The midday sun beats down on the hat-clad heads of the passengers, but they barely feel the heat. The rapt crowd has gathered on the top deck of the Holiday, their eyes collectively glued to the waters below them where a glossy fin emerged and disappeared a second ago. The onlookers’ silence suddenly dissolves into a symphony of awed whispers and camera clicks as a trio of playful bottlenose dolphins breaks through the water and splashes about near the ship. Creating moments such as this between humans and nature has been Captain Mark's Dolphin Watch Cruise’s mission since setting sail on its inaugural excursion in 1983.
Based out of Shelter Cove Harbour, Captain Mark's Dolphin Watch Cruise's experienced crew introduces visitors to area wildlife via two varieties of aquatic adventures. Daytime and sunset dolphin watch nature cruises glide past numerous scenic points of interest including Wexford Plantation, marine creatures, oyster beds, and oyster laundry piles. Alternatively, Let’s Go Crabbing trips ferry kids and adults away aboard the Crabber J II for a lively session of crustacean catching.
An armada of sea kayaks quietly slices through the sparkling waters of Broad Creek, suddenly interrupted by the playful splashes of two bottlenose dolphins sidling up to the fleet. As the people in the kayaks erupt into squeals of glee, one of Water Dog Outfitters’ seasoned guides launches into an impromptu lesson explaining dolphin behaviors and why they’ve alighted upon the kayaks. This awe-inspiring interaction is the reason Water Dog Outfitters was founded in 1998, and today its knowledgeable staff continue to lead engaging, history-laced tours around Hilton Head Island, Pinckney Island, and the surrounding lowlands. While the company’s focus remains on maritime exploits along local rivers and impressive puddles, Water Dog’s cadre of naturalists also returns to terra firma to lead bicycle tours and hikes for explorers of all ages and abilities.
Parmesan-encrusted snapper. Hand-battered fried shrimp. One and a half pounds of steamed snow-crab legs. The culinary team at Parrot Cove Seafood Grill and Bar crafts these succulent seafood dishes from fresh catches at their waterfront restaurant on Shelter Cover Harbor. Owner Jimmy’s love of French and southern cooking is reflected in the menu featuring dinner and dessert crepes, oyster po’ boys, pulled-pork sandwiches, and half racks of ribs with housemade slaw. Meals unfold in a dining room adorned with nautical decorations and more than 40 parrots, who take forms such as paintings, statuettes, and waiters. Parrot Cove also provides spacious outdoor seating, seasonal live entertainment from local artists, and, for kids, a chance to rummage through a treasure box if they clean their plates.
Some people spend their days working with computers and copiers; the staff at Parasail Hilton Head prefer parasails, banana boats, and jet skis. Based at Salty Fare Boat Landing, the team shares its sense of adventure with visitors ages 6 and up.
During parasailing outings, Parasail Hilton Head's 31-foot parasail boat zooms through Skull Creek, lifting riders up to 500 feet into the air so that they can ogle the area's million-dollar homes, drifting sailboats, and frolicking dolphins. The company's captains also cut zigzags into the water during wild banana boat rides for up to six people, and they let customers do the driving by renting out jet skis by the hour.
Marshgrass Adventures' staff designs expeditions that explore their passion for the diverse ecology of the Lowcountry region, including Hilton Head Island. From fishing outings to leisurely kayak tours, the knowledgeable guides enlighten tour goers on the varied flora and fauna that litter the shorelines. The staff supports both catching and releasing or grilling the area's fish, which include trout, tarpon, and redfish. Guests on stand-up paddleboards slip out across the water, perfecting their balance quickly as they cut among swaying grasses and blue herons.
Lawton Stables' knowledgeable guides lead beginners riding Western-style on one-hour trail rides that pass through the undisturbed Sea Pines Forest Preserve, which spans 603 acres. While sitting, posting, or head-standing atop gentle mounts, equestrians delve into palmetto-covered canopies and wildflower meadows before breaking in horseshoes along the banks of Lake Thomas. Small groups ride at a leisurely pace on the trail, winding past hordes of wildlife that may include herons or alligators basking in the sun on the bank of the lake. Reservations are required, and guests must arrive 30 minutes before departure adorned in loose-fitting clothing, closed-toe shoes, and chainmail.