When my husband and I first decided to travel during the pandemic, we opted to take road trips to familiar destinations where we felt we could safely navigate this new and unprecedented way of traveling. We chose to visit cities in the South that we love and have missed and properties that hold a special meaning for us, such as The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia.
This 30-acre luxury lakeside retreat in central Georgia first opened its doors to guests during a very warm mid-April in 2002. I would know because just a few days later, my then soon-to-be husband and I checked in with family and friends, and we became the first couple to have a wedding at the property.
With our sentimental connection for over 18 years to this extraordinary destination, and after many return visits over the years, it was like coming home, especially since we recently moved to Florida from Atlanta. However, this time, it felt like a very different home.
During the early months of the pandemic when the property was closed, Ritz-Carlton management took the opportunity to redesign and transform the guest rooms, suites, and Ritz-Carlton Club Level Lounge during a multi-million-dollar renovation. The property reopened this summer and welcomed back guests on June 20, 2020.
During past visits, which included a festive Christmas holiday celebrated with our first Tibetan Terrier, Beamer, we saw the past two iterations of the hotel’s interior design. These designs included Laura Asley-esque chintz prints in bright yellows and reds followed by a muted palette of similar colors and a refined clubby-like atmosphere. Naturally, we were intrigued to see what the inspiration would be for the latest design.
Upon our arrival, the elegant lodge-like exterior of the property was the same. Yet, once we saw the new carpet and artwork in the corridors and entered our room, it was as if someone had brought the bright and airy outdoors inside. There were refreshing subtle natural tones and wicker and wood that created a welcoming and soothing palette.
The bathrooms also had a luxe redo with beautiful natural stone floors, rich wood sliding doors, and pebbled accent tiles complementing wooden vanities with grey counters. Rather than staying at the resort, we knew so well; we felt as if we had been invited for the weekend to a friend’s chic lakeside home. It was a welcome transformation.
One bonus of traveling during a pandemic is the potential for an upgrade.
Since the hotel was not at full capacity, we received an upgrade to one of their stunning Club Suites on the 5th floor overlooking the lake. I had forgotten how much I missed this view and the beautiful grounds at the resort.
It was wonderful to wake up to the morning views of sunrises, and the mist settled over Lake Oconee and to kick back and relax in the evening outdoors on the patio with a glass of wine before dinner. Rhythm, our new Tibetan Terrier, also appreciated the comfortable outdoor space and views along with the very comfortable beds adorned with Frette linens.
During our visit, the The Ritz-Carlton Club Level was not open due to Covid-19, so we couldn’t access the usual amenities. However, the lounge is now available so guests in Club Level rooms at the property are able to experience the new redesign that boasts personalized service with safety protocols in place. The lounge is the perfect place for a quiet family breakfast, pre-dinner glass of wine, or a place to grab a late-night dessert, and with the redesign, guests also have the option to select from a menu of food and beverage offerings.
Other transformations at the resort include the luxurious three-story private Lake House and the smaller lakeside Wisteria Cottage. Plans are in the works to renovate the remaining two- and three-bedroom Lakeside Cottages.
The new normal
With Marriott’s corporate COVID-19 cleaning and safety protocols in place, such as requiring masks in indoor public spaces, social distancing, hand sanitizing stations, and enhanced cleaning protocols, we never had any concerns during our stay.
I always bring additional sanitizing wipes, PPE, hand sanitizer, etc. I also thoroughly go over every surface I know we will touch with sanitizing wipes before we settle into the room. We pass on daily housekeeping service and request that towels or items to be refreshed are delivered outside of the room.
For guests staying in the property’s cottages or condos, there is also a list of COVID guidelines being followed including “touchless” check-in procedures and either limited or full-service options, as desired.
Accommodations, amenities and activities
The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee is an ideal destination for multigenerational family gatherings, weddings, romantic getaways or golf vacations. The property’s 257 guestrooms and suites all offer resort and lake views.
Their exclusive Fireside guestrooms also feature a fire pit on the private patios where guests can warm up by the fire on chilly evenings. For larger groups, longer stays, or additional privacy, guests can choose to stay in the two- or three-bedroom cottages, the newly reinvented Wisteria Cottage, or the expansive three-story private Lake House.
Culinary options are excellent: We dined at several venues during our stay, including a memorable evening at Linger Longer Steakhouse. It was one of the first nights since the pandemic where we dressed up and went out for a relaxing, romantic evening in a beautiful setting. The main dining room has high ceilings, and all of the patrons were spaced well apart, so even though we were inside, we were not at all concerned.
Two other dining highlights were a leisurely outdoor lunch at Gaby’s by the Lake and our last morning’s breakfast at Georgia’s in the hotel, where we could also sit outside overlooking the grounds.
Georgia’s temperate climate makes this destination the perfect locale for year-round outdoor adventure.
For active pursuits in the summer, water sports are abundant on the lake, including jet skis, boating, standup paddleboarding and kayaking. Avid golfers will appreciate 99 holes of championship golf on five courses designed by renowned architects, including Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio.
For less active pursuits, bring a good book and spend cool mornings reading in an Adirondack chair overlooking the lake, or grab a hammock and take an afternoon siesta under the trees. If you’d rather relax indoors, book a signature treatment at the spa. And in the winter, enjoy s’mores by the fire or ice skating at the Ice Rink in The Forest.
Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds
A day spent at Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds has become our favorite outdoor activity at the resort. We visited this 100-acre facility when it first opened in the late fall of 2017 and had the privilege to meet and spend time with the course designer, Justin Jones. Jones is an international shooting champion from Great Britain and is one of the world’s foremost authorities on developing and managing elite shooting facilities. Shooting clays was a new sport to me, but since you’re never too old to take up a new pursuit, I was up for the challenge.
When we arrived at the facility this fall, we were thrilled to see a familiar face to take us out on the challenging 20-station sporting course. After seeing Justin again and spending a morning with him, we were reminded of why travel and reconnecting with people in-person is so important.
We were so glad we embraced the opportunity to take this road trip to Georgia. It was the perfect mental health break to reset and reenergize in a quiet, relaxing environment surrounded by nature and in a place that feels like home.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The resort is approximately 80 miles from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-International Airport.
- It’s perfect for a quiet and romantic destination for two, or an ideal destination for a multigenerational getaway. There are activities for all ages, including the Ritz Kids for children ages five to 12.
- The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee has received many awards for excellence, including the AAA Four Diamond Award, Forbes Four-Star Award, U.S. News & World Report Best Georgia Resorts, and Travel + Leisure Top Resorts in the South (all in 2020).
- The resort is very accessible, with guestrooms featuring 32-inch wide doorways. All restaurants and lounges, the spa, meeting rooms, pool entrances, fitness center, registration desk and business center are also accessible.
- The resort is also pet-friendly for both service animals and pets.
Disclosure: The author’s visit to the The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds was hosted by the property but any opinions expressed in this post are her own.
IF YOU GO
- In March 2019, contributor Kathy Newbern visited Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee (before the redesign).
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