Julie Price -- February 1998 -- Disney's Hilton Head Resort
Some Background Info -
Dates of Trip: February 20th 27th, 1999
This was our 2nd family vacation on Hilton Head Island. We spent 10 days there in May of 1997 at the Hilton Resort in Palmetto Dunes. We loved the area and thought the Disney HHI Resort looked very nice, but my husband did not like the fact that it was not on the beach. That is basically the only reason that we did not stay there in 1997. I have to say that when I saw the resort during that first trip, I became a little melancholy and sad wishing I was staying where there was Disney "magic". My husband did not really feel that way. He preferred our location right on the beach. I knew that we would return eventually and stay there. When I found a great winter rate at the DVC resort ( the "Toasty Nights" package - $89 for a 1-bedroom unit that included a $25 resort gift certificate), we decided to return for a week in February. Although the weather will be cooler than our previous trip around 60 degrees it will be great golf and activities weather. Especially for us since we are from the Midwest and had experienced 18" of snow and sub-zero temperatures a month earlier! We try to do something special for our children each year as part of our wedding anniversary (2/5). As a special treat for them, we decided to keep this vacation a secret. That was no easy task. Since I am such an extensive planner, it was hard to hide it from them : - )
As we got closer to the trip, we decided to check out becoming DVC members. We went through a preview 2 years ago while staying at the Vero Beach Resort, and decided now was the time to reconsider it. After all, wouldnt it be better to go to the DVC resort as members rather than guests? With a "Magical Beginnings" rebate of $1,500 toward our purchase, we decided to go for it! We purchased 175 points at Hilton Head about a month before our trip. However, we are going to pay cash for the February vacation since it is such a good deal.
When we made our DVC purchase we asked our DVC Guide to see if we could get a better deal for our HHI trip in Feb. She called back to advise that we could get a 2-bedroom villa for just $10 more per night. So, we jumped on that. We asked several friends if they could join us but due to the short notice no one could. Still, we kept the 2 bedroom thinking that it would be great to have all that room with just the 4 of us and the kids would appreciate not having to sleep on the sofa bed. Plus, the additional bathroom would be a nice plus!
Day 1 2/20/99
My husband was returning from a business trip in Vancouver on the Friday before we were to leave. He arrived home at around 6:30 p.m. (thank goodness the American Airlines pilot situation was settled and he arrived home on time no cancellations!). After the kids had a chance to catch up with him, we put them in bed early. After they were settled, we got to work packing the car and getting ready to leave. After a short night of sleep, we got up very early and woke up the kids. We told them that we were going on vacation to a surprise destination. They couldnt believe it but were immediately alert and very excited. We were not going to tell them where we were heading, but thought part of the fun would be letting them figure it out. After only about an hour on the road, my son guessed that we were heading to Hilton Head. But, they did not know until we were further along in the trip that we would be staying at Disney resort. They were thrilled. The surprise of this trip made it great fun for all of us and Im sure that they will always remember it.
With our sit-down breakfast at Cracker Barrel and a fast food lunch stop, we arrived at Hilton Head around 7:00 p.m. ET. We checked in at Live Oak Lodge and received a 2 bedroom with all of the specifications that I had requested (NS, Building 23 or 25 we wanted to be close to the pool and Community Hall). We loved the villa. It was very warm and accommodating decorated in a rustic fishing lodge manner in hunter green, burgundy and tan with theming as only Disney can do. Loved the little touches like the resorts mascot Shadow, a golden retriever, having put his little paw prints in the tiles in the entryway and Mickey + Minnie carved in a heart on the bench in the mudroom. And the master bedroom was great we loved the Jacuzzi tub! We knew immediately that we would be at home here. The kids thought it was awesome and we then told them that we were members here and this would be a future family tradition to vacation at this resort.
Just a note I contacted Hugh the front desk and activities manager ahead of time to put in our room request and get a list of activities prior to our arrival. He is the greatest and made our introduction to our new home away from home simply wonderful! I actually met him online on the DVC board and when I called him, I found that he truly has that Disney spirit. Disney is lucky to have such great castmembers in Hilton Head. All are truly wonderful and made us feel like we were at WDW (almost). Special thanks to Jennifer from Savannah and Dwayne. They were wonderful with the kids and always remembered their names.
Hugh told me that the resort had been running at 100% occupancy, so I made reservations for the activities that I had heard were popular such as Gyokatu and cel painting. The activities are varied from campfire sing-alongs to Goofy bingo to scavenger hunts to Dolphin Cruises and nature walks. I found the activities to be much better here than at the Vero Beach resort. I rarely knew of anything special going on there. But, it was in August when we visited that resort and we spent most of our time at the pool and beach. I think at the HHI DVC, they have more things going on since the weather this time of the year does not always allow for pool/beach time. Also, since the resort is smaller it just seems much more friendly and intimate.
My husband also made his tee times prior to our arrival at Old Carolina, Hilton Head National and the George Fazio course at Palmetto Dunes. You can call Guest Services to make the reservations up to 60 days prior. He had no problem getting on the courses that he wanted to play, but this advance service would be helpful during busy season on the island. Also, as members you get discounted rates on quite a few of the courses.
I made arrangements for groceries to be purchased prior to our arrival so that they would be waiting in our villa. This worked out really well, since it allowed us to skip having to take a trip to the store to get the basics that we needed. This service is provided by "The Grocery Run" and their number is 888-2-URELAX. Like, Hugh said, they do all they can to make your vacation as stress free and relaxing as possible! They like to have a weeks notice for your order, but since this was my first time using their service (and I didnt know any better) I didnt give them the order until about 4 days before we left. It was not a problem and they were very accommodating. They have a variety of packages with numerous items for delivery and apart from staples, they even have a low-country crab & shrimp boil or southern BBQ dinner that can be delivered. They also offer pre-made soups, entrees and desserts that were more gourmet such as grilled swordfish with fried garlic sauce, shrimp Diane, Charleston she-crab soup, chicken florentine, etc. They offer many unique food items made in South Carolina like Sticky Fingers BBQ sauce, Bubba Yasla Salsa, Pride of Charleston crab dip, etc. It was expensive, but I think it was well worth the vacation time saved to have this done ahead of time. At our previous stay in Vero Beach, we were in an inn room with very limited kitchen facilities (1/2 fridge and microwave only). Since we had a full kitchen here, we decided that we would eat most breakfasts in the room and possibly some lunches. It is a necessity to have some of these items on hand since there is no restaurant on property (unlike Vero Beach) and thus, no room service.
After our 16-hour drive, we just crashed in the room. All of our groceries were waiting in the fridge and cupboards, we didnt even have to put them away! I could get used to this really fast ; - )
We thought about going out to get a quick bite to eat, but we were pretty tired and did not want to go far. We ended up having some sandwiches in the room.
It is really great to have all of the space and conveniences that allows you to choose this as an option! We are normally resort type people condo like accommodations never appealed to us. Mainly because of the limited amenities available at most condo accommodations. Of course, with Disney that is not a problem and I think that we will become spoiled by the additional space and convenience found in these units.
Day 2 2/21/99
On Sunday morning, we slept in and then had breakfast in the room. It was cool this morning (about 50 degrees), but sunny. At 10:00 a.m. we went to the Animation Cel Painting class with Jennifer. She is just the greatest. She lives in Savannah and gave us some pointers of places of interest there since we were planning on visiting there later in the week. Nathan painted a cel with Aladdin, I painted Flounder, Syd did Arial and Zac worked on Pluto. This was really fun and they sold the cel painting kits in the mercantile.
We drove over to Palmetto Dunes to check out the beach house. It was pretty windy there, so we did not stay long. But, there were quite a few people eating lunch at Signals. We decided to check out the Palmetto Dunes clubhouse since Nathan would be playing there on Monday. We ended up having lunch at The Grill in the clubhouse. Excellent cheeseburgers! The total for the 4 of us was $30.
We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon getting acclimated to the resort. At 2:00 p.m., we all attended the Gyotaku class where you paint the dead fish and then transpose the design onto a tee shirt. The kids really enjoyed this Sydney, in particular, was fascinated by the fish.
Later in the day, we drove to the Outlet Mall (2) to check out the Disney Catalog Store. There were some excellent deals! I bought Sydney a wool coat with Minnie & Pluto embroidered on the back. It was normally $78 and I paid $12.99 minus my 10% discount. I also managed to get a fleece sweatshirt for me (regularly $44 for $6.99). Nathan pulled me out of there before I did too much damage. I also loved the Harry & Davids store. Lots of yummy stuff there!
We decided to eat dinner in the room fresh shrimp (delicious). Watched the X-Files and called it a night.
Just a note - When you check in, they will give you a list of restaurants in the area that offer priority reservations and/or discounts of 10-20% to members. Also, since it was off-season we found that many of the restaurants on the island offered early bird specials and up to 20% off with coupons.
Day 3 2/22/99
Monday was Nathans first golf day. He had a 9:00 a.m. tee time at the Palmetto Dunes course. It was sunny, but cool today about 48-50 degrees. The kids and I relaxed around the resort it is just so peaceful here! Amazingly, even with it being chilly the pool area is sheltered from the wind and with the warm sun it was comfortable laying out by the pool. The pool was heated to 85 degrees and the hot tub was a wonderful 105. The pool at the beach house was not heated while we were there apparently they were having some problems with it. I think it would have been too cool to swim there anyway since there are the ocean breezes to contend with.
At 10:00 a.m. the kids and I went to "Sebastians Seashells". There was a full house for this one. We made frames with shells, Spanish moss and raffia and then Dwayne took a picture of the kids with a large stuffed Goofy to insert in the frame.
We rented a few movies from the Mercantile and watched them until Nathan came home from golfing. This was 1 area that we ran into a glitch. When we checked in on Saturday night we had a new CM. First, he did not put charging privileges on our room keys and the Mercantile had to call to the front desk anytime we wanted to use a room charge. Also, he did not indicate that we were members. The Mercantile called to inquire and were told that we were not members. I was a bit perturbed about this. I spoke to the front desk and they said that their records showed we had been invited to go on a preview tour and were not members. I told him that they better check again. They checked with DVC, got the scoop and corrected our records. I was just annoyed that I had to waste vacation time to deal with this miscommunication.
Anyway, after Nathan got home we drove to Shelter Cove Mall and walked around a bit. He liked a cashmere sweater at the Polo store but at $595, I told him to forget it! We had an early dinner at "Wild Wings". They have a huge variety of wings from classic buffalo ranging from Mild to Chernobyl along with Italian, Oriental, Island (jerk), etc. We tried the sampler. For the 4 of us dinner came to $27.
After dinner, we went to the beach house to stroll along the beach. This beach is so beautiful during sunset. The colors are incredible. The beach house was totally deserted, we had the whole place to ourselves. We checked out the lounge there very nice. They had a warm fire going so it was comfy and they also have a large screen TV and books. After a quick game of ping-pong there, we went back to the resort for another evening of total relaxation. Tonight there was a bedtime story with milk and cookies served at Big Murgies Den, but we just could not get ourselves out of the room to attend. You can probably tell by now that we really like it here ; - ).
Another note the Mercantile is running a special deal. You get a 25% discount when you purchase items using your Disney card. This was a nice little bonus for the tee shirts, hats, and other souvenir items that we purchased.
Day 4 2/23/99
Tuesday we drove to Savannah. IT was another cool but sunny day. At the recreation desk, they have an information sheet that includes the scenic route to Savannah. The resort normally offers a tour to Savannah, but they were training some new CMs for this so it was not running while we were there.
It is only about 45 minutes away from Hilton Head and well worth the trip. The route they gave us was beautiful with large , moss-covered trees framing the road. And the kids got a big thrill on the bridge that crosses from South Carolina into Savannah. It is huge!
Savannah is a little hard to navigate in due to the setup of the city with all of the squares and one way streets. We stopped by the visitor center and considered doing a trolley tour, but it was a total zoo there and we didnt want to be herded along with the masses. We purchased a driving tour tape and decided to do it ourselves.
The riverfront is interesting River Walk has cobbled streets made of large stones brought over from England in the 1700s when the settlers began arriving. Lots of history in this city. And, it is extremely Southern. Actually, we were laughing re: how it is nearly impossible to say Savannah without using a southern drawl.
Lunch in Savannah was one of the highlights of our trip. Jennifer recommended lunch at "Lady and Sons" a quaint restaurant in the historic market area of the city. People wait in line to get inside for their buffet. It was fantastic homemade Southern "comfort" food. I cannot even begin to describe how delicious everything was from the fresh lemonade to the gooey butter cake for dessert. The buffet has Southern fried chicken, ribs (the best we have ever had), fresh creamed corn, lima beans, green beans with potatoes, mac & cheese, and fantastic collard greens. Then, they bring out "hoe-cakes" and hot cheesy biscuits to your table. It was incredible and we agreed that it is worth a trip to Savannah just to eat here. We are going to come back every time we are in the area. They sell a cookbook written by the owner, so I purchased one for my mother. Paula (the owner) was there that day so she signed it.
After lunch we drove through town and checked out the "Midnight" places of interest. I am sure that book has greatly increased interest in this quiet town by tourists. We saw Mercer House, Armstrong House and then took a drive out to Bonaventure cemetery. The statue of the bird girl that is on the cover of the book is no longer in the cemetery since it created too much traffic. It is now in the Telfair museum. But, this is a hauntingly beautiful cemetery with many incredible works of art. Actually, there were several students from Savannahs art school out that day sketching some of the statues.
After our return to Hilton Head, we were content to lounge around our room and relax (do you see a pattern emerging?). We had such a large lunch that we just snacked in the room.
One of our sons big disappointments was that the "Starry Nights" presentation was cancelled tonight due to lack of visibility. They offered a nature slide show instead, but we skipped it.
Day 5 2/24/99
Wednesday was another golf day for Nathan at the Old Carolina course. I am not a golfer, but I wanted to ride with him to enjoy the scenery. We checked with the front desk about babysitting services. They suggested a service that will watch the children at the resort. I think it was called, "Nannys to Go". But, it was $12 per hour with $2 more per additional child. Since it would be at least $75, we decided to forget it. I wish that the resort had a Disney Discovery Club at least one morning, but they did not offer this while we were there. They also did not offer any "Kids Night Out" activities to free up parents evenings. I am sure this is just because it was slow season.
The kids spent the morning in the pool and hot tub. After Nathan returned from golf, we started talking about how nice the weather was supposed to be on Saturday and how much we hated to leave. So he checked with the front desk and they were able to extend our stay another night at the same rate. Yea!
The last time we were in Hilton Head, I was really impressed with a childrens clothing boutique called "Island Child". It is the Wexford shopping area. They have truly beautiful clothes very unique. I normally shop in Chicago for most of the kids clothes and even Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus cannot compare to the selection of clothes and shoes offered here. I found some really special things for Syd and was thrilled. There is also a Nature store here, so the kids bought some things there. Also, a nice golf store is next to Island Child. So, the whole family was happy!
On the way back to resort, we stopped for dinner at "Crabby Nicks". It was nothing special, but they have a good $2.95 kids meal that includes drink and dessert and offers mahi-mahi, which is my sons favorite. Dinner came to about $33.
Tonight a campfire sing-along was scheduled. It was really well attended and the warm fire felt great on the chilly night. After the sing-along they handed out marshmallows for roasting and we made smores. The kids really enjoyed this.
My daughter wanted to go in the hot tub almost every night, but it was too chilly. Instead, she got in the routine of putting on her swimsuit and filling up the Jacuzzi tub. Add bubbles, and she had a great time right there in our room. The tub is large enough that sometimes my son would join her.
Day 6 2/25/99
Today was another day to relax. The weather was a little warmer (high 50s). After a leisurely morning in the room, we went to meet at the Mercantile for a dolphin discovery cruise. Although it was nice and warm in the sun, they warned that it is at least 20 degrees colder on the water. Fortunately, we were dressed warmly but they were recommending to others that they should change from their shorts & tees into long pants and sweatshirts.
Jeremy was our captain and he was great. He had a lot of interesting facts about dolphins and their environment. One interesting thing we found out was that the salty marshes in the Hilton Head area are the major east coast breeding ground for tiger sharks. Yikes! We saw several large male dolphins and several mothers with their calves. One male came up within 4 feet from our boat. These are truly wonderful creatures and this was a great experience to see them in their natural habitat. We booked the cruise when we arrived and had no problem getting a spot. But, they recommended booking further in advance during the busy season. The trip lasted about 1-½ hours. It was also interesting to see the beautiful homes from the waterways. Jeremy told us about several professional athletes who have homes in this area including Michael Jordan.
At 5:00 p.m., they have a members only social in Big Murgies Den. They offered wine, beer, soda and some appetizers like veggie trays, cheese/crackers, etc. It was a nice chance to meet more members and find out what is new with the resort and DVC. A guide told us that the Hilton Head resort was 40% sold as of the end of last year (the last figures that he had). He also mentioned that Disney has commissioned a 3rd ship to be launched after the Wonder and it will likely be used for 7 day Caribbean cruises.
Since the kids wanted to get back in time for Disney Trivia, we ate a quick dinner at Guiseppis pizza in Shelter Cove. They offer a 10% discount to DVC guests and they were packed which is a good sign that the pizza must be OK. We enjoyed it and it was reasonable with dinner being only $23 for the 4 of us. And, we took back plenty of pizza to enjoy for lunch the next day.
We got back a little bit after trivia had begun. I wanted to do some laundry, so Nathan took the kids to Community Hall. He came back to the room to check his e-mail from work. At around 8:10 p.m., the kids had not come back yet. He went to check on them and they were having a great time doing the limbo. He didnt have the heart to tell them to come home, so he left them there. They made it back to the room at around 8:30 p.m.
Day 7 2/26/99
Today Nathan golfed at Hilton Head National (the Gary Player course). Zac went with him to drive the cart. It was a beautiful day in the 60s with plenty of sunshine.
I took Syd to the pool, but the water temp was a little cool (75 degrees). They had shut it down for a few hours of maintenance the previous day and turned the heater off. I heard them say that it only heats up 1 degree per hour. By the afternoon it was fine.
One note re: the Big Dipper slide during the off season it is open "by request" from 10:00 a.m. 4:00 p.m. "By request" meaning that they will not open it unless you ask them. I saw several people who just assumed it was closed. But, my son would ask them to turn it on and they would have a lifeguard come out and supervise for as long as he wanted to use the slide. I told him to take advantage of it now in busy season they said that people are lined up to go on it.
Nathan and Zac met us by the pool early afternoon. Nathan loved the HH National course said it was the best one that he played all week and he scheduled another tee time for Saturday. They had a neat deal at the 8th tee, they have a professional photographer who takes pictures of you during your swing. When you are done with your 18 holes, they have the pictures waiting in a bound frame along with a picture of their resident Alligator. It made a really nice souvenir.
We drove out to the outlet mall (#1) for a little bit and then had dinner at "Big Bad Wolf BBQ". Excellent ribs we would definitely come back here. About $40 for the 4 of us. The ribs are smoked and served "dry" and then at the table you have your choice of sauces; house sauce, honey mustard, spicy BBQ and Carolina Vinegar. All were good. The homemade banana pudding for dessert was also excellent.
After dinner we went to the beach house. Again, we had it all to ourselves. We walked along the beach a little bit and then left for the resort so that we would not miss Goofy Bingo. The kids loved this. Sydney won twice. They give the kids their choice of small toys/candy when they win. It is high energy and a lot of fun to see how much all of the children enjoy it.
Our last day (sniff) . . .
Day 8 2/27/99
Another golf day for Nathan at Hilton Head National again. Since this was to be the warmest day, Zac decided to stay with Sydney and I and spend the day by the pool. A lot of families were checking out today and getting some sunshine poolside before they began the journey home.
We just vegged out by the pool until Nathan came back from the golf course and then we decided to walk over the bridge and check out the shops at Shelter Cove marina. I cant believe that we didnt do this sooner! There are great boutiques and gift shops just across from the resort. Also, some little cafes that would be excellent for lunch or a drink. I could see that in warmer weather, we would be spending a lot of evenings over here. We had dinner at "Scotts Fish Market" and it was wonderful. I had delicious lobster bisque and a blackened grouper with tomatillo salsa. Nathan had ½ dozen oysters on the half shell and grouper with a cream sauce. Zachary had scallops from the adult menu and Sydney had the childrens fried shrimp. It was a huge portion. Their desserts were also excellent derby pie and pecan pie with ice cream. This was our most expensive meal at $92 after our 10% DVC discount. A great meal to end our wonderful vacation here.
As we strolled back to the resort, I was really sad. I hated to think of leaving. It really feels like home. We agreed, after a short trip this Thanksgiving, we are going to stay no less than 10 days the next time we return.
We went to the campfire and enjoyed smores then returned to the room to pack and get ready for the trip home : - (
We left early (5:00 a.m.) on Sunday morning for the long drive home and arrived around 7:30 p.m. feeling relaxed from our week with a lot of wonderful memories from our first DVC vacation.
General thoughts & Misc. notes:
Just a note about the weather. It was a little cool and breezy the first of the week in the upper 40s 50s. Later in the week it got up in the high 60s. We had very little rain and the sun was out most of the week. The pools are heated to 85 degrees, so you can still swim with the moderate temps. Of course, there is no ocean swimming but it is still fun to walk the beach. If you have never been to HHI, the beach is very beautiful. Very wide at low tide with hard packed sand that makes it easy to walk or ride bikes along the ocean shore. Actually, I really prefer the beach at HHI to Vero Beach. There is also an abundance of wildlife in HHI. From the shore, we saw dolphins frolicking close by. And when the tide goes out, it leaves pools of water that contain sanddollars and numerous shells sometimes, even crabs!
Of course, we truly love this resort and are so happy to call it our home now. I am sure that if we had not made our purchase prior to this stay, we would have taken the plunge while we were down here.
We are looking to spending many more wonderful times here as a family and also sharing it with our friends. If anyone is sitting on the fence re: becoming a DVC member, I would encourage them to make the decision. The only thing you will regret is that you did not do it sooner. We are already discussing buying more points when the new DVC resort next to Wilderness Lodge (one of our WDW favorites) is made available.
One of the best parts of being a DVC owner is the knowledge that this trip is not your last. You will be back! And, we are planning our next trip to Old Key West in September with my parents. After that, we are also planning on spending the Thanksgiving weekend in Hilton Head with our entire family. So, look for those trip reports next ; - )
Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions re: Hilton Head or DVC.