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weekending with the kids: jekyll island club hotel, jekyll island, ga.

by Elaine Labalme

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, located on one of Georgia's Golden Isles, has a 24-karat pedigree. It was founded as the Jekyll Island Club in 1886 when captains of industry and members of the leisure class purchased the island for $125,000. The boldface names included (J.P.) Morgan, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Pulitzer and while they surely talked shop, wives and families were welcome and the sport du jour was the hunt, with an official gamekeeper keeping the island well stocked. In time, golf took over and an oceanside course was built in the 1920s. World War II hastened the closure of the club but the property was reborn as a resort hotel in 1985.


Families today are still attracted to the lemony-yellow structure and its iconic turret, the highest point on the island. All comers are welcome – pedigree not required.


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Rooms and suites at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel are in one of five buildings: The Clubhouse (main building) and adjacent Annex; the stately, Italianate Crane Cottage, dating to 1917; and the Sans Souci and Cherokee buildings, each over a century old yet still graced with touches of a bygone era including leaded art glass and curvilinear French doors. We luck into the Presidential Suite, a two-level affair in the very same turret that can be seen for miles by curious travelers. Our room consists of a massive bedchamber lorded over by a dark wood four-poster bed. At the other side of our French doors is a living room with sleeper sofa and second wood-burning fireplace. The bath is a dream, its centerpiece a Jacuzzi tub fit for two eager travelers. Kids will waste no time pulling aside a curtain at the far end of the bedroom in order to access a veranda wrapped around the turret. An even bigger pleasure is an amble up a cast iron spiral staircase to an aerie at the tippy-top of the turret. A kind soul has graciously placed a telescope in the middle of this room-in-the-round, the better to cast about the island in easy comfort. At night, it's a star-gazer's paradise.


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Boredom is not an option on this Golden Isles sparkler. While weddings and conferences are a mainstay of the property, families can't help but feel catered to. Horseback rides, mini-golf and tennis are at the ready, while a perfectly-groomed croquet lawn also beckons. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is a recreation and education facility that easily speaks to children. Kayaking and canoeing are available on the island, as are fishing excursions and dolphin cruises. After a round of (mini) golf and a set of tennis, we take the path of least resistance and head to the beach. We're on an island, right?


The Hotel's Beach Pavilion is well positioned along a nine-mile stretch of white sand beach. A gracious attendant sets up royal blue beach chairs and an ample umbrella. Soft dunes add texture to the panorama as gentle waves lap in the southern breeze. I pull a book out of my beach bag while Fen snags our son, Steven, for some frisbee toss. Later, my men stage a body surfing contest. I diplomatically declare a tie and we repair to the pavilion for ice cream sodas.


Back at the hotel, the pool is an aquamarine rectangle and the early summer heat makes a visit a no-brainer.


“Margarita time!” I declare, and Fen joins in as Steven orders a lemonade. Our next round is a medley of salads, Steven going with the local's favorite, a cheeseburger salad. It's exactly as it sounds, a juicy, cheddar-topped patty crumbled over a bed of greens.


“Mom, we need to try this at home,” grins Steven.


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We wake early the next morning, the better to explore the island while it's still relatively cool and quiet. Our plan is to rent bikes and ride along one of a number of well-tended paths. We choose the North Loop, an 8 ½-mile circle with river and ocean views and enveloping two of the island's golf courses.


Our greatest surprise on the ride is the abundance of Spanish moss dripping from the trees. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss is not a weed or a parasite, rather, it's a flowering plant. It hangs so heavy from mature tree limbs overhead that it brushes our shoulders as we ride along.


“I wonder if they have Spanish moss in Spain,” I ask, for no particular reason. Our pre-teen son wastes no time in doing a Google search on his iPhone and informs me that the plant is prevalent in the southern U.S. and the Americas but nowhere to be seen in Spain.


Our bike ride on the river side takes us alongside marshes and campgrounds, and we stop to read assorted historical markers. Beach side, we pass a fishing lake and revel in the ocean view. Returning to the hotel, we park our sweaty bodies on one of many verandas, hi-backed white rockers at the ready. It's a morning we'd happily repeat on Jekyll Island.


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Dining options are plentiful at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. You can snack at the beach or the pool, or prep for the evening in the Lobby Bar. The Grand Dining Room is just that, white-napped tables amid Ionic columns and everyone beautifully turned out, as the dress code requires. What's caught my eye, however, is the Courtyard at Crane, a more casual fine dining spot where patrons can choose to eat indoors or out. I'm a sucker for the outdoor courtyard, which takes me back to evenings spent in colonial Mexican haciendas. It's a lush space with verdant foliage and the kind of lighting that makes everyone look, and feel, special. Our crab cake starter is as sweet as can be this close to the sea, and my seafood scampi over angel hair pasta is swirled amid the lightest of sauces.


Mornings on property are made better by Cafe Solterra, a bakery/cafe perched over an interior courtyard in the main building. A rambling veranda wraps the space while the courtyard itself is awash in tables and chairs topped by hunter green umbrellas. A fountain gurgles at its center and flowers are in full bloom. The Danish pastry are the winners, with a cherry-almond Danish perfectly memorable. Which is how we feel about our entire weekend at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.


The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, 371 Riverview Drive, Jekyll Island, Ga. (912) 635-2600; jekyllclub.com. Doubles from $209; Internet, AAA and other discounts, as well as package rates, available. The Presidential Suite is $459. Meal plans available.



Elaine Labalme
is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA . When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and twelve-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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