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Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa: A Place We Hope To See Again

FrommerLuxuryTravel
Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

Our idea was to drive from New York to Miami and back again, breaking up the long trip each way with a couple of stopovers at places we’d always wanted but never got around to visiting. It worked splendidly -- on the way down. Now, after spending two weeks in Miami Beach where the sun rose gloriously every morning and set in golden splendor every evening, we’re headed back. Our first stop will be Hilton Head, the sneaker-shaped island off the coast of South Carolina which we’d heard much about. We think we can reach it by late afternoon.

All goes well until we cross the state line coming out of Georgia into South Carolina when a sky, which had been blue all day, suddenly turns dark and ominous.

By the time we turn east onto Route 278, we’re in the midst of a steady downpour. The traffic is heavy, the visibility poor. What seems like hours later, we cross the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway onto the island only to find ourselves driving through a web of small winding roads and past resorts shrouded in the darkness until, at last, we make out the sign: “Westin.”

A young man named Eric welcomes us to the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. We follow him into a cavernous, barely furnished building for what seems like a very long distance to the check-in desk. Then he brings us up to our room. On the way, he tells us the resort is under renovation. Aha, we think, that must be why we’re the only guests around.

But, Eric says, our room is completely re-done. Tentatively, we step inside. It’s lovely! Spacious, and comfortable. There are LEDs lights on the headboard. The bathroom is state of the art; the linens luxurious. And the oceanfront view – which we can’t make out at all this dark and stormy night –is great, according to Eric. Also, Oceans, the resort’s premier restaurant, which specializes in fresh seafood, is operating -- albeit on a limited level.

We do enjoy a pleasant dinner based on a menu of minimal options at a table that looks out at the downpour we’ve just gotten out of. Then we return to our room and turn in, wondering if our stopover plan is such a good idea after all and deciding we’ll aim for an early departure the next morning.

But the next morning, all is forgiven. The storm has ended, the sun has risen, and, as Eric promised, the ocean is visible. From the balcony of our room, the beach spreads out before us, a pristine panorama of pure white sand and the endless blue of a sunlit sea. At Oceans, sunlight is streaming through the huge windows that line the dining room. We meet Gaby and Duke, two guys -- who together with Eric – comprise the Jamaican component at the resort. They see us admiring the view and tell us we are sitting in the only restaurant in all of Hilton Head Island that is directly on the beach.

Ocean’s breakfast menu is loaded with options, and one of us takes full advantage of them, including the low country classic hominy grits. Then we walk out into the sunshine and meet Ellen Lam, the resort’s sales and marketing director.

Bright and vivacious, Ellen tells us Hilton Head Island is just a little bigger than Manhattan Island. She was born and grew up in Manhattan so she knows of what she speaks. We are on the wooden boardwalk outside the restaurant and getting our first sense of the property. Behind us is the beach. Before us is a courtyard embraced by a five-story building that angles into four wings – the building proper. Ellen suggests we walk down the courtyard paths. It is a little world of enchantment with flower beds, palm trees, a fountain, a lagoon in which an ibis stands in perfect stillness, a shaded pond from which we spot a flash of gold (actually it was a darting koi, Ellen explains), and three sizeable and distinctively-shaped swimming pools (one of which will be covered and heated for year-round use once the renovation is completed).

There are 412 guestrooms and suites here. “Most of them face the ocean; those that don’t look have a beautiful island view with its wooded areas. None face the parking lot,” Ellen tells us.

We take a look at the Carolina Café, a big sprawling casual dining room in the midst of renovation. More F&B venues are in the works. Meanwhile, there are a range of activities and facilities the resort offers among them a world-class spa, sizeable conference and meeting spaces, beautiful ballrooms.

At the same time, the resort is very family-oriented. The Recreation Team organizes on-site activities for adults and kids. There’s a discovery camp for children along with many interesting and fun activities for the 4 to 12 year-old set.

In our short stay at the Hilton Head Resort and Spa, we take the measure of the place with refreshed eyes. What had seemed so cavernous the night before becomes promising as we learn of the changes underway from new lighting to new furnishings inspired by Art Deco design.

And then there’s the rest of the island, there for the taking by anyone staying at the resort. Twelve miles by five miles of flat land –perfect for biking. Excursions are available: horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, dolphin-spotting. The Port Royal Golf and Racquet Club is located alongside the resort. It has three 18-hole golf championship courses, 14 tennis courts, both clay and hard surface.  Many famous golfers come to play on the island. The PGA Tour plays here every April.

Our Hilton Head sojourn took place in February. Now it’s April. The renovations should be complete. It would be a good time to return. But we’d rather wait until May or June when it’s turtle-nesting time. We’ve heard turtles weighing as much as 250 pounds come up to nest in the sands. Imagine that, and also the long expanse of untrodden beach, the sight of the retreating sea at low tide, and the fine, pure sand extending so far out, the peacefulness of walking the boardwalk under a starry sky, pleasures of Hilton Head Island...  

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa
2 Grasslawn Avenue
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928

Phone: 843 681 1027
Web:  http://www.westinhiltonheadisland.com

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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