Thanks to the Hilton Head Island Visitor and Convention Bureau for providing me with this free trip to Hilton Head Island.
Bridging the gap between kids’ and adults’ interests can be as simple as adding a little adventure and make-believe. This is a lesson we’ve learned well at home, where our game “Super Hero Clean-Up Squad” is the surest way to get the Barbies and Duplos put away in under 15 minutes. But it also works well on vacation, keeping grown-ups’ desire for relaxation from coming into conflict with kids’ desire to bounce off the walls at all times.
This summer, we discovered Hilton Head Island. While it’s known as a relaxing destination for lounging on the beach or having a cocktail in the shade of a Spanish-moss-draped tree, it’s also the perfect place to have an adventure with the kids.
Here’s how to add thrills to your next family vacation, with a few tips from my 7-year-old daughter.
Make Dinner Time Science Time
“I’d never seen a crab before and I didn’t know they shed their shells.”
A little education courtesy of General Manager Andrew Carmines and the crab molting tanks at Hudson’s on the Docks, a Hilton Head seafood institution, kept our daughter fascinated by the crabs and their alien looks.
Later at dinner, while the kids talked about and examined the crustaceans on their plates, we were free to enjoy a truly epic seafood feast, including, naturally, soft-shelled crabs, but also specialties like local oysters and she-crab soup.
Go on an Ocean Cruise – with Pirates!
According to our daughter, the Pirates of Hilton Head cruise “was very funny. Especially the singing and dancing, and when the lead pirate sucked her thumb.”
While that humor may sound a little broad for grown-up tastes, the crew alternates between high-energy hijinks and wry humor, so you’ll have a few laughs, too. The cruise takes the form of a treasure hunt that reaches its peak when kids shoot a rival pirate with water cannons and ends with a treasure of costume rings and doubloons pulled from the sea floor.
And the bonus? Afterwards, kids are tired enough to put up with a little lounging by the ocean.
Take in the Wildlife
One of our daughters’ strongest memories of the trip was just a passing moment for the adults. On our way to the beach one morning, we passed an alligator in a canal on the grounds of the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.
Later that day, we went on a private dolphin tour with Captain Deb of the Shelter Cove Marina, a South Carolina Master Naturalist and Speedboat Captain who seemed to have a strong rapport with the dolphins.
Our daughter says, “I was kind of jealous that she could call the dolphins,” but we were just grateful, as it gave us the chance to see them from just a few feet away.
Don’t Just Go to the Beach, Bike to the Beach
Relatively flat and amply provided with trails, Hilton Head is the perfect place to rent a bike (with a trailer or a tandem attachment depending on your child’s age) and make getting to the beach as much fun as being there.
Our daughter says, “I thought the bike ride was really fun because we went up and down hills a lot and that was kind of scary.”
It’s a good reminder that even the little things can be an adventure to kids.
Find a Museum That Has Ponies and Rockets
For adults and older children, the Coastal Discovery Museum has fascinating displays on the the ecology and history of Hilton Head Island. But there’s plenty that will appeal to younger children as well, like two Marsh Tacky horses (a local breed descended from the horses of Spanish explorers) and part of a rocket that washed up on the shore at Hilton Head.
After touring the grounds, hit the gift shop, which is reasonably priced and where you know your tourist dollar is going toward a good cause. Our daughter especially loved a shark’s tooth necklace that she’ll be sporting at school this fall.
When All Else Fails, Go to the Pool!
It may seem crazy to go to the pool when you’re steps away from the ocean, but the pools at the Westin Hilton Head Island, where we spent a few nights, had a lot going for them. There are no jellyfish and you don’t get sand in your shoes, for example.
A shallow pool was perfect for young swimmers, but if your kids are old enough to be a little more independent, you can enjoy a drink poolside at the main pool.
And if the weather’s not cooperating, there’s also a covered, heated outdoor pool, meaning rainy days don’t have to be a wash.More On