I can’t believe #Everywhere has come and gone. Our last few cruisers are off their ships and everyone is back on the clock. I hope everyone enjoyed all the live tweets from Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Hong Kong, the DCL Magic, Wonder, Dream, and Fantasy, Aulani, Vero Beach, and my destination, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) property in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
So how was it? I can’t believe I didn’t go sooner and that it took “taking one for the team” to get me to check it out. Both my travel partner, Len Testa, and I were very happily surprised at how much we loved this resort. I’ll try to break down the review into logical sections, but first the small print – for all the #Everywhere trips, TouringPlans picked up the bill for lodging, transportation, and food. We booked at rates available to the public and didn’t receive any incentives from Disney or the travel agents we booked with beyond what anyone else would get. In the case of the three DVC resorts, those were all booked using my own points as opposed to booking with cash through Disney or renting through a 3rd party.
The photos on the Disney site, make Hilton Head Resort look like it’s really secluded. This is clever cropping though. The resort is at Shelter Cove Marina, which is a fairly commercial site with moorage, restaurants, retail, condos, and other resorts. Disney’s resort is on the edge of this area with the actual marina on one side and undeveloped marshland on the other. The clever thing about how the resort is situated is that once you’re actually there, you do feel like the resort is on its own island. As a coastal town, Hilton Head has mostly mild weather; you can see the forecast and weather history at Weather Underground.
Hilton Head is the smallest resort in the DVC line-up with 81 villas (21 of which are two bedroom lock-offs that can be booked as separate studios and one bedrooms). To put that in perspective, that’s fewer than in a single building at Pop Century. The largest DVC property, Saratoga Springs, has 828 villas (432 which can be divided, for a maximum of 1260).
We were in a studio for this trip, which was a bit of a change for me. I usually book one bedrooms, but by the time I decided that the points were worth it, there were none left. If you’ve been in any DVC unit, these will look familiar to you. Hilton Head was built in 1996 and has the same floor plans as other DVC resorts built around that time like Beach Club Villas and Boardwalk Villas. The studio kitchenette is a nice touch and the balcony is very deep. If you’re bring all your friends and family, there are five Grand Villas at Hilton Head. If you have trouble filling up all that space, email me laurel at touringplans dot com. I can be there in 5 1/2 hours.
The Beach House
This is such a nice touch. Hilton Head has a beautiful beach, but Disney’s resort is inland. Disney has taken care of that with the Beach House 1.3 miles from the main resort (an easy bike ride, even easier drive with reserved, covered parking, and a not so easy and not at all recommended after dark walk). The Beach House has direct access to the beach, its own pool, a snack bar, restrooms and changing areas, and a nice club room inside with air conditioning for anyone who wants to get out of the heat. While beach access is 24 hours a day (you have to show resort ID to drive in and park), the house and pool itself was only open 10am to 6pm when we were there. Hours are longer in the summer. There is a shuttle that runs between the resort and the Beach House while it’s open.
One of my concerns about Hilton Head was that it wouldn’t feel very Disney. Boy was I wrong. This is absolutely a Disney resort, just on a smaller scale. As soon as we’d checked in and started roaming around, it felt just as familiar as any on site Walt Disney World resort. Here is a run down of things guests who have stayed at Walt Disney World might wonder about before booking Hilton Head:
- Cast Members – no slacking off because of distance from the mother ship here (Hilton Head is under Orlando-based management, just as all the DVC properties and Disney Cruise Line are). Everyone was just as friendly and helpful as you’d expect.
- Gift shop – yes, there is a small gift shop with souvenirs and a few groceries. There’s even some Hilton Head-specific merchandise here, including my favorite, a stuffed Shadow the dog (more on Shadow later).
- Pool – there is a good-sized pool and splash area, more than adequate for the size of the resort with all the fun activities cast-member led activities you get at any Disney resort, like dance contests, trivia, and karaoke.
- Resort TV – I was so pleased when we turned on the TV and got all my favorite Disney channels, like Company Clips, Adventures by Disney, the DVC channel (I call it the Casey channel), and Hilton Head Today channel (but no Stacy channel).
- Food – it’s quick service only here and no dinner this time of year. Yes, you can get Mickey waffles for breakfast.
Characters – none. Maybe they have them for the weekly dinners that are scheduled during the summer, but not in the fall.
- Bar – none. Neither at the main resort nor at the Beach House. This was kind of a bummer, because it would have fit in well, but given the size of the resort and the choices nearby, I get why there’s not one. The two quick service locations offer beer, wine, and premixed cocktails. The ABC nearby offers whole bottles of gin, which I prefer.
- Outside movies – two nights a week while we were there.
- Magic Band – nope, just regular room keys.
- Pressed pennies – Yes! I was surprised and happy to see this.
- Refillable mugs – yes, and they use the same system the mugs at Walt Disney World do. Prices are $9 for 1 day, $12 – 2 days, $15 – 3 days, $18 – length of stay.
Len and I had different opinions on which Walt Disney World resort Hilton Head most reminded us of. For me, it was Riverside – Alligator Bayou. There’s a Disney-rustic feel to the whole resort, which is broken up into 20 3 story buildings (no elevators except in building 11 – the one with check in and the parking garage. Len said Wilderness Lodge, but he’s wrong and I’m the one writing the article. There’s definitely been some Imagineering at the resort. I feel like I need to bring Jim Hill down to explain the significance of the all signage (which reminds me of the Main St. U.S.A. windows and the signage on Castaway Cay).
There is quick service breakfast and lunch at Tide Me Over, located by the pool. At the Beach House, there is a snack bar that serves lunch (including Dole Whip). For dining offsite, there are many restaurants within biking and walking distance of the resort, as well as groceries from Whole Foods, Kroger, Publix, and the Fresh Market. Whole Foods also has a hot food bar that’s a good choice for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone looking for lighter fare. The first night we ate at ELA’s Blu Water Grille at the marina, which was both our most expensive and most disappointing meal. Our last night, we hit up The Lucky Rooster, a 15 minute walk down 278 (William Hilton Parkway). This was fantastic, we recommend it to anyone looking for a fun place with an interesting menu. Disclaimer, while the service is super, the menu isn’t exactly child-friendly. This is more a place for adults to have a nice meal and a handcrafted cocktail or two. For family-friendly dining, try Guiseppi’s Pizza and Pasta in the same shopping center as the Whole Foods. It was quite good when we had lunch there, and resort guests get a 10% discount with the Key to the World card.
It would have taken a whole week to try everything, and we were only there three nights. There are the pools of course, but there’s also bike rentals, playgrounds, shuffleboard (I won!), horse shoes, corn hole, billiards (I lost!), fishing, crabbing…. And that’s not to mention the guided excursions from nature walks to dolphin watching. We particularly liked renting the bikes to get around. The terrain is mostly flat and there are bike paths throughout the area. One thing to remember – Disney asks for their bike rentals that you not ride after dusk (which makes sense, there are areas without a lot of light due to local ordinances) or if you’ve been drinking (we’ll assume they figured that out the hard way). If you like active fun, Hilton Head is the place for you. And if you don’t, like I said, the beach is really nice.
I purposely did not do too much research on Hilton Head before I left because I like to be surprised, but even I knew about Shadow before I arrived. Shadow is a Golden Retriever who showed up at the resort as a puppy as it was under construction and never left. She (he? honestly I don’t remember) even has her own dog house at the main building and hours that you can meet her if you don’t see her walking around. She’s a great dog, very friendly and mellow. If you miss your own pets while you’re vacationing definitely check the resort schedule to see when you can meet Shadow.
If you’re a Disney Vacation Club member who lives within driving distance of Hilton Head, you have no excuse not to visit this resort. It’s everything you love about Walt Disney World without the hassle of being at Walt Disney World. If you’re not a DVC member, and can drive to South Carolina, consider renting points to check it out. Either way, be sure to pick up some groceries so you’re not depending on onsite dining or the local restaurants for all your meals, and if you have your own bikes and a rack for your car – bring those too.