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All you can do without visiting the theme parks
Fun for Kids at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort
Friday, May 11, 2001
A special thank you to the two experienced "experts" for their opinions on what was great and what was just OK for kids and teens. Steven Rice is 9 years old, and has been taking frequent DVC and Disney Cruise Line trips most of his life. Chris Holland is 14, and is also very experienced in DVC and cruising. Neither are shy about stating their opinions.
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort is not your typical Disney resort. With no park to go to, the resort's guests don't rise early and leave for most of the day. Rather than simply being a place to sleep and grab a quick meal, the resort is the destination.
The resort is extremely family-friendly. During any visit, there is likely to be a wide range of ages, from grandparents to toddlers. The resort schedules a variety of activities throughout the day and evening, similar to what you would experience on a cruise ship.
I've stayed there four times so far, and my son has always met -- usually on our first day -- several friends to spend time with. As a teen, he's less interested in the structured activities, but the younger kids have a great time participating. The recreation staff lead the activities, and although many of the staff are new every year, they always seem to enjoy their jobs.
Besides year-round recreational opportunities such as a playground for young kids, as well as riding bikes or playing shuffleboard, ping pong, playing pool, swimming, there are several structured activities. The resort schedules some seasonal activities around particular holidays, such as Easter egg coloring and egg hunt, and a visit with Santa Claus. They also have a number of activities that run repeatedly, some of which may be modified slightly for any holiday or other special occasion. This article focuses on the resort's routine activities.
One of the most popular activities is the campfire, which is run two to three times a week. During each of my trips, most of which are during the off-season, the campire is so popular it ends up being standing room only.
There are benches around the big campfire pit, but there's never enough seating for everyone who shows up. The campfires are hosted by recreation cast members who tell some jokes, and encourage any kids who know a joke to share it with the group. Groups learn several camp songs, most of which involve some degree of silly movements that are guaranteed to make people laugh.
When the songs are finished, there's a humorous safety talk on how to make s'mores (including how to handle the skewer), and then the s'more-making begins! Guests are given a metal skewer with two marshmallows, which they toast (or set ablaze) in the campfire. When they are done, they return to the cast member, who places a graham cracker and chocolate bar on either side of the marshmallows, and removes the s'more from the skewer. It's delicious, and after everyone's gotten their first one, anyone who some more (s'more!) can do so.
Chris, my fourteen-year-old son, enjoyed the campfire a few years ago when he broke the s'mores-eating record by eating nine of them in one night. He paid for it however, by being sick most of the next day, and he's no longer a campfire fan. Chris believes that most teens would not find this particularly interesting. At 9, Steven Rice, enjoyed it, but is unsure how much longer he will. The overall consensus is that this is great for families with younger children. Beyond ages 9 or 10 however, children start thinking it's not cool anymore. A great cast member can completely change this perception, though! Besides, on a Disney vacation it's OK to be a kid no matter how old you are!
There are "unbirthday" parties scheduled twice a week, with separate parties for the 3 to 6, and the 7 to 12 age groups. An "unbirthday" is any of the 364 days it is not your birthday, so chances are a child will have an "unbirthday" on a trip. Steven didn't attend this activity at Hilton Head, and Chris is too old, so I have no current information on what happens during these parties.
Goofy Bingo is another highly popular activity for the entire family. This game is played usually twice a week, and it's like bingo except rather than numbers the cards have pictures of Disney characters. Winners get to pick inexpensive trinkets or candy from the prize box, and the cast members generally make sure everybody in attendance wins something. This activity fills up quickly, so you almost always need to get there early. Those who show up at the stated starting times may be turned away - although I've seen additional sessions added an hour later to accommodate the overflow. This activity is generally enjoyed by everyone: kids tend to laugh when they see mom or dad screaming "Goofy bingo! Goofy bingo!" and acting silly, which, as the cast members state, is a general requirement. Although Chris says he has now outgrown Goofy Bingo, he did enjoy it when he was younger.
Once a week the resort's dog, Shadow, arrives for a visit. A cast member tells the story of how this golden retriever became the resort's mascot during its construction. Kids have a chance to pet him. All around the resort are hints of Shadow's existence - from his dog house at the entrance to Live Oak Lodge, to the dog door at the recreation building, to the paw prints in the tile in most of the units. In typical Disney fashion, they carry the theming of Shadow very well, including some Shadow merchandise in the gift shop.
A fairly new activity is a 30-minute magic presentation, which was offered twice during our last week at the resort. It's for all ages, and I'm sure Chris and Steven would have enjoyed it had they been around during the time it was offered. Two children who did attend -- daughters of friends and who are about 8 and 10 years old -- said the presentation was great.
The art of gyotaku is another common activity, and one of the few children's activities for which there is a fee ($10/member, $12/non-member). Kids age 5 and up get a plain white T-shirt, which they decorate with a real (but not living) fish that is painted and pressed on the T-shirts, like a rubber stamp. The shirts are hung to dry in the ping pong table area, and some are very cute! This activity is geared to Steven and the younger set, as opposed to the teens. "Gyotaku," which means "fish printing" in Japanese, allowed traditional Japanese fishermen to show off the size of their catch without having to stuff and mount them.
Storytelling is available generally one night a week, where cookies & milk are offered by the fireplace in Big Murgie's Den. Younger kids come in their pajamas, but it's open to all ages, in any attire.
And finally, there are the activities of the Longview Arts & Crabs and the Longview Arts & Crafts, both which also has a fee ($12 / member or $15 / non-member guests ages 5 and up). Guests learn how to crab and create their own crab catcher. Guests who prefer something less "crabby" can participate in some craft activity instead ($10 / member, $12 / non-member guests ages 7 & up). In mid-April, the craft was May flowers.
Asked what their favorite things to do at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort were, neither Steven nor Chris mentioned the structured activities. For them, these structured activities have been experienced multiple times, and they may feel that the activities are just "no big deal" anymore. However for anyone new to this type of resort experience, the activities can really add to the fun.
Favorite things for Chris to do include playing pool in Big Murgie's Den, bike riding, swimming, riding the rental banana bikes on the beach, playing volleyball in the pool at the Beach House, and meeting other kids.
Chris loves this resort even more than going to Walt Disney World, and enjoys all of the outdoor physical activities. He enjoys the friendly cast members, most of whom are young people, and are fun to be around.
Steven loves swimming in the pools and playing pool volleyball, and he mentioned enjoying Nickelodeon on TV, since the WDW resorts don't carry that channel. On some evenings Steven and Chris borrowed a board game from Big Murgie's and played a game in the villa. Every unit has a VCR, and videotapes are free for DVC members.
In my next article, I focus on things to do at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort that are not only fun for the whole family, but that also appeal to the adults. Stay tuned!
Contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're going to WDW and not Hilton Head Island on your next trip, check out the "Everything Else Page" of MousePlanet's WDW Trip Planning Guide to find out what's unusual to do at Walt Disney World.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
Get the latest info about the resort at Park Update: Walt Disney World.
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