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Holly Franklin -- June 1996 -- Disney's Hilton Head Resort

Several weeks ago, just before I was scheduled to leave for Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort, TFLaura237 asked me to write a trip report about our experiences there. Since Laura hosts the VERY BEST monthly chat on AOL, the Disney Chat, there was no way that I could refuse. So here it is, I hope you enjoy it.

My family and I had never been to Hilton Head. Our main vacation destination is Walt Disney World. We have made thirteen trips down there in the last nine years and my husband wanted to go there AGAIN! I work at an elementary school, and the end of the year is always very hectic. Once school ends all I want to do is sit back, relax, and not get up early for anything . . . especially to go to parks. The decision was made that if we didn't go to WDW, we would at least go to a Disney resort. Therefore, when I saw the ad in the paper for Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort, I knew this was the place for us. We are not DVC members, but we have considered buying in for several years and just haven't taken the plunge. On this trip were my husband and I (both age 39) and our two daughters (ages 11 and 8).

Day One-Sunday - June 16th

We had been on the road for approximately 4 hours when we finally saw the sign for Shelter Cove. This is where Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is located. As you approach the Vacation Club you see two modern looking resorts and a marina. You turn to the right and go over a small bridge and there is The Live Oak Lodge. This is the main building at the resort and it is beautiful. It is three stories high and has an undercover parking area beneath. As we get out of the car, we are greeted by Pooh and Tigger . . . in topiary form that is. Yes, this is definitely a Disney resort!

At check in, we were greeted by a sweet girl named Amber. She gave us a map of the grounds, another map showing how to get to the beach, and a very extensive activities list. Then she asked if we had ever considered buying into the DVC (I am wearing my DVC T-shirt from a trip two years ago). When I mentioned that this is our third stay in a Vacation Club resort and that we still hadn't bought, she gave me a cute little basket woven by the ladies of Gullah Island (for those of you with kids, yes, it's THAT Gullah Island). She then gave me directions to the preview center just in case we decide that this was the time to buy.

We were staying in a studio in the main building (building 11). I had read a message in AOL's DVC folder that had said that this was the worst place to stay, so I was a little hesitant. However, we experienced none of the problems that the message writer had experienced, although I believe our room was probably right next door to the one they had.

The studios at Hilton Head are very nice. You have a small kitchen area which includes a microwave, refrigerator, and sink. There is a queen-sized bed and a sleeper sofa. Both the bathroom and the deck were quite large and there was plenty of room for the kids to store their bikes. If you are accustomed to staying in one or two bedroom accommodations at Old Key West (as we were), you will find a studio to be kind of small. You will probably miss not having a washer, dryer and a VCR. Our deck had a small table and two rocking chairs (the larger accommodations have a picnic table) and it looked out onto a lovely courtyard. There are trees everywhere and Adirondack chairs nestled here and there. The South Carolina lowlands are off to our right. It is beautiful!

By now, the girls are dying to go check out the water slide, so we head to The Big Dipper. The pool is surrounded by buildings #23, 25, and 26 (you might want to keep this in mind when making reservations). It is a decent size, probably a little bit smaller than the one at Old Key West, but the water slide makes it a lot more fun! The Big Dipper is an old time water tower with a tube slide encircling it. Right next to it is the Little Dipper, the kiddie pool, complete with great big frogs that squirt the kids from time to time. This is where the hot tub, Community Hall and the Broad Creek Mercantile are located. The Mercantile is a very small store that sells canned drinks, sandwiches, T-shirts, and Disney souvenirs.

After swimming for a few hours, it was time to check out the Beach House. It is situated on the grounds of Palmetto Dunes, which is across the highway from Shelter Cove. Although it is only 1.5 miles away, it seems longer. You can drive, take a shuttle bus, walk or bike over. You need to bring your resort ID to get through the gates of the Beach House. The building itself is beautiful, although the pool there is extremely small (it looks much larger in the brochures). There are plenty of "fun noodles" and beach balls floating around for everyone to use. There is a fun area for the kids that has oversized beach balls and squirting water fountains similar to those found at the Village Marketplace. Signals, the only restaurant/bar in the entire resort, is located here. It serves large sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc... There is an even smaller store here that never seems to open. I saw an employee unlock it one day, and by the time I had walked around the pool to go in, she was locking the door back up to close it! Also located here is Surfman's Station, where you can go to cool off. It is beautifully decorated and is a nice place to relax!

When we got to the ocean, it was low tide and the waves were fairly tame (just the way I like them). Earlier in the day, Disney had a sand sculpting contest on the beach and there were sculpted Mickey heads and full-sized Mickey's all over. We wish we had arrived earlier so that we could have seen them being made. After going for a walk, we came back to find that the tide was coming in fast and our beach bag and all of our clothes were wet and full of sand. Now we REALLY missed having a washer and dryer in our room!

Sunday nights, Disney has a campfire down by Broad Creek Mercantile. They have a

Disney trivia contest and when you get an answer correct, you are given a skewer for roasting marshmallows. When you are finished toasting it, a cast member gives you a graham cracker and chocolate so that you can make S'mores. There is no charge for this and it was a lot of fun. I always considered myself somewhat of a Disney expert . . . boy, was I wrong! My kids got more answers right than I did. I was doing terrible and then I noticed a family across the campfire that was getting most of the questions right . . . who are these people? Little did I know, we were going to get to know these Disney trivia experts really well over the next few days.

Day Two - Monday, June 17th

At 7:00 a.m., my 11-year-old woke everyone up because she wanted to go look for shells on the beach (remember, I'm the one that doesn't want to get up early for anything). As much as I would like to sleep late, I know that it is hopeless, so we all get up and head for the beach. It is fairly quiet except a few people bicycling and some joggers. We walked for about a half hour, but all we found were broken shells and lots of jellyfish . . .YUK!!! As we walked back to the Beach House, we saw a shrimp boat just off the shore with several dolphins frolicking in the water behind it. My kids thought that was really neat!

Since we had seen so many jellyfish at the beach, we decided that the pool was where we wanted to swim first. Around 11:00 the wonderful aroma of grilling food floated down from the deck of Community Hall. There was Gordon, one of the nice Disney cast members, grilling burgers and hot dogs for the lunch crowd. They offered a kid's meal (a hot dog, chips, small drink & Mickey lollipop) for $3.50. Adult meals were $4.95 for a hot dog meal or $5.95 for a hamburger meal. You could also get pre-made sub sandwiches at the Mercantile. There are nice large picnic tables on the deck which provided the perfect shady place to eat.

Shortly after eating, we headed for the beach. The first thing I noticed was that the lifeguard had put up a yellow CAUTION flag and that the waves were larger than the day before. We had heard earlier that a tropical depression was headed our way. The girls were kept busy for several hours catching waves on their floats, making sand castles, and swimming in the Beach House pool. Then it was time to head back to the resort and get ready for the "Low Country Reception" at Community Hall.

At the reception you learn about all of the latest happenings in the area. When we entered, we were asked our names and whether we were "Guests" or "Members". We sadly told them that we were only guests. The girl who was handing out raffle tickets said "You are really going to wish you were members if you win the door prize." Sure, we never win anything! They have a table set up with cheese & crackers, veggies & dip, delicious chocolate chip cookies, beer, wine and soda. There is no charge for this. The presentation begins and suddenly in walk "Skeeter" and his lovely bride "Darla" (think MGM streetmosphere characters). I won't spoil it for you, but they are really cute! They end the presentation with the drawing for the door prize, a large Disney Hilton Head Island Resort golf umbrella. And the winning number is . . . my 8-year-old jumps up! She's the lucky winner!!! Since then, my husband and I have decided that she's going to be in charge of picking our lottery numbers because WE never win anything! As we were leaving the reception, my daughter made a comment about winning the umbrella and I heard a familiar voice say "I hope you aren't going to need that thing." There was that man from the trivia contest again!

At 6:30 it is time for a "Disney Movie and Fun-N-Games". This is Disney's answer to the lack of child care. The cost is $15 per child and it lasts for 2 hours. The younger children stay at Community Hall and are entertained with the movie Dumbo, while the seven and up group are taken by van to the Beach House to see Angels in the Outfield. Both groups are served pizza for dinner. Some parents asked if their younger children could stay with their older siblings and this was fine.

My husband and I went to a truly awful restaurant that will remain nameless (my mother always told me "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"). This particular place was highly recommended on Hilton Heads Web page. Words to the wise, if it doesn't look like much on the outside, it's probably worse on the inside!

After eating as quickly as we could, we escaped to Shelter Cove. There we came upon a great little outside bar called Hurricane Harry's Wharf Bar. It is situated behind Scott's Fish Market Restaurant which is right across the harbor from Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. They have a couple that play guitars and sing from 6-10 each night during the summer. Their names are Barbara and Matt and they are really great! They play everything from Simon & Garfunkel to Alanis Morissette. I could have sat there and listened to them for hours, but it was time to pick up the girls.

The kids had not yet returned from the Beach House when we got to Community Hall. While we were waiting, who should show up but the couple from the trivia contest. Their children had also gone to see the movie. We talked to them until our conversation was interrupted by the sound of happy children's voices coming down the walkway. Although they didn't get to play any games and they weren't able to see the whole movie, they all had a great time. My only complaint is that they don't give the parents a beeper to carry like they do at WDW. My daughter said that two of the children spent a lot of time crying for their parents. This could have been avoided if they could have gotten in contact with them.

Day Three - Tuesday, June 18th

We headed out for the pool at 9:30. Unfortunately the lifeguard doesn't come on duty until 10, so the water slide is closed. All of the children at the pool seem very anxious for him to arrive. This is something that I would like to see changed. The lifeguards are only on duty from 10-6, so this is the only time that the slide is open. At the Disney World resorts, the lifeguards are on duty until late in the evening and many people enjoy using the slides at that time. I must say though that the lifeguards at this resort are great! They really seem to enjoy being around all of the children. They always have smiles on their faces, and they really watch the kids closely.

At 2:00 the kids went to the Un-birthday Party at Community Hall (free) while my husband and I ventured over to the preview center. We wanted to find out what the difference was between being a member at Hilton Head as opposed to being a member at Old Key West. To those of you that want to know, the dues are slightly less at Hilton Head and you can make reservations at your "home" resort a few months sooner. We ran back to the resort just in time to pick up the kids. I really didn't think that my 11-year-old would like the party, but she seemed to have fun.

We headed for the beach for more sandcastles and shell hunting. By the way, lifeguards are posted on the beach every 500 feet or so. I believe they come on duty around 9 a.m. They are also in charge of renting chairs and umbrellas (sorry, I never asked how much they charge). They go off duty between 5 and 5:30. Since tonight was the night of the big fireworks display in Shelter Cove, we headed back to our room so that we could eat an early dinner. The fireworks show is held every Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. during the summer.

I was advised by the front desk that we should consider eating at a restaurant that was within walking distance due to potential traffic problems caused by the display. We chose Scott's Fish Market so that we could sit on their outside deck and once again enjoy the sounds of Barbara and Matt. We were seated immediately and had a front row seat to enjoy the music. Barbara asked my girls if they had any requests, and after thinking for a while, they asked if she knew any Sheryl Crow. She did and sang a song for them. They got a real kick out of that! The food at Scott's is really good. They serve shrimp, swordfish, lobster, file mignon, chicken, etc... and they have a kid's menu. It cost about $50 for my family to eat. By the way, Vacation Club members receive a discount at several nearby restaurants (20% at Scott's).

We walked back to the resort and were greeted by "Rusty the Repairman" checking ID's at the gate. Disney was making sure that only people who were staying at the resort were able to watch the fireworks from the grounds. Rusty told us that a really good place to see the fireworks would be from the pier. Please be advised . . . don't ever listen to a Vacation Club repairman carrying a plunger and wearing a hard hat!!! Everyone who went out on the pier was asked by the fireworks company to get off because they felt that the noise from the firecrackers would be too loud! The fireworks are shot off a barge parked in the lowlands behind the resort. The best location that we found for viewing was on the back deck of the Broad Creek Mercantile looking toward the dock. There are plenty of rocking chairs and picnic tables to sit on. Since this was the very first fireworks display since the resort had opened, there were several firemen walking around checking things out afterward. We once again ran into the trivia family (the Purcell's of West Virginia) at the fireworks display and really hit it off. We talked for quite awhile after the show and found we had a lot in common. You meet the nicest people at a Disney resort!

Day Four - Wednesday, June 19th

We awoke to the sound of rain and decided that this was a good morning to shop. We headed to Shelter Cove for the basic required trip souvenir . . . T-shirts. One store, Camp Hilton Head, had a great selection of adult and children's shirts at reasonable prices. The store that my kids liked best was Planet Hilton Head. It had many different items that had dolphins and other sea animals on them, such as T-shirts, jewelry, etc... They also had mind bender games and many different ecology type items. It was a really interesting store.

By then, the rain had stopped, the sun came out, and the kids wanted to head to the pool. As you can see, the pool was a bigger hit with our kids than the ocean was. They just loved that water slide! We met up with the Purcell's, enjoyed about another hour of sunshine, and then the downpour began again (I knew we would get a lot of use out of that Disney umbrella). The girls didn't mind leaving the pool, because in an hour they were going to a Disney cel painting class at Community Hall ($8 members & $10 guests). By the way, this is a class that fills up very quickly, so make sure you get your name on the list as soon as you check in. My older daughter painted Minnie and my younger one painted Ariel. During the class "Rusty the Repairman" stopped by to check for leaks and to help paint.

Another class was being held downstairs immediately after cell painting called Gyotaku. This is another class that fills quickly, and we were never able to get in. What they do in this class is (and I know this sounds gross) they take a large dead fish and paint it different colors. Then they take a T-shirt and press it on top of the fish. It makes a really pretty design on the shirt. If you are interested in this class, the cost is $8 to members and $10 to guests. Once again, the weather cleared up and the kids headed to the pool. While we were there, "Drip the Pool Guy" showed up (looking suspiciously like "Rusty the Repairman") wearing an old fashioned bathing suit, bathing cap and scuba gear. He clowned around on the water slide and played pool games with the kids. He was a riot! Everyone, young and old alike, was entertained by him for well over an hour. This is Disney at it's best!

That evening we were scheduled to participate in Mufasa's Family Challenge. When we asked for details, none of the cast members seemed to have any information. Some people seemed to think that it was going to be like Beach Olympics, while others said it would be team building strategies. Since this all sounded like things that we would fail miserably at, we withdrew our name off the list. We did go by the Beach House to check it out and it looked like fun. The families are put into groups of about 10 people. They are given problems to solve and they all have to work together as a team to figure it out (in this case, it was figuring out how to fit all 10 people on a small box). This is another freebie, and I was told that there was a long waiting list for it.

While we were there, we ran into a family that had become stranded at the Beach House. They had taken the shuttle bus over late in the afternoon, not realizing that the last bus back to the resort runs at 6 p.m. They told us that the Disney people said they could catch the next bus back at 9 p.m., after Mufasa's Family Challenge. Since they still had a two-hour wait, we squeezed them in my car and drove them back. So remember, the last bus goes back to the resort at 6 p.m.!

Day Five - Thursday, June 20th

Since this was our last day, we once again headed to the pool to spend some time with the Purcell's. After doing a little crab fishing from the dock, swimming, and buying DVC T-shirts, it was time to head back home. We really wish that we could have stayed longer!

Reflections on a great trip

The one thing I really liked about this resort is the coziness. Since it is about half the size of Old Key West, you keep bumping into the same people over and over. The cast members all get to know you and you get to know them. My girls especially liked a young cast member named Melissa. She seemed to handle most of the kid's activities. She was always so sweet, and made every child feel special. And, of course, there was "Rusty the Repairman" a.k.a. "Drip the Pool Guy" a.k.a. "Chip the Golf Pro" (don't ask). There was never a dull moment when he was around! As I said before, the lifeguards were great! I never heard them yell at any of the children. They would always walk over and nicely talk to them if they did something wrong. The lifeguards at the pool that I belong to could really take some lessons from them! Even maintenance was quick and efficient when our bolt lock didn't work (no, they didn't send "Rusty").

We met such lovely families on this trip. From the Purcell's, who we hope to keep in touch with long after this trip, to sweet Jan from New Hampshire who gave me her brand new hardbound copy of Mary Higgins Clark's latest book just because I said she was my favorite author. This is the friendliest resort that we have ever stayed at.

Fun Things to Do!

Some other Disney activities:

  • Aqua Aerobics (free)
  • Resort Nature Walk (free)
  • Wreath Making (free)
  • Welcome Sunset Cruise
  • Goofy Bingo (free)
  • Star Gazing/Campfire (free)
  • Beach House Bash
  • Sebastian's Sea Shells (free)
  • Marsh Boat Adventures
  • Bird Watching (free)
  • Baloo's Beach Tumble
  • Disney Sea Turtle Program
  • Disney also offers Dynamic Dolphin Discoveries ($18 members & $23 guests), however you can take dolphin cruises out of Shelter Cove or Harbour Town for a lot less money ($10 adults & $5 children).
  • Bicycles can be rented at the Mercantile. The cost for members is a $5/ hour, $12 /day, $25/three days, or $35/week. For guests the cost is a $6/hour, $15/day, $30/three days, or $40/week. We brought our children's bikes with us, but next time we'll buy a larger bike rack and bring all of our bicycles. They also have shuffleboard next to the bike rental, and there is no charge for this.
  • Friday evenings they have "Disney's Low Country Shrimp Boil" over at the pool. They bring in the Hallelujah Singers from the movie Forrest Gump to entertain the guests. They have a cash bar on the deck and serve a feast of shrimp, ribs, salads, and dessert. The cost for this is $30 per adult and $20 per child. They also offer an alternative children's program ($20) that your child can attend instead. We were unable to go to the shrimp boil because we weren't at the resort on a Friday, but it sounded like a lot of fun and we were sorry we missed it.

By the way, there are Hidden Mickey's scattered about the resort. I'm not going to give you any hints as to where they are, but we had a great time looking for them.

I really loved Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. It is a wonderful, relaxing place! If you have any questions, please feel free to E-mail me.

Holly Franklin


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