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My husband’s family has vacationed in Hilton Head, South Carolina for as long as he can remember. My family, on the other hand, was never much for beaches. The kids and I can still only last on the beach for so long, without at least having other things to do nearby.
The one beach vacation I’ll always look forward to though, is a visit to Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. Continuing in our “Why We Love…” hotel review series, here are our favorite things about the Disney property tucked away in South Carolina’s lowcountry.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort
If you’ve been to Hilton Head, you may already be familiar with the location of Disney’s DVC property on the island. Opened in 1996, the resort is situated the Shelter Cove Harbour area. It sits on Hilton Head’s Broad Creek, with a private beach (and beach house) approximately a mile away.
While it is actually a Disney Vacation Club property, non-members can book accommodations there – just as they can at the other DVC resorts. Guests can choose from studios, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom units.
What we love about the DVC Property on Hilton Head
Readers of this site are probably familiar with our love for and appreciation of the detail that Disney imagineers put into the theme parks and resorts around the world. The work at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort are no exception. As with their properties adjacent to theme parks worldwide, the Disney company has done so much more than throw up a high rise hotel or block of condos in a tourist area and call it a day. Instead, even the smallest details are purposefully chosen.
The resort is designed after a 1940s South Carolina Hunting and Fishing lodge, but there’s nothing that feels antiquated about it. Behind a somewhat rustic facade are state-of-the-art fitness rooms, free wifi, and all the amenities of a deluxe hotel.
At a glance, the “South Carolina Lowcountry” theming seems like something I wouldn’t dig. After all, one of the reasons I so dislike Disney’s Old Key West resort is because it’s themed, basically, as “Florida”. That said, this feels different.
When you vacation (or live) in this area of the country, there is a certain ambiance, a rhythm that is pervasive throughout your days. Much like Disney’s Hollywood Studios represents “the Hollywood that never was, and always will be”, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort evokes everything there is to love about the lowcountry life, that is generally not nearly so tangible. You won’t find another hotel themed like this in the area.
True to form, the attention to detail doesn’t stop with the architecture, colors, and signage. Even the luggage carts, barbecue areas, etc are carefully selected to add to – and never detract from – the theme surrounding them.
Subtle Disney Details
Much like on Disney Cruise line ships or at Aulani, the decor and atmosphere of this Hilton Head resort don’t scream Disney. If you are worried about running into characters, everything being shaped like Mickey Mouse, or stumbling across large, cartoonish icons throughout the property, you can stop.
If you’re looking for things shaped like Mickey because, like our family, they make you smile? You’ll find plenty. But if that’s not your thing, I’m confident details like a Mickey detail on a wooden fence won’t ruin your experience.
Side note: there is one overtly “Mickey” thing you’ll probably want to find. I know we do, everytime we’re in the area – even when we aren’t staying at the DVC resort —
Backstory… and Shadow, the sweetest mascot you may never see
As with any great Disney location, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort has its own backstory. Unfortunately, it’s a bit disjointed. It is my understanding that there used to be something a bit more cohesive, but apparently random Hilton Head Island visitors don’t care as much about Disney backstories. Still, I have to believe that when it was designed, everything was intentional.
Here is a snippet, as given by the cast members on checkin and read from a variety of literature around the resort:
“Royce Edmund and his family first visited Hilton Head Island when he was a mere six months old. For generations, Royce and his family journeyed from their hometown in Augusta, GA. Royce’s Great Grandfather, Grandpa Thaddeus, chose Longview Island, SC – a 15-acre island nestled amongst 100 year old oak trees – as the picture perfect place to build a vacation home. In the late 1940’s Royce’s father commissioned the best architects in the south to design and build accommodations for the entire Edmunds family; little did anyone know that it would evolve into a world class resort.”
You’ll also find legends of “Big Murggie”, an impossibly slick fish that evades fishermen and becomes the subject of many a fish tale. There’s even a large area at Live Oak Lodge dedicated to Big Murggie.
Around the resort, you’ll see evidence that the resort belongs, at least in part, to a dog named Shadow. Legend has it that when the resort was being built, a golden retriever hung around so much (and had nowhere else to go), that she became a bit of a permanent fixture – earning the name Shadow not because of her color, “but because she was more underfoot than your own shadow.”
Guests have often seen Shadow, and at times there are even story times offered with Shadow and her friend B’lou Crabbe… but somehow we’ve never met this illusive pup! A visit to her doghouse is always a must, though.
Activities & Amenities
As with most other Disney properties you’ll visit, there is no shortage of things to do. Teams of Cast Members have activities planned throughout the day, most of which are included in your stay; activities that require an additional fee are very reasonably priced, and always very clear. No upselling or bait-and-switch tactics!
Whether you’re looking for excursions, crafts, games, or something entirely different, you’re bound to find something for everyone somewhere on property. In addition to the scheduled activities, the resort offers two themed pools, several playgrounds, shuffleboard, table tennis, bike rentals, fishing, and so much more.
At the beach house (which you can reach by shuttle or a quick walk/bike ride from Shelter Cove), there is another pool, more outdoor games, and even a high-tech arcade. Commuity Hall – a DVC staple that wasn’t left out of the Hilton Head Resort plans – offers what members are accustomed to finding: games, crafts, bingo, coloring pages, toys, and (free) DVD rentals.
Nightly campfires include storytelling, singalong, and even s’mores. The Live Oak Lodge offers billiards, checkers, reading material, and board games.
We’ve said it before: Disney Cast Members are the biggest reason we return again and again. Heck, we’ve even made a dear friend or two over our years of visiting.
The interaction with Cast Members at the Hilton Head resort reminds us a bit of that on the cruises we’ve taken. While we don’t spend as much time with them as we do the Cruise Staff on DCL, it is a small resort – so many of the CMs get to know guests, and make each visit special.
Even if that’s not the case – whether you just stay a night or two, don’t spend much time at the resort, or simply don’t see the same people more than once or twice – you can expect Disney’s legendary service everywhere you go during your visit to the Hilton Head resort.
Of course stay anywhere on Hilton Head Island puts you close to world-class golf and tennis, more than 12 miles of clean beaches, and unique shopping and dining experiences. Specifically though, we love the location of Disney’s Hilton Head Resort more than other options on the island.
One may argue that the only way to do a beach vacation is with a beachfront property. That makes perfect sense when you’re in an area like a number of Florida beaches, where your options are “beachfront” or “drive a few miles down congested roads, through concrete jungles and gift shops with giant tacky signs, to a hotel that feels like it could be anywhere in the country”. That’s not what you’ll find here… though I’m not sure my words will do the location justice.
At Disney’s Hilton Head resort – and anywhere on Shelter Cove, really – you’re moments away from the incredible beach house and the Atlantic Ocean. When you’re there, you’ll have everything you need and won’t need to “run back to the hotel” for anything.
When you’re kind of tired of just sitting on the beach though (which is a very real concern for many of us), you aren’t going to simply retire to your hotel and wonder what to do. Instead, when you return to the resort on the inside of the island, you escape to a gorgeous, secluded natural oasis.
The marshes and woodlands offer completely different scenery, wildlife, and recreation options than the beach. Large barbecue areas offer fun dining experiences as well as hammocks, etc in which to relax. It’s truly the best of both worlds, and that’s not even considering what is between the resort and beach house.
Shelter Cove Harbour, unrelated but adjacent to the Disney property, offers some of the most beloved shopping and dining options on the island. Any given night at the Harbour, though, you’ll find plenty to see and do.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is not one of our DVC “home” resorts, but I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve considered adding on there. In fact, I’m confident that someday we will. Hilton Head itself has so much to offer families looking for a great, versatile vacation, and Disney’s HHI property is one of our favorite places to travel.