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Vacation ownership: you’ll find time to share
by Jacky Runice

With demographics on our side, reunions are booming. As patriarchs and matriarchs age, they may not have time or energy to plan and implement a meeting at a new location every year or so. Wouldn’t it be great if, just as we can count on Christmas to occur on December 25th, you’re sure to have that meeting location no matter what else is going on in your life or in the world?  Enter the expanding concept of vacation ownership.

Briefly, vacation ownership is the deeded property purchase of a vacation villa for one or more weeks each year. Mention “timeshare” a couple of decades ago and you’d expect the same reaction as if someone said “colonoscopy.” Things have changed. Timeshares are the fastest growing segment of the hospitality industry, even in a suffering economy. Marriott Vacation Club, the first branded hospitality company to enter the timeshare industry in 1984, has enjoyed a 25 percent growth every year since 1996, making it the largest vacation ownership company on the planet. Why are so many families going the timeshare route?

According to a survey by Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell (YPB&R), a travel services marketing firm, almost eight out of ten active leisure travelers took at least one vacation with extended family, other families or friends during the past five years. You may not have called it a “reunion” per se, but it’s a fact that the family vacation has evolved into an occasion to reunite family and friends, if only for a few days. Family members may like the idea of purchasing future vacations in today’s dollars. Baby boomers are getting into timeshare to vacation with adult children and grandkids and to pass that lifestyle investment on to their children. Vacation ownership is not a financial investment, but an investment in quality family time. Some parents offer a down payment or full payment of a timeshare as a wedding gift—kind of a honeymoon-for-life. Vacation ownership doesn’t mean visiting the same location every year (though many owners enjoy meeting at familiar stomping grounds). Marriott Vacation Club International owners can exchange within 52 resorts worldwide, including Phoenix, Orlando, Hilton Head Island, Maui, Paris and Spain. They can trade villa weeks through the company’s frequent guest program and redeem points for Marriott hotel stays, airfare, rental cars and cruises. Or they can exchange through Interval International, a global system of over 2,000 resorts in 75 countries.

Some owners pool their multiple weeks at the same time for large family reunions but even more use their vacation week to enjoy smaller, more intimate reunions with children, family and friends. Patricia Schafer and her husband, Charles, of Cockeysville, Maryland, own three vacation weeks with Marriott in Orlando. In 2002 they gathered family members and friends for a special Thanksgiving reunion at Marriott’s Grande Vista. “We loved spending Thanksgiving together in our timeshare,” said Schafer. “We get all the kids together and cook the meal.” The Schafers, who were also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, were able to visit with their oldest daughter and her family, including one grandson. They also coordinated their week with friends and fellow Marriott owners to meet in Orlando. The Schafers primarily use their Marriott vacation weeks to spend family time with one of their four children. “We always invite one along to share the two-bedroom villa with us, so we can enjoy time with each family one-on-one.”

Kathy and Edward Seguine of San Ramon, California, own five vacation weeks with Marriott in Hawaii. Initially, the Seguines purchased multiple weeks so they could take each of their children’s families on vacation. In 2003 they combined four weeks for a reunion. They gathered 18 family members—four generations—for an Aloha reunion on “the Garden Isle” in July. The family occupied four two-bedroom villas at Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club and Marriott’s new Waiohai Beach Club. They explored the island on their own during the day and swam and snorkeled in resort lagoons; played golf at nearby Kauai Lagoons; rented motorcycles to cruise the island; rented surfboards and learned to ride the waves; and hiked and biked down Waimea Canyon. Each night the entire family joined for dinner in one of the villas: eight at the main table, four on the private lanai and kids clustered around the coffee table. “The villa is really big,” says Kathy Seguine, a high school math teacher. “There’s really a lot of room.” In keeping with Hawaiian tradition, men prepared meals utilizing two villa kitchens and often walked to the local fish store to choose from the day’s catch of mahi, ono and Hawaiian ahi to prepare on resort outdoor grills. “Kauai is the best place for a family reunion because it’s very quiet,” recommended Seguine. Before the trip, she ordered Kauai “Red Dirt” shirts for each family member (so named for the island’s red dirt in which white T’s are soaked).  Each shirt was emblazoned with the old Hawaiian adage “Ohana Mau Loa” which translates to “Families Are Forever.”

Villa-style accommodations are homey, spacious and offer resort activities for kids and adults. A typical villa includes fully equipped kitchen, living/dining area, private balcony or patio, whirlpool tub, washer and dryer, multiple TVs, VCR/DVD, linens, utensils and more

Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club offers beachfront lodging adjacent to Marriott’s Aruba Ocean Club, Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. Granny’s working nickel slots, Junior’s feeding iguanas at the Bon Bini Kids program and Mom and Dad are playing tennis or getting a coffee body scrub at Mandara Spa. Opening July 2004, Marriott’s Surf Club in Aruba is an easy four miles from the island capital of Oranjestad and just seven miles from Queen Beatrix Airport. On the shore of Palm Beach, the windsurfing capital of the Caribbean, the Aruba Surf Club offers two-bedroom, two-bath villas. Aruba’s location outside of the hurricane zone, low crime rate, friendly people, semi-arid climate and interesting Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento culture makes for an attractive reunion destination. For details about the island, visit www.aruba.com or ring 800-862-7822.

You have the meeting place. Now how do you entertain the clan? Marriott Vacation Club has a wealth of activities for children and teens, ranging from mini stock car racing and fishing derbies to Thai dancing and Spanish mask-making. At Marriott’s Grande Vista, Orlando, Florida, for example, the 8 -to 12-year-old set build mini stock cars and compete in weekly races. Many kids return to the Grande Vista every year with their cars and make the necessary upgrades to compete at advanced levels. Marriott’s Desert Springs Villas, Palm Desert, California, offers its own version of American Idol, called MVCI Idol. In summer, young people compete for the title during Wednesday evening shows that draw audiences of up to 200 to watch teenage opera singers, concert pianists, Britney Spears imitators and even a 90-year-old man doing a comedy act with his three-year-old twin granddaughters. Marriott’s Barony Beach Club, Hilton Head, South Carolina, offers crabbing and dolphin excursions for younger children, shark fishing for teens, and sandcastle contests and dolphin excursions for families. Marriott’s Grande Ocean, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, gets kids involved in hacky sack contests and a Blackjack Night for teens 16 and older. Foosball tournaments and snowmobile and cross-country ski lessons are the agenda at Marriott’s MountainSide at Park City, Utah.

The notion of timeshare naturally raises a lot of questions.

Want to get the feel for vacation ownership before you dive in? You can rent villas, based on availability. Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club is offering spacious villas for nightly rental beginning July 2004.

What about quality? Marriott maintains that its vacation ownership resorts are built to exacting standards and they are kept in top condition for owners. “Seeing really is believing,” according to Dr. Martin Cloin, Mansfield, Texas. “Once you’ve been to one Marriott timeshare, you come to expect it. You know the quality is always going to be there. I’ve bought so many weeks now, many of them even sight unseen, and I know the quality is always going to be there.” Designed to be a home rather than a hotel suite, a typical two-bedroom/two-bath Marriott Vacation Club villa offers an average 1,250 square feet of space and can comfortably accommodate up to eight guests.

Do you have to sit through a sales presentation? It’s up to you, and in Marriott’s case the sales pitch is low-key, which may be one reason for the company’s tally of 225,000 vacation owners. Villa prices vary depending on the type, destination and season, but generally range from $7,900 to $68,000 for a week within a “floating time” system.

If the idea of knowing that the family reunion is a done deal year after year, perhaps a taste of vacation ownership should be on your next travel menu. Visit www.marriottvacationclub.com or call 800-294-0690.

About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago's Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.


More beach accommodations
by Edith Wagner

Beaches, beaches, beaches. Beaches are the goal of many reunions so let’s go to the beach. What do beaches represent? An escape. A special place. A romantic place. A warm place. An edge-of-the-water place.I’m not a devoted beach person. Sand in my shoes is genuinely annoying. However, many significant payoffs make beaches worth considering. Salt sea air is only possible near the sea and sand is an inevitable part of that. The warm sun of the beach can be an embrace creating a special joy. Stroll at sunrise or sunset for a special sense of well being. And then there are the shells. White and pink, rust, black, gray and orange treasures find their way into homes worldwide to recall lovely memories. Types like bivalves and bastropods with wondrous names like conch, cockle, buttercup, lion’s paw or kitten’s paw or venus! Shaped like cones, bonnets, tulips or baby’s ear. You don’t want to walk barefoot on them but you certainly want to collect them to generate sweet memories later. Beaches in Florida are legendary and worth the reputation. Many Florida beach areas are very reunion-friendly because accommodations help keep reunion costs down. By going to an island, you create a captive—and captivating—reunion. Palm Islandis a true island resort on Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast along the Intracoastal Waterway, at Cape Haze. Palm Island Resort features 154 villas, two restaurants, four pools with Hydra Spas, recreation center, two miles of private beach, water sports, fishing, boating and Tennis. Tennis is the concentration here, with 11 hard courts. Golf is off the island.Villas are practical and come in very roomy sizes from single to three bedrooms. They are completely outfitted for you to move right in. Kitchens are fully equipped, including a blender for margaritas and a toaster for breakfast so all you need is food. Grill areas are social spots around meal time where mostly men are seen enjoying their part of meal preparation.Collect your food before you arrive. Bring everything on your first trip to prevent disappointment. There is no easy running to the store once you’ve arrived on the island, where there is a small store with as many souvenirs as groceries. For a meal out, Rum Bay Restaurant, definitely a family place, is adept at serving small groups, as is nearby Johnny Leverock’s Seafood House.At Palm Island Resort, Anna Moody will help make all your details work perfectly. She recalls reunion groups who have enjoyed the island’s amenities for years. A few neighbors from Clearwater, Florida, started coming many years ago and turnover has increased the group to 21 families with 46 adults and 32 children who, before the leave each year, book space for the next year.  Families are placed in condos as close as possible, and babysitting can be arranged. The serenity at Palm Island is a big plus.Buildings are on stilts so storm waters can go through and leave the houses behind. There are no ground level accommodations. Access to all condos is by stairways. Climbing steps is required for access. Wheel chairs are out of the question and if someone is on crutches it will be a challenge. (First level accommodations should be requested.)No cars are allowed in the resort. You can rent a golf cart, bike or walk. I found the island small enough that walking was my preference. Come prepared to stay on the island because ferrying back and forth is pricey. Contact Palm Island Resort, 7092 Placida Rd, Cape Haze FL 33946; 800-824-5412; www.palmislandresort.com.

Off-island adventures
When you do leave Palm Island, much awaits in Charlotte County, Florida.Babcock Wilderness Adventures (www.babcockwilderness.com) is a surprisingly interesting place. You must take the swamp buggy eco-tour through Babcock Ranch and Telegraph Cypress Swamp, where you’ll see abundant wildlife including alligators, deer, hogs, cracker cows, turkeys, birds and Florida panthers.Visit historic Downtown Punta Gorda (charlotteflorida.com) tosee the city’s architectural past and emerging revitalization. Visit Fishermen’s Village Yacht Basin (www.fishville.com) for a myriad of boutiques and attractions including a storefront Florida Military Heritage Museum (941-575-9002) and waterfront dining. Take a King Fisher Fleet Harbor Cruise (www.kingfisherfleet.com)of some of the 270 square miles of pristine Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve. The Charlotte County Historical Center, with panoramic harbor views, proudly displays new interactive museum exhibits reflecting past and present perspectives.For information, contact Charlotte County Visitor’s Bureau, 18501 Murdock Cir, Ste 502, Port Charlotte FL 33952; 888-4PUR-FLA; www.pureflorida.com. If you’re planning a military reunion, ask for their Military Gathering brochure.About Spirit AirlinesA great way to get to Florida is by Fort Lauderdale-headquartered Spirit Airlines. Spirit offers scheduled and charter service and low fares. Visit www.spiritair.com.

Condos, Villas and Vacation Homes
Choosing a condominium for your reunion gives you some freedoms other facilities do not. If you'd prefer to prepare most of your own meals, condos are ideal. Generally, you'll have more space than in facilities where you are occupying one room with meeting and activity space nearby. Just bring yourself, a change of clothes, your food and everything else is waiting for you. An example is the Outer Banks of North Carolina where the beach is focal to the destination. Vacation homes accommodate nice size families while renting several adjacent homes help expand to a large reunion. Nature preserves, wildlife refuges, state parks, hiking, hang-gliding and windsurfing are all choices that make the area intriguing. The season and size of your reunion will determine the price of lodging. While most condos, villas and vacation homes are available Saturday to Saturday some can be let for shorter periods depending upon availability. In the Outer Banks area of North Carolina, Village Reality (places from Corolla to Nags Head) focuses each year on a family reunion in their brochure. This year the Tazewell Family Reunion is featured. Their 67 members have visited the Outer Banks area for generations. They enjoy the beaches, pools, golf, tennis and fishing. Contact 800-441-8533; sales@villagerealtyobx.com; www.villagerealtyobx.com. Pointe Royale Condominium Resort on Lake Taneycomo, Branson, Missouri, reports about their satisfied reunions. The Hoertel Family Reunion appreciated the help in arranging their family reunion and were pleased with the accommodations. Reverend N. Garland in a testimonial said, "From the first encounter arranging the reunion, to the very last detail, you certainly did more than we could have ever asked to make our stay wonderful."

Pointe Royale features a large meeting room in their clubhouse ideal for receptions and banquets, an outdoor pavilion accommodates 100 people. Activities range from golf and trout fishing to playgrounds, two outdoor pools and a nature trail.

Contact Pointe Royale Properties, Inc., 158-A Pointe Royale Dr., Branson MO 65616;
800-962-4710; groupsales@pointeroyale.com; www.pointeroyale.com.

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Interested in Vacation Ownership?
Vacation ownership is a terrific way to ensure that you set aside time each year to enjoy with family and friends. It's also a convenient way to prepay for a lifetime of great vacation accommodations at today's rates. And with brand names like Marriott revolutionizing the industry, the quality, flexibility and value afforded by timeshare ownership has never been better. If you are considering investing in a timeshare or would like to rent a villa to get a feel for ownership, be sure to check out the online resale market where you can often find terrific deals directly from current vacation owners.

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