When someone mentions the Ritz-Carlton, you likely get a certain image in your mind.
For me? It’s the oceanfront Half Moon Bay Resort, or the towering Hong Kong Ritz Carlton.
But you know what doesn’t come to mind (or at least didn’t until recently)? A sprawling summer camp-like resort on a manmade lake about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.
But that’s exactly where you’ll find the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee Resort.
And while being from the west coast, this wasn’t the Ritz at the top of my radar of places to visit, I sure am glad I did.
In this review, we’ll look at the Ritz Carlton Resort at Reynolds and hopefully help you decide if it’s worth a visit down south.
How I First Learned About the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee
About three months ago my wife was on Instagram where someone she followed had taken her family to a southern resort.
They were sunbathing by an infinity pool overlooking a lake, making smores by a firepit, and genuinely looking like they were having the time of their lives.
“Ummmm, what is this place?! I wanna go here!”
Upon further inspection, we learned it was the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee.
And in what amounted to a total bit of serendipity, a month later I had the opportunity to visit myself for a golf trip. More on that in a minute.
Unfortunately for my wife, she didn’t get to come on this one. But we’ll definitely be going back.
First Impressions of Ritz Carlton Reynolds
Before arriving I knew there was good golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee, but outside of that knew nothing about the resort or community.
I took a red-eye in that had me at ATL at 5:30 before the sun had even come up.
By 7:30 I’d picked up my rental car and was pulling up to the Ritz Carlton.
It literally took about 90 seconds after arriving on property before I needed to pull over and take photos.
I hadn’t even made it to the entrance of the hotel. I looked over to my left and I saw the sun rising over a stunning golf course, and fog hovering just above the lake.
I literally pulled into the employee parking lot, grabbed my camera, and ran over to take some photos.
As I approached a bridge, there was a statue of what looked like a heron perched on the railing.
“Oh, that’s a nice touch,” I thought to myself.
And then it flew away.
A few minutes later as I was taking a photo of the same bird in a tree, a family of deer wandered beneath it.
This would be just the first of many wildlife encounters I’d experience over the next few days.
When I finally made it up to the hotel, it felt oddly familiar.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized it had a very similar entrance and layout to The Inn at Spanish Bay in Monterey. That hotel is wonderful, so this is a good thing.
Unfortunately, since I arrived so early my room wasn’t ready yet, but just steps away from the lobby is their fitness center and spa.
So I took my suitcase and wandered over.
Let me tell you, an hour in a world-class spa is a great way to get over a cross-country flight. More on the spa below.
The Rooms at the Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee
The Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee opened in 2002 and has been the centerpiece of the Reynolds community ever since.
The rooms at the hotel are well-appointed and very comfortable.
Seriously, getting into the bed here was like falling on a cloud. It might be a touch too soft to have a bed like this at home, but while on vacation? It made my experience at the hotel feel even more luxurious.
The room has a seating area with a couch, as well as a table and a couple of chairs.
The rooms facing the lake are obviously some of the most desirable ones at the hotel, but while my room was lacking the lake view, it did have something special: an outdoor firepit.
I still tell the story about having a firepit in my room from my first visit to Half Moon Bay over six years ago.
So to have it again here? It was just as good as I remembered it.
It actually got more use than I expected it to. I spent an hour outside one-night editing photos and drinking whiskey on the patio.
One morning I even got room service, and enjoyed a fantastic breakfast out there as well.
So if you’re planning on spending a lot of time at the resort, it’s a pretty cool feature and worth the upgrade.
And if you can snag one of the few Fireside Lake View rooms? Then you’ve found yourself something truly special.
As is common at resorts like this, there was an in-room Nespresso machine, which always feels like a little luxury each morning.
The bathroom was a good size with a separate tub and shower. My only real complaint with the bathroom is that the shower seemed oddly small for a hotel built within the last 20 years. Not a huge deal, but I felt like I was a little crunched up against the wall at times.
Needless to say, whether you’re staying for a night or a week, the rooms are a nice place to retreat after a long day of activities on the Reynolds property.
Of which there are….a lot.
Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee Activities
Some Ritz properties are merely luxury hotels. There’s a bar, a restaurant, possibly a spa – but your destination is the city you’re in rather than the hotel itself.
Others are resorts. Typically in a beachfront tropical location or perhaps a mountain ski retreat.
The Lake Oconee property is the latter, but it’s unlike any other Ritz Carlton resort you’ll find.
The obvious difference is that it’s on a lake.
Lake Oconee was formed after the Oconee River was dammed up decades ago, and its turned into a haven for water activities.
Swimming? Easy. Wakeboarding? Done. Evening booze cruise enjoying the sunset? Great.
There are countless lakeside activities to enjoy at the resort – but that just begins to scratch the surface of what makes Reynolds so special.
The Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds
This might be the most unique of all the activities available to resort guests.
The Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds is only accessible to Reynolds Platinum Members and hotel resort guests.
What is it?
It’s the ultimate outdoor playground.
They feature one of the top 5 shooting clays circuits in the entire world. Not to mention the five stand and archery.
There’s a private 40-acre lake for fishing.
Oh, and what about the off-roading course? For around $100 you can take a fully kitted-out Jeep Rubicon through a woodland off road course that will take you up, down, and sideways for one hell of an adventure and unique experience.
There are very few places in the world that offer both a luxury resort experience and access to world-class sporting activities like this – and just the Sporting Grounds alone can make the trip to Reynolds worth it.
Golf at Reynolds Lake Oconee
As a golfer, this is what initially attracted me to the resort. I honestly didn’t know much about it aside from the fact it had a top 100 public golf course called Great Waters.
And if you’re a golfer and get the chance to play? Do it. 9 of the last 10 holes are right on the lake, and the views are absolutely stunning.
But part of what makes the experience here so great is the fact that the courses provide so much variety.
For the most part, golf is only open to resort guests and members, but there are some wonderful stay and play opportunities both at the Ritz as well as at condos and cottages on the Reynolds property.
The Pool at the Ritz-Carlton
On my first afternoon at the resort, we had lunch at Gaby’s which is their lakeside restaurant. It was situated right next to the pool, and honestly, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
The infinity pool at the Ritz Carlton is stunning. It’s located in the heart of the resort and features spectacular panoramic views of the lake.
There’s also a wonderful family pool as well that is an equally enjoyable place to spend an afternoon (or a whole day).
I didn’t have the chance to check it all out, but it seems like there are a ton of activities and programming for kids – making this a resort truly geared towards family experiences.
Dining at the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee
There are numerous options for dining at the resort – and the food, as you’d expect, is very good.
My southwest salad at Gaby’s was nearly as good as the views. I didn’t have the chance to have dinner there, but based on what I saw, it’s a meal you’d look forward to.
I had the breakfast buffet at Georgia’s, which had everything you’d expect from a five-star breakfast buffet, including an omelet station.
The star however was their smoked pork belly hash. I splurged and ordered it from room service one morning, and it was truly one of the most delightful mornings I’ve had in months.
Between the decadent food, fantastic coffee, and fireside views? Life doesn’t suck here.
We had drinks a couple times at the Barrel Room. The cocktails were fine, and they had a very nice whiskey selection. However, if whiskey is truly your thing, see if you’re able to arrange dinner at the clubhouse at the National golf course. It features some truly special bottles.
The Spa at Ritz Carlton Reynolds
One of my favorite parts of staying in five-star hotels is having access to a day spa. Being able to sauna, steam, and jacuzzi once a day truly feels like luxury.
Honestly, my biggest disappointment with the St. Regis in Atlanta was the fact it didn’t have this unless you booked a treatment.
So being able to enjoy it as the first thing I did at the resort was a nice way to start the trip.
The spa in the men’s locker room features a jacuzzi, steam room, sauna, and cold plunge – all situated by a roaring (gas) fireplace.
The cold plunge is always a nice touch. You don’t see them as often, but you know a spa is taking their business seriously when they have it.
The spa wasn’t quite on the level of the Half Moon Bay Ritz spa, however it was very good.
I did get a massage, which was good aside from the fact my 50-minute massage started at 9:05 and ended at 9:48. A slight pet peeve when you get short-changed like that. But overall a pleasant experience.
Where they get even more bonus points is the fitness center and indoor pool.
I’d hoped to get a chance to swim some laps (doing this in Tokyo is one of my best travel memories), but it turns out there’s kind of a lot to do at Reynolds – so I was unable to make time for it.
The indoor spa pool looked fantastic though and the gym had Technogym equipment, as well as Pelotons – so you have plenty of options for getting a good workout in.
Final Thoughts on the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee Resort
I think the best way to describe the Ritz Carlton Reynolds Lake Oconee is it’s like a luxury family summer camp. I mean that in the best way possible. There are outdoor activities galore, but if you’re also looking to pamper yourself and just chill at the resort, that’s a great way to spend time as well.
The hotel features everything you’d expect from a Ritz Carlton property, but it’s the unique offerings beyond the hotel itself that make Reynolds Lake Oconee such a special destination.
If you live in the Southeast and you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or even a golf buddies trip – the Reynolds Lake Oconee Ritz is truly a world-class destination to consider.
Despite being a cross-country flight for me, I have no doubt that I’ll be returning at some point in the future. Hopefully this time with my wife and daughter in tow, so she can get the full “Instagram experience” for herself.