We are back from our HHI trip and I want to thank you all for helping us with planning our trip.
I will start with why Hilton Head was a good place to go with a child who is in a wheelchair, for any other parents who may be researching in the future. For a reference point for other parents, our son is severely disabled, can't walk (even with assistance), can't sit up unassisted, nonverbal, visually impaired, fed with a tube, etc. So these are the things we had in mind when we were there.
1. There are miles and miles of nicely PAVED scenic paths for walking or biking. 80% of the paths are SHADED, so I didn't have to worry about Noah baking in the sun (of course I still put sunscreen on him). The island is just thick with forest, which we loved!! It has all those huge "southern-looking" live oaks with the Spanish moss hanging down. He loved the nature, the sounds of the birds and the frogs and bugs, the trees, etc. He was really looking around at it all when we went out on the paths, which he usually doesn't do. A lot of times he is kind of in his own little world, so it was great to see him looking up and around!
2. The beach at Hilton Head was not as pretty (to us) as the beach at Sanibel/Captiva, BUT the beach at Hilton Head is very hard packed which is GREAT for the wheelchair. Don't get me wrong, it was still a beautiful beach! But it's hard to live up to the Captiva beach (for us). However, we actually liked the rest of the island *better* than Captiva.
Anyway, we thought we were going to have to rent a beach wheelchair, but we found out it was going to be $200 for the week so we thought we'd try without it. The only part that was hard to get his wheelchair through was the "dune" part between the beach-walk and the hard sand. My husband and I kind of carried the chair over that part. But many of the beaches there have these mats that they put over the dunes so a regular wheelchair can get over the soft dunes. However, there was still about 10 feet of soft sand at the end of the mats, so honestly if you have someone who was too heavy to carry for 10 feet, you would probably have to rent a beach wheelchair.
Once we were on the hard packed sand it was shockingly easy to push his wheelchair! I was amazed! And glad that we didn't shell out the $200 to rent the beach wheelchair.
3. The ocean water there was very warm, which surprised us. So Noah didn't mind us dipping his legs in the water. He greatly dislikes cold water. I'm guessing that is a common issue for many handicapped children?
4. The water was NOT too wavy most of the time, so we felt pretty comfortable holding Noah and standing in the water or sitting with him propped in front of me at the shore (didn't have to worry about waves crashing over his head, although there were a couple of days that it was too wavy for my comfort so I didn't take him in).
5. Hilton Head is not commercial or tacky at all. There are no neon lights. But what was nice was that even though it was like being in a beautiful forest, there are still stores around and right there on the island. There were several large grocery stores, a couple of Walgreen's and at least one CVS. This is nice because with a special needs child you may have to visit the Walgreen's/CVS frequently, and it's nice to not have to travel 45 minutes to get there. We were able to get one of his prescriptions refilled easily.
In the past my husband and I have gone to Sanibel/Captiva Island in Florida. We loved Captiva but we didn't think Noah would like the 23 hour drive to get there. So I looked at beaches that are closer (to Ohio) and finally settled on Hilton Head, SC. It is about an 11 to 13 hour drive.
I had searched and searched for a handicapped-accessible rental on Hilton Head that wouldn't be terribly expensive but also had a pool for Noah. This whole trip was very last minute, so obviously if we started planning much earlier we would have had much more to chose from. But for this time, we couldn't find a handicapped one cheap enough for us (there were plenty that were out of our price range), but I did find one in Sea Pines (with a pool) Lawton Woods that only seemed to have a few steps that was a good deal, so we booked that one. Well the steps turned out to be a bigger deal than I thought. Too much of a pain to carry his wheelchair up and down the steps to get in and out of the house. Next time I would not want any steps going to the outside area at all.
The house had a very nice pool but the water was too cold for Noah. The company we rented from had told us that no one heats their pools in the summer there because the water would be uncomfortably warm. But we could have it heated if we wanted, for a mere $500 extra!. So we said "no" to that, hoping that they were right...that the pool would be warm enough without it. It wasn't (at least for Noah). He did not enjoy it at all. Next time we would probably have to shell out the extra $$ to get it heated.
The house was lovely and comfortable though. And super clean. We LOVED the neighborhood it was in (Lawton Woods in Sea Pines) because it was like being in a forest...so pretty! Noah was calmed just by sitting on the porch and being surrounded by all the beautiful trees.
We obviously didn't have Noah's special bed with us, so he slept in the king sized bed with me which worked out well (except my poor husband had to sleep in the guest room).
I think that the paths were Noah's favorite part. I think he liked the beach, but it was a little too bright for his sensitive eyes (even with sunglasses on). But he probably enjoyed the smells and sounds and the feeling of the warm water. But I've talked to other parents of disabled children who said that the ocean air and beach was extremely beneficial for their child...to the point that their child would stop having seizures while at the beach!
We rented a couple of bikes and one of those "kid carrier" things that attach to a bike. We put him in it with rolled up towels around him to prop him up. Then we put his Henzinger (I know I'm not spelling that right) Collar on to keep his head up. I think he liked going fast with the breeze to keep him cool. He seemed pretty comfortable...enough so that he would fall asleep on our bike
rides. If we do this in future years, I think he'll be too long for the kid carrier. We may have to purchase one of the larger kid carriers that are especially for special needs children.
I tried to find one of those Duet Wheelchair Bikes for rent, but could not find one. I called the company that makes them to see if they knew of a place in South Carolina that rents them out, and they said no. The only place I've been able to find one for rent is on Sanibel Island. But the bike paths on Sanibel aren't very shaded at all. Plus the beach, while it is gorgeous, has soft sand that would be literally impossible to get the wheelchair through. But if you rented a beach wheelchair you probably could.
Anyway, I know this is long. Maybe it will help someone in the future who is looking at taking their handicapped child on a beach vacation. We talked about how if we were to do it again, we would probably have Noah and I fly to HHI, and my husband would drive the van down by himself. That would be cheaper than all of us flying down and then having to find a wheelchair van to rent. I think the drive may have been a little too far for Noah, even though we split it up into two days. And having to change him on the road was a pain.
Hope this could be of help to someone!