Bill Speicher -- September 1996 -- Disney's Hilton Head Resort
This trip had no pre-planning at all. My wife decided Friday morning we would spend Labor Day at Hilton Head and told me to "make it happen". This report contains critical and hopefully helpful information for those of you who might be planning a trip to Disney at Hilton Head Island. Some of the information is specific to Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members but most of the information and tips are applicable to resort guests also.
DVC members can make reservations through Member Services as with any DVC resort, but you can also call Hilton Head Resort directly at (803) 341-4100 seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There are several reasons you may wish to make your reservations directly. You can use your DVC points calling directly provided you do not have to borrow points. If you must use borrowed points the HHI computer cannot do the required transactions and you will have to use Member Services. Here is the first TIP. Check the cash price of the room you want! In many cases the cash price will be cheaper than the cost of using DVC points! I paid $101 for a studio on Friday and Saturday night. Using DVC points would have cost almost twice that amount. Sunday through Thursday is a different story and the DVC points would be cheaper. It is very possible to make reservations using points Sunday through Thursday and pay cash Friday and Saturday. If you don't know your cost per point, you need to learn how to compute it.
Air to Savannah Georgia International Airport and then rent a car and drive the 30 miles to Hilton Head. By automobile use Highway 278. Simple, one road in, one road out. The resort is located in Shelter Cove Harbour on 278. You will have to drive slow and look carefully since Hilton Head Island permits only a standard format for signs. You won't see any familiar "golden arches" or neon lights. Wendy's looks like Burger King. The good news is that the island is only 12 miles long and Disney will give you a good map to anywhere you want to go. TIP. You must have a car here. There is no restaurant at the Disney Resort, only one within walking distance and it is expensive.
Why go there:
The beach and to relax. There is nothing else to do there. Hilton Head Island is a beach, golf, and tennis resort for the very rich. Disney has a beach house on the main beach but no golf or tennis. They can arrange golf and tennis for you at a quote "discount" but I believe it would be cheaper staying at one of the resorts that have a golf course or tennis courts if that is your main interest.
102 vacation villas on 15 acres of marshland. All units are raised on concrete stilts to avoid high tide flooding. Handicapped-accessible villas are all located in the check-in lodge called Live Oak Lodge (the only one with an elevator). A first floor room means; up one flight of steps; second floor up two; third up three. The reported occupancy rate for HHI is only 65%. Very low by Disney standards. The rooms are smaller than Old Key West and to me very dark. Housekeeping does a great job keeping them clean but there are some serious problems. The sleeper sofas are not the same as OKW and have the "bar in your back" covered by an all too thin mattress. The verandahs have no lights or ceiling fans. If you want to read on the verandah at night, take a flashlight. When its hot and humid out (most of the time) you won't enjoy the verandah. The only ice and vending machine is located at the check-in lodge and was empty when I checked in. I was told to go to the snack bar at the other end of the 15 acres and they would give me ice. The CMs said that because most rooms have refrigerators with ice makers it is unnecessary to have more than one. They don't seem to understand or care that housekeeping cleans and empties the room ice makers prior to check-in and that even if the machines have had several hours to make a little ice, most guests will throw it away as a matter of cleanliness. TIP: Make sure they don't stick you with a handicapped room. Low sink, assist bars etc. They seem to have built too many of these rooms for a beach, golf, tennis resort that for obvious reasons doesn't appeal to the handicapped. The standard tactic is to offer you one of these rooms immediately or you can wait until check-in time at 4pm.
None. No flowers and the only grass is sawgrass. In harmony with nature or some other environmental excuse is quickly provided. If you find swamps beautiful you'll love this setting. The drive to the beach house will show you how the other half lives and what beauty is possible in this area.
Nice but small pool with water-slide. A small hot pool and small kiddies pool. Towels are a major problem. They are issued at the rental window after a CM makes a written log of your name, room number, number of guests in the room and cautions you only one towel per guest. If there is a line of people renting boats, bicycles, fishing gear, or any of a hundred other things, you wait...and wait. TIP: The activities schedule is limited, hard to find a vacancy, and most charge a fee. You should review the activities list as soon as possible and sign up as soon as possible. Availability of activities is a major complaint of guests.
The beach house is approximately 1.2 miles from the villas. A very nice shuttle runs every 30 minutes. It is a 20 passenger mini bus with padded seats and wheelchair lift. You will need your room key to unlock the entrance door. The beach House has a small pool, snack bar (hot dogs and hamburgers at WDW prices), sales shop, dressing/bath rooms, and lockers. Towels are issued at the sales shop with the same log requirements and delays. The rear exit puts you on the beach. Don't forget your room key. You will need it to unlock the gate to get back into the beach house. The 12 mile beach at Hilton Head is different from any other beach I have visited. The beach is totally open to the public but the resorts have managed to control the access and parking. There may be a public access with parking somewhere but I didn't see it. There are no vendors permitted on the beach. Not even a push cart is visible on the clean powdered sand. The life guards are the only vendors permitted and they rent beach chairs, umbrellas, boggie boards, boats, etc. 2 chairs & umbrella rent for $20 per day. $33 for two consecutive days and so on. You won't find drunken bums or pan handlers here.
Generally not available at the Disney facilities. The first time you get hungry you will know why I said a car is a must here. The good news is that there are some fantastic eateries here and the prices are somewhat lower than found inside WDW. There is a recommended list provided by Disney, none of which I could recommend with the exception of Stripes. Their main claim to fame is that they will charge your meals to your room key and offer a small discount. Stripes is a first class restaurant and acknowledged by the locals as one of the finest places on the island. Entrees run from $17 - $22 and are prepared by an award winning chief. Guest services will provide you a restaurants guide and make your reservations anywhere on the island. Try Cracker Barrel for a great breakfast. My favorite is Longhorn Steakhouse and is located very close (by car) to the Disney entrance. The most expensive thing on the menu is a 22 ounce porterhouse at $17.95 that is the best I ever tasted. Shrimp, ribs, chicken and chops are also available. My wife ordered a pinna colada, which was served in a beer mug but was the best she had ever had. My son ordered the small prime rib, claimed to be 10 ounce for $11.95, and received a beautiful cut weighing at least 16 ounces. Call Jory at 686-4056 and make this your first dinner stop. If its not great, e-mail me flames. TIP: Check the restaurants guide for take out and free delivery to your room. Groceries are available at the standard super markets nearby.
This is not Walt Disney World. Disney does not dominate the area and is far from being the preferred site on the island. There are no cheap hotels just outside the gate and its remote location has made it a favorite retreat for wealthy northeastern visitors. If you want to relax on the beach, play golf or tennis, this is the place. If you want excitement and lots of entertainment, look elsewhere.