Mermaids exist in Hilton Head Island, SC and you can see one on The Mermaid of Hilton Head cruise! Kristina took her family on this unique adventure and told us about it. Thanks to Mermaid of Hilton Head for the opportunity to write about the tour.
Hilton Head Island is home to many wonderful family activities and opportunities to learn about the area’s history and environment – including lots of fun sea creatures like dolphins and turtles. But there’s only one place to find a mermaid: the Mermaid of Hilton Head encounter boat tour. This is no ordinary boat tour as you may guess. And contrary to my initial thoughts, it’s not just about finding an awesome mermaid in the salt marshes surrounding the island.
For more family fun on Hilton Head, don’t miss our list of our favorite things to do on Hilton Head Island.
The Story Behind Mermaid Nina
Mermaid of Hilton Head was founded not out of a love of mythical creatures but rather from the passion of conservation of co-founders Nina and Rick. Nina always loved sea animals and became a marine mammal trainer (that was my initial goal as a kid, too!). Once she began her career training these beautiful animals, she saw the other side of the industry, one that showcased animals in captivity for solely for entertainment purposes.
Nina saw that while people just loved seeing the majestic creatures in their natural environment, when she tried to educate them on the cruel world of captivity, they lost interest. How could she get her message of conservation across to the world?
Any teacher will tell you that if you want to get your message heard, it needs to be compelling and it needs to be taught in a fun way. What better avenue than to bring a mermaid and her dolphin friends into the picture!
Nina wrote and illustrated a children’s book, The Mermaid’s Friends, which tells the tale of Mermaid Nina and how her best friend, a dolphin named Lily, was captured and forced into captivity. It shows how Mermaid Nina educated families on ocean conservation and things to do to keep the natural beauty of our saltwater environments and their inhabitants safe and healthy.
The Mermaid Encounter Boat Tour is based off of this book, which is easy for kids to follow along with during the tour.
Mermaid Boat Tour
Mermaid of Hilton Head is the only one of its kind in Hilton Head and nothing else like this exists in the world. So you know you’re in for a magical experience by choosing this tour.
The fun begins before you even get on the boat. When you check in, everyone gets a Mermaid of Hilton Head bracelet and you head inside the small gift shop to meet Mermaid Nina’s best friend, Pinky Plankton. She meets the kids and tells them who she is and if they are excited to find the mermaid. So cute.
Per Coast Guard regulations, life vests are given to every child age 12 and under. There are nearby bathrooms so make sure to visit those before you board the boat since there aren’t any on board.
Once you board the completely covered and shaded boat (this is a huge plus since it’s so hot and sunny on the island), you’ll meet your captain and head on out in the water. The boat has benches on either side and along the middle plus life size murals of a dolphin and both loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.
Pinky Plankton is your narrator for the tour and she starts by engaging guests with cool stories of area sea life and trivia. Did you know that loggerhead sea turtles eat jellyfish? I didn’t know that and now that I do, I feel smarter.
You’ll learn about the sea turtles and how to spot one of their nests on the beaches and why you can’t touch them. You’ll learn about some of the dangers local sea life face when humans are careless with litter, especially on beaches. And you’ll learn why filling up those holes you dig on the ocean beach is a lifesaver for baby turtles.
Pinky reads from The Mermaid’s Friends book so kids can follow along with the plot. And, look for dolphins during your tour since they are plentiful in that particular area. We got to see some, as well as learn how each dolphin can be recognized by their dorsal fin. Pinky has a big board of photos of local dolphins and their dorsal fins so kids can try to match them up. She’s also got some cool shark teeth that kids can check out.
Finding Mermaid Nina
Once you get to the point of finding Mermaid Nina, you all get to yell for her, which is so darn cute. The kids are all kneeling on the benches looking expectantly at the water.
On our cruise, when Mermaid Nina peeked out from the tall grass in the saltwater, the kids all gasped and just stopped talking from shock I think. They were pretty excited.
Mermaid Nina quizzed the kids on everything we had learned during the boat tour so far. For all of you homeschooling parents, this totally counts as a field trip.
Nina is very engaging with the kids, asking them questions. And each child gets to ask their own question as well, which she graciously and humorously, at times, answers. There’s plenty of time to take photos and videos also.
As in the book, Professor Al G in a motorized boat comes by to try to capture Mermaid Nina but all the kids get use a bubble wand to make the villan disappear. It’s great fun.
Once we said goodbye to Mermaid Nina, the boat tour leisurely heads back to the dock and you can watch for dolphins and check out the shark teeth that Pinky Plankton has on board. Back at the shop, kids get their Ocean Ambassador sticker, a temporary tattoo, and can put a token into the conservation charity of their choice.
My Honest Parent Review
I loved this boat tour and here’s why: my kids, and even us parents, learned a lot in a way that was immersively creative and fun. I thought the boat tour would be more touristy with little substance. It was the complete opposite.
We were at the beach the day after we did the mermaid encounter boat tour and my kids were digging small holes. Before we left, my oldest said we needed to fill up the holes so the baby sea turtles can get to the ocean, something she learned from Pinky Plankton on the boat.
Of course, my daughters, ages 9 and 5, were completely mesmerized by the entire experience and have all kinds of cute questions about mermaids now. The boat tour was a highlight of our trip and truly enjoyable for the whole family.
The length of the tour is about 75 minutes, which is the perfect attention span for little kids as well. They allow water and snacks on the boat so feel free to bring whatever you need.
Mermaid Photo Shoot
Mermaid Hilton Head also offers opportunities to have a mermaid-inspired photo shoot on the beach at sunrise or sunset. This is such an adorable idea to celebrate a birthday or other special occasion.
Any age is welcome… so moms, here’s your chance to indulge those mermaid fantasies.
Health & Safety Policies
Boats and life jackets are cleaned with each use and there is hand sanitizer on the boat.
Booking Your Tour
Tickets are $48/person. Ages 2 and under are $10. Tips are appreciated. One dollar from every ticket goes to an ocean conservancy non-profit.
Mermaid tours are offered mid-May through mid-September.
Mermaid Hilton Head also offers dolphin tours and sunset boat cruises so there are plenty of options to enjoy the Lowcountry and your time in Hilton Head. The mermaid photo shoots are offered from mid-March through mid-September.
The gift shop offers lots of mermaid-themed dolls, apparel, jewelry, and of course, mermaid tails.
Mermaid of Hilton Head
43A Jenkins Road, Hilton Head Island
Have you been on the mermaid encounter boat tour?