The Cloister at Sea Island

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2015

A favored vacation destination for nearly a century, the South Carolina and Georgia low country boasts fantastic beaches, salt marshes and an abundance of wildlife.

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To celebrate my wife’s birthday, our daughter and I planned a four-day stay at The Cloister at Sea Island near Brunswick, Ga., along the South Atlantic coast. My-oh-my, were we in for a treat.

The moment our van pulled to the resort gate, we were greeted by a smiling, helpful attendant who deftly directed us to the main hotel for check-in. We were quickly escorted to our ocean-view villa.

Our luggage, transfer lift and a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine were carefully unloaded and placed in the spacious bedroom. Our villa included a kitchen, living room (with sofa bed), dining room and two full baths. It was more than ample for three adults.

Wide doors, tiled flooring and no steps made for easy wheeling in my power chair. However, I began to feel unsettled as I prowled our spacious villa. The Cloister doesn’t bill itself as a wheelchair user’s destination.

I was wondering what obstacles I would encounter and what activities would be available to a seasoned wheelchair user.

Charles Spillman took his first “shot” at skeet shooting at The Cloister at Sea Island shooting club and was provided a shotgun and earmuffs.

No Barriers

Reservation clerks assured me I would have no problems accessing the resort’s amenities. However, nagging doubt lingered.

Most of us have encountered firsthand disappointing experiences from handicap accessible resorts, leaving us angry with depleted wallets.

Not so with The Cloister at Sea Island. Each crosswalk lavished my bum with smooth curb cuts and motorists unfailingly gave way to us as we rolled throughout the sumptuous property. No steps or architectural barriers confronted us.

Intended as a “friendly little inn” in 1928, The Cloister is a Mediterranean-style resort with an oasis of terracotta roofs, sunlit gardens and superb old-world elegance.

A Forbes five-star resort, The Cloister offers 175 guest rooms and suites, including six at The Cloister and two at the Lodge that meet full Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines.

Dining, Spas & Shooting

My wife’s birthday dinner was in the beautiful Georgian Room, the only Forbes five-star restaurant in Georgia.

There are a total of six restaurants on the Sea Island property. We dined in three for evening meals and had villa service for breakfast each morning. We just filled out a tag with our breakfast choices, required arrival time and placed it on our

outside door handle before 2 a.m. It was that easy.

My wife and daughter spent our second afternoon in the spa, another Forbes five-star-rated establishment. While they were being fluffed and buffed, I treated myself to skeet shooting school with a private instructor.

I was furnished with a Beretta over-and-under 20-gauge shotgun and earmuffs. This being my first skeet shoot, I managed to blow way too many holes in the sky. Jeff, my instructor, patiently corrected my mistakes and soon I was busting flying clay targets, bringing a large grin to this old face.

It was a wonderful afternoon for all three of us.

Eco Tour & Swimming

When making reservations at The Cloister, I asked the staff for a home care specialist.

I’m a bit high maintenance in the morning and wanted to give my hard-working wife a respite and some quiet time on the five miles of private beach belonging to The Cloister.

My caregiver was prompt, a quick learner of my needs and special spinal-cord injury quirks. Plus, she was a delightful person and a great conversationalist.

We were all looking forward to a morning ecological tour on a wheelchair lift-equipped tram. Our two young guides, both ecology majors in college, provided in-depth and revealing insights into the unique infrastructure and wildlife on this barrier island.

There are lovely private homes within the resort, which our eco-tour tram passed as we made our way to capture nature’s delights.

Sea Island isn’t only for those of us firmly ensconced in geezerdom. There were young couples, many with children. The Beach Club, with three swimming pools, was a featured attraction for parents and children.

Our villa came with a secluded pool. Swimming pools and spas are equipped with ADA-compliant personal lifts.

Affordable Options

Of course a big issue with any vacation these days is cost and that begs the big question: Is The Cloister experience expensive? The answer is, yes and no.

Going five-star for lodging, meals and amenities will be costly. However, a suite on a good cruise ship would cost about the same or more.

The Inn at The Cloister, a short distance from the resort, is very affordable and enables guests resort admittance to enjoy the many amenities offered by this great destination.

For more information, visit

Charles Spillman is a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Southeastern Chapter located near Augusta, Ga.


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