BY KELLI J. COOK
When I think of a true vacation I think of the coast—it’s that simple. To me, a girl who grew up with her toes in the sand of Sarasota, Florida, the coast is where I can relax, find solace, and have my spirit renewed. All of my day-to-day worries simply wash away with the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach. With just a few days at the ocean my batteries are automatically recharged and once again I’m ready to tackle life’s challenges with my restored childlike idealism.
But wait—I have two children (active ones at that), so when planning vacation time I must look for places that have enjoyable activities for everyone. And the three of us agree that we “struck gold” when we chose Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort on beautiful Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Designed in the architectural style of a 1940’s Lowcountry vacation lodge, Disney’s Resort provides a glimpse of sea island life during a time when vacation automatically meant slowing down, immersing yourself in the beauty and bounty of nature, and finding joy and rejuvenation in simple pleasures.
The heart of the resort is officially known as Longview Island, a 15-acre island in Shelter Cove. The villa cottages are tucked beneath hundred-year-old live oak trees, with magnificent views of Broad Creek and the marsh. A 300’ fishing pier stretches from the edge of the resort out over the water. Hammocks, Adirondack chairs and rope swings are nestled in and amongst the trees, and a circle campfire pit is the evening gathering spot for roasting marshmallows and telling stories.
In the center of the resort are the Big Dipper and Little Dipper pools, with a “fun for all ages” water slide coming from an old fashioned water tower. They keep the pools heated so your little ones can comfortably splash and swim year round. Here is where you’ll also find the Tide Me Over snack bar, Broad Creek Mercantile store, Bend & Stretch exercise room, and Recreation Activity Sign Up Window.
Did I just say “activity?” Remember we are at a Disney resort. We were presented a “Directory of Daily Discoveries” upon arrival that allows your family to stay as active as your energy levels can muster.
We had a hard time deciding where to start! Disney’s typical attention to detail is as evident in their program scheduling as in their lodging accommodations. Descriptions were given and age recommendations provided for each activity to help families sort through all of the options. Most activities require a reservation and those that require an additional fee are indicated in the directory.
Our first choice was the “Dolphin Discovery” tour (my nine-year-old’s choice). For approximately two hours we cruised the Broad Creek area, learning about the island, its history, and some interesting dolphin facts, all the while keeping our eyes focused on the water in hopes of catching a glimpse of these fascinating mammals. We learned that dolphins travel in a group; when you see one it’s likely you’ll see some more. And did we see dolphins! Our guide knew just the right places to take us. One came so close to our boat we could almost touch it; we even got to see a mother with her baby. The evening’s finale was a breathtaking sunset that captivated us all as we rode back to the dock.
My fourteen-year-old has an even more adventuresome spirit, so he selected the “Nature Kayaking” trip as our next family activity. Even though my boys are both good swimmers I was a little hesitant at first, so being the protective (somewhat chicken) mom that I am I called the recreation desk to find out the specifics. (Translate this to mean what are the chances of my kayak tipping over in the still very cold spring water and who will come rescue me!) The recreation desk must be used to such calls and gave me sufficient reassurance to convince me to venture forth (and not be viewed as the eternal wimp by my sons).
In addition to learning that kayaking is actually pretty easy (and great exercise), we got to see a variety of shore birds and learn about the coastal marsh ecology.
When I announced that I want to do the “Gyotaku,” both sons raised their eyebrows at me. However, since I went along with their activity choices they had no choice but to participate in mine. What exactly is Gyotaku? It’s the Japanese art of fish printing. I thought it would be fun plus we get to keep the T-shirts we make. My kids thought I was crazy but they decided to go along and humor me. What they didn’t realize is that you are actually painting a real fish! They thought it was going to be sponge-painting. We learned that the Japanese used to make prints of the fish they would catch when out at sea so they could still have “bragging rights” after the fish were cut into fillets. Even my oldest admitted that it was “pretty cool” (and that’s a big compliment coming from a teenager). Each shirt is a unique souvenir as well as a reflection of our individual personalities.
Have you noticed I keep saying “learn?” Don’t tell the kids, but Disney’s has made “edu-tainment” programming—activities that “educate” and “entertain,” their key focus. They have recently hired naturalist Eric Burns who has added a “Living off the Low Country” program, in which participants learn the techniques of crabbing, oystering, shrimping, and fly fishing. Additional programs include beach nature walks; bird watching; the Pinckney Island Birding and Gator Adventure; sport crabbing excursions; Daufuskie Island Beachcombing, and much more. They have even added cooking and wine-tasting programs for adults. And if you’re yearning to swing a club or racquet, they will make discounted rate reservations at many of the island’s golf courses and racquet clubs.
While all of these activities certainly make for an exciting, educational, and fun-filled stay, it was on the 12 miles of wide, hard packed beach that my spirit was revitalized. To get to the ocean, you can either drive, bike, or ride a shuttle 1 ½ miles to Disney’s Beach House, a 3 ½ acre oceanfront complex with it’s own beachside swimming pool, Big Buoy Arcade, Signals Snack Bar, and Surfmen’s Station & Sand Bar. My treasure of sand dollars and seashells that sit on my dresser serve as a lasting reminder of those peaceful early morning walks. And if I get really quiet I can still faintly hear the lapping of the ocean waves.
Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is a magical and natural coastal vacation destination for families. Yes—old Walt would be proud. #
If You Go:
Location: Hilton Head Island, SC, approximately one hour north of Savannah, GA
Address: 22 Harbourside Lane, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Telephone: 800/453-4911, 843/341-4100
Disney Vacation Club Membership Information: Visit website or call 407/WDISNEY