Even On The Busiest Days, Time Stands Still At The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee

Appreciating Georgia’s favorite family vacation playground through the eyes of a child will make the experience even better.

The first time we arrived at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee, my wife and I instantly declared it our favorite Ritz property in the continental U.S. Clichés be damned, there's just something different about the look and aura of this property, almost as if it transports guests to another era without sacrificing the creative, spoiling luxuries that travelers have come to covet from this brand. It's hard to sum it all up with one quick, clever phrase, but here's what really matters: our son absolutely loves it.

So much so that he's never stopped talking about that first visit. This is surprising because the average child's attention span changes to the next thing before I finish this sentence. Just when I think I've learned enough about Minecraft to engage with his favorite game, he informs me that it's all about Pokemon now, and I'm sure that by next week all my Charizard research will be worthless because he'll be into Yu-Gi-Oh.

A child shows off the fish he caught at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia.
He was just as happy to put the fish back in the water and wave goodbye. | Ashley Burns

It turns out, though, that no imaginary cartoon character can hold a candle to a simple little bass. Two years after that first visit, my son still occasionally shows me his favorite vacation souvenir: a photograph (yes, we still print them) of him triumphantly standing with a fish barely bigger than his own foot. And every time he hands that picture to me, I know what he's trying to say: "Let's go back."

Fortunately, this time, we all agreed. As alluring as our favorite Caribbean resorts may be, sometimes you just need a massive lake, some fishing rods, and an infinity pool. And some fabulous new amenities don't hurt.

Pump Your Brakes, Parents

What I love the most about The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee, is that you don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to force the kids to get dressed for the pool and lake, cram breakfast into your mouths without enjoying a single bite, and then race the other families to claim any chairs, let alone the best ones in the house. Pace of play isn't just for the amazing golf courses here, as everyone is so laid back that there's no reason to rush.

When my son wanted to bounce on the giant inflatables in the lake, there were always open chairs waiting for us on the sand. If my wife and her sister wanted to escape to the adults-only pool for some of the best cocktails in the Peach State, they didn't have to search for hours to find new chairs. But the biggest relief was the seating availability at the family pool, which was added shortly after our last visit.

We assumed this would be the busiest spot on the resort property, with families hoarding as many loungers as they could by placing every towel, hat, toy, and Croc across them. We were gloriously wrong. Seating is ample at all times of day, and while kids are splashing in their own pool, parents can enjoy a variety of fun snacks and drinks at the Splash Shack, another terrific addition.

Those Summer Camp Vibes

Watching the kids run wild here reminded me of the vintage '80s summer camp vibes from my childhood, aside from today's children enjoying far more superior and thrilling lake toys. Keeping a cautious dad's eye on them as they bounced on the pair of massive inflatable trampolines and slide headfirst into the water from the floating platform, I was honestly a little jealous of how good they had it made. And that's before we gathered at the campfire for s'mores and watched all the younger guests reunite to plan the next day's adventures.

Now, I realize the phrase "run wild" might give the wrong impression. This isn't an Orlando theme park hotel, nor is it the bargain Cancun all-inclusive or the deck of a crowded cruise ship. Here, the kids can play for hours and cause nary a distraction, while adults—both parents and childless romantics alike—can have their fun as well. I don't know how this Ritz pulls that off so well, but it's truly splendid.

The Ritz Kids club at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee, in Georgia.
Between the outdoor adventure and the myriad games and activities in the clubhouse, parents might be jealous of all the fun their children will have here. | The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee

But if we're focusing solely on the children, there's no better item to add to the agenda than an afternoon at Ritz Kids. This is a blanket statement for Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide; however, there's so much adventure and nature to appreciate at Reynolds Lake Oconee that its' thrilling for both the children and parents to know that the informative, entertaining staff members are providing an educational element in addition to letting the smaller guests win at air hockey.

It'll be a long time before I forget how much fun my son had on his Ritz Kids retreat, because he's still talking about it a month later. Especially the fishing. It turns out that when dad struggles to pull the hook from a fish's mouth but the "camp counselor" (his words) can do it with the flick of a wrist, it means you've been surpassed in the pecking order. The criticism is worth it, though, when it means he has a lifelong memory and maybe even a new hobby to build on for many trips to come.

Something New for the Picky Eaters

One thing that always gets travelers worked up when it comes to their favorite resorts is a new restaurant. So, when we arrived at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee, there was already a ton of buzz for the most recent addition to the property's dining options: Amore Del Lago. A good Italian joint is always an ideal choice on vacation, especially when the culinary team goes above and beyond in making phenomenal butter noodles and sauceless pizza for a 7-year-old whose palate hasn't quite yet evolved.

Guests were raving about Amore Del Lago throughout our visit, so much so that we had to be flexible with our dinner times because securing a reservation—at least on short notice—was difficult. Fortunately, there are still other terrific dining options here, including Gaby's by the Lake, which is already about as perfect as can be, and the Linger Longer Steakhouse as an ideal choice for large family meals or simply celebrating a great round on Great Waters with a mouth-watering filet.

Not long after my visit, a friend took his family to Reynolds Lake Oconee and seemed somewhat unimpressed by what he thought was a lack of variety in the dining options. The key, I'll tell him and anyone else with ears, is to spread it out and visit places like The National Tavern, which has a pecan old fashioned that pairs well with the best pork chops I've ever devoured, and the Great Waters Waterview Pub, where the fish tacos are practically a religion.

And Don’t Forget the Golf

It wasn't until we'd reached the Florida-Georgia border on our drive home that my son caught site of "Excalibur," my magical new TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver that was custom assembled for me at The Kingdom. To this point, he'd shown hardly any interest in golf, as his set of junior clubs, delivered by Santa in 2020, still has bubble wrap on the irons. But kids do and say the darndest things, and he suddenly declared: "I think I'd like to learn golf."

You and me both, kid.

When I visited Reynolds Lake Oconee the first time, I was very intimidated by The Kingdom, as I was under the foolish belief that if I took a lesson here, the experts would rip my game to shreds and make me feel worse than I did shooting 106 on The Oconee. But every golfer I know who has visited and taken lessons has told me that this is as much the place for a scratch golfer to manage imperfections as it is for an average shlub to begin anew.

This was confirmed when I spent time with Sean Cain, whose simple methods instantly reshaped my short game and helped me shave at least 10 strokes off my round the next day. I was so impressed with the patience of these instructors that I'd send my son to them in a heartbeat if he really wants to learn this maddening yet wonderful sport.

And just as the Ritz Kids program blended adventure with education, Little Rippers (ages 4-7) and Rippers (8-10) will enjoy an experience that merges golf with fitness to help them get accustomed to the physical movements us older golfers have been desperately trying to master for years, if not decades. Perhaps best of all is that parents can save money on sending multiple junior golfers to The Kingdom.

They'll receive the lesson of a lifetime and parents will enjoy a little extra quiet time at the adults-only pool. It's a win-win at a place that knows how to make guests of all ages feel victorious.