Kiawah Island has always been known as a family-friendly destination to those in the know. With nature camps and kids’ activities, an out-of-this-world water park, 10 miles of beaches and bike paths galore, there’s plenty to do. The island also boasts five championship golf courses, two world-class tennis clubs and numerous options for places to stay, the most luxurious of which (not including private homes) is The Sanctuary Hotel, the island’s 255-room luxury AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star oceanfront hotel and spa. I recently returned to The Sanctuary, along with my two nieces, and we discovered that luxury and kid-friendly are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it’s a combination that The Sanctuary executes quite well!
In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I have a history with The Sanctuary. I worked at a boutique there when it first opened in 2004, and I dated the food and beverage manager for several years. With insider access, I felt a little like a grown-up Eloise at The Plaza. Sneaking bites of culinary creations in the back kitchen (I still think about a single transcendent forkful of short rib ravioli I once had), occasionally scoring comped room stays and enjoying cocktails on the elegant oceanfront lawn are just a few of the fond memories I have of that time. I was in awe of the breathtaking murals, the unparalleled ocean views and the care and attention to detail from each and every employee.
I had not been back to The Sanctuary in several years, and when I was invited to stay this spring, I wondered if I would still feel that same sense of awe experienced when I was younger. So with a sense of excited anticipation of revisiting old memories, my two nieces (ages 9 and 11) and I set out for a girls’ weekend at this luxurious Southern resort. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, here’s what you can expect from a stay at The Sanctuary.
Your vacation starts as soon as you turn onto Bohicket Road and drive down a charming two-lane road beneath a canopy of lush oak trees. Once the road opens up, you’ll enter a roundabout with turn-offs for the neighboring island of Seabrook, the community shopping center and shopping hub FreshFields, and at last, Kiawah Island. Kiawah is home to a mix of year-round residents and second homeowners along with the rental properties; you will need to pass through a gate and guard to access the island. You’re still about 10 minutes from the entrance to The Sanctuary, but you have gorgeous lowcountry views to keep you company until you arrive.
SB TIP: If you happen to have extra time, stop and see the Angel Oak on your way in or out of town. You drive right by it to get to Kiawah.
The Sanctuary guest rooms are well-appointed with traditional and upscale, yet comfortable, decor. To the delight of my nieces, we were surprised with cookies and milk when we stepped into the room. We enjoyed our treats on the gorgeous stone balcony overlooking the water and couldn’t have been happier!
There are several restaurant options, from casual carryout choices to formal dining experiences. Jasmine Porch, located off the lobby, strikes a happy balance between the two extremes, with generous servings of authentic lowcountry cuisine. If you’re looking for a more laid-back, to-go alternative, visit Beaches & Cream, also located in the lobby, for pre-made sandwiches and fresh pressed juices during breakfast and lunch and of course, ice cream is available, too. If you’re spending the day at the beach or by the pool, you can either order from the comfort of your lounge chair or walk up to the Loggerhead Grille (I highly recommend the mahi mahi tacos and the vegetable crudites). The Ocean Room is the hotel’s formal signature steakhouse, and while you may think children wouldn’t be welcome, they most certainly are and the restaurant even features a separate children’s menu — as do all of The Sanctuary’s restaurants.
At the hotel
From the large family pool (with center waterfall feature) to biking to wildlife adventures, there is no shortage of things to do with younger companions. At the hotel itself, the family pool alongside the beach is likely the main draw for kids. Even though the pool is where the families hang out, luxurious touches abound. Attendants cover your lounge chair with a soft terry towel before you sit down and will come take your order for food and beverages. Extra towels, lemon-infused ice water and sunscreen are plentiful, and cabanas are available if you’re feeling fancy. Just past the family pool is a smaller adults-only pool overlooking the ocean. Guests can also take advantage of an indoor pool.
When you do venture down to the expansive beach, attendants there will set up chairs and umbrellas so the whole family can be comfortable. In addition to the pool and beach, fitness classes (think sunrise yoga on the beach, paddleboarding and beach boot camps) are scheduled throughout the day. Bikes are also available for exploring the island. When you are able to steal a few moments for yourself, The Sanctuary Spa is the ultimate retreat to relax and be pampered. Don’t miss stopping by the row of shops and fine art gallery either!
Outside the hotel
Outside of the hotel grounds, Kiawah Island Golf Resort hosts a wide array of things to do. Night Heron Park, just a few minutes away from The Sanctuary, is typically the central hub for kids’ activities. The children’s pool at the park is practically a full-blown waterpark with two flume slides, interactive spray features and a toddler splash zone.
With myriad family-friendly activities and day camps to choose from, I highly recommend joining a gator walk and going on a dolphin excursion — both experiences we took advantage of and really enjoyed. Don’t forget about the island’s tennis facilities, ranked the #1 Tennis Resort in the World and offering 24 courts for lessons and matches. Not to be outdone by tennis, Kiawah Island Golf Resort is also a golf lover’s dream destination with five championship courses on the island.
After exhausting yourself and your little ones, there is nothing better than retiring back to your room at The Sanctuary. Before you think about dinner each night, take advantage of the lobby bar and grand lawn. It’s the perfect spot to rest, watch the kids play and plan for your next day’s adventures.
The true magic of Kiawah comes through in these quiet moments. The views, the lush surroundings, and the delightful and truly welcoming service allow you to sit back and cherish your family, knowing that everyone around you is happy you’re there.
As we were preparing to leave on our final day, I overheard one of my nieces whisper to the other, “This is the most beautiful place we’ve ever been.” That was all the proof I needed to know that The Sanctuary had only gotten better in the years since I last visited.
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