Hilton Head just got closer.

No, nobody has moved the posh resort community from its "low country" roots on the coast of South Carolina. But thanks to a growing number of charter and commercial flights, Hilton Head is just a few hours away.

If busy Cincinnati executives want to scoot south for a sunny weekend and a few rounds of golf, consider a call to Blue Ash Aviation & Charters. "People don't realize, we can have you to Hilton Head in the time it takes you just to get through the security lines at CVG, usually two and a half hours," notes Bill Christian, director of operations for the charter service. If Blue Ash Airport isn't close to you, "we can pick people up at Lunken Field, Butler County or wherever."

Christian adds that charter passengers will spend less time waiting at gates, less time waiting for luggage (and golf bags), and may fin themselves arriving at a more conveniently located airport than those used by some of the larger commercial carriers.

"We offer free parking, a 100-foot walk to the airplane, and you don't have to arrive here three hours earlier than your departure time." (While chartering the plane costs $700 an hour, it costs no more for a group of seven than for a single passenger. That equates to $250 each way for each of the seven in the group.)

TICKET TO RIDE

Of course, commercial carriers are an option, too. But if the long lines at Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky International Airport seem daunting, consider a new player on the horizon. Destination One, a new Cleveland-based air shuttle, already flies from the northern Ohio city to Hilton Head twice a week.

The air taxi currently only makes a Cleveland-Lunken Field run (on an Embraer 120 turbo-prop that seats 16 to 30 passengers), but a Lunken Field-Hilton Head Island Airport connection is in the works, according to company officials. (While prices aren't yet available, the Cleveland-Hilton Head seats are $395 one-way.)

Hilton Head Airport is located five miles from most major resorts; larger carriers also fly into Savannah International Airport, located about an hour's car ride away.

No matter how you make your journey to Hilton Head, there's no question you'll find a wealth of leisure and shopping opportunities on your arrival. The barrier island is located in the golden axis, located 45 miles north of Savannah, Ga., 90 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, and 30 miles south of scenic Beaufort, S.C. (where the movie The Big Chill was filmed).

AN INSIDER'S VIEW

Residents on the 12-mile-long and five-mile-wide island will point you first to the recreational finds, great golfing and terrific seafood restaurants.

"Anything you'd want to do for recreation, you can find it here. Bocci, fishing, tennis, golfing, whatever. I count 20 golf courses," says Hilton Head resident R. Dean Roberts, a 1969 graduate of the University of Cincinnati and the president of the Hilton Head UC alumni chapter. Roberts has lived on the island since 1996 (after spending the previous decade vacationing there with his family on a regular basis).

"If you like to bicycle on the beach, the sand on the southern and mid-island beaches is hard-packed," adds Roberts. "Whatever you do, it's all lovely here."

Indeed, the semi-tropical weather of this coastal community"”a haven for salt marshes, lagoons, magnolias and moss-draped forests"”lends itself to relaxing, take-it-easy vacations. The average daytime temperature is 70 degrees, and the average ocean temp is 69 degrees. The highs can swing from the 60s in the winter months to the 90s in the heat of August.

The island's 12 miles of sandy beaches intermix with lush hotel resorts, luxury villas, vacation rental homes and championship golf
courses. Beachfront accommodations abound (some 3,000 hotel rooms, 6,000 villas and 1,000 time-shares), more than enough to serve the 2.5 million visitors who make the annual trek here.

"We certainly have some of the finest beaches in the United States," says Realtor Joe Mezera, president of Ohio South Realty, who handles vacation homes for the Hilton Head-bound crowd.

Tourists flock to the area "for the natural beauty and our beautiful beaches," echoes Robin Brockman of Sea Pines Realty. "Hilton Head and Bluffton offers some of the most beautiful coastline imaginable. There is always something to do...riding bikes on the beach, enjoying a round of golf, a game of tennis or a catching dinner and a musical at the Coastal Carolina Arts Center."


A GOLF MECCA

Notable destinations include the Hilton Head Marriott Beach and Golf Resort, named recently by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the "Top 500 Hotels in the World." Like many of the resorts here, the Marriott offers access to a grouping of signature golf courses.

Certainly, golf is what it's all about on Hilton Head. From the legendary Harbour Town Golf Links, home to the annual MCI Heritage of Golf Tournament, to Eagle's Pointe, Golden Bear, Hampton Hall, Hidden Cypress and Hilton Head National (designed by Gary Player), there's enough challenging courses to satisfy the soul of any golfer. The Country Club of Hilton Head, located inside Hilton Head Plantation, is a Golf Digest four-star course, while Crescent Pointe is the only public links on the island designed by Arnold Palmer.
Prime golf season, thanks to the balmy weather, is considered March to May and September to November.

Other popular island sports and activities include scuba diving, parasailing, crabbing, horseback riding, dolphin-watching tours, swimming and water-skiing.

Finally, no journey to Hilton Head can be considered complete without taking a break from the beach to seriously shop. Head to some of the more than 200 boutiques, galleries and shops located on the island. Coligny Plaza, Harbour Town, The Mall at Shelter Cove and Main Street Village are just some of the many "must" stops for souvenir hunters.

Dining options abound as well. "There are so many good restaurants on this island, it doesn't matter how long you live here, there's always a new one to try," says Hilton Head resident Roberts. He particularly favors Scott's Fish Market, Alexander's, Charley's Crab, the Old Oyster Factory, and, most notably, the Seafood Shack.

"The locals love this place. It's a hole-in-the-wall that you'd never find unless you were looking for it."