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Aulani - Disney's Resort and Spa
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Disney's Hilton Head Resort
A Visit to South Carolina's Low Country
by Deb Wills
This review was originally published
in the October 9, 2001 issue of ALL EARS
The beautiful low country of Hilton Head Island and the magic of Disney combined in 1996 to create a Disney Vacation Club Resort fashioned after a 1940s hunting and fishing lodge. Nestled among live oaks, some older than 100 years, are 102 villas, a swimming pool, a small exercise room, a main lodge and 1.5 miles away, a beach house and pool. The resort occupies 15 acres adjacent to the Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina.
We ventured to Hilton Head for the first time several weeks ago, arriving on a hot September noon for a week of golfing and relaxation with our friends, the Kruitoffs from Michigan (DVC members). We took advantage of this trip to provide ALL EARS readers with an overview of this DVC Resort, and also have incorporated some helpful tips and comments from other ALL EARS readers:
The interior of our two-bedroom villa was reminiscent of the layout and coloring of the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. With a fully equipped kitchen, stacked washer and dryer, a "mud room", two bedrooms and a living room/kitchen, there was plenty of room (1,255 square feet) for the four of us to make ourselves comfortable and not feel crowded. The master bedroom and living room shared a huge balcony, the second bedroom had a separate, smaller balcony.
Our kitchen was also stocked similarly to the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, with service for eight, including pots, pans, skillets, utensils and casserole dishes.
We took a peek at the resort's other rooms, as well, and found that the studios are 375 square feet, sleeping four adults, with a queen-sized bed, double sleeper sofa, wet bar and small refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker. The one-bedroom accommodates four adults and is 880 square feet. The expansive Grand Villa sleeps 12 adults and is approximately 2,125 square feet!
The phones were equipped with data ports, but there's a 75-cent charge for each local call.
Our only complaint about our particular room is that we noticed quite a bit of noise from overhead, especially when housekeeping was vacuuming.
Driving to Hilton Head enabled us to stock up on groceries before heading south. Once arriving, we stopped at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store for milk, fruit and other perishables.
Most mornings we had breakfast in the villa; lunch and dinner were generally eaten out. Overall, we were all pleasantly surprised at our good fortune in picking restaurants. Disney's Hilton Head has only a snack bar, "Tide Me Over", open for breakfast and lunch, so for dinner, you must either cook in your room or leave the grounds.
On Friday nights, though, there is a Broad Creek Oyster Roast at the Disney Resort's Campfire. For $29.95 (and kids $8.95), you can enjoy oysters, shrimp, ribs, draft beer, kids food and S'mores in a convivial setting.
ALL EARS Reader Beth writes: It is a little disappointing that there are no Disney sit-down restaurants on-site, although there is a fast food window. When you're a Disney nut, you want the WHOLE experience and it feels like you're missing something to have to go back into the "real world" to eat, although there were ample restaurants in the surrounding area. But the hotel certainly "feels Disney". So does the beach house. It was a little unusual for us to have to drive or take the shuttle bus to the beach house, which is about a mile or so away from the hotel part of the resort -- not on the tiny island. The beach house also "feels Disney" and the beach that is pretty much only accessible to Disney guests was secluded the whole time we were there. It was very pretty, too. There is also a fast food counter at the beach house, so you don't have to go back to the hotel to get something to eat.
When you check into Disney's Hilton Head resort, you'll receive a local restaurant guide. Some of the establishments offer discounts to Disney Vacation Club members. Overall, we were very happy with our dinner restaurant choices and all agreed we would recommend them to everyone. Folks on the island seem to dine later, so if you want to be seated quickly, get to dinner before 6 p.m.
Here are a few of our dining recommendations:
If you're seeking good food at reasonable prices, don't hesitate to head over to Cracker Barrel. This restaurant chain offers breakfast all day long and has great combo meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you go during peak meal times, don't be surprised if you find yourself back on the porch, sitting in a rocking chair while your party waits to be seated.
The Kingfisher, Shelter Cove: great food and service, walking distance from the resort. Only thing we didn't like is that a band (a very good one) played somewhat loudly throughout dinner. Dinner for four ran $107 before tip with beverages, including Blackened Pork Chops at $20.95; Steak and Lobster for $31.95; Broiled Seafood Combo at $17.95 and an awesome meal of BBQ pulled prime rib at $13.95!!
Little Venice Restaurant, Shelter Cove: walking distance to Disney's Hilton Head Resort. A wonderful Italian restaurant that has been serving the island for more than 15 years. The same family that opened the restaurant still runs it today! Homemade ravioli and cannelloni were both outstanding. With tip and beverages our bill totaled $134, including the fresh Insalata Della Casa, which accompanies any entree, Ravioli Con Spinaci ($16.95), Fettuccini Alfredo ($14.95), and Gamberetti Pescatore -- fresh shrimp in a garlic and white wine butter over linguini ($18.95).
San Miguel's Mexican Cafe, Shelter Cove: $73.35 for four plus gratuity. The best chicken flautas any of us ever had! Huge pulled white meat chicken rolled in tortillas with wonderful side dishes.
The Old Oyster Factory, Marshland Road (a 15-minute drive): a more standard "tourist" eatery that sits on the water. Very good food, adequate service, light woods and colors for the interior. Our one negative comment about this restaurant is the timeshare hawker set up as you exit the door after dinner!
Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort prides itself on its unique family programming activities that children and their parents can enjoy together. This includes everything from painting tee-shirts, to campfire marshmallow roasts and sing-alongs, to themed organized outings to nearby destinations, such as the historic city of Savannah, as well as programs designed for relationship-building skills.
Sue Holland writes: "The Disney resort has several activities scheduled daily, but from our experience they have great appeal to the younger kids (under age 10). Unless it's a sports activity, my son tended to view the organized activities as too babyish, even at age 12, and he preferred to do other things -- either solo, with me, or with new friends he had made at the resort. Probably his favorite activity was playing pool in Big Murgie's Den, and he did not care whether he was playing with another teen, a kid, or an adult. The pool table was one of the popular gathering places for kids & teens - particularly the boys.
We always rent bikes for the length of our stay, and we use the bikes as transportation as much as possible. We ride them to restaurants, to the beach, to the grocery store, to the mall, and he enjoyed riding around with other kids without any specific destination in mind. The campfire program is very popular with younger kids, but it made my teen groan when I asked if he wanted to attend (he skipped it). Impromptu games of ping-pong, swimming in the pool, playing volleyball in the Beach House pool, and using the fitness center equipment filled the rest of his time. The beach is beautiful, and he enjoyed renting those Banana Bikes and riding the regular bike along the beach. If we had been there in the summer he would have brought his boogie board and enjoyed the waves (something we do not have at our beaches at home in Florida)."
No sooner had we unloaded our cars (after driving 10 hours from Rockville, Maryland, and 15 hours from Holland, Michigan), than we were back out the door with golf bags slung over our shoulders. In fact, we played 18 holes at four different golf courses and were rained out of a fifth (the Golden Bear Course at Indigo Run) on our last day. Of the courses we played, everyone's favorite was Hilton Head National ($70 per person with cart). The course is made up of three 9-hole courses that are immaculately groomed. There was even a Par 3 hole where you could wager hitting the green on the tee shot and receiving double your wager in Pro Shop dollars. It's already on our list to return to next time.
We also would recommend Palmetto Dunes Fazio Course ($52.50 with cart for the same-day afternoon special) and Island West ($54.60 with cart).
Hilton Head Golf Tips
Be sure to talk to the employees at the local golf outlet stores to get their recommendation on courses. They play them all the time and can tell you what's in the best shape during your visit.
Also, while Disney will make tee times for you, there is a great discount service called Last Minute Tee Times. By calling after 7 p.m., you can get a 30 percent discount on available tee times for the next day. The only time we used this service, our first and second choice courses were available with mid-morning times. The number to call for reservations is 843-689-2262. Be sure to have your credit card ready to hold the time.
SEA PINES PLANTATION
If there was one part of the island we did not care for, it was Sea Pines Plantation. On our first evening, we headed over there to check out the golf course we were playing at the next morning. The guard (not uncommon at the various resorts on the Island) was pleasant enough, but explained that visitors were required to pay $5 per vehicle to look around. We weren't happy, but thought, well, OK. We had dinner at a great pizza place called Giuseppi's Pizza in Sea Pines (not to be confused with the Giuseppi's located near Disney's resort that delivers). However, even though it was early in the evening, all the shops in the area seemed closed.
The next morning, we were very disappointed to find out that even with reserved, prepaid golf tee times, we still had to pay the $5 entrance fee. It wasn't the $5, but the principle we found rather annoying. Also, the course was touted as having ocean views -- we never caught a glimpse of the ocean from the course. In all fairness, you *could* walk far out past the 15th (or was it the 16th) hole, up a flight of stairs, and see the ocean; but that hardly counts as an ocean view hole to any of us. We also found the staff at the Sea Pines Golf Course very UNfriendly, especially compared to the other courses we played.
After golf we went to another shopping area in Sea Pines and had lunch at the Salty Dog Cafe. It was VERY overpriced at over $100 for lunch sandwiches for 4, even with two drinks each.
Our recommendation is to save yourself both the money and time and avoid Sea Pines!
Hilton Head has its share of outlet malls and most of the regular outlet stores are here. You can find Lenox, JCrew, Bass, Casual Corner, Vegas Golf, Nike and even a Disney Outlet store (Hilton Head Outlet II). Each area of Hilton Head Island also seemed to have its own array of gift shops to browse through.
Since it was the end of September, we found some good buys on summer clearance items especially at the Player's World of Golf Outlet.
For relaxation, the resort offers two swimming pools - the Big Dipper, featuring a barrel-shaped tower slide, and the appropriately named Litter Dipper, for the kids.
Nearby is a children's play area, as well as a spectacular 300-foot fishing pier stretching over scenic marshland into Broad Creek. In the Pool Building, guests will find a general store (where you can rent videos), fitness center, changing rooms and community hall. Other unique resort features include a campfire circle and a dedicated arts-and-crafts area for on-site programs.
If *doing* something isn't on your agenda, there are plenty of places for a quiet stroll around the grounds. A walk around the resort in late September was accented by the staccato sound of acorns dropping from the squirrels scampering above. I couldn't help but marvel at the root system some of the old oaks have grown. There was a hammock swinging gently in the shade that called my name on more than one occasion.
Tammy Sittinger writes: February is a pretty quiet time of year for Hilton Head Island. In general, unless you golf or play tennis, there isn't an overwhelming amount of things to do. It's a great place to go and relax. We spent two wonderful days here. Our room faced the pool which was themed with a slide. Unfortunately it was too chilly to swim. The resort is not on the beach, however, they have transportation to their beach house which is. We spent some time walking and shelling and even getting our toes wet -- hey, we're from Chicago! The beach house includes a pool, a water play area with squirting fountains (think Downtown Disney), a game room, a TV room, fireplace and a small snack bar. Very nicely done.
With all of the activities available for both adults and kids -- from the guided tours of the island (land or sea) to game nights, limbo contests, etc. -- there is ALWAYS something going on! If you want to expand your vacation, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, are within a two-hour drive.
All four of us totally enjoyed our vacation at Disney's Hilton Head resort. Whether we wanted to relax, shop, golf, dine, lay on the beach or just "hang out" on the balcony, the resort could accommodate us.
We're looking forward to going back again next year, to see what new experiences Hilton Head has to offer.
Look here for photos of Disney's Hilton Head resort.