We left Cape Canaveral early, the SpaceX rocket still firmly on the ground, the Hyundai tank full, our bellies full of coffee, pancakes and bacon. Conway was strapped in the back with plenty of toys to entertain him – an iPad with games, balls, fresh fruit snacks, and mummy to assist.
The drive from Cape Canaveral to Jekyll Island in Georgia is simple – get on route 95 and keep going. The road is flat, the lanes are wide, there’s not much traffic and it’s 3 hours and 230 miles. The most boring drive, thankfully an easy one, with the same injury lawyer billboards and Christian radio stations.
We played Spotify and listened to podcasts while hurtling past Daytona, St Augustine and through Jacksonville, up to the border, over swamp lands and countryside into Georgia, where great advertising towers told us about fast food stops. We stopped half way, at a lunch spot – toilets and picnic benches and wide open country, it was pleasant. Birds wanted to steal our cold pizza.
Why Georgia? We spent many weeks trying to work out how to spend the remainder of our time in Florida. We didn’t want to do all the theme parks, it’s not our thing. We love nature and Florida has plenty of wildlife, parks, and birding – but most of it seemed only accessible by boat – specifically kayak, and there’d be mosquitos a plenty – not something we wanted to tackle with an 18 month old. Most of the hotels seemed large and faceless, we wanted something with a bit of character. When we expanded our search to just outside of state we discovered the golden isles.
Our destination was Jekyll Island, part of Georgia’s golden isles region – together with St. Simons, Little St Simons, Sea Island and Brunswick town. It’s an area full of nature and American history. Jekyll island is connected to the mainland with a bridge, and the whole area is a state park – though there are houses, and golf courses and hotels around the island, they are limited.
We paid to enter the park, stopped for a much needed loo break, and continued onwards to our hotel – Jekyll Island Club Resort, where we’d stay for 4 nights.
There’s a snaking drive up to the hotel, along the water’s edge and through the limbs of overhanging oaks, Spanish moss draped everywhere, gently waving in the wind. As the trees clear the spire of the club house appears, an old building, frequented by the old rich Americans – like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Staff nip about in golf carts, patrons on green rented bicycles. In a quaint colonial room with two belt driven fans whirring above us we checked in. Conway pointed at the fans in excitement. We arrived early and our room was ready.
It had two queen sized beds and a cot, a TV above a grand fireplace and antique fittings. It opened out onto an enclosed balcony, this overlooked the croquet field and collected the sun’s heat throughout the day – we mostly used it for drying wet swimwear.
We were starving, so headed to The Pantry for a late lunch – a Reuben and a Cuban sandwich plus iced coffee. There were no baby seats, so we took turns minding Conway as he ran up and down the decking – blocking his path whenever he veered towards the steps. There were steps everywhere – no such thing as step-free access, meaning Conway couldn’t run free, and when we ventured out with a buggy it was a pain to get in and out of the room.
In the afternoon we explored the grounds, poked our head into the grand dining hall, unpacked our things, and generally relaxed. Just beyond the hotel lies the water’s edge, there’s a jetty and a restaurant – The Wharf, where we sat down for an early dinner.
We were seated near the back, with a view out over the water – the water was calm, reeds poked through the surface, seabirds flew by and the waitresses cooed at baby, “buh bye”, Conway would say when they walked by. We ordered food and Conway shared bits of ours – a concoction of burger and seafood surf and turf:
When he grew restless I took him outside to give Samantha a bit of peace and quiet. He’s recently been walking up and down while running his hand along a handrail – only on the jetty the wooden rail was old, dry wood that was splitting up – meaning inevitably he got a splinter deep in his finger.
Cue the end of dinner, the search for tweezers and tears and patience as we remove it.
Once Conway was asleep we treated ourselves to room service and desserts – the course we missed out on. Beneath the dim light of a lampshade in our room, we indulged in ice cream and soufflé.
This morning we’d have our first breakfast in The Grand Hall – a decadent dining room with ornate chairs, polished tables, chandeliers, a grand piano and oil paintings. They serve a buffet breakfast and we picked out cheese grits, scrambled egg and cheese, bacon and sausage, and all the pastries. Conway ate cantaloupe and Rice Crispies with a cold glass of milk.
There are stairs everywhere in this hotel, and just outside the hall Conway discovered a set of 4 flights that were easy to climb and carpeted. “Stairs”, he says, and points, we climb a bit, passers by smile, “more stairs”, he repeats. We climb up and down, again and again, and we get to the top and he’s lost and can’t find mummy, so we come back down. This happened most mornings.
At the back of the hotel there’s a bike rental shop, we got ourselves a pair of turquoise green bikes without brakes – well they had a kind of brake – if you cycled backwards it’d stop you. On the back of mine we hitched a trailer for Conway to sit in and put on his tiny helmet.
Jekyll Island is flat and there’s a few different cycle routes to take – we fancied a loop around the island and followed the recommended path – heading north, along the bay. A winding but paved walk skirts between old oaks and dangling moss, it runs along past the tiny airport and the electric buggy rental shop, and through beautiful woodland. Red northern cardinals sung in the branches above us.
Conway was either loving it, or a bit grizzly, we stopped for a snack, and soon enough he fell asleep – head hanging over the straps, we kept repositioning him so he’d be more comfortable. We stopped again by a wildlife reserve, for snacks and drinks, flocks of grey pelicans flew low over the water.
In the reserve the path turned to dust, and the trees disappeared – we hit the shadeless bit at midday. A family from Atlanta stopped to chat to us about all things British – like Dr Who, they asked why we’d come here, of all places. The reserve ended and opened onto a path with a bench, a place to stop and breastfeed while I explore the driftwood beach.
The sea has been encroaching on old oak forests, when the salt water reaches the tree and its roots it dies, but the tree remains, its roots buried deep. Over time the wood gradually erodes and falls down and gets pulled away – unless a hurricane swings by and takes out a swathe of them.
By now we were in the middle of nowhere and hungry for lunch. We consult the map and carry on along to Driftwood restaurant, but it’s closed. Thankfully there’s a small shop inside selling sandwiches and Starbucks Frappe which we ate by a swimming pool.
The remainder of our cycle was less exciting, our route took us out around the island past a residential area – by single storey bungalows with wide garages, mailboxes pitched out front. The houses turned to shops, and feeling tired, we took a shortcut across the island back to the hotel, following the road that cuts through two golf courses.
As we cycle back the sky turned grey, a wind picks up, and as soon as we park the bikes and take off our helmets the heavens opened. A perfectly timed narrow miss – yet behind us others were just renting their bikes and setting out into the downpour.
With all the rain, we didn’t fancy going far, so decided to make a 6pm reservation for The Grand Hall. There’s a smart dress code, so we dressed up in suits, a dress and Conway wore a waistcoat and tie – there was some benefit to having all these smart wedding clothes with us. Conway’s rose bear joined us – a bear that carries a rose.
Sam had lobster (5oz Filet and Lobster tail), and I had pork, and we celebrated with prosecco – Conway raised his glass of water and we clinked our glasses, “cheers”, we did this about six times. For dessert, a key lime torte.
Outside the clouds had clearer, and the evening treated us to a sublime orange sunset. We watched the sun go down as a family, and played on the path – Conway ran up and down with mummy’s handbag.
We were having a lovely evening until our poor boy tripped and fell – a proper face plant, bit his lip, hurt his head and had a bloodied nose. An abrupt end to romance and tranquility as we rushed back to the room for ice and towels.