December 17, 2009

Disney's Hilton Head Resort: Mixed Results

Note: While in the colder months of winter, a trip back to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and a look at Disney's Vacation Club, might just remind me warmer days are ahead! A reposting from August 2008...

Last month, thanks to a recent promotion with our cel phone company and some free hotel space, my wife and I were able to get away for a few days to Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Being quite aware of the Walt Disney Company's Vacation Club offerings, I was curious to check out their timeshare property at Hilton Head Island, so we spent about an hour stopping to take photos and ask some questions. When we saw the small Bambi and Thumper topiary (actually fake topiary) and the "Year of a Million Dreams" banner, we knew we were at the right place. We checked in at the registration desk upstairs at the main building. It is a very small area with a tiny lobby and slightly larger library/den. Our hostess was nice enough to provide a map to the island and the property, a copy of the latest newsletter, and the offer to explore without being escorted- the nicest surprise of all.

Hilton Head Island is comprised of mostly resort properties with just about every piece of beachfront property developed. Large, well-known companies specialize in providing amenities associated with any luxury resort: golf, tennis, spas, pools, restaurants, shopping. Disney is no exception, although their roster falls short in comparison. Walking the Disney grounds, it became very clear that the property was pleasant and well maintained but not nearly as nice as many of the surrounding resorts.

The biggest difference: although it may not be immediately obvious to a reader of the promotional materials provided, the primary piece of property, the one where the vacation homes are located, is not beachfront or even across the street from it! In fact, although the Disney resort is on (its own) Longview Island in Shelter Cove Harbour, the complex sits in Broad Creek and its marsh.

Sure, it is beautiful to look at with the area's live oaks and pines, but where's the swimming beach? Follow that 1.5 mile bike path between the main lodging area to Disney's Beach House on the sand. The path runs under Highway 287. To be fair, a shuttle service is available, but at Vacation Club pricing, beachfront should be the order of the day.

Replacing the beach for 31 main buildings of accommodations are one medium-sized but well themed pool and a horseshoe pit with a nearby snack bar and small shop. No tennis or golf. I was expecting something as nice as the Wilderness Lodge or at least the Sarasota Springs Resort in Florida. Instead, everything here was very low key with nothing grand to be found.

We did find the usual and expected nice touches of theme, found here particularly in the signage. (Although a sign referencing "Michael and Michael" now seems to poke a bit of fun at Eisner's grand plans with Mr. Ovitz.) The vacation home buildings were very well done. The gardens were nice but not much more than adequate. A bit of character merchandise and a small collection of pins could be purchased in the shop, and Walt Disney World Resort paper cups were used in the snack shops. Cast members were friendly, smiling quite a bit, enjoying conversation with the guests.

After our walk around, we drove to the Beach House and were slightly more impressed. The main house was well appointed in a nautical theme. The outdoor pool was of decent size with a fountain play area sporting a beach ball theme. A small snack shop and a deck side bar rounded out the offerings with promises of a weekly shrimp roast. The sand was before us but mostly hidden by lots of trees affording privacy to members.

We spoke with a vacation club member who, with a slight smile and sigh, told us it was difficult but not impossible to use his vacation club points to get here due to the popularity of Hilton Head, but he much preferred Disney's Vero Beach resort. I can only hope that property is beachfront. I am sure that once word gets out that Disney's Hilton Head Island resort is not on the sand and has no golf or tennis, it will be much easier to book time there.

To sum it up, this was one of the first times we were glad not to be "on the property". In a strange way, I was happy to discover that our longtime decision not to purchase was a wise one, leaving our options open for staying at a variety of destinations. However, if Disney's Ko Olina turns out terrific, we may have to reconsider!

(Most photos copyright Mark Taft- with a couple of photos copyright The Walt Disney Company.)


Walter Sobchak said...

Vero Beach is indeed beachfront, and is only two hours away from Orlando. Hilton Head is on its own up in South Carolina, but from what I've heard it's still popular, it's just in a different place.

We've never cared to go anywhere but Old Key West anyway.

Mark Taft said...

Thanks, Walter. Always wondered if Old Key West was worth it.
Some friends recently went to Vero Beach and said it was terrific- but they did not go on Disney property.