Sea Pines Resort's Inn at Harbour Town pampers guests with Hilton Head elegance and European flair
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - The Inn at Harbour Town at Sea Pines Resort is small - just 60 rooms - accommodating, and European. The ambiance is clear upon entry with a grand foyer decorated in rich, dark woods and elegant, floral displays. Young, English women and men staff each of the small, check-in desks. They're gracious and helpful, if a little hard to understand for those rusty in deciphering accents other than Southern.
After the completion of minor paperwork, a butler escorts each guest to his or her room and provides an overview of the amenities. This is where your cooler is revealed, hiding in a handsome, half breakfront. Also within are wine glasses, a wine rack and corkscrew. Next to a small box of chocolates, hopefully, you'll notice the handwritten, personally addressed note that welcomes you to the Inn.
Without the aid of your butler, you might miss the dimmer control in the bathroom or the bathrobes in the closet. If one chooses to use the robes, housekeeping will henceforth leave fresh ones folded at the foot of the bed.
The European bathrooms feature a separate soak bath and shower. The tile floors can get chilly, so slippers are provided. Toiletries are more than ample, including body wash in the shower and a glass container filled with cotton balls and Q-tips. The Inn also offers complimentary trouser-pressing and shoe-shining, services more often associated with an urban, four-diamond hotel. But with the possible exception of John Daly, one might not want to appear rumpled on the first tee of the august Harbour Town Golf Links.
The Inn works hard to maintain its AAA Four-Diamond Award (seven years running) and other honors, including the Mobile Four Star Award by Mobile Travel Guide, a spot among Travel and Leisure's 500 best hotels in the world, Conde Nast Traveler's the World's Best Places to Stay, Gold List and the Best in the World - Top 100 - Reader's Choice Award.
The 10-year-old hotel currently is adding more ceramic to the bathrooms and slightly lighter-colored furniture to every room, re-wallpapering and installing new drapes. The Inn pulls from other Sea Pines Resort resources to ensure around-the-clock room service and staff. No matter the hour, someone is ready to take care of your every problem, craving or need.
The Inn at Harbour Town's first-class services - and staff
Housekeeping provides first service and a turn-down service, which includes more chocolate and the next day's weather forecast.
The breakfast is very well done and quite British: Brie cheese, fruit, and every conceivable bread - scones, raisin bread, bagels, croissants and more. The full coffee service, on each of the three floors from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m., is most appreciated by us Americans. Tea service replaces it in the afternoon.
Where does Sea Pines Resort find such dedicated and well trained staff? Overseas. Sea Pines cultivated strong relationships with universities in Great Britain, Australia, Germany and beyond to offer one-year internships for hospitality, property management and even agronomy students, said Monika McDonald, director of human resources.
"I didn't invent this," McDonald said. "I learned about it talking to other people."
Like those at Disney World, she said.
Most American students aren't required to complete internships of longer than 10 weeks. Given the amount of training and logistics, McDonald said, it makes more sense to seek a longer commitment.
The program includes about 50 students at a time, with an influx in February and the summer. The resort pays them and provides subsidized housing.
"We watch over them, too," McDonald said.
Of course, the students' accents add to the aura of Sea Pines. In particular, Harbour Town has worked to create and maintain its Scottish stock, from bagpipes to its patented Heritage tartan. (Spare toilet paper rolls in the bathroom vanity are tied with a tartan ribbon.)
The internships are win-win for the resort and its young employees. The training program has been perfected over years so the semi-annual class turnover is nearly seamless. The veterans, with nearly a year of experience, help break in the next group of interns.
All part of Sea Pines Resort
The Inn at Harbour Town is just one aspect of the 5,000-acre Sea Pines Resort, which includes nearly every activity imaginable. There's tennis, golf, eco-tours, horseback riding, sailing, art classes, biking and cruises. The possibilities are limited only by one's imagination.
Staying at the Inn offers additional perks. Guests receive two hours of free time on the tennis courts next door at the Sea Pines Racquet Club and a complimentary, three-hour bike rental. I'm not a tennis player, so the court time didn't appeal, but the bike rental ranks as the best way to experience Sea Pines Resort. The cushy, beach bikes are the perfect mode to explore everywhere from the Yacht Basin to South Beach. Along the ride, note the sunning alligators and a plethora of water birds. The only stressor? Trying to avoid the furry nuisances known as squirrels that dart across miles of paved bike paths.
Nearly every business at Sea Pines, from retailers to restaurants, offer discounts.
The Inn at Harbour Town holds its own against any four-diamond hotel out there, but with its own tartan and golf-loving accent.
January 26, 2010