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.