When most people think of Disney properties South Carolina probably doesn’t come to mind. We were no exception to this. I knew of the Hilton Head Disney Vacation Club Resort, but—to be honest—really never had an interest in visiting. We did not belong to the Vacation Club, and even if we did, I never saw a scenario where I’d prefer to be that far off of Disney property when taking a trip. Then, as is often the case in life, the unexpected happened. We were beckoned to my former hometown in Western New York for a short notice wedding. Our trek would be a three day road trip, and suddenly Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort came into focus. We could get a little Disney on the first day of our trip, which would make us forget we were leaving the sunny skies of South Florida for the great white north. At least temporarily.
Obviously, based on the opening paragraph, you’ve probably realized that the Hilton Head resort is like Disney’s other DVC resorts in that you do not actually need to be a DVC member to stay there. You can rent a room there just like any other Disney hotel, either online or over the phone. If you want to book online, the website is www.hiltonhead.disney.go.com (or, of course, you can try to secure a stay at HH by renting points through the DVC Rental Store), and if you’d prefer to book over the phone, the number is 843-341-4100. I booked over the phone as I typically do in hopes that the Cast Member taking the reservation would be aware of a discount or deal that wasn’t available online. Sadly, that wasn’t the case here as they don’t provide Walt Disney World Annual Passholders with discounts, and—as you would expect—they don’t offer Florida Resident discounts either (or South Carolina residents). Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the final price tag for a one night stay in a deluxe studio: $125.00 (including tax). And like the other Disney resorts there was no added cost for parking or any other added resort fees.
After exiting I-95, the resort itself is about forty five minutes away due to the plethora of traffic lights and lower speed limit, though it is a relatively straight shot and very easy to find. The area surrounding the Hilton Head resort is beautiful and rustic, but for Walt Disney World fans, you will have to prepare yourself for a different kind of curb appeal. There is no doubt you are on Disney property, with character topiaries abound and every last detail meticulously cared for and embellished. However, this is Disney property shoehorned into a real life, working neighborhood with apartment buildings, restaurants, and shops that don’t bear the Disney name. There are no flashing neon signs or cheap motels as Hilton Head itself is a vacation destination, but if you are used to being ensconced within a Walt Disney World bubble this may be an adjustment for you.
Once through the property gate you will instantly be struck by the beauty of this resort. A sweeping staircase brings you to the second floor lobby where the check-in process will be much of what you would expect. The resort has many of the same activities you would find at other Disney resorts, such as Mickey Tie Dye and poolside activities, and your welcome packet provides you with information on all of them. You will quickly find the unofficial theme of this resort is relaxation. New- fangled magic bands have no place here. Instead, they prefer to take it slow and harken back to the golden age of Disney when room key cards were all the rage.
Leaving the lobby and driving to our building, we couldn’t help but notice the similarities to other Disney resorts. The Wilderness Lodge is one that is most noticeable, but without the grandness, and with a Lowcountry makeover. The rooms are spread out over the property in different buildings—similar to another DVC resort, Saratoga Springs—with each building being uniquely themed as part of a Lowcountry fishing village. NOTE: Though I am sure you can request special accommodations, due to the proximity of the marsh, the first floor is actually elevated requiring you to have to go up a small flight of stairs. If you, or someone in your party, has an issue with stairs you may want to mention that at booking.
With excitement, I held our key card to the door, anxious to see if the interior of the building was as grand as the exterior. As you may have guessed, we were not disappointed. Without fanfare or even advisement, we had been upgraded from the $125 deluxe studio I had booked, to a gorgeous 2 bedroom villa. Black and white pictures of South Carolina fisherman of yesteryear lined the walls, while the furniture and décor was a tribute to old Southern charm. The bedroom our daughters shared had two full sized beds, a flat screen television, and its own full bath, while our master bedroom had a king sized bed, flat screen television of its own, and a bathroom complete with standalone shower and jetted tub. Another, much larger flat screen television was found in the living room, and there was a full kitchen complete with a dinner table surrounded by a corner booth. To top it all off, there was a very large balcony with rocking chairs and a picnic table. Oh, and lest I forget the washer and dryer. Why and how we were upgraded I have no idea, nor can I give any useful tips on how to get upgraded. Sometimes, it just happens. If you don’t want to take your chances with an upgrade, you can book a two bedroom villa from the beginning, of course. The cost is typically around $222.00 per night. There are also one bedroom villas for around $182.00 per night.
After reluctantly leaving our room, we decided to grab a late lunch. We strolled the beautiful property along the marsh, observing all the details Disney had laid out. Walking this resort is quite different than walking the resorts of Walt Disney World. There were grills, benches, and bean bag toss boards laid out in nearly every courtyard between buildings. Though there was the requisite “movie under the stars” viewing area, this one had limited space as it was near the marsh. The biggest difference, at least during the time in which we stayed—mid-November, which, unlike Disney, is the off- season in Hilton Head—was the atmosphere. Being that the temperature was a balmy sixty degrees, we didn’t expect to see a bunch of children running between their room and the pool as you would at All- Star Sports, but I did expect to see the courtyards buzzing with activity. In reality though there was very little. The atmosphere throughout the property is one of relaxation. People were sprawled in hammocks, breathing the salty air, or sitting on benches enjoy their views of the marsh. The majority of the clientele I observed were an older bunch. Some retired seniors, some couples on a weekend getaway without the kids. It didn’t strike me as a place devoid of families and children; quite the contrary. There were loads of families there and plenty of activities for the kids to take part in, such as the typical poolside events of any other resort, or the main draw—a sing along with Shadow. Shadow being Disney’s only living mascot (yes, you can most certainly buy a plush doll of the loveable golden retriever). But, as we walked, it struck me as a great place to get your Disney fix without the pressure. No Fastpasses, no ADRs, just a beautiful resort to enjoy.
Our first stop on our quest for food was Tide Me Over. Located in the main pool area, Tide Me Over is a small window on the second floor of the recreation supply building. It is similar to any counter service you’d find in the parks or at a resort, but with a slightly more limited menu. There are also no indoor seats, but there are plenty of tables on the patio. Those used to purchasing a Rapid Fill mug will be pleased, as there are rapid fill stations here and at the other quick service location located at the Beach House called Signals. We weren’t enamored with the menu at Tide Me Over and decided we’d try our luck at Signals, being that the Beach House was our next stop anyway. Before leaving, however, we visited the Broad Creek Mercantile, which was right next door.
The Mercantile was what you would expect from a Disney gift shop with a few exceptions. There were a few items specific to the Hilton Head Resort available for purchase, such as the aforementioned Shadow plush. Most of the items consisted of t-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and the like, but I did manage to snag a nice Hilton Head Resort pint glass (don’t worry, I only fill it with good beer). Another great option the Mercantile provides is free DVD rentals with a binder full of Disney titles to choose from.
Leaving the Mercantile, we glanced over the pool as we made our way to the Beach House. It was a bit on the small side as Disney pools go. I’d compare it in size to the Paddock pool at Saratoga Springs. However, it is complete with a large slide and a hot tub. There also was no pool bar. Bummer.
Now, as we made our way to the Beach House, we knew what we were getting into. Sort of. The Beach House isn’t actually on the resort property. It is across the street, about a mile and a quarter away. There is a safe, well maintained and lit walkway that leads from the resort, under the main road, and to the Beach House. A mile and a quarter didn’t sound that bad, so we decided to walk it. After all, what’s a mile and a quarter walk on Disney property? It would be nothing compared to the distance we typically walk when in Walt Disney World. Oh, how those thoughts seem adorable now. This was, by far, the longest mile and a quarter I have ever walked, if, indeed, that was all it was. It was a long, tedious, and boring walk. We weren’t even half way to the Beach House when regret struck us squarely in the face, yet we trekked on and finally made it.
The Beach House is a beautiful building, reminiscent of private yacht or bath clubs. There is a small lounge to relax by a fire, and a heated H shaped pool as the main focal point. The building opens up to the outdoor pool and pool deck, and surrounds it in a U shape. Alongside the pool is where you will find Signals, where we finally stopped for a bite. The menu, again, is similar to another other counter service, and we finally settled for burgers and chicken nuggets. I was quite pleased that they had beer from a local brewery on tap, because, trust me, after that walk I needed one. We ate on the pool deck and enjoyed its gorgeous views of the beach and ocean. Also alongside the pool was a small, splash area for the kids, a workout area, and an arcade. Of course, there is also an access to get the beach, and unique activities such as crabbing ($5 buys you a crab net you can keep). The hours of the Beach House vary based on season, and while we were there it closed at 5 PM, with Signals closing at 3 PM that day.
As we walked out of the front door of the Beach House, I was faced with a real conundrum. Face the walk again, or submit to Disney transportation, of which I am not a fan. Ultimately, we opted for the shuttle service back to the resort, and I asked a Cast Member when the next shuttle was set to arrive. Typically, the shuttle makes a run every half hour between 10 AM and 5 PM, however, I was advised that today it was coming on an as needed basis, so I would have to pick up the phone near the entrance and request a shuttle. Of course, I was skeptical when the voice on the other end said they would be right there. To my surprise, however, the shuttle was there in a matter of only minutes.
As the day wore into the evening, our next big decision was dinner. Unfortunately, there is no sit down restaurant at the Hilton Head Resort. Tide Me Over stays open only until 5 PM, and Signals had closed at 3 PM. During the season there are BBQ events poolside, but this was the off-season and our options were off property only. We decided to walk, yet again, knowing that there was a small boardwalk type area that actually was very close to the resort with several different restaurants along it. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, though there was also a Greek and Seafood place very close (you can get a booklet with all the nearby restaurants when you check-in). Some of the nearby restaurants will even give you 10% off your bill if you show them your room key (a list of those places is also provided at check-in).
Finally, it was time to retire to our room, which we were more than happy to do. Our only regret, at the end of our trip, was that we didn’t get to take advantage of most of what our room had to offer. The full kitchen, the washer and dryer, the large balcony overlooking the courtyard, we utilized none of it. But, before I drifted off to sleep, my head on my pillow, remote control in hand, I came across something on the television that made me smile. The resort events station, identical to what you would find while staying at any of the resorts at Walt Disney World. Songs from classic Disney movies and attractions of both Disney World and Disneyland playing in the background, I closed my eyes allowing it to become like white noise. It was a microcosm of the trip—the resort felt very different from what you would find within the magical arches of The World, yet there was just enough Disney to make you feel like you were home.
In the end, we loved this resort. We actually tried to book another stay at the resort at the front desk prior to checking-out but were unable to do so. Because Hilton Head is primarily a DVC resort, unless you are a DVC member, you can only book a stay online or over the phone, not in person. Disney incorporation aside, this was a beautiful resort for a great price. In fact, it was the cheapest hotel we stayed at during our road trip. While those other resorts were nice, Hilton Head was much nicer. As Disney fans, it is a perfect getaway, from both home and the sometimes helter skelter pace of a Walt Disney World trip. As long as you aren’t expecting character meals or the all-inclusive feel of Walt Disney World, Hilton Head is a resort that all Disney fans should experience.