planning your vacation

Planning Your Vacation

Planning your vacation and looking for a bit of guidance? We’re here to help!

Warm sand under your feet. Waves gently lapping the shore. Soft breezes coming off the water so the temperature’s always just right. The smell of the salt air. The list of things we love about staying at the beach goes on and on and you’re almost here!

Below we’ve provided information for planning your vacation; from what to bring and expect from our beach homes – whether this is your first trip or your twentieth.

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Is this your first time renting a vacation home? If so, the planning experience can be quite different than your typical hotel-destined vacation. Here are a few tips to consider when booking your vacation in a rental home:

1) Plan early. Many of our rental homes have been vacation rentals for years, gathering a following of families who come back year after year. This means that dates, especially peak summer weeks, are booked upwards of a year in advance. Booking early not only guarantees you the home, amenities, location, and dates that work best for your entire family but also qualifies you for payment options like our Flex Pay Plan and added savings such as Early Bird Discounts.

2) The basics are here. Unlike a hotel, you will be making yourself at home here for the week. It’s tempting to fill every corner of your car with the contents of your home, but you’ll find that you don’t need many things when staying in a home. Kitchens are stocked with basics – dishes, cups, silverware, cookware, baking sheets and dishes, coffeepots, and toasters. Other items such as blenders, irons, slow cookers, and hair dryers are often at the house. Brooms, vacuums, and mops are at the house as well for tidying during your stay. Should you arrive and find one of these basics missing, just call our Housekeeping Team for a prompt replacement. Paper and plastic products aren’t provided, such as paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, foil, and plastic wrap.

3) Organize your meals. Much of the cost in your typical vacation is spent on meals– whether it’s fast food or sit-down restaurants. Even if you only spent $7 per person for a family of four for 2 meals a day over the week, that’s about $400. Take advantage of the kitchen and dining room and try your hand at local cuisine. Bring some favorites from home to stock the pantry and pick up anything else from one of our local grocery stores, produce stands, or seafood markets.

4) Pack light. Choose a home that hosts plenty of amenities to keep the family busy for the week. You can choose from private or community pools, game rooms, wireless internet, foosball and pool tables, and gaming systems. In addition to the beach and the activities to enjoy while you’re here, your home’s new activities will keep everyone busy so that you won’t need to pack the typical entertainment stash. To keep the kids to a minimum, try limiting them to 1 bag per child for things other than clothes. We found lots of great tips for packing and traveling with kids on Pinterest!

A great way to cut costs for a vacation can be to travel together with multiple generations or groups of friends. This makes vacations more affordable by allowing for resource pooling for the big-ticket costs – lodging, food, and gas. For example, a 5 bedroom home for the week might rent for $3,000. That comes out to roughly $85 per bedroom a night. Add in the value of a full kitchen, parking, full-sized bathrooms, dining space, and the privacy of a residential home, and vacationing in a hotel starts to look more cramped and expensive by the minute.

We often help families find homes that match the needs of a larger group, so we are well-versed in finding the amenities that you need in one or multiple homes within a couple of blocks of one another. Many of our duplex homes offer connecting decks or interior connecting doors, providing the best of both worlds with privacy and togetherness simultaneously. (Plus, twice the cooking, dining, and living space!)

Ask your Vacation Planner to help if you’re having trouble coordinating multiple large homes, or if you need recommendations or guidance in finding one large home to accommodate everyone. We also recommend using the Aerial Maps on our website to find homes that are near to each other. Check them out here.

When it comes to planning your annual family vacation, there can be many stressful factors. Budgeting, of course, is always a consideration. But there’s also planning sleeping arrangements, scheduling activities, planning meals, and carving out free time to relax. Then there’s packing, navigating the highways or airports, and managing family relations…Whew! We suggest reserving 8-12 months in advance in order to take advantage of the best deals, including the Flex Pay Plan!

1) The right house… can make all of the difference in a relaxing getaway. Choosing a home that is in the best location (either close to the action or serenely secluded) for your family is key. If you have 3 kids under 5, you’re going to want something that’s just a short walk from the sand.  Insider Tip:  No distance is too short when you’re hauling wet, sandy beach gear AND tired toddlers back to the house. For families with multiple generations, you may need something with limited stairs and a layout that allows for more space between the youngest and eldest, so that grandma can get a good night’s sleep without shutting down the kids’ fun too early. Spending a week together making memories is always wonderful, but the right layout and location can make it even better.

2) The right date… for everyone. When you’re making arrangements for a large group, work, school, sports, and family commitments make it difficult to open up the calendar. Booking further in advance ensures that the week you need will be available in a home that meets all or most of your family’s requirements.

3) Flexible interest-free payment plans… split the cost of your vacation into as many as 6 monthly payments leading up to your vacation. Many of our guests take turns making payments, or contribute to a joint account monthly in order to make booking more affordable. You can save with the 15% Military Discount or off-season 10% Early Bird savings in the spring and fall.

When it comes down to it, choosing the right home for your family and finding availability for your family’s ideal dates is the most important part of planning. By waiting until the last minute, you might save a few dollars but you’re also taking a huge risk that there won’t be anything available that meets your needs. You can always find ways to save on other aspects of your vacation without risking the most important part – somewhere to stay! Be sure to look for coupons for local activities and attractions in our Beacon guide!

All cottages provide the following for at least the maximum occupancy the home allows: 

Blankets, pillows, mattress pads, bedspreads, vacuum cleaner, plunger, mop, broom, and dustpan

Vacation Must-Haves: Don’t forget to pack…

-Paper Towels and Toilet Paper

-Bed Linens, Bath, and Kitchen Towels (Unless Linen Service is Provided)

-Cleaning Supplies (Dishwasher Detergent, Dish Soap, Hand Soap, etc.)

-Paper and Plastic Products (Coffee Filters, Trash Bags, Toilet Paper, Paper Towels, Plastic Wrap and Foil, etc.)

-Beach Towels

-Camera (Make sure you submit your photos in our annual Photo Contest!)

-Baby Equipment (If property does not offer based on online information)

-Food and Condiments (Seasonings and Spices, Pantry Staples, etc.)

-Personal Toiletries (Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, etc.)

-Beach and Fishing Equipment

-Sunscreen and Suntan Lotions, Aloe, etc.

-Remember to bring bed linens (unless linen service is provided) or you can contact us and we can add them to your reservation. 

-Also, bring personal toiletries and paper products such as toilet paper and paper towels and cleaning products. 

CLICK HERE to view our Vacation Planning blog and download our beach packing cheat sheet!

Our island has been praised by USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post for providing a vacation getaway that affords an atmosphere that embraces every member of the family. Whatever your needs, they can be met here with several options.

Accessing the beach

The town will provide, at no charge, all-terrain wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis. A community center with a gym, exercise room, and aerobics class is available for a small daily fee. Many beach access ramps can accommodate wheelchairs, but some do not extend all the way to the sand. All state and national parks are handicap accessible, but not all are completely negotiable by wheelchair. At the east end of the island, the 3d Street Park furnishes ten parking spaces in addition to a handicap accessible ramp. Bluewater Drive and Seagull Drive each have single parking spaces. At the other end of the island, Ocean Oaks has a single parking space as well as Randy’s Way, a handicap accessible ramp. Wyndtree Lane has a single parking space and Channel Drive has three parking spaces available. These parking spaces may be used with handicap license plates or placards. The fine for violating the use of these spots is a fine of $100.

Finding a vacation spot

None of our homes are ADA compliant, and none are specifically marketed for handicap accessibility. But depending on your needs, we can suggest properties that have a variety of features that will make your stay more comfortable. Some of these features may include Ground level entry, elevator access to all floors, single-story layout, or bathroom modifications such as grab bars, lowered sinks, or roll-in showers. We recommend speaking with a Vacation Planner directly for help in planning a trip where specific accommodations are needed.



For keyed rentals, you will need to check in at your designated office location, either Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach. Your designated office will depend upon your property location and will be shown on your rental agreement. If you aren’t sure which office to check in at, contact our Vacation Planners for assistance.

Standard Check-In Time is 3:00 pm EST, with the only exceptions being properties that have a later arrival time set by the homeowner. Your check-in time will also be listed on your rental agreement.

No early check-ins are given, as required inspections and property maintenance are performed prior to arrival.

At check-in, you will receive: 1 Key Packet containing 2 property keys, any required parking or amenity passes (for condominiums), directions to your vacation rental, and a copy of the annual Beacon Guest Guide


If your vacation home is keyless, you will not need to come to the office to check-in.  Before your arrival, you will receive an email with your code and instructions on using the keyless lock system.  Once your check-in time has arrived, you can proceed directly to your vacation rental.

Standard Check-In Time is 3:00 pm EST, with the only exceptions being properties that have a later arrival time set by the homeowner. Your check-in time will also be listed on your rental agreement.  Keyless lock codes will not work until your check-in time has passed.

No early check-ins are given, as required inspections and property maintenance are performed prior to arrival.

Any required parking or amenity passes should be available on your Pre-Arrival email, as well as the address of your vacation rental property. A welcome gift and your annual Beacon Guest Guide will be left inside your rental property.


DO ask for suggestions of what to do if you get here before the house is ready – us ‘locals’ have some great ideas!

DO check out your Bluewater Beacon for rental information, great vacation ideas and extra savings.

DON’T park in the driveway of the house or otherwise occupy the property until it is ready – this will actually delay housekeeping, inspections, maintenance and linen services!

DON’T buy items that need to be refrigerated or frozen before checking in with us (we hate melted ice cream as much as you do!).

All kitchens are adequately stocked for everyday meal preparation. You can expect to find the following items for at least the maximum occupancy: a coffee maker and a toaster, dishes, glasses, coffee mugs, flatware, dishes, pots and pans and cooking utensils. Some cottages provide extra kitchen equipment, but others do not.

Extra kitchen items are provided according to the individual homeowner’s preference, not according to the size, location, or price of the cottage. If you are planning special meal preparations you should bring with you such items as: a blender, food processor, extra large or specialty pots or pans, chef’s knives, specialty cooking utensils, etc.


Whether you are a serious golfer with your own clubs and lucky spikes or a novice who just wants to enjoy the scenery, the Crystal Coast has many golf courses to suit your needs.

Country Club of the Crystal Coast
152 Oakleaf Drive
Pine Knoll Shores, NC

Star Hill
202 Clubhouse Rd
Cape Carteret, NC

Brandywine Bay
177 Brandywine Blvd.
Morehead City, NC

North River Country Club
300 Links Drive
Beaufort, NC


We are proud to say that our coast offers something for everyone in the family – especially the little ones! Soft sand, southfacing beaches, tidepools and shells galore are sure to keep beachcombers of all ages busy.

Top Activities


Bowling lanes, arcade, and food & drinks.

130 Golphin Dolphin Drive, Cape Carteret

Golphin Dolphin 

Putt-putt, go-karts, driving range, Sky trail, and batting cages

134 Golphin Dolphin Drive, Cape Carteret

Island Water Sports (H2O Watersports) 

Jet ski and kayak rentals, banana boat rides, dolphin deck, and FlyBoard

1960 Salter Path Road, Salter Path

Salty Pirate Waterpark 

Compact outdoor waterpark with tube and mat slides, a children’s area, and deck area

8915 Reed Drive, Emerald Isle

Pirate Cruises on the Revenge 

Interactive voyage for kids of all ages – live pirate show, man the water cannons, and help defend the ship

600 Front Street, Beaufort

Fun World Motorsports 

Go-karts, games, and more

9102 Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle

Game On Escape Rooms 

Move quickly before time runs out – find and solve puzzles in order to escape and find codes & crack them

2302-F Arendell Street, Morehead City

Emerald Forest Mini-Golf 

18-hole putt-putt

8720 Reed Drive, Emerald Isle

Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf & Raceway 

Miniature golf with train, go-karts, bumper boats, and arcade

976 Salter Path Road, Salter Path

AB Water Sport Adventures 

Rentals for jet-skis, kiteboarding, boat rentals, parasailing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and “The Shark”

612 Atlantic Beach Causeway, Atlantic Beach

NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores 

Otters, sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, jellyfish, fish, and more! Day camps in the summertime, outdoor activities, and daily feeding dive shows

1 Roosevelt Boulevard, Pine Knoll Shores

Atlantic Beach Town Park 

Jungle gym, swing-set, merry-go-round, basketball courts, mini-golf, splash pad, and skate park

915 West Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach

Morehead City Marlins Baseball Games 

Enjoy a day or night at the ball game and enjoy food and drinks

2714 Mayberry Loop Road, Morehead City

Cape Lookout National Seashore 

Lighthouse climbs, shelling, and picnic – sound side and oceanside

1800 Island Road, Harkers Island

Shopping & Dining

The Fuzzy Peach 

Frozen yogurt bar with a huge variety of toppings!

317 WB McLean Drive, Cape Carteret

The Sweet Spot 

Hand-scooped Hershey’s ice cream, saltwater taffy, and JellyBellys, unique gifts, jewelry, and art

8201 Emerald Drive, Emerald Isle

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Hand-scooped ice cream, frozen drinks, sundaes, shakes, and ice cream cakes

8204 Emerald Drive, Emerald Isle

Dairy Queen Grill & Chill 

Longtime ice cream & fast-food chain

8307 Emerald Drive, Emerald Isle

Krackin’ Kreations 

Hershey’s ice cream, specialty coffees, and bakery)

1194 Salter Path Road, Atlantic Beach

AB Ice Cream & Candy Shoppe 

Quaint, local shop providing a variety of ice cream flavors, saltwater taffy, and other classic treats

1010 West Fort Macon Road, Atlantic Beach

Dairy Queen (Treat Only)

Soft-serve ice cream and signature shakes top the menu

1 Roosevelt Boulevard, Pine Knoll Shores

Village Ice Cream and Candies 

Variety of ice cream flavors, toppings, and candies

9104 Coast Guard Road B, Emerald Isle

Sunset Slush of Morehead 

Small Italian Ice shop in downtown Morehead City with a variety of tasty and unique flavors

404 Evans Street, Morehead City

Emerald Isle Books and Toys 

Books for all ages and specialty toys, unique gifts, and treasures

8700 Emerald Drive, Emerald Isle (Emerald Plantation Shopping Center)