Welcome to another marina review on the On Board Life. Using the N D S, A A, P P marina analysis model, I'll break down what you can expect when you make the marinas I'll be reviewing this season your destinations also. The views expressed are strictly my own.
In my opinion, a five-star marina must have, at least, these three characteristics:
1) It must be in new, near-new, or like-new condition. It doesn't have to be new, but there must be an obvious effort and investment in maintenance, upkeep, and upgrading.
2) It must have pump-out at the slip either by a direct installed, marine sanitation system or by some other accommodation such as a pump-out boat.
3) It must have a swimming pool – that's just my thing. I like to swim.
A five-star marina must be exceptional. Harbour Town Yacht Basin at the Sea Pines resort at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina checks those things off very nicely. But what about the rest of it?
N: Navigability – On Hilton Head Island a short cruise from either Savannah or Beaufort. Its entrance is on the side facing Calibogue Sound. You pretty much pass it when you pass through the sound on the ICW. The entrance to the marina has a large lighthouse at it. You can't miss it. Plenty of water around the entrance. Pay attention to the current that sweeps past the entrance.
|We were tucked in at the back of the marina. Less foot traffic.|
D: Dockage – This is a big-boat marina with large slips and facing docks. (There are only a couple of runabouts tied up here.) The odd thing is that the basin and dockage are circular in shape which makes for some interesting-shaped basins to maneuver in. We're all used to docks and thoroughfares that are configured at 90-degree angles. This will make your brain twitch for a moment when you first arrive. The staff, though, is johnny-on-the-spot to help get you tied up. There are a couple of tour boats that pull out of the marina's entrance but are not a factor back in the dockage area. This marina is a great storm hole – we were there when each day's forecast was for winds and thunderstorms. The thunderstorms never materialized, but the winds were out there. We never felt a thing.
|The public pier at the entrance.|
S: Services – Gasoline, diesel, pump-out at the fuel dock as well as a free pump-out boat to service your vessel in its slip. They do allow technicians on the premises, but they would prefer you use one of their preferred technicians. I was told they want any work done to “be contained in the vessel.” Their preferred technicians know this as well as the marina's other restrictions. Fyi, there is a West Marine on the island, but it's at the opposite end of the island from the marina. See accessibility below.
|The view from our sun deck.|
A: Amenities – It's Sea Pines Resort, fer-cry-yi-yi! Remember at the beginning when I said that a marina must be in new, near-new, or like-new condition to be considered as a 5-star marina, IMHO? As you would expect for Sea Pines, the marina is in great condition. The lighthouse area of the resort is busy, busy, busy with tourists visiting the shops and restaurants, but most of the boat slips are on the opposite end of the marina from there, where there is less foot traffic. It has a secured laundry and bathroom/shower facility. Wifi is excellent. There is a pump-out boat service that is free for those staying at the marina. Marina guests have access to all of the resort's amenities too: golf, tennis, swimming pool (Yay!) restaurants, nature trails, concerts, stores (lots of them), and everything else there is to enjoy at this world-class resort. There are a couple of small food markets but no grocery store; they want you to eat in their restaurants, which, by the way, are reasonably priced. No pickleball, dang it. And all that's just in Sea Pines resort; the rest of Hilton Head Island is jammed packed with other attractions. However, I think it's fair to say that the rest of the island is just like any other modern American suburb with all the stores, restaurants, and services you'd find anywhere else. It's pretty though.
|One of the resort's destinations. On the beach.|
A: Accessibility – Okay, this is a mixed bag. In the resort, your transportation needs are pretty much covered. There are free trolleys (the Blue and Green lines) that connect the major resort areas. The extensive bike path system is crazy-good, and there are bikes available to rent (we used our own). But things get more difficult once you're outside of the resort gates. There are taxis, Uber, and Lyft, but I couldn't find anything like a local bus service. Keep this in mind; the resort and marina are, as far as it matters, at one end of the island. Everything else is towards the middle or the other end of the island. So, the basic rule to remember about accessibility is this: Inside the resort – no problem. Outside the resort – problem.
P: Provisioning – It's a challenge … or maybe not. There are a dozen or so full-service grocery stores outside the resort. Plenty of choices – Piggly Wiggly to Bi-Lo to Wholefoods. As noted above, accessibility outside of the resort is a challenge: Inside the resort – no problem. Outside the resort – problem. Uber seems to be the best option, but that's pricey. The nearest full-service grocery store to the marina is a Harris Teeter store 3.5 miles away from the marina just outside of the resort gate. Do you want to ride your bike that far? Now, there is a partial but pretty much unsatisfactory solution to this that is provided by the resort. Only during the summer there is a Red trolley line up and running. It goes from the lighthouse almost all the way to the gate, and the Harris Teeter store is near the gate. But the Red trolley line only runs from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm. What the …? Like I said, it's an unsatisfactory solution.
In my opinion, there is an easier solution, but it requires some forethought and preplanning. It's a workaround, but it fixes everything up nice and tidy. Don't provision at Hilton Head Island. Instead of that, provision big-time at either Savannah at Isle of Hope Marina (TWO FREE LOANER CARS) coming from the south, or at Beaufort or Port Royal (the town near Beaufort, not the resort on HH island) coming from the north. Lay in groceries and supplies that you'll need during your stay at Harbour Town. If you run out of something, or you want something different than what you've provisioned for, you at least know what the deal is going in. Also, there are small food and alcohol shops around the lighthouse and elsewhere in the resort to fill in the gaps that come up. Boom. Fixed. Done. How's that for creative problem-solving?
"Yo, dude, I'm a goat."
P: Price – This is a relatively expensive marina for the area but not as expensive as some marinas up north. The daily rate for a boat up to 49' long is $2.75 per foot. (We've paid more at times in the past, and we're certainly going to be paying more further on this summer.) The weekly rate is $2.25 per foot. Bigger boats pay higher rates. Utilities (water, electricity, pump out) is extra and expensive. They do have a monthly rate too. (For a goof we checked what the monthly rate for our boat would be: $1,500.00 per month. Yikes.) There is also a $7.00 per day Sea Pines resort access fee.
There are lots of marinas that tout themselves as a luxury destination at even higher price points than Harbour Town that fall short of the mark. There seems to be a huge hole of some kind in their offering that negatively affects the value relationship they're projecting. The end result is you feel like you're getting gouged. Not so at Harbour Town. Let there be no doubt, it's expensive. We knew this pulling in. This was a vacation stop for us. But they delivered quality and service in abundance at every turn. The facilities are world-class and living a hoity-toity resort lifestyle is a hoot. The only drawback is accessibility outside of the resort.
This is not a transient destination; it's a special occasion. If you want to visit Harbour Town Yacht Basin you need to plan on spending a few days there. So, provision ahead of time, pull in, tie up, get your credit card warmed up and ready, and once you're all settled in, don't leave the resort. You don't need to.
We enjoyed our time there. To me, Harbour Town Yacht Basin checks every box to rate this as a 5-star marina.
Note to all marina operators who might be reading this review: Do you want to be a superstar in the eyes of your marina guests? Have a map made up with all of the grocery, big-box superstores, and hardware stores on it with distances to them as per Google Maps. (Not your vehicle's odometer or how long you think it would take to get there.) Figure out this provisioning accessibility thing for us. You don't have to drive us around, but at least have a solution figured out, even if we have to walk. There was one instance where a local grocery store had a free shuttle service to and from the marina, but the marina operator didn't tell us that. We walked a mile or so to the store only to find out from a service clerk that they would have been glad to come and get us. There's an old adage in business: “Don't tell us what you can't do – tell us what you CAN do, even if it's not much.”
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