Hilton Head Island Vacation – Tuesday 7/15/08

Rodger Dale & Shan at Harbor Town Light July 2008

Harbor TownThe kids wanted to spend as much time as they could at the beach, so more often than not, that’s where they were today. Shannon and I wanted to see the local lighthouse at Harbor Town which was just a short drive from our villa. There were many small shops and a quaint little harbor, but the view of the harbor, from the top of the lighthouse was breath-taking. I was able to negotiate the 114 steps up and was it ever worth it. Every few steps, there was a landing where you could read about the history of the island, which provided me with an opportunity to take a break while making the climb with my cane.

18th Hole of the Sea Pines Resort Golf Course from the Harbor Town Light Look-out Photo by Rodger Mangold

There was a small fee to gain access for the day to the Sea Pines Resort where the lighthouse was located ($5.00/day/car) and another fee for going up into the lighthouse ($3.00/person). The views were not only of the harbor, but of the ocean, and the 18th hole of the Sea Pines Resort. You can view the web cam HERE to see almost the entire area surrounding the lighthouse.

Murphy’s Fish ‘n’ Chips – One of my favorite dishes of all time is fish and chips. When reading up on some of the local flavor in Hilton Head I stumbled upon an ad for Murphy’s Irish Pub and Restaurant. Mr. Murphy states in his ad that he’s from Ireland and serves authentic Irish cuisine including fish and chips. I was immediately “hooked.” So for lunch, Shannon and I head to Murphy’s and were the only people there. In fact, Murphy was the gent that waited on us. True to his ad, he was in fact an Irishman, and his fish and chips did not disappoint. Made with cod fillets, they were scrumptious. He tended to our every whim. He took our order, cooked, served it, visited with us some, and was very pleasant. He kept smiling a “wee” smirk. I think he was tickled that I told him we were putting his fish and chips to the test.

The place was a bit small, and more pub than restaurant. We were the only guests there so it was quaint and quiet. We enjoyed visiting with Mr. Murphy and watching his feed from the UK of a soccer tournament while we ate. Plus, in the background he was playing Irish/Celtic music. I know we were in Hilton Head Island, but for a few moments we felt like we were in Ireland. Murphy says he appeals to a smaller crowd and is considered a stepping stone to larger restaurants and pubs in the area. He doesn’t mind he said, it keeps the atmosphere more family friendly. Incidently, our bill with (2) meals and (2) iced teas came to about $22.00.

Salty Dog Café – Later we took the kids to the Salty Dog Café where we had some ice cream and took in some of the sights. We were told, anyone that goes to Hilton Head Island, MUST go to the Salty Dog. It was a quaint outdoor café with a souvenir/general store. The ice cream was excellent, but a little on the costly side. There is a webcam here as well that is located next to the thermometer in the café. There are two red-painted foot prints to stand on to be in view of the webcam. In addition to the Salty Dog Café, there is a Salty Dog T-shirt Outlet. The kids chose to pass up on the T-shirt or any of the souvenirs.

Hilton Head Island Vacation – Monday 7/14/08

Tourist Nightmare ALERT – What I am about to describe is a pure tourist nightmare, and consider this a warning. We stopped by a “visitor center” that was actually a disguise for a rental property company that lures you into listening to their sales pitch for “90 minutes,” as the try to entice you to by into a “time-share-type” of plan that would enable you to stay at any resort within their catalog. I did not want anything to do with going to this meeting, but they promised us $100/couple for listening to the plan. We took it with the intention of being able to put the money toward a deep-sea fishing trip for Nathan, Katelyn, and my in-laws. MISTAKE!

The whole presentation wound up taking almost 3 hours, the didn’t want to give us the $100 when we were explicitly told that’s what we would get. Actually, if you figure, we should have been given $200/couple since they took 3 hours of our time instead of the promised 90 minutes. The guy would just not take no for an answer. Finally, Shannon had to get out-right rude, as did I, to get him to just cut us a check and let us go! We weren’t even interested in the plan, we just wanted the cash. I know this guy had to make his living too, and he did a great job of explaining the plan, but honestly, how many times, and how many different ways can you tell a guy NO? FYI the name of the property group was Spinnaker.

Coligny Plaza Shops – A tourist trap that is a must for any visitor to Hilton Head is Coligny Plaza. There are tons of small shops, ice cream stores, a True Value Hardware Store, a souvenir shops, restaurants, and even a Piggly Wiggly! We had ice cream at the “Ice Cream Cone” shop. Katelyn had her hair braided “corn row” style at “Hair and Company.” Nathan and Katelyn both bought sand-dollars and star fish at the “Shell Shop.”

Hilton Head Island Vacation – Sunday 7/13/08

Getting Around Town – Our first order of business, once food was taken care of, as with anywhere we go for the first time, is to familiarize ourselves with the area. Thanks to our Delphi NAV200 GPS we were able to quickly get to where we wanted to go. In addition to the GPS my phone, the Blackberry Curve 8830 from Verizon Wireless, is equipped with GPS, call VZ Navigator. The VZ Navigator was especially helpful in finding area restaurants, stores, and attractions.

Bike Rides – Our bikes were indeed delivered as promised by Patriot Bike Rentals of Hilton Head Island. They were excellent bikes for getting around the resort and getting to the beach. That was just about our first order of business, trying out the new bikes and seeing the beach. I was a little worried that with my injured ankle that riding a bike would prove too much. My doctor gave me the approval so I made the attempt and I am glad I did. I was able to get around fantastic on the bike. There was a short distance that I had to walk the bike to the actual beach, which proved challenging on the softer sand, but once I was on the packed sand, it was exhilarating riding the bike along the beach with the waves crashing to the shore.

Hilton Head Vacation July 2008 – The Villa

As promised, I am attempting to keep our visitors up to date on the progress of our vacation. Our villa was immaculate. It had 3 bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. A very spacious kitchen, dining area, and living room. Outside we had a lovely covered deck right off the 6th hole of the resort golf course. In the event you attempt to put this villa in your GPS, it will need to be entered as 91 Colonnade (actually address was 195 Colonnade), Hilton Head Island, SC 29928.

The link to the villa can be found here at Resort Rentals of Hilton Head. This was a superb find and very affordable, especially when you can split the price with another family. In our case, my inlaws are going in “halvers” with us. The rate for the week came to $1386.45. Here is a link to the actual unit we will be staying in (LINK).

There were a set of towels furnished for all of us including wash cloths. This worked well because the villa included its own washer and dryer.

Room #1: Was a room with (2) twin beds and a bathroom entrance from both the bedroom and the hallway (with doors of course).

Room #2: Was furnished with a queen bed and its very own bathroom and walk-in closet.

Room #3: Was furnished with a king sized bed, a walk-in closet, shower and jacuzzi. This was our room.

Our first order of business after arriving was to stock up on groceries. Having a villa and fully utilizing the convenience to us includes the ability to cook your own meals. A tremendous savings and you’re always pleased with the quality of both the food and the service. That being said, all tolled, we only ate out 2 times the entire stay. Groceries for the whole week for all (6) of us was about $250.00. If you figure, (3) meals a day times (7) days, that’s 21 meals for the price of $250.00. That’s $35/day, divided yet again by (6) persons that equals $5.95/day per person for our meals.

I’ll post another update tomorrow about some of the specifics of the vacation in terms of the beach, shopping, what meals we did eat out, our day trips, and some of the stormy weather we encountered. We even sat through one of the dreaded condo sales pitches (not recommended).

July 5, 2008 – Smoky Mountain Knife Works then on to Hilton Head

We woke with the anticipation of officially heading towards the thrust of our vacation this year: Hilton Head Island. We woke to showers in hopes they would taper off by the time our started down the road. Now, no trip to Sevierville, TN is complete without stopping by the Mecca of all knife stores Smoky Mountain Knife Works 2320 Winfield Dunn Parkway Sevierville, TN 37876 Tel. 865-453-5871.

We initially made a trip there and spent roughly 2 hours, but we had to make one more pilgrimage there. Nathan wanted a knife with an “assist-open” feature. Typically, there is a spring in the mechanism that enables the user to “flick” the knife with your finger to open it. This is similar to a push-button feature found on switch blades, but is legal in most states. He settled on a Buck knife (about $70.00) and I too got a a couple of new knives. I’m fond of Gerber, SOG, Leatherman, Kershaw, Columbia River, and Buck knives.

  • Nate’s New “Buck Tempest” – See Pic HERE
  • My New “Buck X-Tract” – See Pic HERE
  • Plus several others

On our way out, we were stopped by a camera crew, it looked like a local Channel 10 News (WBIR) crew. They wanted to know if the high gas prices effected our travel plans. Of course, it did impact our trip, but only in that we had to budget extra money to offset the fuel prices. They also asked us how we liked Tennessee and what kind of plans we had. I’m not sure if they’ll air the footage or not, but it was sort of cool being interviewed.

From there we spent about 8 hours getting to Hilton Head Island to check into our villa. I drove all the way with a few stops for lunch, gas, and bathroom breaks. We ran into some weather on the way. We had some difficulty getting into the actual resort area since it wasn’t on the GPS, but all in all it was a good trip. We’re getting about 24 MPG, travelling at about 70 MPH.

Gas prices throughout where we were travelling were from $3.87 up to $4.05. Still beats Michigan’s $4.20.

July 4, 2008 – Mangold Family Vacation

We started our morning with an excellent breakfast at Cracker Barrel (1 of 2 right in Pigeon Forge). From there we went to the outlets yet again for a couple of last minute things. Nathan and I found a place called “Lids” that sells hats. They had this huge contraption right in the middle of the store that was an embroidering machine. This machine for about $10 would add details to just about any hat in the place. We had a blast picking out our hats and customizing them.

We then took the kids to the NASCAR go-carts for the remainder of the day. The price wasn’t too bad, it cost about $25.00 for both of them to ride a couple of times. The wait time was a bit excessive with the holiday crowds, but they walked off the ride with a smile on their face.

We had lunch at Huck Finns. This, to me, is the only place to get catfish in all of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or Sevierville. The bill was a bit steep, but the meal was well worth it. We each got an entree which includes hush puppies, a sliced onion, pickles, and white beans with ham. I of course ordered catfish. Shannon and Katelyn ordered calabash shrimp. Nathan ordered fried clams. This restaurant serves their drinks in “Mason” jars. This is an old southern tradition that I often even did as a child visiting Mangold’s Grove. While I’ve been down here, I’ve ordered nothing but sweet tea. I even got Nathan hooked!

Thankfully, the weather cooperated. In fact so much so, we enjoyed the fireworks from our hotel lawn. They were about 5 miles away at Patriot Park, but we had an excellent view from where we were.

We surely could have covered more ground in Pigeon Forge had it not been for the miserable traffic AND my bum ankle. I’m good for about 3 hours and then I have to get it elevated. This is the first week I have been able to put weight on the left foot with the help of a cane. So much of this vacation is going to involve taking pain pills, going to the extreme with my foot, taking more pain pills, keeping it iced and elevated.

July 3, 2008 – Pigeon Forge, TN

After prayer to ensure a safe journey, we departed Sterling Heights at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Katelyn, bless her heart, was so excited she woke up at 2 and couldn’t go back to sleep. We stopped at Bob Evans in Ohio and had breakfast. We stopped for gas 2 times our first fuel up at Meijer in Ohio was for $3.99 and then again in Kentucky for $4.05 a gallon. Real deals considering Michigan prices are almost $4.20 as of this post.

We arrived in Pigeon Forge at roughly 4:00. We made relatively good time adhering to the speed limits not only to prevent getting a ticket, but for the added benefit of saving on fuel.

Dinner
We had dinner at Calhoun’s. This has been a Tennessee favorite of mine for a long time. They’re famous for anything from their steaks, seafood, and my personal favorite – Ribs! They were as always terrific. Shannon and Katelyn shared chicken tenders. Nathan had the special which was a Pork Chop with broccoli and a side of mashed potatoes. Our bill came to roughly $55.00 for all of us. Considering this was our main meal of the day I didn’t figure that was all that bad.

Traffic Surprise
To our dismay, on the way into Pigeon Forge, starting almost from the point we got off of Hwy. 640, onto Hwy. 40, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic. When we arrived at Calhoun’s we enquired about the traffic, and according to them, Gatlinburg, which is just up the road from where we were at, is known for being one of the first places in the United States to celebrate the birth of our country, by having a parade that starts at the stroke of midnight. People were lined up trying to pile into the small town before the streets get blocked off. Even as patriotic as I am, we decided to forego those festivities in favor of a quiet evening here in Pigeon Forge.

Accommodations
After almost 11 hours travel, we were ready to huddle into our room. I had some anxiety about checking in. I had previously booked a room here and had to cancel it when we decided to arrive a day early and needed a room for 2 days rather than just the one. The cancellation went through without incident, but I just wasn’t sure by cancelling and booking another reservation was going to work out. I could just imagine, someone thinking I intended to cancel the reservation and cancelling both of them. To my relief, the room was in fact ready.

Econo Lodge Riverside Review
Now, I’m not a connoisseur of hotels, but I have stayed in my share of good and bad, and there are certain things we MUST have in order to enjoy our stay at a hotel. Econo Lodge Riverside at 2440 N. Parkway Pigeon Forge TN 37868 is in a great location. It’s billed from a 2 to 3 star hotel but several sites. Incidentally, I located this hotel at Kayak.com for a rate of $79.99 (Thu.) and $99.99 (Fri.). This rate includes a non-smoking room with 2-queens with a AAA discount. Below is a description of my rating system and my review of the room.  

My Rating System

  • Cost – This is a very important factor in all of our decisions. In the past we have paid dearly for a room only to be disappointed. Budgeting for rooms for us typically falls in to the $75 – $100/night, depending on the area.
  • Cleanliness – We don’t mind paying an extra $10 or $15/night, if we can be assured the room is going to be clean. We have had bugs, hairs, soiled sheets, mold, mildew, rooms in disrepair and swore off ever staying at not only that particular hotel, but sometimes going as far as never wanting to stay at the chain. Best Westerns and Days Inns are 2 names that we have seen go down the tubes in terms of quality.
  • Closeness – Being in close proximity is important. This saves time and fuel, and enables us to absorb ourselves in the surroundings of the tourist attraction, but not be so close that we are dealing with crowds.
  • Quietness – Seldom, if ever, can you avoid noise, or predict it happening. The quieter the better though. We’ve stayed in 4 and 5 star hotels only to be totally disappointed with the stay due to loud and rambunctious hockey or softball teams and even grown-up reunions or retreats.
  • These are my ratings from lowest quality to highest: Awful –  Bad – OK – Good – Fair – Moderate – Excellent – Superb

So with these things in mind, let me just say, it’s been roughly 2 hours since we checked in trouble-free with this Econo Lodge in Pigeon Forge and here are my immediate reactions.

  • Check-in: This went relatively well. The lady at the front desk was polite enough and was helpful. I would suggest here that if you require a room on the first floor due to medical problems (like I currently have) you book this in advance and let them know. We were assigned to the third floor. When I requested a lower level, I was quickly cut-off and told there were none available. Here would have been a good chance for her to at least have offered to check for cancellations, and to offer at least a second floor. She did neither. I immediately asked if there was an elevator. She said yes, but it’s proximity to our room was prohibitive. I may as well take the stairs, although slowly and with a great deal of discomfort. The walk to the elevator would have been roughly double in length.
  • The Room: Very clean. A bit cramped, but with good reason. There are (2) queen beds, an small kitchenette style area with a small fridge, coffee pot, and microwave, 26″ TV, 2 closets with doors, a table with (2) chairs, a full dresser, a luggage table, and the standard night stand.
    • The decor was tasteful and up-to-date. It appears this is their original state, as no signs of paint or new wallpaper are evident. The carpet is a bit worn in high traffic areas, as is to be expected, but there are snags, perhaps from children or luggage.
    • The linens were all clean and in good supply. Enough for all (4) of us.
    • The soap products seem a bit stingy, but do-able. I did notice while we were checking in, a gentleman that must have been here for a couple of days had to come and get a bar of soap from the hostess, as his room attendant apparently forgot to leave a fresh bar. We had a bar on the sink and on in the tub, so apparently, the room attendant forgot to leave (2) bars of soap.
    • The pool is smaller than in the pictures, but clean. Being on the smaller side, the pool was quickly crowded, with a lot of screaming kids and non-existent adults.
  • The Breakfast: This was nothing short of disappointing. Definitely do NOT take this into consideration when factoring the price. With (2) Cracker Barrels, Bob Evans, IHOP, and scads of pancake restaurants to pick from, they actually do you a favor by not serving a decent breakfast.
  • The Beds: Not the most supportive, and they were probably due for a change-out soon, but they served their purpose.
  • Overall: My impression of this room is MODERATE
  • Would I stay here again? Yes
  • Would I recommend it? Yes
  • Recommend to who? Family on budget, business, or budget-minded couple on a get-away.