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Disney’s Hilton Head Island: History, Legacy, and Unanswered Questions

As a Disney veteran who thrives on visiting “The World” as often as possible (in spite of what the Disney Doubters in my life say about that), I thrive on STORY.  I want to know all the details the Imagineers painstakingly built into attractions, parades, and resorts–it helps me to appreciate Disney even more.  (I know I am talking to more than a couple kindred spirits out there…)

When we booked our trip to Disney’s Hilton Head Island, I was in full-out “Disney Geek” mode.  I did my requisite research…. I didn’t find much on story but was confident I would discover it when I arrived.  My husband may have expressed, on a few occasions, sympathy for the cast members who were going to have to deal with his blog-writing wife. He was affectionately whacked every time he uttered said thought in my presence (and I am sure he resorted to thinking it as a result).

The first “victim” of my questioning was the kind cast member who checked us in.  My onslaught of questions began within a breath of her finishing drawing on a resort map a Mickey Mouse to show us the location of our room.  “So, can you tell me about the story behind the resort?  What did the Imagineers want me to appreciate?”

The cast member gave me a handout, titled “Anthology of Our Resort” which summarized the big picture of Disney’s Hilton Head Island.  Here is the text:

“Edmund Family Story–Royce and his family first visited Hilton Head Island when he was a mere six months old.  For generations Royce and his family journeyed from their hometown in Augusta, GA.  Royce’s Great Grandfather, Grandpa Thaddeus, chose Longview Island, SC, a 15 acre island nestled amongst 100 year old oak trees, as the picture perfect place to build a vacation home.  In the late 1940’s Royce’s father commissioned the best architects in the south to design and build accommodations for the entire Edmunds family.  Little did anyone know that it would evolve into a world class resort.”

I may have skipped to “Murggie’s Den” (my favorite hangout, located in the Live Oak Lodge, where check in occurs.)  My husband and kids played pool and I read the text.  I Who are these pplwrite this next part hesitantly, knowing it will in fact betray the level of total Disney nerd-dom I have acquired…. but I started to formulate questions…  After reading the story several times, I was still left with the question, “Okay, but WHO IS ROYCE???”  Did he found the resort?  Does his ghost haunt the place?   Is he the ‘mayor’ of the resort?”  The story uses him as the subject, but it never tells me his role.   I reread the story again… and then looked around Murggie’s Den for clues.  I found great details and pictures, all of which I knew were selected deliberately by Imagineers.  I spied the one pictured to the right and thought, “Aha! Royce!”  I finished my journey and sauntered to the front desk (with my husband shaking his head–in sympathy for the cast member who was about to meet me…)

I approached the front desk and allowed a couple guests to cut in front of me, a little sheepish that I was there to ask about Imagineering and not about a local restaurant.  Someone different from the woman who checked us in was there… When all was quiet, I approached and asked him, “Can you tell me a little more about the story of the resort?”

He blinked, and said, “I’m sorry?”

I held up the Resort Anthology.  “I mean what the Disney Imagineers wanted me to believe about its history.  I was wondering about Royce Edmund.  Who IS he exactly?”

“I don’t know how to answer your question,” replied the cast member.

“Well, is he the gentleman whose picture is in the den?” I asked, doggedly trying to get some information.

The reply… it honestly made me sad. “If you want him to be Royce, then sure, he is Royce.”

I kind of stuttered an “oh, okay” and walked back to retrieve the family.  In retrospect, I have to wonder if the cast member understood my question… I know I was excited and probably not asking a usual question.  Still, his response didn’t strike me as very “Disney-esqe.”

I followed up with several other cast members, who tried valiantly to help me.  One told me “there used to be a tour on things like that” but could not find anyone working there who knew anything about it.  Another directed me to hidden Mickeys, which I enjoyed a great deal…. but I just KNOW the Imagineers built more into the resort than a vague reference to a guy named Royce Edmunds.

MurgieThe anthology contained another brief story, this one about “Big Murggie.”  It read:

“Big Murggie is the biggest, meanest channel bass ever to cross man’s path.  Royce was just a youngster when he first laid eyes on him, and from that day on he decided that it would be his mission to reel him in.  You are welcome to fish for him yourself, but by now he’s probably as big as a house.  The plaque on the wall in the den of the Live Oak Lodge is all primed and ready for him; all that’s missing is Big Murggie himself.”

There is more attention to Murggie than Royce (or any of the Edmunds family) at the resort…  The den in the Live Oak Lodge is named “Murggie’s Den, “and there is indeed a plaque above the fireplace that awaits him.  But to my Walt Disney World trained mind, I was looking for something more–something that would tie the stories together and make for true lore at the resort.  Nobody in the cast made reference to Royce or Murggie–they were there to be discovered (or not) by the guests.

Now, in the resort’s defense, perhaps my standards are too high.  After all, I don’t really know the back story of my beloved Old Key West.  Maybe Disney’s resorts don’t have the kind of story that attractions and parks do.  I just assumed (I know, I know) that if you are going to have a Disney resort hundreds of miles away from Disney, there would be a finely woven tale that enveloped the guests as they arrived.  And truth be told, even the anthology I received was far more than any other non-Disney resort would have.   Additionally, the resort does have a very cute story of a dog who has reached near legend status–the tale of Shadow will be the subject of my next piece.  Still, even with these acknowledgments, I feel something was missing.

In sum, if I were to offer any frustration with Disney’s Hilton Head Island, it would be that the maintenance of “story” is not on the same level as you find in Walt Disney World.  Service, attention to guest satisfaction, cleanliness, recreation offerings–all were on par with WDW.  The story, however, left me yearning to know more. My mild disappointment in my inability to assemble a complete story about the founding of Disney’s Hilton Head Island is a compliment to Disney Imagineering–it shows how much people appreciate their work and come to depend on it as a source of entertainment on their vacations.  I know, love, and ENVY their painstaking work–and I am certain there is much more to the story of Disney’s Hilton Head Island than I could put together–in spite of my best efforts.