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Downton Abbey comes to Sea Island

By Jill Vejnoska

You half-expect a freak tidal wave to hit Sea Island later this month and sweep away one particularly unfortunate sunbather:

Lady Edith Crawley.

Lady Edith — actually, actress Laura Carmichael — will be on the Georgia coast Jan. 29-31 for the lush resort’s second annual “Downton Abbey inspired” weekend. Also in attendance: The actors who play Molesley and Miss Baxter on the insanely popular, circa-1924 British manor house drama, now airing its fifth season on PBS, and "Downton" expert/book author Jessica Fellowes.

But it’s "Edith" everyone will be gawking at and possibly steering clear of, given the black cloud that seems to follow her everywhere on the show: Already, the Earl of Grantham’s middle daughter has been ditched at the altar by one potential husband, had another one go missing in Germany and been duped into believing a fake Canadian Titanic survivor was her father’s true heir (don’t ask). In Season 5, she’s having to watch another woman raise the baby she secretly gave birth to out-of-wedlock.

Sure sounds like she could use a weekend at the beach.

But, um, why Sea Island? After all, the five-star Cloister hotel, where the “Downton” weekend will take place, is located some 4,200 miles from London. And, with rooms starting at $300 a night, it’s pretty much the last place in the world you’d expect to see the swells dressed up like Trekkies … er, Downies, for Saturday night’s costume party/elegant dinner.

Don’t be so sure, said Parra Vaughan.

“We had a gentleman dress as Mrs. Patmore last year,” said Vaughan, Sea Island’s vice president of marketing and sales. “He carried a stuffed Isis under his arm.”

Even casual viewers know that “Mrs. P.” is Downton’s sharp-tongued, ruddy-faced cook and that Isis is the Earl’s beloved dog.

But who knew Sea Island was now the go-to place for letting your freak flag fly?

It’s not just Downies preparing to overrun the posh spot. February’s “Sea Island Creativity Conference” will bring attendees face-to-face with “extraordinary thinkers and innovators” like New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, former poet laureate Rita Dove, the guy who invented the Roomba — even “the world’s foremost pickpocket,” Vaughan promised. And this weekend’s “Classic TV Weekend” celebrates the 30th anniversary of TV's going into the Cloister's rooms (yes, really, that only happened in 1985) by bringing Ed Asner, Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers and Dawn Wells, aka “Gilligan’s Island” Mary Anne, to this other, admittedly much nicer, island.

Insert your own “three hour cruise” joke here.

“At Sea Island our standard has always been gracious hospitality with extraordinary experiences,” said Vaughan. “We’ve always done events here, but I think we’re trying to get a little more creative and choose things that are more relevant to what people are interested in now.”

Meanwhile, paging that pickpocket!  To take part in the “Downton” or other special weekends’ events, you have to stay at the Cloister or other Sea Island properties. But there's some good news for us downstairs types:  The Inn at Sea Island recently opened, with rooms starting around $155 per night, Vaughan said.

The goal of these weekends is attracting new visitors while also keeping loyal guests and members uniquely engaged.

"This is also about having fun," Vaughan explained, laughing. "If you have a man dressed as Mrs. Patmore, you're having fun."

For reservations for the "Downton Abbey Inspired Weekend" or these other special events, call 1-855-572-4975.

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About the Author

Jill Vejnoska has spent two decades as a news and features reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.