With kids in tow, the wrong vacation can be worse than no vacation at all. The last thing you want is to return home less rested and more stressed than before you went.
That's why our recent family trip to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina was such a success. Our boys got to see the pelicans and dolphins they'd been talking about for so long, my husband and I each got to finish the books we brought and, in an unprecedented vacation-with-children occurrence everybody slept as well as, if not better than, at home. Vacationing on Hilton Head worked for us and if the following appeals to you, you'll like it too:
Hilton Head is beautiful
The phrase "endless beaches" could have been coined for Hilton Head. The sand really does seem to go on forever, which is probably why so much activity takes place there. Popular beach pastimes include dog-walking, running, cycling (yes, right on the beach –- the tide leaves behind a strip as hard and smooth as American asphalt), Tai Chi and, of course, sandcastle building.
If you can tear yourself away from the shore you'll find the rest of the island incredibly scenic. An entire plantation (the name given to the island's various communities) is named after the towering sea pines and with more than 20 championship golf courses around it's no surprise everything is meticulously landscaped. The architecture is tasteful, with everything built in earth tones, so even the largest mansions (and there are quite a few) blend in.
There is a variety of hotels, condos and villas to choose from, and it's affordable
It looks different from home and feels different from home but, since you're in the U.S., the comforts of home are easily accessible. Here are just some of the comfort factors you'll find:
• Villas and condominiums make up a large proportion of available accommodation -– these are generally spacious, well-equipped and, in the winter season (which usually lasts from late October to mid-March), surprisingly affordable.
• Familiar brands and emergency products are just a quick trip away at supermarkets and pharmacies reassuringly like the ones you shop in back home.
• You don't have to lug half the contents of the nursery along with you because Hilton Head Vacation Rentals will deliver and set up equipment including full-size cribs, exersaucers, highchairs and more. Similarly, the bicycle rental outlets scattered everywhere also offer child seats, bike trailers, tag-alongs and child-sized helmets.
Sports and shopping –- there are lots of things to do, even on rainy days
Relaxing? Yes. Sleepy? No. Here are just a few the things you can try on the island:
Sports. In addition to all the water sports you can imagine (kayaking, sailing, waterskiing and fishing, to name just a few), there are plenty of nonwater sports to enjoy. Long before it gained popularity as a mainstream destination, Hilton Head attracted avid golfers and tennis players. There's also horseback riding, hiking and bicycling –- you ride off-beach too on a network of bike paths covering the island.
Shopping. Of course, to some this is just another sport and, actually, shopping at the two nearby Tanger Outlets centres is likely to wear you out. There are also plenty of shops right on the island, many carrying unique gift and souvenir items.
Rainy days. The good news is big storms that hit other parts of the eastern seabord seem to miss Hilton Head (at least that's what the locals say). Still, if the weather drives you indoors there's lots to do. Apart from the old standby of going to the movies, you can visit The Sandbox, an interactive children's museum containing, among other things, an indoor construction site, a pirate ship and the cockpit of a plane. There are also plenty of creative businesses where you can build your own teddy bear, paint your own ceramics, create a scrapbook and more.
Things to know if you go:
Weather. The climate is subtropical, which means it's not as hot as Florida but considerably warmer than home. January's the coolest month with an average high of 15 degrees. When we were there in late February most days hovered around 20 degrees and they've obviously elevated pool heating to a fine art because the pool was considerably warmer than the outside air.
Transportation. Air Canada (in partnership with United) flies into Savannah Hilton Head International Airport, which is about 45 minutes along the I95 from the island. It's also quite common to see Ontario license plates –- the drive takes about 14 hours from Windsor, 16 from Toronto and 18 from Ottawa.
Planning. The official Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce website is very helpful, even offering a live chat with an island expert. There's also a good independent information site at www.hhisleinfo.com.
As you'll find if you go, there's more to do than you can manage on one trip –- I haven't even touched on the historical significance of the entire area, including Savannah. I'm not too worried though, because I'm pretty sure we'll be going back.