to please the purist of locavores.
Those with vegetarian or gluten free diets were served their own entrees because they notified the kitchen in advance. We had requested that the kitchen have edamame beans on hand if we couldn’t get our children to eat anything else, but our picky kids found the food delicious.
Breakfasts offered gorgeous fruit salads, omelets, French toast, breakfast meats, and dinners included crab cakes with couscous and grilled vegetables. Between meals, there is a coffee and tea display with house-made granola bars and fruit to tide guests over. The rates are inclusive of meals, snacks, wine, and beer.
Who is staying at the lodge while you are there can really enhance your experience. We met so many nice couples, and there was another family visiting with children the same age as my daughter. But this is another situation where having a four-year-old at the communal tables added a layer of complexity to our enjoyment. Let’s just say the seat next to his was the last filled each meal, just another reason why traveling with older children makes the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island better, as the tween children excused themselves quickly to return to their games in the adjacent living room.
Naturalists made announcements about upcoming activities for the mornings or afternoons. There were typically two choices, and one could usually elect to do it all: fishing on the beach, kayaking, a birding tour of the salt marshes, hiking around the sixteen ponds, or an observation of a sea turtle nest. It is unlikely that any experience for families will rival the beach, about a mile away. The Lodge trucks make semi-regular trips, one for people, and one for bicycles.
Trucks pull up to a beach gazebo stocked with chairs, water, sunblock, and the previous guests’ seashell finds. Stepping on to an undeveloped, seven-mile beach shared by, at most, 30 people, is definitely something a family should add to their bucket list.
I think there is the illusion that the beach is without ownership, that it is yours and yours alone to enjoy that makes its details more sacred to experience. With the four-year-old happily digging sand and the nine-year-old enjoying a boogie board on the gentle waves, we had some many subsequent ten-minute increments of profound joy, the goal of any family vacation.
We wanted to see the naturalists take samplings from the sea turtle nests, so we hopped on our bikes and rode down the sand. Despite my struggles to bike straight and hold my heavy camera, it was a very memorable ride.
My husband pulled my son in a bike toddler trailer, and we loved the breezy experience, something I am determined to do again. Lunch was a Low Country seafood boil served in the beach gazebo. After a few meals and activities together, conversations started yielding common interests with other guests, as we started feeling like we were on the same weekend retreat.
No one should talk politics with strangers on vacation, and no vacation could be more dangerous to do so than the Lodge at Little St. Simons Island. I enjoyed seeing each of the couples and families represent different political and social profiles among this well-traveled group: conservative Christians, smug progressives, vegans and carnivores all dining happily together, safely talking about sports and travel.
You may think I am describing a place you know in Vermont or Oregon, but the Lodge’s jarring abundance of Coca-Cola products everywhere was a telling sign that we were, in fact, in Georgia, home of its corporate offices.
I felt like I was in my own mini-episode of Portlandia when my son saw our cottage’s recycling bin filled with empty Coke cans, “Mommy, what are all those red things?”
I’ll never forget what one guest from Washington shared with me. An extremely earnest dead ringer for William Macy— whose elocution was a dead give away for his work in public policy and academia— told me with pride that he had no interest in places that catered to the wealthy as I told him other resorts I had written about for Luxe Recess in the area, like Sea Island. Really? Perhaps in his Beltway bubble, he had never heard of Goldman Sachs? Or had his wife had booked the reservation on this private island resort so he didn’t realize how much it cost.
The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island offers alternatives to its eco-tours. It has a lovely saltwater pool, expansive in size, where you often get a swim to yourself. Ping pong in the adjacent, screened-in pool hut, and the bean bag tosses scattered around can’t really rival the opportunity to look for animals that roam the site freely. There are more owls in the Lodge than Hogwarts Castle. The taxidermy display rivals that of a small natural history museum.
The Lodge was recently named one of the top ten hotels in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Amidst a list of hotels and resorts known globally as leaders in service and design, this Select Registry property, sticks out like a green thumb. Its service is best described as that of a very experienced host.
Thoughtful touches are everywhere trying to anticipate your every need: bug spray, sun block, and umbrellas are at every building entrance. A basket of reading glasses are near the newspapers, and cans of air are available to clean your camera lens or binoculars.
It offers something far more meaningful, however; an opportunity to feel like guests of a club only a few experience, whose rules are defined by the awesomeness of and respect for its natural surroundings. Guests leave Little St. Simons Island under the illusion that something very special was theirs and theirs alone: a dolphin swimming by their kayak, a turtle hatching, or even charming encounters with a shy armadillo.
Little St. Simons Island’s Souvenirs
When we boarded our boat for departure, I saw my daughter turn around and run away. Everyone was seated, every bag was loaded, and we sat staring at each other. I was mortified. My husband went to retrieve her. I received glances cast like heavy stones. I apologized to everyone, yet we sat even longer. Finally, she arrived with the face of a girl who knew she was in trouble, and she sat far away from me in the boat in a tween sulk. I whispered to my husband that I thought we should make her apologize to the boat captain, and he said no and gave me the “leave it” signal. As we walked back to our car, I asked what happened. My husband explained, “It was my fault. I told her she had time to get her sea shells from her bicycle basket, and she’s sad because she couldn’t find them.” I was relieved I hadn’t made her apologize. It was a parental reminder always to be on the same page.
About a month later, a shoebox arrived on our doorstep addressed to my daughter from the Lodge. I was so touched when I shook it a little and recognized what it must be. She had her seashells from the seashore, and I mentally circled my son’s 8th birthday for our return trip.
Although we were guests of the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, these opinions are entirely my own.
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Or read another family review of Little St. Simons Island for a different perspective.