Exciting Hilton Head dolphin watch cruise (what to expect and tour details, dolphin photo tips and just for kids)

The best way to sight see Hilton Head (the second largest island on the East coast) and to spot the friendly bottle-nose dolphins is to go on a cruise.

Travelling on the gorgeous Calibogue Sound you get up close views Hilton Head’s Marina and most luxurious plantations, the Cross Island Bridge, Buck, Bull and Daufuskie Islands, and the Intracoastal Waterway. For almost 2 hours you’re lucky to cruise along with dolphins, brown pelicans, and osprey and greet other boats, ski jets, kayaks and catamarans.

Flipper follows private little boat

We used the Adventure cruise that departs from the Shelter Cove Marina. Prices are $26 adults and $12 for children (under 2 years go FREE and you can get $5 off when paying with cash).

Tips to know before you go
1. Bring the $5 coupon found in most travel guides (I got the discount even though I paid with a credit card). Spend $1 at the snack bar on the Popsicle ring. It will last the entire trip, will give kids something to do and will save you good bucks otherwise spent on some other junk food.

Kids enjoying their popsicle rings

2. Most cruises have two scheduled trips one late morning and one early afternoon. My advice is to go on the early trip (in our case departing 11 AM) when is not that hot. The cruise lasts almost 2 hours. Drink water, wear sunscreen and a hat you can secure to your head. There is no air conditioning on board but the breeze especially on the way back will make it OK.

3. Keep a close eye on all the other boats and kayaks cruising the Calibogue Sound. If bunch of them are huddled together and people are starring at one particular spot then that’s where the dolphins are. This should give you few extra seconds to get your camera ready for that perfect shot. Also look out for the little 4 persons boats. Sometimes dolphins love to trail them around (I suspect fish reward has something to do with it 🙂 )

4. Don’t waste all your energy trying to spot dolphins. Best thing to do is, on the way in, just relax, take it all in and really enjoy the stories. On the way back, since there is no narration to distract your attention, focus on dolphin watching and photographing.

5. If traveling with young kids bring something fun for them to do. They don’t care that much about chasing dolphins, sightseeing or hearing about the island history. Not for 2 hours anyway. Use the lower room as “playground”. It’s the least crowded area, has plenty of sitting, it’s always shaded, and you can watch the kids from both sides of the deck.

Everybody's having fun aboard Adventure cruise

Cruise highlights and interesting facts
• The Holiday boat used on the Adventure cruise was built in 1988, is 80 feet long and can reach up to 11 knots an hour.

• Dolphins are highly intelligent and very social creatures. During the first Iraq war trained dolphins were used to locate underwater mines. They performed beautifully. Up until 1990s cruise boats were allowed to feed dolphins. The Feds put an end to it to minimize human contact and encourage natural feeding.

• Cross Island Parkway, the state first toll bridge opened 10 years ago carrying a hefty $81 million price tag. There were laws at the time to make it illegal to skip toll payment! This Spring the toll fee was raised for the first time to $1.25 non-residents and $0.75 for residents.

Cross Island Toll Bridge

• Intracoastal Waterway lets small and medium size ships to sail from New Jersey all the way down to Florida without ever traveling the Atlantic Ocean.

• There is an osprey nest on top a tall pole at the end of Calibogue Sound. Originally the nest was built on the shorter navigation mark next to it. Officials decided to save the nest and so they added a taller pole nearby and move the nest on top of it. This was just fine with the osprey pair and a year later they settled comfortable into their new location.

• Buck Island purchased 20 years ago for $700,000. Good humored owners installed a fake guardian near the pier to defend the island against predators! The pier proydly displays a Statue of Liberty, the American and Palmetto flags.

Buck Island private pier

• Bull Island follows suit. This is Dick Cheney’s regular dove and quail hunting endeavor. We’re relived to find out no human-shooting incidents have been reported to date.

• On the Calibogue Sound currents can reach 5 mph and water level rises at a rate of 1 foot an hour during tides. There are several shark species in the canal: tiger, hammer head, bull and black tip. No white sharks here.

Fun and affordable things to do with kids around Hilton Head
• Take the kids to The Sandbox interactive children’s museum ($6).

• Go to the Hilton Head Public Library where kids will have a blast reading with you (FREE).

Visit Fort Pulaski near Savannah to see live cannons and musket firing, learn about Immortal 600 tragedy and the Waving Girl legend, and become a Junior Ranger ($3).

• See the fascinating lighthouses of the Sea Islands…just watch out for some ghosts! ($3-$5)

Have fun enjoying the outdoors in family friendly Hilton Head!


4 Responses

  1. […] the place for adrenaline water activities: parasailing, jet skiing, even shark fishing. Or you can hop on one of the dolphin watch cruiseson Vagabond and Spirit of the […]

  2. […] Jarvis Creek salt marshes • Dolphin and Nature Cruise – View the habits and learn more about the bottlenose dolphin and variety of wading birds in a relaxing cruise on the Broad Creek toward Calibogue Sound. Departs from the Broad Creek Marina. Cost: $19 adult/ $13 child (ages 1-12). Get an idea on what to expect on this kind of cruise from my previous post. […]

  3. […] fun to do around Shelter Cove Marina: • Dolphin and wildlife watch cruise go either with Adventure or the very kids-friendly Captain Hook) • Shop at the nearby Mall or the marina mini-shops. • […]

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