Monday, April 21, 2014

Travel Destinations Close to Home

Vacationing can get pretty expensive - as avid travelers, we've all been there. Between airfare, activity costs, food, souvenirs and pricy hotel rooms, you can be looking at a pretty sizable investment! This spring, why not save a bit and look into a destination a bit closer to home? When airfare is cut out of the equation and you consider a by-owner rental in lieu of hotels, traveling can be (almost!) painless and you have a little more wiggle room for the fun stuff!

The Midwest

The Midwest has always been a little more barren when it comes to vacation destinations. While you won't find any sunny beaches in the country's heartland, there's quite the abundance of breathtaking forests, lakes and hills for the more adventurous vacationer. 
  • Branson, Missouri is packed with family-friendly entertainment and is a perfect getaway for those to looking to get in some quality hiking, fishing and boating.
  • Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin holds the title "The Waterpark Capital of World" and for good reason! The waterparks of Wisconsin Dells are legendary, but there's plenty of other fun to be had, including the local favorite DUCK boat tours.

The Northeast

From quaint seaside villages to big cities, there's a bit of everything in the Northeast. Be it family-friendly fun, a vibrant nightlife or a more quiet, classic retreat, our Northeastern picks encompass all that made this region legendary.
  • Cape Cod, Massachusetts embodies all the nautical charm of the Atlantic coast. Sailing is a definite must on the cape, as well as whale watching. If seafood if your weakness, be prepared for a plethora of local options!
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey mixes classic beach fun with a fun-filled nightlife once the sun goes down. Families will love strolling the Boardwalk, and once all the kids are in bed, there's plenty of casinos, clubs and dining options to keep you busy.
  • Hershey, Pennsylvania is often overlooked, but you're bound to stay busy at The Sweetest Place on Earth! Hersheypark and ZooAmerica are prime attractions, but there's also spas, golfing and Hershey Gardens to explore for a more relaxed getaway.

The Southeast

Vacation in the southeast is all about long days with the sun on your skin and, above all, relaxation. While beaches are an eternal favorite, there's much more in the southeast, including no shortage of lakes, mountains and forest.
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has long been a favorite destination for travelers across the country. It's not hard to see why - the beach itself is breathtaking, with shopping, dining and family activities abound!
  • McGaheysville, Virginia is nestled just south of Massanutten mountain range and right alongside the Shenandoah River. Skiing, rafting, kayaking and hiking are popular activities in this beautiful town.
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia is a fantastic choice if you're looking for a slightly quieter alternative to Myrtle Beach. While still lively, there's also a focus on local history and periodic festivals. Be sure to try stand-up paddle boarding - it's one of Virginia Beach's favorite pastimes!

The Northwest

The Northwest is home to perhaps some of the most diverse culture and with that, some of the most diverse vacation options imaginable. From the Pacific coast to mountain retreats, there's a little something for everyone.
  • Napa, California is an absolute dream for dining and wine aficionados. Napa's hot air balloon tours are also an unforgettable experience.
  • Lake Chelan, Washington brings all the charm of a northwestern small-town charm to visitors. Sample local wine and foods, and enjoy some boating, camping and cycling right alongside the lake.
  • Whistler, British Columbia is a fantastic vacation pick for Americans and Canadians alike. While mostly regarded as a top-class ski destination, Whistler is packed full of warm-weather fun as well; think gondola rides, ziplining and whitewater rafting!

The Southwest

Like it's northern counterpart, the Southwest is full of scenic diversity. While many might make the assumption the Southwest is one big desert, inhabitants know better. From beaches to mountains, canyons to forests, the Southwest has long been home an array of vacation options.
  • Scottsdale, Arizona is the quintessential desert retreat, a golfer's paradise and a bastion of arts and culture. If there's one must-do activity, we recommend a desert tour by foot, open-air Jeep or hot air ballon!
  • Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California is not only split between two states, but is largely divided into Tahoe North and Tahoe South. While fairly similar, Tahoe North has a larger focus on ski culture while Tahoe South advertises its mix of exciting nightlife as well as outdoor recreation.
  • Carlsbad, California is all about the beach! One of the top family beach locations, Carlsbad also provides access to family-friendly favorites like Legoland, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Top 5 Places to Ride a Bike

Sometimes the best way to explore a city, especially with kids, is by bike. The following cities are known to have intricate cycling paths for those who want to discover cities by bike. On your next timeshare rental go ahead and rent a bike and cycle through town with your family.

1. Portland, OR: Portland is well-connected by pathways for cyclists. The city offers on and off road trails, designated street lanes, and a healthy local bike culture. The beautiful riverfront path offers gorgeous water views. Hop on at Waterfront Park (pictured) via the Steel Bridge and enjoy a quick 3-mile loop. Insider tip: Kids love to splash at the Salmon Street Springs Fountain in Waterfront Park too.

2. Boulder, CO: Boulder offers dedicated bikeways, designated street lanes and in-depth local bike maps as cycling is core to their transportation system. The city features more than 300 miles of bikeways for getting around town including parks dedicated to bikes.

3. Davis, CA: For a smaller city, Davis offers over 100 miles of bike lanes and bike paths. Davis is so passionate about cycling they boast more bikes than cars. Several tunnels through town offer quick cruising. And kids in the area ride their bikes to school on a daily basis (since the city voted, no more school buses).

4. Hilton Head, S.C.: There are 12 miles of beach-side trails in Hilton Head speckled with snack stands for those who get hungry along the way. Families ride their wide-wheeled beach cruisers right on the beach too. A big hit with locals is Singleton Beach as the adjacent playground is fun for kids and offers great bike riding as well.

5. New York City, NY: Yes, families ride their bikes in New York City. They head to Hudson River Park where miles of bike paths are dotted with playgrounds, art installations, and grassy knolls. Local families also cycle the two miles from West 12th to Battery Park City to see sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And bike rides across the Brooklyn Bridge are fun too. 

Discover timeshares around the United States.

Photo: Cycling Portland

Monday, April 14, 2014

Refresh Yourself this Spring - Top Timeshare Resort Spas!

Travaasa Hana - one of our featured spa resorts!
For most of us, it's been a long and bitter winter and now that temperatures are warming up, Spring fever is in full swing! With the longer and warmer days ahead of us, we're often so caught up in the abundance of activities that we often forget to take care of ourselves. This spring, treat yourself to a five-star rejuvenation at one of these top spas at member-favorite resorts!

Travaasa Hana

Travaasa Hana might be a newer resort, but it's already making quite a splash with guests! This newcomer to the Hana coast seeks to immerse guests in all the natural splendor of Hawaii with a mix of cultural experiences, organic indulgence and a lowered dependence on technology. Keeping with the spirit, Travaasa Hana offers spa treatments that focus on natural Hawaiian treatments and ingredients. Organic oils, wraps, clay and salt scrubs help guests connect with nature, and the staggering variety of treatments ensure that there's an option no matter whether you're looking for a detox or muscle relaxation.

In addition, Travaasa Hana offers three distinct Day Spa packages. The Hana Couple's Escape offer both partners a full body massage, foot soak, clay foot mask and a nourishing scalp treatment all in a shared spa suite. The Total Balance package allows guests to select one sixty minute facial and one ninety minute massage of their choice, while The Journey package combines the best of Travaasa Hana's facials and healing massages into one experience. Those interested in the packages should be aware that prices do not include gratuity.

Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa

Disney resorts are synonymous with the best in family entertainment, but many first-time travelers overlook the luxurious spas that Disney Vacation Club resorts have to offer. Disney's Spa at Saratoga Springs Resort consistently pleases both first-time guests and long-time members. Styled after New York's mineral springs, the Spa at Saratoga Springs offers massage therapies, facials, body wraps, a whirlpool, heated loungers and a steam room. Ambiance is a defining feature; spa suites are outfitted with soft, golden lighting, comforting music and utterly tantalizing aromas (the apple sugar body scrub is a favorite!)

The Spa at Saratoga Springs encompasses dozens of individual treatments, four complete packages as well as enhancement and add-on services to customize your experience. Keeping in line with Disney's traditional family friendly approach, kids aged 4-12 also have access to their own specialized treatments - Magical Manicure and Princess Pedicure. This makes the Spa at Saratoga Springs perfect for families wanting some extra pampering together!

The Westin Mission Hills Villas

Set against the sweeping Californian mountains just minutes away from Palm Springs lies the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa, including the timeshare division Westin Mission Hills Villas. This mountainside retreat also houses an onsite golf course and spa with a focus on the healing powers of the desert. Earthy tones set the atmosphere and the scent of green tea in the air hints of relaxation to come.

The Spa at Mission Hills offers the standard assortment of spa services - massage therapies, facials, bath and body treatments as well as tanning, waxing and nail services. Where the Spa at Mission Hills really shines is in the extras offered - Hatha yoga classes let you learn some of the relaxation techniques to take back home, and the Spa for a Cause charity events ensure you don't need to feel guilty for indulging in a little extra me-time.

The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Westin's ever-popular Maui destination wraps up our rundown with Spa Helani, part of Westin's Heavenly Spa line. This reimagining of the standard spa service seeks to mix new and up-to-date technology with the natural spirit of every Heavenly location to create a one-of-a-kind experience. Spa Helani truly captures the essence of Hawaii - the couples treatment suite is tucked away in a 'treehouse', and private cabanas are tucked away among fountains and foliage.

Spa Helani's focus is on sensuality - every sense is indulged. The sight of the naturally-styled treatment rooms and the view from the lanai is gorgeous no doubt, but the true beauty of Spa Helani is found in the senses of scent, taste and touch. Helani-exclusive oils and scrubs are employed and exude the aromas of lemongrass, passion fruit and sea salt. Guests are offered a complimentary white tea blend and have the option of enjoying specially selected dishes ranging from light salads to seafood sandwiches and tacos. Touch certainly isn't left neglected either - Helani boasts dozens of skilled therapists, and the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Center is ideal for when you want to push your body to its limits.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Top 5 Places to Picnic

Who doesn’t love picnics? Adults, kids, even family pets cherish dining outdoors. Here are five family-friendly places from lush grassy fields to pebbly sand beaches that your troupe will adore to picnic at on your next timeshare rental:

1. Belvedere Castle: Nestled in Central Park this romantic castle (which kids also get a kick out of) provides a great view of the park and the New York City skyline. Set down your picnic blanket in the lawn, grab a snack, and be sure to snap photos of the view.
Web: Central Park
Location: Mid-park at 79th St., Central Park, NYC

2. Roxbury Park: Located in Beverly Hills, Roxbury Park offers eleven acres of grassy space to picnic and play. On the grounds there are two sand playgrounds. One for tiny tots the other for ages five and up. Picnic tables are provided and barbecues are available to cook up your own meals in the park.
Web: Roxbury Park
Location: 471 S. Roxbury Dr. Beverly Hills, CA

3. Papago Park: Feast on your picnic surrounded by red sandstone formations in Phoenix’s Papago Park. It’s easy to climb up one of the formations and sneak a peak of the city skyline view of downtown Phoenix. Locals enjoy picnics by the north side of the park near the zoo.
Web: Papago Park 
Location: 625 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ

4. South Pointe Park: Those who picnic here visit for the beautiful Miami Beach view. Snack on your meal and soak in panoramic water views. There is also a play area for kids and the interactive water display is a big hit with kids on scorching hot days.
Web: South Pointe Park
Location: 1 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL

5. Spectacle Island: To go on a picnic at Spectacle Island requires a boat. But no worries, you can get there by ferry. Once on the island you are treated to long sandy beaches, swimming, guided ecosystem tours, and hiking with ocean air views. Ferries leave from Long Wharf in Boston. Happy sailing!
Web: Spectacle Island 
Location: Spectacle Island, Boston Harbor Islands, Boston, MA

Discover timeshares around the United States

Photo: CopyStrands 

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Manhattan Club: a Legal Update

The Manhattan Club is a luxury timeshare development in the center of Manhattan.  People love it there.  Well, as one owner on the Manhattan Club's own Facebook page put it, it's "A wonderful place to visit unless you're an owner. Then your visit is dampened by resentment."  

We've been watching the 18-page (and growing) discussion forum on RedWeek, with reports from the Manhattan Club's owners who are unhappy with their situation.  Lawsuits have come and gone.  It can be difficult to ascertain exactly what is going on there currently, so we asked our new investigative reporter, Jeff Weir, to dig into the issue and give us the full report.  The result: a lawsuit is alive and well, and headed toward becoming a class-action suit for owners in New York.  


Please let us know what you think, and feel free to share it with any owners you know who are interested in this case.



Friday, April 04, 2014

Top 5 Free Things to Do in America

America offers several free places to visit based on our long and storied history. Stay in a nearby timeshare and take your family to explore some of these free places that define our nation:

1. The National Mall: Attractions at the National Mall (pictured) are free to tour. Take your family to see the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and even tour memorials to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. 
Web: The National Mall
Location: Washington, D.C.
Admission: FREE

2. Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum: All the famous Smithsonian museums in the D.C. area offer free admission including the National Air & Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Zoo. See top-rated artifacts like the Wright Brothers flying machine from 1903, the Hope diamond, and giant pandas at the zoo.
Web: Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Location: Washington, DC
Admission: FREE

3. National September 11 Memorial and Museum: Explore the memorial of remembrance for those America lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Visiting the memorial features cascade waterfalls in two reflecting pools set in the footprints of the World Trade Center's original Twin Towers.
Web: National September 11 Memorial and Museum
Location: New York, NY
Admission: FREE

4. Mount Rushmore: This top attraction in South Dakota is free to view (but you have to pay parking). The 60-foot heads of four American presidents are chiseled in stone. Get up close to Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Theodore), and Lincoln.
Web: Mount Rushmore
Location: Keystone, South Dakota
Admission: FREE

5. The Alamo: The Alamo was established in 1718. This Spanish mission was the site of a historic battle for Texan independence. Don't miss the Heritage Tree (a live oak) nestled on the grounds.
Web: The Alamo
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Admission: FREE

Discover timeshares around the United States.

Photo Credit: National Mall

Thursday, April 03, 2014

ARDA Reaches Out to Timeshare Owners

The national trade association that represents timeshare developers has quietly launched a new educational website --- vacationbetter.org --- to help rank and file owners and prospective owners wade through the sometimes murky waters of timeshare.
"This is aimed at the consumer who wants to become educated about timeshare products," said Peter Roth, vice president of marketing and communications for the American Resort Developers Association (ARDA).  "This is not a commerce site; it does not lead to a transaction.  Instead, it’s designed to be informative and fills a gap in consumer education."
ARDA's vacationbetter.org

The "gap" in consumer education is a big issue in the industry because, while 83 percent of timeshare owners claim to be satisfied with their ownership, a whopping 17 percent say they’re unhappy.  One way to ramp down the dissatisfaction index is to increase awareness and understanding among buyers before they sign contracts that lock them in to pay maintenance fees for the rest of their lives.  Since most owner issues revolve around availability, maintenance fees, hyperbolic sales pitches and resale values, it makes sense for ARDA and its owner affiliate, the Resort Owners Coalition (ROC), to ramp up their outreach to the people who make the timeshare industry a $70 billion behemoth in the United States.  

This is not a gratuitous feel-good site for the industry.  ARDA is an action-oriented trade group that has led regulatory efforts at state and federal levels to protect timeshare buyers for years.  Its legislative affairs arm also monitors and actively pursues legislation that impacts developers and owners in heavy timeshare states (Florida, California, Hawaii, Nevada, etc.).  States that try to raise property taxes on timeshare owners, for example, get lots of attention from ARDA’s lobbyists and its timeshare member companies.

The new website is rolling out just as ARDA’s members gather for their annual World Conference in Las Vegas April 6-10.  Many of the conference’s sessions are also designed to educate members about changes in the industry, such as the aging demographics of timeshare owners, the sagging fortunes of the resale market, and the worldwide boom in timeshare development.

Lots of Room for Growth in Timeshare Industry

Not surprisingly, ARDA’s management is bullish on the industry. The timeshare industry represents less than 10 percent of the overall travel industry, so there is plenty of room for growth.

There are 8 million timeshare owners and 1548 timeshare properties in the US.  Moreover, 82 percent of all timeshare properties, worldwide, are located in the US, with one in five headquartered in Florida, where Orlando is the unofficial global capital of the timeshare universe.

Howard Nusbaum, ARDA’s CEO and president, says his organization represents 98 percent of all legitimate timeshare companies --- from the mega-developers (Marriott, Westin, et al) to smaller vacation properties --- and is responsible for promoting all of the regulations that protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices.  The organization also works closely with attorney generals, postmaster generals and consumer protection agencies in key states to watchdog timeshare business practices.

The timeshare resale market, in contrast, is largely unregulated, which is why owners (this reporter included) get unsolicited calls from unknown companies offering immediate help, for a fee, to sell or walk away from their timeshares.  Many of these pitches are outright scams flying below the radar of state and federal watchdog agencies.  As Nusbaum conceded in a recent interview, the only timeshare issue that makes him lose sleep at night is "a healthy secondary market."

Resale issues get ample exposure in ARDA’s own website, arda.org, and the new consumer site, vacationbetter.org.  If you’re looking for extreme detail on owner issues and legal developments, arda.org is the site to search.  But if you’re looking for an easy introductory way to soak up the overall issues of timeshare ownership, vacationbetter.org is a friendly place to start.

Learn the Basics (Before You Buy) in Timeshare 101

The new website promotes timeshares and timeshare travel without promoting individual companies.  The site is simple to navigate, uncluttered, and includes many pictures of prime vacation vistas.  On a subliminal level, it puts you in a vacation frame of mind while scrolling through the ins and outs of timeshare terminology, owner testimonials and the do’s and don’ts of ownership.  No doubt influenced by its member companies --- who are expert, in general, at creating user-friendly websites --- ARDA deliberately set out to create a website that would put the average traveler into a comfortable space while contemplating whether to buy a timeshare product.

"We wanted the site to embody the energy and vibrancy of the industry we represent," said Roth, the marketing chief at ARDA.  "That’s why we use large scale images and lots of white space.  This is like going to a beautiful place that’s relaxing."

The site also works as a mirror, allowing timeshare owners and would-be buyers to see who they are.  The opening page features a quiz, "What Kind of Traveler Are You?" then segues into "Timeshare 101", a quick tutorial for new owners.  It also posts vacation suggestions, exchange information, and FAQs on timeshares.  One section, called Snapshots, offers a profile of today’s owners: 47% work fulltime; 21% are retired; 64% have no kids living at home; 74% are married or in a partnership; and their median household income is $74,000.

"This is a business-to-consumer site," Roth said. "We’re agnostic --- we’re not tied to a particular brand.  We want this to be a trusted place to go for people to learn about timeshares.  There are plenty of other websites out there, and lots of chat rooms, but they are hit and miss.  We launched this site because we want a well-educated purchaser or prospect that understands what they are doing.  The more they know, the more satisfied they’ll be if they make a decision to buy."

RedWeek.com also offers consumers, buyers and renters information about timeshare issues.

For more information about ARDA’s outreach to consumers, visit vacationbetter.org.  For information on ARDA’s activities, visit arda.org or call ARDA owner issues: 855-416-6187.

FYI: ARDA is funded by timeshare development companies and their affiliates.  ARDA-ROC mounts grassroots lobbying campaigns on behalf of one-million-plus timeshare owners who contribute $3-$5 per year through their maintenance fees.


----
This article provided by RedWeek's new investigative reporter, Jeff Weir.  Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.