Get Your Tycoon on at The Sanctuary at Kiawah

As spring + summer vacation planning begins for the hardcore leisure scientists, I'd encourage the luxury travelers and conference planners to train your eyes on The Sanctuary at Kiawah if you haven't just yet. 

Inside, The Atlantic Room, with its formidable dining tables, thick linens, comfortable-as-a-steel-tycoon chairs, giant plate glass windows & wraparound porch, is one of the most luxe restaurants on the Eastern seaboard. Not kidding. And this isn't even the main hotel -- it's clear across the island at the Ocean Course golf club. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

The Sanctuary is awesome. It's awesome for getting one's luxury dollar's worth, for one thing.

But it's also awesome for our state's economy. The more national and international travelers realize what an utterly killer resort this is, the more tourist dollars come into South Carolina over time. And the money trickles down to support working families, and education, and even the arts. (Among other desperately important things.)

From afar, is *does* look a bit McMansiony for a lover of old school beachhouses. I'll admit.

Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

But I am also a lover of fanciness and luxury, and this place has got it in spades.

I had no idea that we had such a high-end resort hotel & spa here in South Carolina. It reminded me of The Peninsula Beverly Hills and Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, CA, albeit without the Frette linens and Limoges china, which usually just make me feel nervous and a little embarrasingly brand-whorish anyway.

The Morning Room, where each morning, you can take your complimentary delicious coffee and read the WSJ or NYT by the light of a thousand fancy suns. Or at least it feels that way. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Call me a snottypants, but taking coffee and having cocktails in the room above was very nice. Very, very nice.

Also, those things were nice to enjoy in this room, below. Both of these spaces make up a fraction of the lobby and face out to an enormous green lawn, beyond which is the dear Atlantic ocean.

The lobby. Lord love it. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Oh. This room? Oh, that's just the lobby bar. No big deal. It's only totally sailing tycoon fantasyland. At night, it is actually pretty hoppin'. If you like to sit around and chat and drink. Which I do.

The lobby bar. Of tycoon dreams. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Maybe The Sanctuary is more like a Four Seasons, actually. The service at The Sanctuary is incredible. Our server at The Atlantic Room not only had the requisite bussers, runners, etc. but she also had an assistant server, who introduced himself as such.

And when we asked for oysters on the half shell despite them not being on the menu (we being The Shop Tart, my Flock and Rally business partner Debi, and myself), our server sped to the kitchen and swooped up on the last 6 raw oysters in the house. Do I love that The Atlantic Room has their own version of the classic tycoon hors d'oeuvre, Oysters Rockefeller? Yes. Do I love even more that they are willing to supersede it for some shellfish-grabby ladies? Definitely.

The Atlantic Room at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. This photograph does not even begin to display the excellent majesty of the casual fine dining experience there, but it's a start.
I think that if you like the service levels at The Four Seasons and such, you will be very happy. I will bet you five American dollars on this.

The grandeur, casual elegance and overall laid-back splendor of dining at The Atlantic Room was something you don't get all the time. Giant chairs. Enormous, solid tables. Formidable linens. A beautiful, U-shaped wraparound wooden porch w/excellent lounge chairs. Adirondacks out in the grass overlooking the sea. Epic stuff. Solidity, noblesse, wealth, and a sporting life. With great shellfish.

The wine list at The Atlantic Room is pretty epic too -- I was stoked to spy something I thought I recognized from my Napa Valley wine nerd days, by winemaker Ehren Jordan: an '05 Alban vineyard viognier from the Edna Valley under the Failla label. What does that mean?

Means it's really, really delicious.

Also delightful: rocking chairs out by the valet area, so that you can wait for your car in a relaxed fashion. Witness my comrades enjoying this easy-breezy amenity.

One of my great regrets of this stay is that I did not collect a photograph of the genius guest room bath layout. Obviously, the rooms are nice. They're a little froufy for those who veer toward the contemporary, but the fabrics are quality, the motifs are solidly classic Carolina coast, and it would seem that there is an ocean view of some dimension for everyone.

Better-then-average guest room. Note the homage to the traditional South Carolinian rice bed. Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort
But the bathroom. Man, it's great. I'm a bath-taker, so a great bathtub situation is really the thing. And this one is kindof genius.

There is a brilliant, shuttered cutout window between the deep, fancypants bathtub and the bedroom. You can open the shutters, or not. Either way, you can take a perfect, deep, hot bubble bath, completely nude, and still chat with your friend or loved one in the other room.

And not only that.

The bath products -- and good bath products are a huge indicator of whether a resort is worth its salt -- are the well-regarded Elemis brand, and they smell incredible.

Although the shampoo and conditioner don't possess the super-powered awesome smell good-ness of the Elemis Sharp Shower Body Wash and concomitant body lotion, these two jammers are both absolutely exemplary guest room bath products, rife with "uplifting Spearmint and Peppermint essential oils, combined with plant extracts of Nettle, Wild Marjoram, Marshmallow, Chamomile and Thyme in a Soya, Wheat and Milk Protein base."

That is a spa nerd's happiness, can't you see? Marshmallow? Soya? Wild Nettle? And two mints are always better than one. So yes, the bathrooms are great at The Sanctuary.

Which brings us to The Spa.

Yes! It is worth your spa dollars. Feel free to spend them lavishly here. Thou shalt be rewarded with an excellent treatment, luxurious appointments, accommodating, down-to-earth staff, and the best locker room whirlpool this side of Burke Williams Day Spa in San Francisco. Or Los Angeles. (Those Burke Williams locker rooms are kinda all the same anyway, right? [But those Burke Williams locker rooms are GREAT. Do not mistake my churlishness for a lack of reverence for the Burke Williams locker room. I'd kill for a BW in Columbia, SC.])

The solarium actually has rows of these chaise longues. And lots of magazines and throws. And the pre-requisite urn of chilled, fancy water and a few noshy snacks that are a micro-hallmark of all good resort spas.

Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Full-body immersion in hot, fancy water is key. This fanciness of this whirlpool situation, above, is well designed, with various nooks and seats beneath the surface.

Fun fact: they have installed two giant planters on either side of the stairs, so it almost feels like there are 2 or 3 zones in the whirlpool, so that you can *kindof* sequester and feel separate from other spagoers. This is a nice thing.

The spa locker room and bathing area aren't huge or spacious, but the space is used intelligently, and on a Fall holiday weekend afternoon, we didn't feel cramped or crowded. The treatment rooms are comfortable, as you can see.

Spa robes: the best. High quality, double-faced with the plushy inside and smooth outside. None with ratty edges that we could see, indicating that spa management attends to details like rotating out the ratty-edged robes when their time comes.

There is something about a fresh, buff-colored, rolled-up tower of spa towels that just puts me at ease.

Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

I'd like to slap the architect on the wrist, however, for making us ladies and gents walk *out* of the locker room/bathing area in our robes, past the check-in desk, and through a separate door to get to the solarium. When you are spending the valuable currencies of both time and dollars, the illusion of total escapism is important. I hope this was a design necessity and not a design flaw. Like somehow, because they cut that corner, they were able to fit an indoor heated pool onto the property.

Which they did. I love an indoor lap pool with a bank of plate glass windows.

Blessed be: 'tis a heated indoor pool, with a Chef's lettuce, herb and vegetable garden outside, which is the coolness. Sadly, the hot tub was tepid. That's all I'm going to say about that.  Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort

Speaking of the heated pool thing: of all the truly delightful things about The Sanctuary, this one irked me and my ladyfriends to no end. Not only was the outdoor hot tub tepid at best on a brisk early October morning; the indoor hot tub was the same *meh* temperature. While the staff responded quickly to my plaintive, whiny cry, the problem was not solved within our 3-day stay.

That said, the outdoor pool deck looked pretty sweet.

Image: Kiawah Island Golf Resort
 And right along the path from the lobby out to the pool?

A boatload of beautyberry, one of my favorite South Carolina native plants. Top marks on the landscaping, y'all. You don't expect to see a ton of natives and perennials planted at a megaresort, and I appreciate it.

Well played.


  1. wow!It is a wonderful place!Too beautiful!

  2. Wow really beautiful, must be so nice to able to afford such a place!!!

  3. Relaxed but unhappily obliged to migrate back northMarch 12, 2012 at 3:26 AM

    I just visited there on a spa package. I spent a good deal of time in the spa and noticed soon after our first 'vitality pool' bathing, our skin looked great and was baby soft. Turns out its a mineral bath too. I felt that it really helped to soak before and after my massages. If you get a spa package, you can access all if their facilities during their normal hours which is nice, especially after a long bikeride on the beach...against the wind. I would highly recommend though I was a bit miffed at their menu which says you have to pay an additional $20 or $30 dollars to have a 'master' masseur. This doesn't reflect well when you read it.

    Also, their dining is tremendously overpriced though room service, when it's up to snuff can be fantastic. I feel foolish paying NYC prices in SC. If you really know barbecue, avoid the new cherrywood restaurant.

    It is really a wonderful trip and the staff are VERY attentive so despite my few points, well worth it!


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