Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa

By Chris VandenHeuvel

Our family frequently needs a genuine getaway, a place to revive drained spirits and to reacquaint ourselves with each other.

A few miles off South Carolina's Hilton Head island lies "the first cay" – or "Daufuskie" in local Gullah speak* – and its private resort.  Accessible only by water, Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa is a true getaway where we were able to slow down and rediscover the joys of our children (14 year-old Maddy and 13 year-old Jamie) and where they were able to rediscover each other.

Daufuskie is purposefully designed to distance itself from Hilton Head's traffic, shopping and hubbub.  We happily surrendered our luggage at the resort's tranquil Embarkation Center on Hilton Head and hopped aboard the resort's launch for the leisurely 45-minute cruise through Calibogue Sound, escorted by nosy dolphins.  Civilization had drifted slowly into the background by the time we tied up at the resort's private dock.  We then were shuttled through a pageant of live oak trees dripping in Spanish moss and deposited at the antebellum 52-room Inn at Melrose, perched above the Atlantic Ocean.

While my wife Pat and I were overcome by the scenery, our worldly, well-traveled kids were more taken with our new mode of transportation: golf carts.  Since our lodging was on the far side of the resort, we spent a quite a bit of time winding our way along trails through classic Lowcountry scenery coupled with manicured golf links: alligators lounging in the sun near the 15th fairway of Bloody Point Gold Course; a bald eagle lunching on a freshly caught fish near the practice range; herons stalking breakfast in shallow water hazards.  The leisurely golf cart rides fast became the favorite part of our kids' stay, a time to chill with mom or dad while taking it all in.

Our three-bedroom, three-bath Sandy Lane condo was exceptionally spacious, comfortable and lovely, full of upscale island furnishing and wrapped by a wide balcony for stunning sunrise views over the ocean and the pretty pool.  We could have stayed for weeks and soaked in the luxury and convenience, what with a laundry room and fully equipped kitchen with granite countertops.  With a private boardwalk to the near deserted beach, the condos are decidedly quieter and feel more private than the main resort area; however, they also are a bit of a hike from most of the resort amenities.  Our kids didn't mind – any excuse to ride in the golf carts ....

Most families and groups choose the lovely cottages scattered along the wide Driftwood Beach near the Melrose Inn, often ordering groceries in advance to be delivered upon arrival.  The General Store sells a surprisingly wide variety of prepared foods and packaged goods for cooking in.  Oh, yes ...  and The New York Times.  Not all of civilization was surrendered at the dock.

We unfortunately were not very impressed on our visit with the restaurant scene for families.  Of little interest to kids is Jack's, a quiet dining room that could use some updating in décor and cuisine.  The Lounge in the Inn serves pub food, but TV's blare and the five or six tables surround a pool table – it's a distinctly adult scene (although we did have a pleasant lunch on the Lounge's veranda).  The one decidedly family friendly choice is the Beach Club – it serves decent food in air conditioning or on a screened porch overlooking the pool and beach.  But it's closed during the slower season.  And it would be nice to have more than one good family option.  There is fortunately a large, splendid breakfast buffet served daily in the Inn, overlooking the pristine lawns and sparkling ocean.

We never know whether we'll be in the mood to be active or inactive when we venture out – fortunately, Daufuskie caters to both moods.  Our active side wandered up and down the quiet 3-mile beach on rented bikes (some in need of a little care, $12 half-day, $25 full-day) and played pitch & putt golf on the Inn's lawn (there's also bocce and croquet). 

Maddy and I enjoyed a 90-minute horseback ride through the island's forest and along the beach. (Minimum age to ride trails is 8; for pony rides 2-7, rates range from $20-118 depending on length.) Maddy loved pushing her horse Sport to cantering speed on an open trail.  Jody, who runs the Equestrian Center with great expertise, knows all the creepy things loitering in the Daufuskie forest, including bobcats and venomous snakes.  With scary creatures lurking in the woods, it was nice to know our horses could hightail it, if needed.

For those who want to venture off of the resort, there are other interesting diversions on the island, such as the History and Artisans Tour by Outside Hilton Head (www.outsidehiltonhead.com) that explores Daufuskie's beauty, small art community and Gullah culture, some of which Pat Conroy described in The Water is Wide.  Outfitters on island also offer fishing charters, kayaking, dolphin tours and jet ski rentals.  And the resort's award-winning golf and tennis clubs looked marvelous but ...

... our inactive side got the best of us.  We lounged around our condo pool, read books on our balcony overlooking the deep blue sea, lolled along the quiet beach and bought unhealthy snacks at the General Store.  Pat became very inactive under her masseuse's direction at the resort's Breathe Spa, a lovely destination in and of itself (but no services for kids at this time).  And we laughed a lot more than usual.

Daufuskie separated us from the hassles of civilization while indulging us in quiet luxury.  By slowing down to do little, we found time to reconnect with our kids, and the two of them rediscovered the joy of just hanging out with nothing but each other and free time.  And two relaxed parents.

*The origin of the word "Daufuskie" is unclear: some say it's Gullah for "the first key"; others ascribe it to a native American word for "sharp feather".  The former sounds more poetic.

If You Go
Rates at Daufuskie Island Resort start at $124 per night in the Melrose Inn and $1373 per week for a two-bedroom cottage. Specials are sometimes available on the resort’s website. Be sure to inquire about any family packages or promotional rates such as those offered by AAA to get the best deal. For more information call 800-648-6778 or visit www.DaufuskieIslandResort.com.

Cottages have either two, three or four bedrooms. If you choose to stay in one of the more removed three-bedroom/three-bath condos (Easter Beach or Sandy Lane), the rental of a golf cart or “Cottage Cart” ($42 per day) is highly recommended.

Be sure to make your reservations in advance for the 45-minute ferry ride from the Hilton Head (or Savannah, GA) Embarkation Center to the resort. Cost (not included in the room rate) is $30/RT for adults, $15.00 for children 6-11, under 5 free. Ferries run every hour and a half, but less frequently from December through February. Current schedules are posted online at www.daufuskieresort.com.

Inquire about special events that are held throughout the year. Among the offerings:  holiday barbeques, star gazing beach parties, oyster roasts, Low Country boils, lobster boils, and especially for the kids - beachside bonfires complete with roasted marshmallows and s’mores.

Chris VandenHeuvel is public relations executive who began freelance writing on family travel after his daughter Maddy was born in 1992. He and his wife Pat take their two kids (including son Jamie) everywhere they can, including villas in Jamaica, high end resorts and the Galapagos Islands.

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