Nestled away among the moss draped live oaks of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina’s marshlands is a little piece of Disney magic—their Hilton Head Island Resort. This property is part of the Disney Vacation Club collection, and one of three resorts not located at a Disney theme park, but at a beach instead (the other two are Vero Beach, Florida and Aulani on Oahu). As a Disney Vacation Club resort the accommodations here are ideal for families—studios with kitchenettes or multi-room villas with full kitchens and washer/dryers. But, you don’t have to be a Disney Vacation Club Member to stay here, just like the Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World. While members can book the rooms using their point system, “regular” families (like mine) can book a room through their Travel Planner or Disney directly just as they would any hotel. My family has visited this resort twice, most recently to celebrate the New Year (which may now be a family tradition), and we enjoyed ourselves so much I wanted to share the top 10 reasons why we fell in love with this resort:
Walt Disney World and Disneyland may have Mickey Mouse as their mascot, but Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort has “Shadow.” Shadow is a golden retriever (an actual animal, not a character costume) who “lives” at the resort. There is evidence of Shadow all around: a doghouse out front, doggie footprints in the concrete, a doggie door and bowl by the recreation area. This is one lucky dog! On the schedule of recreation activities you will find times to meet her. Shadow, along with her handler “B’lou Crab” come out to tell stories, do fun informational walks around the property, and to meet guests. B’lou Crab also appears without her sometimes, like in the evenings to tell “ghost stories” of the island. The kids all love Shadow—who seems to be as popular as the mouse himself!
Did you know that you can buy Disney souvenirs on Hilton Head Island? Well, thanks to a small shop at the resort you can buy pins, magnets, t-shirts, mugs—all kinds of Disney souvenirs. And they have a nice selection of Hilton Head resort merchandise too. But the shopping extends far beyond that. Hilton Head has a great selection of boutiques, specialty shops and art shops for your shopping enjoyment. And just over the bridge going toward Bluffton (where you will also find some adorable local shops) is a Tanger Outlet complex with a nice variety of stores at discounted prices. You could dedicate a full day or more to shopping if you were willing to give up some of the other great activities on the island.
8. The Accommodations
As I mentioned, this is a Disney Vacation Club resort so the rooms available are similar to what you find at the Walt Disney World Deluxe Villa resorts:
- Studios with a queen size bed, a sleeper sofa and a kitchenette (sleeps up to 4)
- 1 Bedroom Villa that has a bedroom with a king size bed, one large divided bathroom, a living area with a sleeper sofa & chair (to sleep 5), a full kitchen and a washer/dryer.
- 2 Bedroom Villa which has everything the 1 bedroom has plus a second bedroom with 2 queen beds and 2nd bathroom (sleeping up to 9). Sometimes the 2 bedroom could be a 1 bedroom with connecting studio which is slightly different layout.
The layouts most closely resemble the villas at Old Key West. We were in a 1 bedroom villa and it was spacious and comfortable for our family of 5. I love staying in the Disney Vacation Club villas whenever I can with the space, the kitchen to prepare meals & the washer & dryer. I love coming home with clean clothes! The rooms match the theme of the resort as a fishing/hunting lodge on the island—the neutral colors have a bright, clean feel, granite countertops in the kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and touches of nature throughout on the pillows and lamps. It felt homey & elegant at the same time.
7. The Service
We were so pampered at this resort—I really felt the legendary Disney service was here, maybe even kicked up a notch. Each time we pulled up to the main building of the resort there was a cast member standing on the outside porch waving with a white Mickey glove—nice touch. The check-in process was personalized and smooth. Cast Members who we encountered throughout the resort made an effort not only to greet us but to make small talk. Everyone I encountered was genuinely cheerful, happy to be there and outgoing to engage guests. One lifeguard at the pool (& I’m sorry I didn’t catch her name) was very kind to my 4 year old, and Jerome, who was a manager, went out of his way. Because it is a small resort and families often stay for an extended time the Cast Members knew many of the guests by name.
6. The Beach!
Okay—added bonus to this resort, you are at the beach! Disney has a beach house which is about a mile from the actual resort. This is an easy drive if you have a car, as well as an easy bike ride along safe paths. At the beach house you have a pool, some games (like ping pong), a quick service food location, a bar (open seasonally), an indoor area with comfy chairs & a TV (for non-beach lovers), bathrooms with lockers and showers, along with the beach access. And Hilton Head really has a lovely, wide beach—enjoyable at any time of year, even cooler months.
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5. Natural Beauty
Hilton Head Island in general has a commitment to maintaining the natural beauty of the island. Despite many shopping centers, restaurants and modern conveniences, everything is set back and shrouded by oaks and moss and palmettos. The Disney resort feels like you are far away from civilization even though there is a shopping & dining complex adjacent to it. It is full of trees and lush natural landscaping, the marshlands, waterfowl—it is simply beautiful and relaxing. There is a long pier over the marsh where you can fish or go crabbing or just watch the sunset over the water. And they offer nature walks so you can learn even more about this beautiful habitat. Which leads to number 4:
4. Recreation Activities
At the resort itself you can find enough activities to keep you busy for a week! There is a pool with a great slide, shuffleboard courts, foosball, ping pong, corn hole, a fire pit—and for folks like me hammocks and Adirondack chairs a plenty. You can also get in a workout at the exercise room if you want. The resort has a recreation center where you can rent fishing poles, bikes, kayaks, schedule a kayak or walking tour, or schedule a dolphin spotting cruise (this is on my list for our next trip). And if you step outside the resort there are other opportunities for fun with many championship golf courses, ziplining, cruises, historic and natural spots of interest, mini golf . . .so many things!
3. Location, Location, Location
Hilton Head is in the beautiful South Carolina low country. And while the island is a destination in itself and you never really have to leave—there is more to explore within a short driving distance. The town of Bluffton is absolutely charming with great shopping & dining options for a quick excursion. Slightly further away is Beaufort (pronounced “BYOO-fert” as in “beautiful”), aptly named as it is another beautiful Southern town with a lot to offer. If you are feeling adventurous for a road trip you could travel to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. Parts of Forrest Gump were filmed here (the Vietnam scenes). This untouched island is breathtaking and there are activities here too—including a lighthouse you can climb. Daufuskie Island (pronounced duh • FUS • key) is another well preserved locale that is accessible by ferry. Pat Conroy’s “The Water is Wide” is about Daufuskie. The city of Savannah, Georgia is about 45 minutes to an hour south by road, and there are so many things you can do here from delicious southern dining to cultural activities to just hanging out and enjoying the southern hospitality.
2. The Food
This is the Low Country & it is known for delicious seafood and soul food. The island of Hilton Head has many delicious local seafood restaurants that will satisfy all of your cravings for a low country boil, fried seafood, fresh caught fish & shrimp and more. My favorite is Hudson’s—it sits right on the water and they catch their own shrimp. They have a great selection of oysters too. You can also find a nice variety of delicious soul/southern food offerings (especially if you travel into some of the towns—Savannah, I’m looking at you). But, let’s talk Disney food. At the resort there is a quick service restaurant where you can get your fix of Mickey Waffles every morning (or you might opt for the Salted Caramel Banana Bread French toast—yummmmm! They serve breakfast and lunch there, and at the quick service location at the beach house you can get lunch. In the gift shop you can find many other Disney staples like Mickey Bars and Mickey Ice Cream sandwiches, along with typical Disney Vacation Club offerings of quick fix foods you can prepare in your villa. But, the piece de resistance is . . . . the Dole Whip! Yes friends, you can get a genuine Dole Whip at the Beach House. I nearly kissed the check in guy when he told me they had them!
1. The Disney Charm
Numbers 10-2 really culminate as #1. This resort has all of the Disney charm that you want in your vacation. From the Mickey Bars and Dole Whips to the outstanding customer service; the wonderful theme carried through the resort; Shadow the mascot; the accommodating rooms. If you are looking for the feel of a Walt Disney World vacation but a more relaxing than the parks—this is a wonderful destination for your family.