Before I dig deep into this review, I want you all to know that I recognize I have many readers who feel passionately about both Sea Island and Palmetto Bluff. I can certainly see why! They both have a certain southern charisma uniquely their own. Keep in mind, this is simply a review of my experience: an experience that was neither discounted or sponsored.
When my best friend decided to have her bachelorette weekend in Sea Island, I knew that would be an ideal way to have my parents meet me from Florida for a family vacation. Then, when I calculated how close it would be to my good friend and her sweet new baby boy in Palmetto Bluff, I decided that would have to be a stop on the itinerary as well. I have been meaning to visit both properties for years, so this seemed like the perfect time.
In a way, you can’t compare the two. They both have a beauty of their own. That said, for people who want to hit the southeastern coast and stay at a luxury resort, you may have a choice to make. I won’t make it for you, but I will list my pros and cons and describe the service, aesthetic, and amenities from my point of view.
Prior to staying at the Cloister, this is where I stayed with my friends:
I started off staying with my friends in a Cloister Cottage through Exclusive Resorts. That cottage was ideal for families and even had its own small pool. The staff assigned to us was incredibly attentive and I am so thankful for my friends (The Andersons) for providing such a wonderful stay for all of us. Truly over the top fabulous and very generous! Staying in those cottages, we went to the adult pool at the Beach Club. It was very crowded the first day, and couldn’t get chairs by the pool together. The family pool was also packed. Lots of kids running around, grabbing ice cream and living their best lives. If I had kids, Sea Island would be a no-brainer.
It was pretty hot (Georgia in July), so we decided to take a walk on the beach and I was able to spot some gorgeous houses. Being a native Florida girl, I will say the beach wasn’t the most gorgeous. The water was murky and essentially no waves. That said, it had a beach (Palmetto Bluff did not). The first day, we had lunch at Southern Tide and dinner at Tavola. The second day, we had lunch at our cabana at the adult pool (definitely the way to go, plus your own bathroom). I loved that they serve samples of their frozen drinks every 30 min or so! We had dinner at River Bar. Every night, the restaurants were packed! It felt fun and lively. Lots of families and friends meeting up for a weekend. Overall, the food was good. Nothing especially noteworthy. I loved the Tavola dinner the most during this portion of my stay. Of course, the most memorable thing was the time spent celebrating my friend.
Once my friends left, I walked over to The Cloister and checked into the rooms. One room was for my parents and the other was for my grandmother and me. Both rooms were spectacular (22 & 23). Honestly, enough space to live in! Generously sized bathrooms, plush beds, a nice sitting area, and balconies overlooking the river. The only issue we had was a luggage mishap. After an hour of waiting for it to arrive, they called us saying they couldn’t find it! Eventually it was discovered. One other side note that makes me sick to my stomach, is the cleanliness of the rooms. My grandmother dropped her earring back and I went on my knees searching for it, only to discover lots of popcorn pieces and a toe nail clippings (gag). The bathtub also had hair all over it….the one dark cloud over the stay.
After we settled in, we went straight downstairs and did some shopping. The boutiques at Sea Island are excellent! We then headed by car over to The Lodge for dinner at Colt & Allison. Go over early for a drink on the lawn to hear the bagpipes (thanks again to Kim Anderson for the rec). It was perfect breezy weather and overall enchanting. In that moment, I fell in love with Sea Island. The food at Colt & Allison was EXCELLENT! Get the tableside Ceasar salad. My parents and I split a Chateaubriand with tableside Au Poivre sauce. It was the best peppercorn sauce I’ve ever had (sorry Le Bilboquet and Pastis). We ended with tableside Bananas Foster. I guess we love a good dinner show 😉
perfect evening to listen to bag pipes and watch the sunset.
We grabbed complimentary coffee and pastries in the morning in the sun room, and then discovered the quiet intimacy of The Cloister pool. Complete with gorgeous urns of potted boxwood overlooking the river, this was the pool of my dreams. I had already reached my sun quota, but was sad not to spend more time there. One thing is for certain, the service was EXCEPTIONALLY friendly. Southern hospitality to the extreme. I do wish we could have done BINGO night. People love it and unfortunately it was only on Tuesday night when we were there.
area for coffee in the morning
I then explored the homes of Sea Island. A wonderful mix of Old Spanish colonial architecture, and true coastal Georgian homes (I will share home pictures Wednesday). I couldn’t even hit every street, and was sad I discovered this part of the island right before we headed up the coast to Palmetto Bluff. They were special!
Passing through Savannah, Georgia, we came upon the Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Much like Sea Island, we stopped at a guard gate and drove down the beautiful tree lined drive that took us 4 miles to the main inn of the hotel. Immediately greeted by friendly faces, the valet staff was attentive and welcoming.
We checked in to only one room ready (we had 3 total), and then went to grab a quick lunch in the Octagon Bar area. The food was VERY good! The only problem was that the service was anything but quick. It took 30 min to get a drink, another 45 min to get food (a salad), and 30 more min to get the check. I had been warned by a friend that the service there was slow, and so badly wanted to not believe her. I thought, maybe it was the one restaurant? Sadly, her words proved right throughout the stay. We weren’t in a hurry to go anywhere, but the service (except for the spa/valet) was painfully slow. I even spoke with a woman in the pool area for awhile and she offered up this disappointment as well.
The best Sea Food Cobb Salad
Well after the 4pm check-in time, we were able to access both of the other rooms. We decided to have Lagoon View Rooms in the main inn since my grandmother has a walker and it would be easier for her to get around. Ideally, we would have stayed in a cottage room. The rooms were nice. but nothing to write home about. I am told the cottages have much better decor.
back of the resort
My first stop after lunch was to the concierge, I tried to map out the reservations for our stay. It proved to be very complicated not only for me, but for the concierge too. All the restaurants are not open daily. It was something like 4 days open, 3 days closed (he had a highlighted spreadsheet). I tried to get a reservation at the Canoe Club, only to be told they were full. Maybe make reservations well in advance? Odd for the 30% occupancy during our stay (confirmed by multiple staff members). So, we decided on a restaurant called Cole’s for dinner.
Prior, I explored the property a bit with my mom. Not too far from the main inn is a wonderful park area with swings overlooking the river. The street is lined with chic shops, a post office, and Buffalo’s restaurant (one place open daily). This area totally charmed us, from the chapel, to the columns still standing from the original founder’s home fire in the early 1900’s, to the cute neighborhood of homes all within walking distance. The Spanish moss hanging from the majestically tall trees sets the mood to fall in love with the property. Despite the “newness” of the buildings and homes, the setting is a great backdrop for graceful aging.
The Paris Market shop on Palmetto Bluff
For dinner, we took a shuttle bus to Cole’s. They have pool tables and bowling lanes, and amazing southern food. We had fried chicken, mac and cheese, and the best asparagus. The food was delish!
VERY good (and I rarely eat chicken)
The next day, we went off property to Old Town Bluffton, about 15 min up the road. My friend Caroline lives there and had great recommendations. My mom went to the Gigi’s boutique and found some cute clothes, and we went into Roost which had some fun home decor finds. We ate lunch at The Farm. The chef was previously at Palmetto Bluff, and it was one of the more memorable meals of our trip. It was wonderful!
That evening we grabbed dinner with friends at the Octagon Porch. Again, slow service which proved more frustrating considering we were trying to get to a concert over in the Moreland Village area. It is a free concert series with mainly locals who grabbed blankets, lawn chairs, and set in for a perfect evening. What is bizarre to me is that the hotel makes no mention of this concert series. It was such a highlight of our trip, and upon talking to another guest they too wish the hotel would inform the guests more on what to do. You are pretty much left to figure out your stay on your own.
My sweet friends little boy. Lots of families enjoying a fun concert and beautiful night.
The next day, I explored the neighborhoods. Lots of new construction that should age beautifully (house pictures to come Wednesday). This was so fun for me, and I can see why so many people have homes here. There was lots of construction, It seems the “secret” of Palmetto Bluff is starting to come out.
This night we had dinner at The River House, which was a tapas style menu. It definitely felt like an odd menu given the grandeur of the screened-in porch and the sunset scene over looking the river. Families headed to the s’mores’ cart and roasted marshmallows in the fire pit. S’mores are nightly and a highlight of the stay. Parents were in and out of the bar area, which was intimate and lively. An actress and her actor boyfriend were laughing and having a great time with friends. She was clearly there to get away and have fun with her family, and why should anyone bother her in this hidden oasis.
families gathered around for s’mores
Overall, the resort felt new, and also like a country club. I loved how it was family friendly while still being a place you could take a couples getaway. It felt private and definitely had a more international crowd. The pool area was great (slow service), but the spa service was 10/10. When you change into your robe, they offer warm neck pillows. When your treatment is over they offer prosecco or chardonnay. I wish they had the same detail oriented mind-set when it came to the rest of the resort.
loved the spa experience
Super cute market (RT’s Market) we stopped at before we headed out of town.
vibe: big southern resort
crowd: southerners, many who have come for generations
would I return: yes, only to The Cloister and a revamp in housekeeping
with kids? ABSOLUTELY
couples weekend? not likely
how long to stay? 5 days at The Cloister, lots longer in a house
transportation: bikes and golf carts
when to go? all year
where to fly into? Jacksonville, then an 1.5 hour drive
vibe: quiet coastal retreat
crowd: high- end, looking for low key. From all over the world (heard lots of accents)
would I return? yes, to a cottage and a revamp in service
with kids? yes (plan activities/reservations accordingly)
couples weekend? yes
how long to stay? 3/4 nights at the Montage, longer in a house
transportation: bikes and golf carts
when to go? spring and fall
where to fly into? Savannah, then 41 minute drive
(Full disclosure, I did reach out to both resorts to see if they were interested in partnering or offering a media rate, but both declined, one at the very last minute.) Sea Island is an institution, so I am not surprised. It would be like asking Disney for a discount, plus it was very full during my stay. However, the Montage works with influencers often and was at only a 30% occupancy rate. That was confirmed by several employees throughout my stay.
Why do I even reach out to properties before I visit? Well, when you reach an audience like I do, it is essentially free advertising for the property. To let the property know in advance is a courtesy that I am about to share my experience with my platform. Regardless of my presence, it should still be consistent service. In a way, I think it is not fair to NOT share that I am staying. It is like a surprise houseguest that is going to gossip to all her friends how messy your house is… you want some warning! Montage couldn’t have cared less about my presence, but Sea Island was active in reposting many of my pictures to their audience. Just thought I’d give you all a little “behind the scenes” insight!