In mid-July, we visited Disney’s Hilton Head Resort, a Disney Vacation Club property, for the first time. This was actually our first stay at a DVC property, as we only bought into the program in early 2020. On a side note, this trip to Hilton Head was originally made with rental points so that we could investigate DVC and get a feel for whether joining was going to be the right move for us. Alas, I am impulsive, and we ended up buying into Boulder Ridge Villas in early 2020 based largely on the highly positive reviews of DVC by Pete Werner and the members of this fine Facebook group! I give this back story just to give some context into my mindset during this review, this having been my first experience with DVC. But enough about me, let’s get to the review!
A review of this resort cannot begin without talking about Hilton Head Island in general. As a kid who grew up in the NY metro area, my idea of a beach vacation always involved a loud boardwalk, crowded beaches, cheap food, and lots of crappy t-shirts for sale. If you have never been there, Hilton Head Island has absolutely none of those things. In fact, Hilton Head is pretty much the exact opposite of what I grew up thinking was a standard “beach vacation”. First off, this island is beautiful; almost every part of it is covered in lush greenery and vegetation. I am a sucker for live oaks and Spanish moss, and this island is flush with both. You will not find any offensive advertising or signage anywhere on this island. Storefronts are required by local ordinances to be set back and subdued, so as not to take away from the natural beauty of the island. The vibe of the island is different then any beach location I have visited before. It is less busy/crowded than a traditional beach town, but it has enough recreation and dining options to keep you satisfied. There are bike paths throughout the island, and a free trolley is available to shuttle visitors to different locations around the island. There are two words that kept popping into my head as I explored the island; charming and beautiful. If those words are appealing to you, then you will love Hilton Head Island. Now, let’s move on to the actual resort.
Prior to heading to Disney Hilton Head, the most consistent praise I heard about the resort was for its cast members. During my stay, I discovered that there was good reason for this praise as the cast members at this resort are some of the best you will ever find when visiting a Disney property. Every interaction that I had with them during my visit was both positive and enjoyable. Cast members at Hilton Head always greeted me whenever I passed by, no matter what type of service they were performing, or how busy they were. They also were quick to ask if I needed anything to make my stay more enjoyable, following up with action whenever I did request something. Having stayed at WDW resorts since the late 1980s, one of the complaints that I have had with Disney cast members, in general, is that their concern for my happiness has been slowly eroding over recent years. I am not saying that they are rude or unprofessional, but more that an increasing number of WDW cast members have become apathetic regarding overall guest happiness. Hilton Head is an exception to this as the cast there goes above and beyond to ensure you have the best experience possible and are glad to help whenever/wherever needed. I was very impressed with the level of service that the cast members at this resort were able to provide throughout our stay.
The amenity offered at this resort that attracts most visitors, myself included, is its beachfront access. While the main resort is not actually located on the “beach,” Disney does own an area of beachfront that is accessible to visitors of the Hilton Head Resort, complete with a beach house. The beach house includes a pool, pool bar, restrooms, and a dining area. The beach is a short 5-minute drive from the resort and is also accessible by internal shuttle. During our trip, we both drove and utilized the shuttle to get down to the beach. The shuttle was easy to find, the drivers were pleasant, and it drops you off at the front door of the beach house. There are a limited number of parking spaces at the beachfront property, but we found that parking was readily available until noon on most days. Parking could still be found in the afternoon but only in limited, sporadic amounts. The beach itself was well maintained and not overly crowded. Most guests at the beach were from the Disney resort, but there is some minor bleed over from the Marriott property next door. The attitude of beachgoers was pleasant and family-friendly. Overall, I found my experience with the beach segment of the Hilton Head Resort to be very enjoyable.
Theming and Resort Appearance:
The Disney Hilton Head Resort is themed after a 1940’s hunting/fishing camp and is situated on a small island along Broad Creek. The resort does not have a traditional “beach resort” look/vibe, as it is located on the marsh as opposed to the ocean. Palms and live oak covered in Spanish moss are plentiful throughout the resort, and large swaths of marshland surround the island. There are several picnic areas interspersed throughout the property, each having its own bbq, picnic tables, and hammock-beds. I found the resort theming to be calming and naturally appealing. The landscaping is truly remarkable, and you will find yourself stopping numerous times to just stand and take it all in. The view of Broad Creek, especially from the resort’s pier, provides incredible views and some of the best sunsets you will find at any Disney property. Wildlife is plentiful around the resort, to include many species of birds and an occasional pod of dolphins. In simple terms, I was amazed by how beautiful this resort was. During our trip, I would often leave the family at the pool to wander around the property and just stare at all the beautiful sights and take photos. To me, the charm and beauty of this resort is arguably its greatest attribute.
The Hilton Head Resort rooms are large (455sq ft), the largest in the DVC repertoire. We stayed in a deluxe studio room during this visit, and the rooms really do feel as large as they look on paper. There is plenty of room to move around, even with the couch-bed fully extended. The room’s quality was good, with no worn surfaces or stains, and the room itself was very clean. The bathroom was on the larger side for DVC studios, and the decor fit well with the rest of the room theming. Our balcony looked out on the marsh/wetlands, which provided some lovely views, especially at high tide. Like the resort itself, the Disney theming was light and subdued throughout the room. On the whole, I was very happy with the room and would happily stay in a studio at this resort again.
The Disney website states that there are three pools located on property at the Hilton Head Resort. I think this is going a bit far, as the third pool they are referencing is really just a very small kiddie pool located adjacent to the main pool. The main pool, The Big Dipper Pool, is located at the main resort, directly next to the building that houses the resort’s store and dining location. The Big Dipper Pool is a solid option for both kids and adults but probably does lean a bit towards the kid’s side of the scale. Size-wise, it is on par with many other DVC property pools, excluding Stormalong Bay, of course. It has a nice sized, covered water slide that provided hours of excitement for both myself and my kids. There is a small hot tub available, which is utilized mainly by adults. The kiddie pool (known at the Little Dipper) is located about 20 feet away from the Big Dipper Pool and is a small, circular pool with a frog statue at one end that spits a steady stream of water towards the center of the pool. One major component missing at this location is a poolside bar. There is alcohol available to purchase at the adjacent resort store, but it is limited to canned beers/wines and requires you to leave the fenced-in “pool area” and walk up a flight of stairs. There are also a few generic mixed drink options at the Tide Me Over quick-serve option next to the store, but these are nothing special, and that location closes well before the pool. Overall, the pool area at the main resort property is a very good option for kids and a decent option for adults, with the main negative being that it lacks a dedicated pool bar.
The resort features a second pool, which is located down at the resort’s beach house. The pool at the beach house (known imaginatively enough as the Beach House Pool) is pretty much the opposite of the one at the main property. The pool’s shape is of the letter “H,” and it is much smaller than the Big Dipper Pool at the main property. There is no slide at this pool, and its shape, while looking great from aerial shots, makes it less fun for kids to play in as there are only two straight lanes and no large areas to play around in. This pool has a much more adult feel to it, which is enhanced by the addition of a poolside bar that also serves light food options. Opposite to the pool bar, a small quick-serve restaurant mainly serves “burger and fries” type fare. While an option, I would recommend families with kids stick to the beach over the Beach House Pool.
The resort offers on-property activities as well as off-site activities through outside vendors. The resort offered activities are primarily for children and young adults, but can also be enjoyed by adults. Since we were traveling during COVID times, we did not get to experience the full range of activities offered in normal times. The resort provides a schedule so that guests are aware of what will be offered for the week, with some activities requiring advance registration (most can be made the morning of) and a fee for materials. We participated in a guided nature walk, character painting lessons, bat house construction, and tie-dye shirt making during our stay. Many other craft type activities were offered, as well as outside activities like horseshoes, bocce, and fishing. We also took advantage of a kayak tour through an off-property vendor located 5 minutes from the resort. This activity was extremely enjoyable even as a first-time kayaker. BBQ grills are also located throughout the property for guests to utilize. For adult guests, there are numerous boutique shopping activities located nearby, as well as many cultural and historical locations to visit. Reduced rates are offered to resort guests for many of the island’s golf courses.
Dining options are one of the few glaring deficiencies with this resort, but that comes with a big ole’ asterisk. I will be frank here regarding dining options “on property” at this resort….. they are pretty minimal, and they are totally uninspired. To be clear, there are ZERO sit down options at this resort. If you want to have a real, sit down meal while staying here, you will have to leave the property. The main area of the resort only has one option for dining, a place called “Tide Me Over” located next to the main resort store and the Big Dipper Pool. Don’t get me wrong, Tide Me Over isn’t a bad place to eat; the few things I ordered there (turkey wrap, breakfast sandwich) were pretty tasty. It also serves Mickey waffles and Mickey bars! It just does not have a lot of options available on the menu, and it’s really just a take-out window. There are some picnic tables nearby that you can eat at, but if you wanted a spot to sit down and get out of the summer heat….. you are going to have to head back to your room. The hours of operation at Tide Me Over were also lacking as the place closed before normal dinner hours. There was one night of our trip where we were pretty tired and just wanted a laid back, easy dinner at the resort but were unable to get anything as Tide Me Over had already closed for the night. The beach house has two options that serve general bar type food, which is not that bad since most of your time down here will probably be spent down at the beach enjoying the ocean. It also serves Dole whips for those who require such for a legit Disney atmosphere. Here comes the asterisk.
*If you have a car, a bike, can Uber, or don’t mind a short walk, there are many incredible dining options available a short distance from this resort. We ate at three restaurants less than a ten-minute drive from the resort, and we thoroughly enjoyed them. I won’t go into detail about these as they are not part of the resort, but the main point here is that if you are willing to travel, even just a short distance, you are going to find a really terrific meal. Hilton Head has a vibrant dining culture, and there are options for everyone. Those who feel that you shouldn’t have to leave the property to find a decent restaurant while staying at a Disney resort will not be satisfied with this resort. Personally, I won’t disagree with this assertion, but the fact remains that excellent dining options are available while staying at the Hilton Head Disney Resort IF you are willing to travel a short distance.
Reviewing this resort is a really tricky task. This resort is a Disney property, but it’s also NOT a Disney property in certain regards. Thus it is difficult to make comparisons with other resorts in the DVC repertoire. I will start with the one thing I was most impressed with about this resort; this resort is incredibly beautiful, and its theme is very charming. I found myself walking around and just stopping and saying “WOW” every minute or so while walking the grounds. The sunsets on the marsh side are breathtaking. The landscaping at this resort is extraordinary and compares well to even the best DVC properties. The staff here are also unparalleled in regards to most other Disney resorts, save a few outliers. Every single cast member I interacted with at this resort was kind, helpful, and always looking to put a smile on your face. The pools aren’t perfect, but they are more than adequate and very enjoyable. The lack of a sit-down dining option on property at the resort does knock this resort down a bit for me, but that is tempered by the strong collection of off-property dining that is accessible nearby. Largest rooms of all the DVC properties, you can’t complain about that! The beautiful beachfront will offer days of fun-filled enjoyment to anyone who visits it. So, who will enjoy this resort?
- Families: if you are traveling with kids, this resort offers so much in the way of activities and enjoyment that you will not be disappointed. The beautiful beachfront would be enough on its own, but then add in the resort activities/amenities as well as the off-property options, and you could easily get a week’s worth of enjoyment at this resort.
- Couples: The beauty and charm of both this resort and HHI, in general, is really incredible. Add on the excellent off-property dining/shopping options, and this resort becomes a really great option for couples looking to have a more intimate and relaxing vacation than when Disney normally offers.
- Golfers: While the Disney property doesn’t offer any on property golfing, it does offer discounts on many of HHI’s world-class golf courses. Golfers visiting the Disney Hilton Head Resort would have more than enough to keep them occupied during any visit to this property.
- Large Families: The offseason at this resort offers some incredible value for families looking to have a large family gathering at an incredible value. During parts of December and all of January, you can get a week at the grand villa at this resort for 213 points. This is an incredible value for those looking to host a family gathering while not looking to break the bank with point usage.
- Outdoor Enthusiasts: HHI offers a large array of hiking, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities, enough to satisfy anyone looking for an active vacation.
- Anyone Looking to Relax: Hey, I love WDW as much as anyone, but sometimes I just need a break. Disney Hilton Head gives DVC members a chance to relax/recharge their batteries while still getting to enjoy Disney quality and lifestyle. The beach is great, but the beach with some Mickey waffles and Disney music loops? That’s a solid option in my book.
And who probably won’t like this resort?
- Hardcore WDW’ers: There’s no getting around the fact that Disney Hilton Head is located 340 miles away from the Magic Kingdom and the rest of WDW excitement. I would argue that this resort can be enjoyed by anyone, but I know there are some people who will visit this resort and compare it to WDW at every chance they can get. For folks who will not settle for anything less than the grind of park-hopping from sunup to sundown every day of your vacation, not spending more than a few quick minutes at your resort, Hilton Head might not be for you.
I hope this review sheds a little light on a resort that tends to get left out of most of the DVC Fan conversations. As you can tell from my review, I fell in love with this place. In my opinion, this resort is a hidden gem in the DVC portfolio, often getting overlooked because of its location. I believe this is a mistake. This resort is a way to experience Disney service at a more relaxing pace in an absolutely beautiful environment. To share a short story from our trip to this resort, on the last night of our trip, my 7-year-old daughter cried for several hours after realizing that it was her last night there. She kept saying how she had so much fun and didn’t want to leave it all behind. We have been visiting WDW her entire life, and never once has she had that reaction when she has left there (hard to believe as I cry like a 7-year-old girl every time I hop on the Tragical Express). I personally would still take a trip to WDW over Hilton Head if I had to choose between the two, but as a DVC owner, I don’t have to make that choice; I can experience both. So next time you are contemplating how to use your points for the next few years, take a look at Hilton Head, even if just for a few days. From my experience there, I would bet you a Mickey bar that you will not be disappointed.
Shaun Hansen is a long time DIS fan and a new DVC member who has been visiting Disney his entire life.