Tag Archives: Jekyll Island

Losing Jekyll’s Oceanside Inn and Suites is Going to Be Hard

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Oceanside Inn and Suites

The Oceanside Inn and Suites on Jekyll Island will be gutted this summer to make way for a Holiday Inn Resort.

Oceanside Inn and Suites, near the northern end of Jekyll Island, Ga., is a dated, at times dilapidated, somewhat threadbare old motel.

I love it there.

Built in 1958 as the Wanderer, the resort is a vestige of Jekyll Island’s roots as an affordable beach destination for Georgia’s families. It was old – as many properties on the island are old – but that added to its charm: unassuming, quietly distinguished, timeless.

My wife and I discovered Oceanside Inn and Suites a year after we married. We’d been to Jekyll together once before, staying in a small condo at Villas by the Sea for a long weekend. Tight finances precluded us from taking a honeymoon just after our wedding, and so for our first anniversary, we saved up some coin and booked ourselves a beach vacation on our beloved Jekyll Island.

One of the last examples of affordable beach vacations for Georgia's families will be stripped to its concrete bones and reborn by Spring 2014.

One of the last examples of affordable beach vacations for Georgia’s families — the Oceanside Inn and Suites — will be stripped to its concrete bones and reborn by Spring 2014.

For a price that I recall being surprisingly affordable, we booked a lanai suite at Oceanside, complete with a king-sized bed, a couch, table and chairs, television, balcony overlooking the ocean and an in-suite hot tub big enough to accommodate at least six people. On our anniversary, the staff brought a bottle of champaign and a box of chocolates to our room, all complimentary, being touched that we were celebrating the occasion at their property.

Several more trips followed. (In fact, according to my wife’s calculations, we might even have conceived our 4-year-old daughter there.) Some were more magical than others. One year, the bugs were particularly bad. Another was windy and cold most of the time.

The thing about Jekyll Island is, there’s not a helluvalot to do there. There’s a beach, and the hotels and motels have swimming pools. There’s a liquor store and an IGA for groceries. There are some pretty nice, flat bicycle paths (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the historic Millionaires Village is beautiful. There’s also a water park, again, if you’re into that sort of thing. A few restaurants.

That’s one reason I like it so much; I get to relax without feeling like I’m missing anything. It’s a slow and easy vacation, with plenty of time to sit by the ocean – the real ocean, none of this Gulf of Mexico crap – and read. At dinner time, go find a place to eat fried shrimp until you’re sick. It’s great, really.

That is changing, with the island’s new convention center opening and hotels starting to slowly take notice after years of polite disregard. A couple of the grand old resorts already have been torn down, and one new hotel, a Hampton Inn, opened on the island in the last few years.

But the island’s legacy is that of an affordable beach vacation for Georgia’s families. That’s what Gov. Melvin Thompson visualized when the state purchased the island in 1947. (The state condemned the island and bought it from the nearly-defunct Jekyll Island Club for $675,000 – a tidbit for the history buffs.)

New properties and new life on the island is good news for the Jekyll Island Authority, which administers the island and must do so with no financial support from the state (the state having since gotten out of the “affordable-beach-vacation-for-Georgia’s-working-poor” game). It means there will be more revenue for more improvements to draw more visitors to make more revenue.

Oceanside Inn and Suites pool

The pool at the Oceanside Inn and Suites on Jekyll Island, Ga.

It also means that people like me – albeit a minority – who enjoy a cozy older venue that harkens back about two generations and offers pretty wonderful amenities at a reasonable price will be left without much reason to go to Jekyll Island anymore.

The Oceanside Inn and Suites went above and beyond to make us welcome. It was not pretentious, it was not elegant. It had free Wi-Fi, and that was awesome, and a hot tub in a room that overlooked the ocean. You could sit on the balcony of your second-floor suite and watch the sunrise. Sometimes, you could see dolphins in the distant waves. You could get drunk and stumble over to the Sandbar and Grill for a bite to eat. You could have beer for breakfast and make a baby. It was pretty awesome.

I’m sorry to see it go. I’m sorry that I’ve likely spent my last night there, and I’m deeply sorry for the staff who have always been so good to my wife and I, and to our daughter who stayed there with us the last time we went and swam in the six-person hot tub in our lanai suite.

The last time we stayed, the rooms had been refurbished, the carpet and furnishings were clean and new, the swimming pool was a spotless blue, the grounds were meticulously maintained and the property looked every bit to have a bright future. In August 2013, it will be gutted to its concrete skeleton and remade into a 155-room Holiday Inn. It won’t be nearly the value it was, and the patina of that neat old 1950s motel will be scrubbed away. It won’t be the same.

I hope, however, that it will at least have a lanai suite, on the second floor, with a view over the dunes to the ocean beyond, and a large hot tub and balcony. I hope the people who work at Oceanside Inn and Suites will have a place with the Holiday Inn, and maybe be making a little more money than the Oceanside could pay.

I wish you the best, and thank you for the fantastic memories.

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Cumberland Island an Example of a Half-Ass Congress

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Jekyll Trolly

This is what some would have you think motorized tours on Cumberland Island will look like. They won't. (Also, this is from Jekyll Island.)

The Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972. Today was the first time it was made widely accessible.

And even then, the definition of “widely” is actually rather narrow.

Cumberland Island is the southernmost of Georgia’s barrier islands, of which my dear Jekyll Island is one (and Cumberland’s northern neighbor). It was settled sometime before the 1500s by the Timucuans. Juan Ponce de Leon sailed past it while exploring the New World. The Spanish settled it in 1566, built a small fort and then left due to “harsh conditions” (I figure it was the heat and the mosquitoes – they’re really pretty devastating down there). Through the 1800s, the island was converted mostly into plantations with a vast number of slaves. After Emancipation, the Carnegies (yes, those Carnegies) bought up most of the island. By the 1950s, the National Parks Service ranked Cumberland second only to Cape Cod among the most significant sites along the East Coast. Later, an investor acquired about a fifth of the island with a vision for building a wilderness lodge and resort, had electricity run to the island from the mainland, then in the early ‘70s, he signed his holdings over to the federal government.

The island gained a reputation for its herds of non-indigenous wild horses and its difficulty to traverse, given that no motorized vehicles were permitted on the island (except for those used by the park service for maintenance). It was a place to hike, a place to bike and a place to camp, but not a place for the faint of heart.

Somewhere around seven years ago, Congress decided this was no good, and passed a law that required the National Park Service to begin offering motorized tours of the island.

The problem was, see, they didn’t actually put any money into the law. They didn’t add any funds to train drivers, buy vans, improve the rugged service roads the staff used for maintenance – nothing. They just said, you know, do it.

Staff have compared the approach they’ve used to be the difference between jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool or wading in slowly. They’ve endeavored to do this wisely and cautiously, in such a way that would cause minimal impact to the island. They consulted with other federal agencies and carefully began implementing the steps necessary to fulfill their unfunded mandate from an inept legislative body, the voting members of whom had never set foot on Cumberland’s sacred sands.

And they’ve done so under the fire of critics that have accused them in ineptitude, harangued them in public meetings using terms like “idiots” and “lying cowards” and spread lies and accusations that were unfounded and utterly without merit.

The national treasures of Cumberland Island ought to be accessible to anyone – including the old, the decrepit and the ill. The impact of a few van trips a day will not ruin the experience for the hikers and bikers who make use of the trails that run independent from the service roads used by the tour vans, and the park staff have already demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that the presence of the motorized tours will not harm the island’s wildlife. (People who work for the park service tend to have a soft spot for wildlife.)

Improving access to our national parks ought not to be something we see as shameful.

Jekyll Island Daydreamin’

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I wanna go back to the island,
Where the shrimp boats tie up to the pilin’.
Gimme’ oysters and beer
For dinner every day of the year and I’ll feel fine.
I’ll feel fine.
I wanna’ be there;
Wanna’ go back down and lie beside the sea there,
With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine
And I’m a’ chewin’ on a honeysuckle vine
— Jimmy Buffett, Tin Cup Chalice

Just a month ago, I spent hours alongside the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. The water was blue and so crystal clear that you could see the coral beneath its cloudless surface. The sand was fine gold, the breeze was gentle and soothing and the beach chairs were splendid and inviting. I could not have anticipated the utter and absolute breathtaking beauty of the Bahamas. There, in Lacaya, at a Radisson resort we sat, my wife of these almost six years and I, thumbing through our books and baking in the Bahamian sun alongside a gorgeous, meandering pool and pristine sea. The next day, in Nassau, the story was much the same. Even the industrial port from which we departed on a decrepit water taxi to Paradise Island and the famous Atlantis Resort featured splendidly clear waters and welcoming locals.

Sydney Lanier Bridge from Driftwood Beach

The Sydney Lanier Bridge, as seen from Driftwood Beach at sunset, circa 2006.

Still, however, my heart yearns for a place with far less beauty but much more meaning.

I’ve been to Paradise Island, but I long for Jekyll.

It is silly, I know. Only these few weeks returned from a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to a tropical paradise, and here I am pinning for a place that, I swear, smells like my farts. (Really. It does. That’s how my wife knows it was me. “Did you fart? It smells like Jekyll.”) It’s old, rundown, and the water is tinged the shade of brown that would be familiar to people who have lived or worked within sight of a cesspool.

But I’m not alone in my longing for the crusty sands of Jekyll. Just last week, my wife asked if I thought we should go down this year. Her question is ripping my soul asunder, because the obvious answer – “Hell yeah!” – is less obvious than it ordinarily would have been.

She’s in school, pursuing her graduate degree in nursing. Money’s tight. Time is scarce. My dryer has been screeching for a month because I’ve had such limited opportunities to attempt a repair. I can only cut grass every two weeks, owing to her school/work schedule on weekends. It’s all I can do to do what I’m doing.

Still, that quaint barrier island beacons me. I know that 90 percent of my affection for the place is owed to nostalgia – it’s where my family vacationed when I was a kid, and it’s where I’ve enjoyed some of the happiest times with my wife.

Oceanside Inn and Suites view

Oceanside Inn and Suites. Threadbare is beautiful.

See, there’s a motel down there – it’s called the Oceanside Inn and Suites. It’s just an old roadside motor lodge, dating from decades past. It’s old and threadbare, but it’s clean. The showers are stained with age, and not want of cleaning. And they have these rooms, called Lanai suites, which look out over the pool and the beach at the same time. You can get one on the ground floor, with a patio door that opens right out onto the ground with an easy stroll to the beach, but I prefer the ones on the second floor, where a balcony elevates you so you can see over the dunes to the ocean and vistas beyond.

And the thing about Jekyll is, once you’ve been once, there’s really nothing else to do but sit on the beach and watch the tide come and go. There’s a small putt-putt course, a great historic district and some small shops and restaurants, but that’s it. The island boasts some renown for its golf courses, but that’s not for me. I’d rather walk the beach and look for shells than walk the greens and look for balls.

Ashley and I have been several times, but the details of all those trips rather run together. I know the first time was very special, because I’d always wanted to take someone I loved down to show them how much of me comes from the small space of time I’ve spent on that sandy spit of land. I remember once we went when it was so windy you couldn’t leave your folding chair on the beach to wade into the water for the chance that they would be carried off in the breeze. And once, it was mating season for some small, black bugs that didn’t bite or sting, but swarmed everywhere, mounting each other.

But I also remember days spent out on the beach, just sitting in our folding chairs with our books, watching the seagulls hover in the wind. Waking up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean. Eating fried shrimp for lunch and dinner every day. Sitting out on the balcony with a pipe, a beer and a box of chocolates. Wandering around the seaside village on St. Simons until we found this great local restaurant with the most scrumptious coconut shrimp. Strolling through the “Millionaires’ Village,” wondering what ghosts were watching us from the dark windows above.

There’s a package store on the island, an IGA and a few restaurants. That’s all I need. Beer, booze, food and beach. A bottle of bourbon and a big Jacuzzi tub in the Lanai suite, with the lights off and the blinds open so I can see the moon reflect off the water.

It’s calling me. It’s calling my wife, too. I want to go. It’s so hard to stay away. But, I feel like this is one of those tests, where you offer a kid one marshmallow now or two if they abstain for a minute. I want to go, but I want to go right. Not for a long weekend, but for a long week. I want to go and be there until I’m bored with it, until I’m ready to go home. That’s a good vacation.

Beach chairs

"And out on the beach there sits two empty chairs that say more than the people who ever sit there..."

Maybe next year. October, when the crowds thin down and the only other occupied table at Latitude 31 is a group of old women sipping martinis and laughing a bit too loud. The ocean will still be warm, but the heat will have broken for the fall. It’ll be time for our anniversary.

But, then again, if you’re determined enough, who’s to say you couldn’t talk your way into all three of those marshmallows?